Marvel Masterworks Luke Cage, Power Man volume 3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incredible Hulk: Heart of the Atom


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Panther: The Bride


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvel Masterworks: Ghost Rider volume 1


By Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Marv Wolfman, Doug Moench, Len Wein, Mike Ploog, Tom Sutton, Jim Mooney, Herb Trimpe, Ross Andru & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302918170 (HB)

At the end of the 1960s American comicbooks were in turmoil, much like the youth of the nation they targeted. Superheroes had dominated for much of the decade; peaking globally before explosively falling to ennui and overkill. Older genres such as horror, westerns and science fiction returned, fed by radical trends in movie-making where another, new(ish) wrinkle had also emerged: disenchanted, rebellious, unchained Youth on Motorbikes seeking a different way forward.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen, Captain America and many others all took the Easy Rider option to boost flagging sales (and if you’re interested the best of the crop was Mike Sekowsky’s tragically unfinished mini-masterpiece of cool Jason’s Quest in Showcase). Over at Marvel, a company still reeling from Kirby’s defection to DC/National in 1970, canny Roy Thomas green-lighted a new character who combined the freewheeling, adolescent-friendly biker-theme with the all-pervasive supernatural furore gripping the entertainment fields.

Back in 1967, Marvel published a western masked hero named Ghost Rider: a shameless, whole-hearted appropriation of the cowboy hero creation of Vince Sullivan, Ray Krank & Dick Ayers (for Magazine Enterprises from 1949 to 1955), who utilised magician’s tricks to fight bandits by pretending to be an avenging phantom of justice.

Scant years later, with the Comics Code prohibition against horror hastily rewritten – amazing how plunging sales can affect ethics – scary comics came back in a big way and a new crop of supernatural superheroes and monsters began to appear on the newsstands to supplement the ghosts, ghoulies and goblins already infiltrating the once science-only scenarios of the surviving mystery men titles.

In fact, the lifting of the Code ban resulted in such an avalanche of horror titles (new stories and reprints from the first boom of the 1950s), in response to the industry-wide down-turn in superhero sales, that it probably caused a few more venerable costumed crusaders to – albeit temporarily – bite the dust.

Almost overnight nasty monsters (and narcotics – but that’s another story) became acceptable fare within four-colour pages and whilst a parade of pre-code reprints made sound business sense, the creative aspect of the contemporary fascination in supernatural themes was catered to by adapting popular cultural icons before risking whole new concepts on an untested public.

As always in entertainment, the watch-world was fashion: what was hitting big outside comics was to be incorporated into the mix as soon as possible. When proto-monster Morbius, the Living Vampire debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #101 (October 1971) and the sky failed to fall in, Marvel moved ahead with a line of shocking superstars – beginning with a werewolf and a vampire – before chancing something new with a haunted biker who could tap into both Easy Rider’s freewheeling motorcycling chic and the prevailing supernatural zeitgeist.

The all-new Ghost Rider debuted in Marvel Spotlight #5, August 1972 (preceded by western hero Red Wolf in #1 and the aforementioned Werewolf by Night in #2-4).

This sturdy hardback and equivalent yet barely tangible digital compendium collects those earliest flame-filled exploits: adventures from Marvel Spotlight #5-12, Ghost Rider #1-5 and a terror-tinged Marvel Team-Up (#15), spanning August 1972 to November 1973 and supplemented by an informative Introduction from then editorial head honcho Roy Thomas on how the series came to be. At the collection’s conclusion there’s also an effusive Afterword by Mike Ploog as he relates ‘My Ride with the Ghost Rider’

The comics thrills, spills and chills begin with that landmark first appearance introducing stunt biker Johnny Blaze, his fatally flawed father-figure Crash Simpson and Johnny’s devoted girlfriend: sweet innocent Roxanne Simpson.

Plotted by Thomas, scripted by Gary Friedrich and stunningly illustrated by Ploog, ‘Ghost Rider’ sees carnival cyclist Blaze sell his soul to the devil in an attempt to save his foster-father Crash from cancer. As is the way of such things, Satan follows the letter but not spirit of the contract and Simpson dies anyway, but when the Dark Lord later comes for Johnny his beloved virginal girlfriend Roxanne intervenes. Her purity prevents the Devil from claiming his due and, temporarily thwarted, Satan spitefully afflicts Johnny with a body that burns with the fires of Hell every time the sun goes down…

Haunting the night and terrorising thugs and criminals at first, the traumatised biker soon leaves the Big City and heads for the solitary deserts where – in ‘Angels From Hell’ – the flaming-skulled fugitive joins a biker gang led by enigmatic Curly Samuels: a resurrected agent of Satan attempting to destroy the protective Roxanne and claim Blaze’s soul.

No prizes for guessing Curly’s true identity then, since the next chapter (inked by Frank Chiaramonte) is entitled ‘Die, Die, My Daughter!’

The origin epic concludes with a monumental battle against ‘…The Hordes of Hell!’ (offering a rather uncomfortable artistic collaboration by Ploog & Jim Mooney), resulting in a torturous Cold War détente between the still nightly-transforming Blaze and the Lord of Lies, as well as the introduction of a new eldritch enemy in Native American Witch Man Snake-Dance

With Marvel Spotlight #9 the tragically undervalued Tom Sutton takes over the pencilling – with inks by Chic Stone – for ‘The Snakes Crawl at Night…’ as Medicine Man magic and demonic devil-worship combined to torment Blaze just as Roxanne goes west to look for him. To further confound the accursed cyclist, Satan decrees that although he must feel the pain, no injury will end Johnny’s life until his soul resides in Hell… which comes in very handy when Roxanne is sacrificed by Snake-Dance and the Ghost Rider has to battle his entire deviant cult to rescue her…

In #10, ‘The Coming of… Witch-Woman!’ (Friedrich, Sutton & Mooney) opens with Blaze a fugitive from the police and rushing the dying Roxanne to hospital. Meanwhile, on the Reservation tensions remain high as Snake-Dance’s daughter Linda Littletrees reveals her own connection to Satan, culminating in a devastating eldritch assault on Blaze in #11’s ‘Season of the Witch-Woman!’ (inked by the incomparable Syd Shores).

That cataclysmic conflict continued into Ghost Rider #1 (September 1973), which further extends the escalating war between Blaze and the Devil whilst introducing a new horror-hero who would take over the biker’s vacant slot in Spotlight.

Linda Littletrees isn’t so much a Satan-worshipping witch as ‘A Woman Possessed!’, but when her father joins fiancé Sam Silvercloud in calling Boston-based exorcist Daimon Hellstrom for help, they are utterly unprepared for the kind of assistance the demonologist offers.

With Roxanne slowly recovