Black Panther: Panther’s Quest


By Don McGregor, Gene Colan, Tom Palmer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302908034 (TPB)

The loss of Chadwick Boseman is a terrible blow to fans of film and every supporter of the rights and inherent dignity of all humanity. Whatever the reason, it seems that black people are just not allowed to have living role models. Our condolences and best wishes go out to his family and all who knew or were affected by him.

The pettiest part of that tragedy is that his iconic role as T’Challa of Wakanda is also ended. Having read about the kind of man he was, I’m shamelessly taking the opportunity to review the Black Panther story I suspect he would most have liked to realise on film…

Lauded as the first black superhero in American comics and one of the first to carry his own series, the Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since the 1960s when he first attacked the FF (in Fantastic Four#52; cover-dated July 1966) as part of an extended and elaborate plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

T’Challa, son of T’Chaka was revealed as an African monarch whose hidden kingdom was the only source of a vibration-absorbing alien metal upon which the country’s immense wealth was founded. Those mineral riches – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in primeval antiquity – had powered his country’s transformation into a technological wonderland.

That tribal wealth had long been guarded by a hereditary feline-garbed champion deriving physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb that ensured the generational dominance of the nation’s warrior Panther Cult.

Lyrical intellectual Don McGregor had already immortalised T’Challa in a stunning 1970s periodical run which produced the revered Panther’s Rage saga and the controversial Panther vs the Klan storyline. After years away from the mainstream, creating groundbreaking graphic novels such as Sabre: Slow Fade of an Endangered Species and Detectives Inc., series such as Ragamuffins and Nathaniel Dusk, he was lured back to his roots to spin a shocking tale of contemporary intolerance and the end-days of Apartheid…

He was joined by a semi-regular collaborator whose credentials in crafting human-scaled tales of adventure, horror and empathetic emotional drama were second to none. He was also one the industry’s earliest exponents of strong black characters…

Eugene Jules “Gene” Colan (September 1st 1926 – June 23rd 2011) was one of comics’s greatest talents: a quietly professional artist who valued accuracy and authenticity in his work, whether it was science fiction, horror, war, satirical humour of the vast number of superheroes he brought to life.

A devotee of classic adventure strips, Colan studied at the Art Students League of New York, before beginning his own illustration career in 1944 (on Wings Comics) before military service in the Philippines. The war had just ended and Colan had spare time to draw for local paper The Manilla Times.

By 1946 he was a civilian again, and working for Stan Lee’s Atlas outfit on crime and supernatural stories. He illustrated the last Golden Age Captain America (Captain America’s Weird Tales #75; February 1950), an all-horror issue that had no superhero material at all. It was like a sign…

As the industry radically transformed, he began freelancing at DC/National Comics as well as remaining a mainstay of Atlas. His assignments increasingly focused on the new genres of War Stories and Romance.

As Superhero stories returned, he moved exclusively to Marvel (except for a range of monochrome horror stories done for Archie Goodwin at Warren Magazines), where his dynamic realism offered a powerful alternative to the graphic styles of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita and Don Heck.

Colan became renowned for his work on Daredevil (where he created blind black detective Willie Lincoln), Captain America, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Avengers, Sub-Mariner and Howard the Duck. During this period he co-created the Guardians of the Galaxy, two Captain Marvels (Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers), drew all of Tomb of Dracula – thereby introducing Blade the Vampire Slayer to the world – and was responsible for another black comic book icon and the nation’s first African American costumed hero, The Falcon.

In the 1980s he moved to DC, working on Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Spectre, co-creating Night Force, Silverblade, Jemm, Son of Saturn and period private eye Nathanial Dusk before expanding into independent comics at the forefront of innovation that marked the rise of the Direct Sales Market.

His later career was blighted by health issues, but he continued drawing whenever he could, for many companies. On one of his periodic returns to Marvel he reunited with McGregor for this astounding tale which was originally serialised in in 25 chapters in fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents # 13-37 (February to December1989). Here, the entire affair is preceded by ‘To Follow the track of The Great Cat with renewed wonder on his Panther’s Quest (From “Panther’s Rage” to “Panther’s Prey”)’ a typically effulgent and informative Introduction from author McGregor…

One of the most thought-provoking mainstreaming comics tales ever released, Panther’s Quest added pressure to the ever-growing Anti-Apartheid movement in comics and western media, by examining not only the condition of racial inequality but also turning a damning eye on sexual oppression. Whether in his numerous solo series or as part of super-teams such as the Avengers, Fantastic Four or the Ultimates, Black Panther has always been one of Marvel’s most politically strident and socially-crusading characters. This is a book I’m certain Chadwick Boseman would have admired and supported…

Inked in its entirety by perfect partner Tom Palmer, it begins on a dark night as the Panther infiltrates neighbouring totalitarian South Africa where a white minority still oppresses the millions of blacks who live there. T’Challa has heard ‘A Rumour of Life’ and has come seeking his stepmother Ramonda. His father’s second wife had raised the bereaved boy when T’Challa’s birth mother died, but one day when he was only three, she vanished and no one would speak of her.

Now, he’s invaded the most dangerous land on Earth – for his kind – in search of answers from unscrupulous information peddler Patrick Slade

‘Forgotten Corpses’ sees that clandestine meeting savagely interrupted by white paramilitaries who seek to kill them – but without alerting the police or security services…

McGregor has always a fascination with the real effects and consequences of violence, and this tale contains some pretty shocking moments that will make many readers wince. Suffice it to say I’m staying vague throughout this review, but will say that vicious brute Elmer Gore graphically tortures the Panther with barbed wire in ‘Lost Blood in Copper Dust’, leading to the maimed hero staggering into the arms of ‘The Man Who Loved Sunrise’.

Oppressed miner and narrative everyman Zanti Chikane is a black miner and second class citizen crushed by his intolerable life, but he still overcomes his understandable caution to offer assistance to torn, bleeding T’Challa. That leads to his own brush with death as white killers employ what they consider ‘Reasonable Force’ against the suspects, before being trounced by the still fighting cat-man…

The scene changes with ‘Naked Exposures’ as government Magistrate of Communications Anton Pretorius orders his battered and furious minions to capture an invading masked terrorist dubbed Black Panther. This invader is a threat to national security but the mercenaries need no other reasons to kill the treacherous “kaffir”. Just to be sure, though, Pretorius also uses his position to send out a nationwide TV alert…

‘Battered Artifacts’ finds T’Challa tracking Slade to an impoverished township, unaware that he’s under surveillance and about to step into the other side of the deadly politics that wracked South Africa at this time.

‘Hatred under Tears’ sees the mercenaries attack, uncaring of the small children they are endangering. As the Great Cat stops to aid a tear-gassed toddler, ‘Justifiable Action’ sees him shot for his efforts and arrested in ‘Personal Risk’ before breaking free and escaping…

‘The Official Version’ gives T’Challa a lesson in realpolitik from Slade’s wife even as the State intensifies its hunt for him, with Security Minister Doeke Riebeek officially branding the entire emergency a communist plot…

In the township ‘Voices Heard, Voices Ignored’ sees Zanti pondering the terrifying dangers to his family before returning to aid the Panther whilst ‘A Right to Kill’ shows Riebeek beginning to suspect Pretorius might have ulterior motives for his actions. Meanwhile, the enraged township men are moving against a suspected traitor determined ‘Somebody’s Going to Pay’. They’re carrying petrol and tyres needed for the appalling punishment they call “necklacing”. Do not google it or buy this book if you have a weak stomach…

When the Panther acts to save a life, he is horribly burned but events escalate to total tragedy as ‘Last Night I Wept for Freedom’ shows how the boy he helped returns the favour and pays the ultimate price, despite his own superhuman efforts and the initially-reluctant intervention of a white doctor in ‘Lost Promises’

Traumatised and repentant, T’Challa returns to Slade whose ‘Dark Maneuvers’ lead them into a trap laid by Pretorius’ mercenaries in ‘So Many Nameless Enemies’. The battle is brief but results in a crucial clue in the true quest, as the trader reveals how, years ago, he learned of a black woman held in glittering bondage for decades at the home of a high-ranking government official…

‘Chances’ see Riebeek and his forces closing in as T’Challa follows his fresh clue to Johannesburg to confront one of the mercs in ‘The Great Cat in the City of Gold’. Now focused on finding Pretorius, the Panther and Zanti attempt to save his precious stealth-ship from being captured by Riebeek in ‘Losing Control’… but at a terrible cost…

After ‘Saying Goodbye’, the Panther’s quest moves into its endgame as T’Challa assaults Pretorius’ luxurious citadel, circumventing deadly ‘Barriers’, and crushing human and canine ‘Opponents’ (still more grimly authentic action in need of a strong stomach advisory…), to ultimately rescue Ramonda from the luxurious cell she has inhabited ever since Pretorius abducted her years ago.

The tyrannical hypocrite’s obsessive, abusive passion for her was also his downfall: a secret capable of destroying him in a nation and government that decreed interracial mixing immoral and illegal…

Ultimately, it’s Ramonda who decrees his fate whilst enjoying a ‘Dawn Reunion’ with her long-lost child…

Available in trade paperback and digital editions and augmented by a full cover gallery and pinups from Marvel Fanfare#47 (by Bill Reinhold & Linda Lessman) and #45(Steve Rude & Steve Oliff) this is the most important Black Panther tale you’ll ever read. So do.
© 2018 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection volume 9 1976-1977: The Final Threat


By Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, Jim Starlin, Scott Edelman, Bill Mantlo, Stan Lee, George Pérez, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, John Byrne, Herb Trimpe, Sal Trapani, Don Heck, George Tuska, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8790-5 (TPB)

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

Of course, all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy, which means that every issue includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either. With the team now global icons, let’s look again at the stories which form the foundation of that pre-eminence.

Re-presenting Avengers #150-166, Avengers Annual #6 & 7, and Super-Villain Team-Up #9 (cumulatively spanning August 1976 to November 1977), these stories again see the team in transition. That was a much a result of creative upheaval as narrative exigency. Times were changing for the company which would soon become a plaything of relentless corporate forces…

In the simple world of goodies and baddies, however, #150 saw an official changing of the guard in ‘Avengers Assemble’ by Steve Englehart, George Pérez, John Tartaglione & Duffy Vohland. The anniversary epic was supplemented part-way through by half of ‘The Old Order Changeth!’ (by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers and reprinted from Avengers #16) as it settled the membership drive question begun way back in #137. The tale made way for new scripter Conway in #151 whose ‘At Last: The Decision’ (with additional scripting by Jim Shooter & Englehart as well as art from Pérez & Tartaglione) set the group off on streamlined, less cosmic adventures.

No sooner had the long-delayed announcement been made to the panting public, though, than a mysterious crate disgorges the long-dead body of Wonder Man… who shockingly shambles to his feet and accuses the stunned android Vision of stealing his mind…

Long ago, Simon Williams had been turned into a human powerhouse by arch-villain Baron Zemo and used as a Trojan horse to infiltrate the team. He eventually turned on his vile creator, sacrificing his life to redeem and atone for his deeds. After he was buried, Williams’ brain patterns were used to provide an operating system for The Vision, inadvertently creating a unique human personality for the cold thing of plastic, wires and metal…

In #152, ‘Nightmare in New Orleans!’ kicks the simmering suspenseful saga into high gear as the team start hunting for Wonder Man’s grave robber/re-animator. The trail – as crafted by Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott – soon leads the team to New Orleans and into a face-off with voodoo lord Black Talon

‘Home is the Hero!’ reintroduces 1940 Marvel sensation Bob Frank (AKA former Invader The Whizzer). In a tragic tale of desperation, the aged speedster seeks the heroes’ help but is cut short when he is seemingly possessed and attacks the team…

Avengers Annual #6 (illustrated by Pérez, Mike Esposito, Tartaglione & Vohland) reveals why and answers all the meandering mysteries, wrapping up the storyline with ‘No Final Victory’ as a conspiracy involving the serpent-helmed Living Laser, Whizzer’s government-abducted mutant son Nuklo and rogue US Army General Pollock almost succeeds in conquering California, if not America – at least until the resurgent Avengers lay down the law…

Also included in the annual – and here – is Scott Edelman & Herb Trimpe’s ‘Night Vision’: a brief but stirring solo story of the Android Avenger battling super swift psychopath Whirlwind.

In Avengers #154, Conway, Pérez & Pablo Marcos begin a blockbuster battle bonanza which was in part a crossover with Super-Villain Team-Up. That series followed the uneasy coalition of Dr. Doom and Namor the Sub-Mariner, and this initial chapter ‘When Strikes Attuma?’ finds the Vision captured by subsea barbarian Attuma even as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are ambushed and defeated by the warlord’s augmented Atlantean thrall Tyrak the Treacherous. The scheme is simple enough: use the enslaved surface champions as cannon fodder in an assault against Namor…

At this time, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had signed a non-aggression pact with the Dictator of Latveria, which resulted in Doom subsequently blackmailing the Sub-Mariner into serving as his unwilling ally. However, one American vigilante observed no such legal or diplomatic niceties…

The Shroud believed he had freed the Atlantean from his vow by assassinating Doom, but the villain had survived the assault: rescued and secretly imprisoned by Sub-Mariner’s cousin Namorita and his alien girlfriend Tamara under the misguided apprehension that they could force the Metal-shod Monarch into helping Atlantis and their lost Prince.

Simple, no?

Here, SVT-U #9 expands on the epic encounter with the heroes now ‘Pawns of Attuma’ (scripted by Bill Mantlo, with art by Jim Shooter & Sal Trapani). As the Avengers are unleashed upon the Atlanteans, they discover Doom is now in charge and easily able to thwart their half-hearted assault. In Avengers #155 (Conway, Pérez & Marcos), the beaten heroes are abjectly enslaved, leaving only confused, despondent and battle-crazed Namor ‘To Stand Alone!’ Before long, though, he is joined by lone stragglers the Beast, Whizzer and Wonder Man to hunt down the triumphant barbarian sea lord.

The epic conclusion comes in ‘The Private War of Doctor Doom!’ (Avengers #156, by Shooter, illustrated by Sal Buscema & Marcos) wherein the liberated and furious heroes join forces to crush Attuma whilst simultaneously preventing Doom from turning the situation to his own world-conquering advantage…

A change of pace begins in #157 as ‘A Ghost of Stone!’ (Conway, Don Heck & Marcos) addresses a long-unresolved mystery. As seen in the Avengers/Defenders War, the Black Knight’s body had been petrified whilst his soul was trapped in the 12th century, but now a strange force reanimates the statue and sets it upon the weary heroes…

Shooter, Sal Buscema & Marcos then contrive ‘When Avengers Clash!!’ as the revived, restored, compos mentis and now fully-recovered Wonder Man ferociously duels with an impossibly jealous Vision over the Scarlet Witch.

That Wanda loves the android Avenger is seemingly forgotten as his “borrowed” brain patterns fixate on the logical assumption that eventually his flesh-and-blood wife will gravitate to a “normal” man with his own personality rather than stay married to a mere mobile mechanism…

Domestic tantrums are quickly laid aside when the entire team – plus late arrivals Black Panther and Thor – battle research scientist Frank Hall following a lab-accident which grants him complete control over the forces of gravity…

Apparently unstoppable, Graviton almost destroys New York City in #159 as the ‘Siege by Stealth and Storm!’ (Shooter, Sal B & Marcos) results in savage combat and the unbeatable villain ultimately defeating himself…

Avengers #160 spotlights Eric Williams, the deranged Grim Reaper. With portentous hints of a hidden backer and his dead brother seemingly returned, he conducts ‘…The Trial!’ (Shooter, Pérez & Marcos) to see whether Wonder Man or the Vision is the “true” Simon Williams. He doesn’t like the answer he gets…

The next issue extends the mystery backer sub-plot as ‘Beware the Ant-Man’ finds the team attacked by a frenzied Henry Pym, whose mind has somehow regressed to mere days after the Avengers first formed. The unbalanced, hyper-aggressive hero has allied with the homicidal robot he no longer remembers creating and is unwittingly helping it build ‘The Bride of Ultron!’ (#162): pitifully oblivious that for the almost completed Jocasta to “live” his own wife Janet must die…

At the close, the Avengers believe they have finally destroyed the murderous mechanoid, but yet again they are wrong…

Shooter, George Tuska & Marcos’ stand-alone tale ‘The Demi-God Must Die!’, reveals how mythological maniac Typhonreturns to capture the team. Despite forcing Iron Man to attack Hercules to save his imperilled Avenging comrades – and even after lots of spectacular smashing – the scheme naturally fails and the World’s Mightiest are triumphant again…

John Byrne & Pablo Marcos then joined Shooter to spectacularly reinvent one of the team’s oldest adversaries, in a 3-part classic beginning in #164 wherein, after months of speculation and experimentation, the Wonder Man was finally diagnosed as having evolved into a creature of pure ionic energy. Meanwhile elsewhere, aging Maggia Don Count Nefariarecruits Whirlwind, Power Man (the original mercenary who had undergone the same transformative experiment as Wonder Man) and Living Laser to apparently amass plunder for him, but the tactic was mere subterfuge.

After the thieves trash a squad of Avengers, Nefaria uses his flunkies’ bodies as template and power source to turn himself into a literal Superman and attack the already battered heroes in ‘To Fall by Treachery!’

The tension builds in #165 as ‘Hammer of Vengeance’ sees the lethally out-powered team fall, only to be saved by elderly speedster The Whizzer who points out that, for all his incredible might, Nefaria is an old man with death inevitably dogging his heels.

Panicked and galvanised, the Overman goes berserk, carving a swathe of destruction through Manhattan whilst seeking a confrontation with Thunder God Thor and the secret of his immortality.

Before too long he had reason to regret his demands…

The surprise arrival of the Storm Lord in ‘Day of the Godslayer!’ ends the madman’s dreams but also highlights growing tensions within the victorious team…

This superb thriller is followed by a annual extravaganza (two, in fact) that became a certified classic. Devised by Jim Starlin (with the inking assistance of Joe Rubinstein) ‘The Final Threat’, from Avengers Annual #7, sees Kree warrior Captain Marvel and psionic adept Moondragon revisit Earth due to vague anticipations of an impending cosmic catastrophe.

Their premonitions are confirmed when galactic wanderer Adam Warlock arrives with news that death-obsessed Thanos had amassed an alien armada and built a weapon powered by soul-gems to snuff out the stars like candles…

Broaching interstellar space to stop the scheme, the united heroes forestall the stellar invasion and prevent the Dark Titan from destroying the Sun – but only at the cost of Warlock’s life…

This classic collection of costumed clashes closes with ‘Death Watch!’ (from Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2) which finds Peter Parker plagued by prophetic nightmares, disclosing how Thanos snatched victory from defeat and now holds the Avengers captive whilst he again prepares to extinguish Sol.

With nowhere else to turn, anguished, disbelieving Spider-Man heads for the Baxter Building, hoping to borrow a spacecraft, unaware that The Thing also has history with the terrifying Titan.

Although utterly overwhelmed and outclassed, the mismatched champions of Life subsequently upset Thanos’ plans enough so that the Avengers and the Universe’s true agent of retribution are able to end the Titan’s threat forever… or at least until next time…

Supplementing the cosmic action, this collection also offers contemporary house ads, and original art samples from Pérez and John Buscema, making this archival tome a prime example of the truly epic yarns prevalent at this period which set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas for decades to come and influenced the movie franchise we all know and love today.

Most importantly though, these are superb comics to boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the quietly isolated and far more unpredictable dangerous 21st century…
© 2019 MARVEL.

Marvel Two-in-One Marvel Masterworks volume 3

By Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, Jim Shooter, Ron Wilson, Ernie Chan, Marie Severin, Sal Buscema, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0964-2 (HB)

Above all else, Marvel has always been about team-ups. The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing, or battling – often both – with less well-selling company characters – was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the same deal DC had with Batman in The Brave and the Bold.

Although confident in their new title, they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch. In those long-ago days, editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since super-heroes were actually in a decline they may well have been right.

Nevertheless, after the runaway success of Spider-Man’s guest vehicle Marvel Team-Up, the House of Ideas carried on the trend with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic and popular member – beginning with a brace of test runs in Marvel Feature #11-12, before awarding him his own team-up title, of which this third eclectic compendium gathers together (in hardback or digital editions) the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #21-36, covering November 1976 – February 1978.

Preceded by a comprehensive reminiscence from artist Ron Wilson in his Introduction, the action begins with Marvel Two-In-One #21 (November 1976), which featured a pairing with legendary pulp superman Doc Savage. For years this tale has been omitted from collections: unavailable for fans due to Marvel having no access to the Man of Bronze’s proprietary rights. Thankfully an accommodation has been reached, allowing ‘Black Sun Lives!’ by Bill Mantlo, Wilson & Pablo Marcos to be included here. Good thing too, as the tale of cosmic peril across two eras is a cracker that would impact upon many epics still to be seen in Ben Grimm’s fantastic future…

In 1976, a desperate young woman named Janice Lightner asks The Thing and teammate Johnny Storm to prevent her brother Tom from completing an experiment that will destroy the world. In a contiguous moment four decades previously, Janice’s mother approaches Clark Savage Junior and his troubleshooting team to help her end a mad project her husband has initiated. Nobel laureate Raymond Lightner intends using his sky cannon to tap the infinite power of the stars.

As two teams “simultaneously” converge on Lightner’s ancestral home the cannon is triggered, shredding the time barrier and bringing the heroes together to face the combined creature called Blacksun, formed when father and son merged across the decades…

Ultimately triumphant, the heroes separate as the timestream heals, leaving Tom Lightner in need of medical attention…

That comes as Ben contacts physician Dr. Don Blake, leading to #22-23’s Thor pairing against the Egyptian God of Death in ‘Touch Not the Hand of Seth!’ (Mantlo, Wilson & Marcos); a fantastic cosmic extravaganza concluded with the assistance of Jim Shooter & Marie Severin in ‘Death on the Bridge to Heaven!’

Ben then enjoys a far more prosaic time with neophyte hero Black Goliath as a devastated downtown Los Angeles asks ‘Does Anyone Remember… the Hijacker?’ (by Mantlo, Shooter, Sal Buscema & Marcos).

A new era opens as a much delayed and postponed team-up with Iron Fist, the Living Weapon heralds the start of writer/editor Marv Wolfman’s impressive run on the title. ‘A Tale of Two Countries!’ – illustrated by Wilson & Grainger – sees Ben and the master martial artist shanghaied to the Far East as part of a Machiavellian plan to conquer the island kingdom of Kaiwann. Naturally, they both strenuously object to the abduction…

The innate problem with team-ups was always a lack of continuity – something Marvel had always prided itself upon – and Wolfman sought to address it by the simple expedient of having stories link-up through evolving, overarching plots taking the Thing from place to place and guest to guest to guest.

Here the tactic begins with bustling bombast in ‘The Fixer and Mentallo are Back and the World will Never be the Same!’(Wilson & Marcos) uniting Ben with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. to battle a brace of conniving bad guys trying to steal killer-cyborg-from-an-alternate-future Deathlok.

The good guys spectacularly fail and the artificial assassin is co-featured in #27 as ‘Day of the Demolisher!’ sees the now-reprogrammed killer targeting the inauguration of new US President Jimmy Carter. This time Big Ben has an alien ace up his sleeve and the hit fails…

The tempestuous Sub-Mariner shares the watery limelight in #28 as Ben and his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters ferry the deactivated Deathlok to a London-based boffin. When they are shot down in mid-Atlantic by a mutated fish-man, Grimm must fight against and beside Namor whilst Alicia languishes ‘In the Power of the Piranha!’ (with John Tartaglione inks).

Master of Kung Fu Shang-Chi then steps in as Ben and Alicia finally landed in London. Inked by Sam Grainger, ‘Two Against Hydra’ sees aforementioned expert Professor Kort snatched by the sinister secret society before the Thing can consult him: the savant’s knowledge being crucial to Hydra’s attempts to revive their own living weapon…

As part of Marvel’s compulsive ongoing urge to protect their trademarks, a number of their top male characters had been spun off into female iterations. Thus, at the end of 1976 Ms. Marvel debuted (with a January 1977 cover-date), She-Hulkarrived at the end of 1979 (Savage She-Hulk #1 February 1980) whilst Jessica Drew premiered in Marvel Spotlight #32 as The Spider-Woman, a mere month after Ms. Marvel…

Her cameo appearance in Marvel Two-In-One #29 (July 1977) began an extended 6-chapter saga designed as a promotional lead-in to her own series. ‘Battle Atop Big Ben!’ (#30 by Wolfman, John Buscema & Marcos) saw her meet the Thing as she struggled to be free of her Hydra controllers, even as a couple of petty thieves embroiled Ben and Alicia in a complex and arcane robbery scheme involving a strange chest buried beneath Westminster Abbey.

Unable to kill Ben, the Arachnid Dark Angel kidnaps Alicia, who becomes ‘My Sweetheart… My Killer!’ (#31 by Wilson & Sam Grainger) after Kort and Hydra transform the helpless waif into a spidery monster. In #32’s ‘And Only the Invisible Girl Can Save Us Now!’ (inked by Marcos) Sue Storm joins the repentant Spider-Woman and distraught Thing in battling and curing an out-of-control Alicia. In the wings, those two robbers continue their campaign of acquisition and accidentally awake a quartet of ancient elemental horrors…

It requires the magics of the Arthurian sorcerer Modred the Mystic to help Spider-Woman and Ben triumph over the monsters in the concluding chapter ‘From Stonehenge… With Death!’ before a semblance of normality is restored…

Back to business as usual in Marvel Two-In-One #34, Ben and sky-soaring Defender Nighthawk tackle a revived and cruelly misunderstood alien freed from an antediluvian cocoon in ‘A Monster Walks Among Us!’ (Wolfman, Wilson & Marcos) before Ernie Chan joins Wolfman to illustrate a 2-part wrap-up to one of Marvel’s recently folded series.

Marvel Two-In-One often acted as a clearing-house for old, unresolved series and plot-lines and #35 saw Ben dispatched by the US Air Force through a time-portal in the Bermuda Triangle to a fantastic world of dinosaurs, robots, dinosaurs, E.T.’s and more dinosaurs as ‘Enter: Skull the Slayer and Exit: The Thing’ details the short history and imminent deaths of a group of modern Americans trapped in a bizarre time-lost land.

Marooned in the past with them, it takes the intervention of Mister Fantastic to retrieve Ben and his new friends in #36’s ‘A Stretch in Time…’, bringing this compilation to a satisfactory halt.

These stories from Marvel’s Middle Period are unarguably of variable quality, but whereas some might feel rushed and ill-considered they are balanced by many timeless classics, still as captivating today as they always were.

Even if artistically the work varies from only adequate to superb, most fans of Costumed Dramas will find little to complain about and there’s lots of fun to be found for young and old readers. So why not lower your critical guard and have an honest blast of pure warts ‘n’ all comics craziness? You’ll almost certainly grow to like it…
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 11


By Jack Kirby, with Frank Giacoia, John Verpoorten, Mike Royer, Dan Green, John Tartaglione & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1702-9 (HB)

These days Captain America is as much a global symbol of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave as Uncle Sam or Apple Pie ever were. Thus, I’m enjoying a lazy and rather obvious way to celebrate Independence Day (for them and perhaps us if we’re successfully incorporated as the nation’s 51st State soon…) by recommending this bellicose blockbuster featuring material first seen in 1976 as the nation commenced its third century of existence…

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, he was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss, but quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased. Fading away during post-war reconstruction only to briefly reappear after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed.

Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the Land of the Free’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era.

He quickly became a mainstay of the Marvel Revolution during the Swinging Sixties, but lost his way somewhat after that, except for a glittering period under scripter Steve Englehart. Eventually, however, he too moved on and out in the middle of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, after nearly a decade drafting almost all of Marvel’s successes, Jack Kirby had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamically inspiring pantheon. Eventually he accepted that even he could never win against any publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce whilst enduring micro-managing editorial interference.

Seeing which way the winds were blowing, Kirby exploded back into the Marvel Universe in 1976 with a signed promise of free rein, to concoct another stunning wave of iconic creations – 2001: a Space Odyssey, Machine Man, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur (plus – so nearly – seminal TV paranoia-fest The Prisoner), as well as drafting a wealth of bombastic covers for almost every title in the company.

He was also granted control of two of his previous co-creations – firmly established characters Black Panther and Captain America – to do with as he wished…

His return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial since his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity: Jack always went his own bombastic way. Whilst those new works quickly found many friends, his tenure on those earlier inventions drastically divided the fan base.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on Cap and the Panther as creative “Day Ones”. This was never more apparent than in the pages of the Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty…

This sterling collection – available in sturdy hardback and reassuring tree-friendly digital formats – reprints Captain America and the Falcon #201-214 and the fourth Captain America Annual, cumulatively spanning September 1976-October 1977. It also offers an Introduction by Mark Waid revealing how, when Kirby came aboard as writer, artist and editor, his biggest battle was against unnamed editorial staff who sought to sabotage his efforts…

At the end of the previous volume the original Fighting American had saved the nation from a conclave of aristocratic oligarchs attempting to undo two hundred years of freedom and progress with their “Madbomb”. After saving the nation, the Star-Spangled Avenger reunites with his partner for issue #201, set in the aftermath of their struggle…

Inked by Frank Giacoia, the tone shifts to malevolent moodiness and uncanny mystery with the introduction of ‘The Night People!’: a street-full of maladjusted maniacs who periodically phase into and out of New York City, creating terror and chaos with every sunset. When Falcon Sam Wilson and girlfriend Leila are abducted by the eerie encroachers, they are quickly converted to their crazed cause by exposure to the ‘Mad, Mad Dimension!’ the vile visitors inhabit during daylight hours. This leaves Cap and folksy new millionaire colleague Texas Jack Muldoon hopelessly outgunned when their last-ditch rescue attempt results in them all battling an invasion of brutally berserk other-dimensional beasts in ‘Alamo II!’

On bludgeoning, battle-hardened top-form, the Star-Spangled Avenger saves the day once more, but no sooner are the erstwhile inhabitants of Zero Street safely re-ensconced on Earth than ‘The Unburied One!’ finds the indefatigable champions battling against a corpse who won’t play dead. The concluding chapter reveals the cadaver has become home to an energy-being from the far future as (inked by John Verpoorten) ‘Agron Walks the Earth!’ Thankfully, not even its pulsating power and rage can long baulk the indomitable spirit and ability of America’s Ultimate Fighting Man…

The non-stop nightmares resume in #206 as ‘Face to Face with the Swine!’ (Giacoia inks) sees the Star-Spangled Sensation illegally renditioned by secret police to deepest Central America. Here he subsequently topples the private kingdom and personal torture ground of psychotic sadist Comandante Hector Santiago, unchallenged monarch of the prison of Rio del Muerte

Never one to go anywhere meekly, Cap escapes and begins engineering the brute’s downfall in ‘The Tiger and the Swine!!’ but soon finds the jungles conceal actual monsters. When they exact primal justice on the tormentors, Cap’s escape with the Swine’s cousin Donna Maria down ‘The River of Death!’ is interrupted by the advent of another astounding “Kirby Kreation” …‘Arnim Zola… the Bio-Fanatic!!’

The former Nazi geneticist is absolute master of radical biology, abducting Cap and Donna Maria to his living castle and inflicting upon them a horde of diabolical homunculi at the behest of a mysterious sponsor, even as the Falcon is closing in on his long-missing pal.

Indomitable against every kind of shapeshifting horror, Captain America battles on, enduring a terrible ‘Showdown Day!’(with Mike W. Royer taking over the inking), whilst back home Steve Rogers’ girlfriend Sharon Carter uses her resources as SHIELD’s Agent 13 to trace wealthy Cyrus Fenton and expose ‘Nazi “X”!’ as Zola’s sponsor and the Sentinel of Liberty’s greatest nemesis…

With his time on the title counting down, Kirby ramped up the tension in #212 as ‘The Face of a Hero! Yours!!’ finds Zola preparing to surgically insert the Red Skull into Cap’s form, triggering a cataclysmic clash which leaves the hero bloodied and blind, but ultimately victorious…

With the hero recuperating in a US hospital, Dan Green steps in to ink #213 as ultimate assassin ‘The Night Flyer!’ targets the ailing Cap at the behest of unfettered capitalist villain Kligger (from the insidious Corporation), inadvertently restoring his victim’s vision in time for spectacular – if abrupt – conclusion ‘The Power’ (Royer inks)…

Reading slightly out of sequence here, Captain America Annual #4 wraps up the Kirby contributions to the career of the Star-Spangled Avenger with ‘The Great Mutant Massacre!’: a feature- length super-shocker which again eschews convoluted back-story and the cultural soul-searching which typified the character before and after Kirby’s tenure.

It sees America’s Super Soldier strive against humanity’s nemesis Magneto and his latest mutant recruits Burner,Smasher, Lifter, Shocker, Slither and Peeper. This riot of rampaging action and end-of-the-world wonderment pits the Sentinel of Liberty against a Homo Superior hit-squad aiming to take possession of a super-powered being whose origins are far stranger than anybody could conceive…

This tome then concludes with a wonderful gallery of original art pages and covers for fans to drool over…

The King’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, always make for a captivating read and this stuff is as good as anything Jack crafted over his decades of creative brilliance.

Fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing Fights ‘n’ Tights masterpieces no fan should ignore and, above all else, fabulously fun tales of a true American Dream…
© 2019 MARVEL

Marvel Two-in-One Marvel Masterworks volume 2

By Bill Mantlo, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Roger Slifer, Marv Wolfman, Scott Edelman, Tony Isabella, Ron Wilson, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, Herb Trimpe, Arvell Jones, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0352-7 (HB)

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

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

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

After the runaway success of Spider-Man’s collaborations in Marvel Team-Up, the House of Ideas reinforced the trend with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic member – beginning with two test runs in Marvel Feature before graduating to its own somewhat over-elaborate title Marvel Two-In-One. After a stunning experimental first ten issues, the title settled into a comfortable and entertaining format designed to draw in casual browsers as well as dedicated fans by featuring characters from far and wide across the MU…

This second compelling compendium – available in sturdy hardback and instantly-accessible digital formats – gathers the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #11-20, Annual #1, Marvel Team-Up #47 and Fantastic Four Annual #11, cumulatively covering the period September 1975 to October 1976, and kicks off with a fond remembrance by occasional scripter Roy Thomas in his Introduction before the action recommences…

During this period, this team-up title became a kind of clearing house for cancelled series and uncompleted storylines. Supernatural series The Golem had run ran in Strange Tales #174, 176 & 177 (June-December 1974) before being summarily replaced mid-story by Adam Warlock, and MTIO #11 provided plotter Thomas, scripter Bill Mantlo and artists Brown & Jack Abel the opportunity to offer some spectacular closure when ‘The Thing Goes South!’

This resulted in stony bloke and animated statue – after the traditional misapprehensions and mistaken brawl between good guys – finally combining forces to crush the insidious plot of demonic wizard Kaballa

Ron Wilson began his lengthy association with the series and the Thing in #12 as Iron Man and Ben tackle out of control, mystically-empowered ancient Crusader Prester John in ‘The Stalker in the Sands!’: a blistering desert storm written by Mantlo with inks from Vince Colletta, after which Luke Cage, Power Man pops in to help stop a giant monster in ‘I Created Braggadoom!, the Mountain that Walked like a Man!’ – an unabashed homage to Marvel’s anthological blockbuster beasties, scripted by Roger Slifer & Len Wein – after which Mantlo, Trimpe & John Tartaglione deliver a spooky encounter with spectres and demons in #14’s ‘Ghost Town!’ This moody mystical mission of mercy is shared with exorcist Daimon Hellstrom, The Son of Satan and leaves Ben rattled for months to come…

Mantlo, Arvell Jones & Dick Giordano brought on ‘The Return of the Living Eraser!’: a dimension-hopping invasion yarn introducing Ben to Morbius, the Living Vampire, before a canny crossover epic begins with the Thing and Ka-Zar plunging ‘Into the Savage Land!’ to dally with dinosaurs and defeat resource plunderers.

The action then switches to New York as Spider-Man joins the party in MTIO #17 to combat ‘This City… Afire!’ (Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Esposito) after mutated madman Basilisk transports an active volcano from Antarctica to the Hudson River, with the cataclysmic conclusion (from Marvel Team-Up #47) following, wherein Mantlo, Wilson & Dan Adkins have our heroes finish off the furore and save the day in fine style with ‘I Have to Fight the Basilisk!’

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

That yarn segued directly into Fantastic Four Annual #11 which featured portentous time-travel saga ‘And Now Then… the Invaders!’ by Thomas, John Buscema & Sam Grainger, wherein Marvel’s First Family dash back to 1942 to retrieve a cylinder of miracle-metal Vibranium. It had somehow fallen into Nazi hands and had begun to unwrite history as a consequence…

On arrival, the team are embroiled in conflict with WWII super-team the Invaders, comprising early incarnations of Captain America, Sub-Mariner and the original, android Human Torch. The time-busting task goes well once the heroes finally unite to assault a Nazi castle where the Vibranium is held, but after the quartet return to their own repaired era, only Ben realises the mission isn’t completed yet…

The action continues in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1 as, with the present unravelling around him, Ben blasts back to 1942 in ‘Their Name is Legion!’ (Thomas, Sal Buscema, Grainger, Tartaglione & George Roussos), to link up with Home Front Heroes The Liberty Legion (collectively The Patriot, Thin Man, Red Raven, Jack Frost, Blue Diamond, Miss America and the Whizzer) in thwarting Nazi raiders Skyshark and Master Man, Japanese agent Slicer and Atlantean traitor U-Man’s invasion of America. The battle proved so big it spilled over and concluded in Marvel Two-In-One #20 (October 1976) in a shattering ‘Showdown at Sea!’: pitting the heroes against diabolical Nazi scientist Brain Drain, courtesy this time of Thomas, Sal B & Grainger.

That yarn ends the narrative thrills and chills for now, but there’s still room for a brief gallery of original art by Sal Buscema and Jack Kirby to delight and astound.

These stories from Marvel’s Middle Period are of variable quality but nonetheless represent an honest attempt to entertain and exhibit a dedicated drive to please. Whilst artistically the work varies from adequate to utterly superb, most fans of the frantic Fights ‘n’ Tights genre would find little to complain about.

Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s still buckets of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so why not to add this colossal comics chronicle to your straining superhero bookshelves?
© 1975, 1976, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 13


By Len Wein, Roger Stern, Jim Starlin, David Anthony Kraft, Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, George Tuska, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1926-9 (HB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, stress and other factors cause 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.

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

This chronologically complete hardback and digital monolith re-presents Incredible Hulk King Size Annual #6 and issues #210-222 of his monthly magazine, spanning April 1977 – April 1978 and opens with an Introduction and curated reminiscence from Roger Stern who assumed the writing reins from Len Wein.

The drama and destruction commence however with David Anthony Kraft, Trimpe and inkers Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito tale ‘Beware the Beehive!’ from Incredible Hulk King Size Annual #6, wherein a band of mad scientists attempt to recreate their greatest success and failure.

Morlak, Hamilton, Shinsky and Zota were a rogue science collective known as the Enclave. Their hidden “Beehive” had originally spawned puissant artificial man Him (latterly Adam Warlock). Here and now, three of them reunite for another go at building a god they can control, but when they abduct Dr. Stephen Strange to replace their missing fourth, the magician summons the Jade Juggernaut to save him from the experiment’s inevitable consequences: a marauding, compassionless super-slave dubbed Paragon whose first task is to eradicate Strange and subdue mankind.

Happily, after a border-shattering, army-crunching global rampage, that’s when the Hulk kicks the wall in and goes to work…

In Incredible Hulk #210, Ernie Chan became Sal Buscema’s regular inker as Wein’s ‘And Call the Doctor… Druid!’ finds both Banner and his brutish alter ego crucial to a plan to stop immortal mutant Maha Yogi, his vast mercenary army and alien bodyguard Mongu before they complete their preparations for world domination…

Although the battles of ‘The Monster and the Mystic!’ are a close-run thing, virtue is eventually victorious, but that makes little difference to the Hulk’s once-companion teenager Jim Wilson as he hitch-hikes across America, utterly unaware that he is the target of a vicious criminal conspiracy. The plots hatch once Jim reaches New York where his hidden tormentors decide that he must be ‘Crushed by… the Constrictor!’ Neither they nor their ruthless high-tech hitman expected the Hulk to intervene…

With a friend and confidante who knows all his secrets, you’d expect Banner’s life to get a little easier, but the authorities will never stop hunting the Hulk, who initially realises ‘You Just Don’t Quarrel with the Quintronic Man!’ (inked by Tom Palmer) before bouncing back to trash the formidable five-man mecha suit.

As Chan returns, this battle leads to a frenzied clash with a new hyper-powered hero resolved to make his name by defeating America’s most terrifying monster in ‘The Jack of Hearts is Wild!’

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

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

It all begins with ‘The Rhino Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore’ (#218 by Wein & Stern, with George Tuska, Keith Pollard & Chan handling the visuals) as super-strong, gamma-tainted psychologist “Doc” Leonard Samson takes centre stage battling the ruthless Rhino, whilst in #219 Banner learns ‘No Man is an Island!’ (Wein, Stern, Sal Buscema & Chan) after hiring on as a deck hand on a freighter, only to have it sunk from under him by submarine-based pirate Cap’n Barracuda.

Washed ashore on a desert atoll, Hulk is befriended by a deluded individual who believes himself to be Robinson Crusoe, but as events unfold an even stranger truth is revealed. Barracuda captures the madman, to pluck the secret of making monsters from his broken mind.

The cruel corsair has completely underestimated the ferocious loyalty and compassion of the Hulk, who unleashes devastating destructive ‘Fury at 5000 Fathoms!’

With Stern in complete authorial control, Sal Buscema is joined by Alfredo Alcala for #221’s ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home’, with the still all-at-sea Banner rescued from drowning by marine explorer Walt Newell who ferries his exhausted passenger back to New York where he is recognised as Bruce Banner. Realising he has unwittingly unleashed the Hulk on a major population centre, Newell exposes his own secret identity as sub-sea superhero Stingray and pursues his former guest.

The battle is painfully one-sided and Stingray is near death when Jim Wilson intervenes, saving the marine crusader’s life, but only at the cost of Hulk’s trust…

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

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

The remainder of this catastrophically cathartic tome – available in hardback and digital editions – is an art lovers delight, featuring a gallery of original art and covers by Trimpe, Giacoia, Esposito, Rich Buckler, Chan, Sal Buscema, Starlin & Alcala and also includes 5 stunningly beautiful pencilled pages of a never-completed story by Wein and Swamp Thing co-creator Bernie Wrightson, plus a panoramic pin-up of Jade Jaws vs the Hulkbusters by Trimpe originally published in F.O.O.M. #19.

The Incredible Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the cartoons, TV shows, games, toys, action figures and movies are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, earnestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these exciting episodes, so why not Go Green – even if it’s only in monochrome and in your own delirious head?
© 2019 MARVEL.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Roy Thomas, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5020-6 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining – radioactively enhanced – senses hyper-compensate, make him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who illustrated the series. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul and wunderkind scripter Roy Thomas added an edge of tangible darkness to the sightless swashbuckling…

Covering July 1969 to April 1969, this chillingly compelling collection (in both sturdy hardback and eBook formats) reprints Daredevil #54-63, cementing the hero’s reputation on the fringes of the burgeoning Marvel Universe. This epochal tome also boasts a heartfelt testimonial to the mastery of a true genius of illustration in Clifford Meth’s Introduction ‘Gene Colan: Artist Without Fear’

Following an inconclusive clash with deranged scientist Starr Saxon and a reaffirmation of purpose via a review of his origins, Daredevil’s next escapades assume an aura of ever-escalating madness as #54’s ‘Call him Fear!’ (by Thomas, Colan & George Klein) featured the “death” of Matt Murdock and the gloating return of long-vanished villain Mr. Fear

A superb inking run by legendary illustrator Syd Shores begins with ‘Cry Coward!’, revealing DD’s desperate reason for faking his demise (again!) before enacting the apparent end of one of the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s greatest enemies…

‘…And Death Came Riding!’ then opens a tense 2-parter which forever changes Murdock’s relationship with perennially loved-from-afar Karen Page even as it introduces a stunningly sinister new menace in Death’s-Head. By the end of concluding chapter ‘In the Midst of Life…!’ Matt and Karen are enjoying the most progressive and mature relationship in mainstream comics of the period…

‘Spin-Out on Fifth Avenue!’ begins to re-establish some civilian stability as resurrected (yes! again!) Matt Murdock becomes a special prosecutor for New York District Attorney Foggy Nelson and promptly goes after a mysterious new gang-boss dubbed Crime-Wave. As the fresh plot-threads take hold, new threats emerge, such as amped-up biker and reluctant assassin-for-hire Stunt-Master and #59’s far nastier hired gun who boasts ‘The Torpedo Will Get You if you Don’t Watch Out!’: both primarily self-contained thrillers hard and heavy on breathtaking action…

‘Showdown at Sea!’ closes the career of insidious, treacherous Crime-Wave, simultaneously signalling a return to single-issue action-based stories, starting with ‘Trapped… by the Trio of Doom!’ and spotlighting a spectacular struggle against Cobra, Mr. Hyde and The Jester.

DD #62 features nefarious Batman analogue (created for Avengers adversaries Squadron Sinister) who attempts to destroy the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s reputation in ‘Quoth the Nighthawk “Nevermore”!’, after which Horn-Head stunningly stops deadly psychopath Melvin Potter from busting out of jail in ‘The Girl… or the Gladiator’… but only at the cost of his increasingly unstable love-life…

These potent tales are a masterclass in Fights ‘n’ Tights dynamism: a succession of highly entertaining, short, sharp shockers no superhero fan could possibly resist, ably augmented here by a brief gallery of Colan original art pages. What more could you possibly need to make your day perfect?
© 1969, 1970, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 11


By Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Archie Goodwin, Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer, Jim Shooter, Herb Trimpe, Steve Gerber, Roger Stern, George Tuska, Sal Buscema, Jeff Aclin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1090-7(HB)

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

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

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

Of course, whilst he was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism – a glamorous millionaire industrialist/scientist and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his alter-ego – the turbulent tone of the 1970s soon relegated his suave, “can-do” image to the dustbin of history.

With ecological disaster and social catastrophe from the myriad abuses of big business the new zeitgeists of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting a few tricky questions from the increasingly politically savvy readership.

With glamour, money and fancy gadgetry not quite so cool anymore the questing voices of a new generation of writers began posing uncomfortable questions in the pages of a series that was once the bastion of militarised America …

This grand and gleaming chronological compendium – available in hardback and digital editions – completes that transitional period; reprinting Iron Man #82-94 (January 1976 – January 1977) plus Annuals #3 and 4: aided and abetted by an informative and insightful measure of historical context courtesy of historian and author Bruce Canwell in his Introduction.

With an extended epic spanning the world and alternate dimensions finally completed long-term writer Mike Friedrich moved on, and Iron Man #82 welcomed a new era and tone as Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Marie Severin & Jack Abel revamped the armour just in time for the Red Ghost and his super simians to kidnap super genius Stark in ‘Plunder of the Apes!’

Debuting in that issue was NYPD detective Michael O’Brien, who holds Tony responsible and accountable for the tragic death of his brother Kevin. The deceased researcher had been Stark’s confidante until his mind snapped. He had died running amok whilst wearing a prototype suit of Guardsman armour. Here and now Mike smells a cover-up…

IM #83 reveals ‘The Rage of the Red Ghost!’ (inked by Marie Severin) as the deranged Russian forces Stark to cure his gradual dispersal into component atoms, only to realise, following a bombastic battle, that the inventor has outwitted him once again, after which Wein, Roger Slifer, Trimpe & John Tartaglione detail how the infamous Enervator again turns a grievously injured Happy Hogan into a mindless monster. This time, the medical miracle machine saturates him with so much Cobalt radiation that he becomes a ticking inhuman nuke on the ‘Night of the Walking Bomb!’

The tense tick-tock to doom is narrowly and spectacularly stopped in ‘…And the Freak Shall Inherit the Earth!’ (Slifer w/Wein, Trimpe, Severin) after which Bill Mantlo, George Tuska & Vince Colletta revive and revamp one of the Golden Avenger’s oldest and least-remembered rogues when disgraced thermal technologist Gregor Shapanka sheds his loser status as Jack Frost to attack Stark International in a deadly new guise in # 86’s ‘The Gentleman’s Name is Blizzard!’

Despite his improved image, the sub-zero zealot can’t quite close ‘The Icy Hand of Death!’, leading to the first of this cracking chronicle’s mid-year spectaculars as Iron Man Annual #3 (June 1976) unveils ‘More or Less… the Return of the Molecule Man!’ courtesy of Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema & Abel.

Whilst Tony Stark looks into redeveloping some soggy Florida real estate, a little local girl finds a strange wand and is possessed and transformed by the consciousness of one of the most powerful creatures in existence…

Although Iron Man is helpless to combat the reality-warping attacks of the combination petulant girl/narcissistic maniac, luckily for the universe, the shambling elemental shocker dubbed Man-Thing had no mind to mess with or conscience to trouble…

Iron Man #88 signals the too-brief reunion of veteran scribe Archie Goodwin with George Tuska as ‘Fear Wears Two Faces!’ finds the Armoured Avenger battling escaped aliens the Blood Brothers after the vicious space thugs are psychically summoned to a mystery rendezvous with another old enemy of Iron Man. Inked by Colletta, the tale concludes in ‘Brute Fury!’ as Daredevil deals himself in to the cataclysmic clash and just barely tips the scales…

The hidden manipulator is exposed in #90 (By Jim Shooter, Tuska & Abel) ‘When Calls the Controller!’, as the life-force thief seeks to escape months of entombment by enslaving and feeding off hapless down-&-outs. His rapid defeat is only a prelude to greater catastrophe as Gerry Conway scripts and Bob Layton inks #91’s ‘Breakout!’ wherein the fiend tries too hard, too fast and again fades into helpless captivity…

The manic Melter soon regrets his ill-advised grudge rematch in ‘Burn, Hero… Burn!’ (Conway, Tuska & Abel) before Herb Trimpe returns as plotter and penciller in Iron Man #93, pitting Old Shellhead against a British-based modern-day pirate in ‘Kraken Kills’ (Conway Script & Abel inks), with the self-declared Commander deducing Stark’s secret identity before blackmailing the inventor into building weapons for his super-submarine fleet. Never at a loss, Stark turns the tables, sparking ‘Frenzy at Fifty Fathoms!’ to scupper the madman’s plans…

This bombastic book concludes with Invincible Iron Man Annual #4 (August 1977) and an all-action alliance with newly constituted super-team The Champions by Mantlo, Tuska & inker Don Perlin. When psychic assassin M.O.D.O.K. overwhelms the Golden Avenger, Iron Man calls in old allies Black Widow and Hercules (plus teammates Ghost Rider, Iceman, Darkstar and the Angel) to thwart ‘The Doomsday Connection!’

Also from that issue comes an out-of-place martial arts vignette by Roger Stern, Jeff Aclin & Don Newton. ‘Death Lair!’ stars former Master of Kung Fu villain Midnight on a mission of murder against old Iron Man enemy Half-Face

Closing the covers on this stellar compilation are a selection of house ads and a short cover gallery of original art by Gil Kane, Esposito, Ed Hannigan & Frank Giacoia.

From our distant vantage point the polemical energy and impact might be dissipated, but the sheer quality of the comics and the cool thrill of the eternal aspiration of man in perfect partnership with magic metal remains.

These Fights ‘n’ Tights classics are amongst the most underrated but impressive tales of the period and are well worth your time, consideration and cold hard cash…
© 1976, 1977, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Campus


By Francesco Artibani, Michele Medda, Denis Medri, Roberto Di Salvo & Marco Failla; translated by Luigi Mutti (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-90523-998-6 (Marvel/Panini UK PB)

Here’s an intriguing reimagining of the key elements which made X-Men a global phenomenon, courtesy of the company’s international connections. Created in 2008 by European creators informed by the movie franchise and published under the Marvel Transatlantique imprint, this oddly numbered miniseries (1A&B – 4A&B) is set on the sprawling campus of the Worthington Foundation in Greenwich, Connecticut. This unique academy draws special students from all over the world…

The guy in charge is Professor Magnus whilst Charles Xavier is a biology teacher with an assistant named Jean Grey. The student body is highly polarised: First year students Hank McCoy, Scott Summers, Bobby Drake, Ororo Munroe, Warren Worthington III and the unruly Logan are all good kids.

Magnus’s favoured group (all analogues of the Marvel Universe Hellfire Club and led by telepathic jailbait wild-child Emma Frost) – not to mention his school caretakers Mesmero, Pyro, Toad and Blob – are clearly operating under a hidden agenda and turn all their dubious charms to getting new girl Anna Raven to join their clique. You’ll know her as Rogue and it’s her narrative voice that drives this tale…

Magnus/Magneto is using the school to recruit a homo superior army and Xavier’s plan is to covertly rescue impressionable adolescent mutants before it’s too late. Foiling the villain’s plan to acquire both teleporter Kurt Wagner and Russian Man of Steel Peter Rasputin only leads to greater conflict and the rapidly-maturing kids must ultimately decide once and for all whether they’ll be friends or foes of humanity…

Compacting all the elements of X-lore into a school divided between “goodies” and “baddies” works surprisingly well, as does making all the heroes troubled teens. This oddly engaging blend of The Demon Headmaster and Roswell High – and every latterday young adult yarn with teachers as evil “Thems” – is written with great charm by Artibani and Medda, and whilst the manga style art (reminiscent of many modern animation shows for kids) is a little jarring to my old eyes, it does carry the tale with clarity and effectiveness, aimed as it is at drawing in contemporary readers, not cranky old gits like me.

Still readily available in trade paperback and easily obtainable digital formats, this is a refreshing take on the merry mutants and I’d honestly welcome more of the same. If you’re not too wedded to continuity and could stand a breezy change of pace, why not give this intriguing return to turbulent School Daze a go?
© 2008 Marvel Entertainment, Inc. and its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved. (A BRITISH EDITION BY PANINI UK LTD)

Spidey volume 2: After-School Special


By Robbie Thompson, André Lima Araújo, Nathan Stockman & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9676-1 (TPB)

Since its earliest days the publishing company now known as media monolith Marvel always courted the youngest of comicbook consumers. Whether through animated tie-ins and licensed properties such as Terrytoons Comics, Mighty Mouse, Duckula, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Disney licenses and a myriad of others, or original characters such as Millie the Model, Homer the Happy Ghost and Calvin, the House of Ideas always understood the necessity of cultivating the next generation of readers.

These days, however, kids’ interest titles are a tricky balancing act and, with the Marvel Universe’s characters all over screens large and small, the company usually prefers to create child-friendly versions of its own proprietary pantheon in their own playground, making that eventual hoped-for transition to more mature comics and other venues as painless as possible.

In the 1980s-1990s Marvel published an entire line of kiddie titles through its Star Comics line and, in 2003, the company created a Marvel Age line to update and retell classic original tales by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko, mixing it in with the remnants of its manga-inspired Tsunami imprint: again, all intended for a younger readership.

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, becoming the Marvel Adventures line, with titles reflecting the most popular characters and whatever was on TV screens at the time. In 2012 these were superseded by specific comicbook titles tied to Disney XD TV shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”.

Today’s featured item – Spidey: After-School Special – is a horse of a different colour: similar but different…

Rather than simply crafting a wallcrawler for younger sensibilities, this iteration – presumably sparked by the teenaged, light-adventure version seen in the Spider-Man: Homecoming movie – innovates and modernizes by once again looking back and superbly succeeds in recapturing a sense of the madcap gaiety that counterbalanced the action and pathos of the earliest Lee/Ditko stories. This series is all about thrills and fun…

Scripted throughout by Robbie Thompson and re-presenting Spidey#7-12 (originally released from August 2016 to January 2017), the non-stop, youngster-appropriate mayhem recommences with a cracking catch-up origin-page illustrated by Nick Bradshaw and colourist Jim Campbell.

Firmly set in The Now, our hero is still and once again a callow schoolboy, fighting crime and making enemies between High School classes. In his off-hours he’s also a crimefighting sensation of the internet and social media whenever he puts on his blue-&-red duds. As ever, news magnate J. Jonah Jameson is there to vilify the webslinger at every opportunity…

Sadly, thanks to the kid’s double life, Peter Parker’s grades – except for science and maths – are tanking now, and the secret superhero is forced to accept Popular Girl Gwen Stacy as a much-needed history tutor. Not only is she the hottest girl in school, but she also decks Flash Thompson with one punch after the jocks starts bullying “Puny” Parker again…

That tricky triangle develops in captivating manner over the next half dozen arachnid escapades, starting with an untitled team-up co-starring African monarch T’Challa the Black Panther and illustrated by André Lima Araújo. Here, the tutoring of classmates is counterbalanced by a spectacular teaching moment as the schoolboy hero stumbles into a subterranean smuggling operation masterminded by the diabolical and unhuman Klaw, Master of Sound…

Peter Parker’s dream “maybe date” with Gwen takes an even-more terrifying turn in ‘Blackout!’ (art by Nathan Stockman) as voltaic villain Electro assaults the city in a deadly but foredoomed attempt to kill Spider-Man. His spectacular trouncing is only slightly mitigated when he is sprung from custody by a band of fellow murderous Arachnophobes…

Peter’s desperate schemes to earn enough cash for Aunt May’s birthday present lead to confrontations with occasional-employer Jameson and all-out war with psycho-stalker Kraven the Hunter in ‘To Catch a Spider’ after which the wallcrawler’s media-created ‘Bad Reputation’ is temporarily redeemed after a dynamic team-up with Captain America against AIM and their lethal leader M.O.D.O.K.

The year-long story arcs detailing the tricky triangle of Gwen, Flash and Peter and the gradual coalition of a new Sinister Six coalesce in ‘Missing Out’ as the kids take their dreaded exams and Spidey attempts to join in a mass battle against Galactus, only to stopped at every stage by a far more important and immediate crisis – such as an unrelenting attack by brainwashed villain Scorpion – before the drama magnificently concludes in the boy hero’s best day ever. Unless, of course, Doctor Octopus, Mysterio, Sandman, Kraven, Electro and the Vulture succeed with their plan in ‘Spidey No More!’

Supplemented with a wealth of behind-the-scenes artwork and illustration secrets from Lima Araújo and Stockman, this is a sublime slice of fun and action, referencing the intoxicating days of Stan Lee & Steve Ditko whilst offering an enthrallingly refreshing reinterpretation of an evergreen heroic icon. Here is an intriguing and more culturally accessible means of introducing character and concepts to kids born two and three generations or more away from those far-distant 1960s originating events. These Spidey super-stories are outrageously enjoyable yarns, and well worth seeking out.
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.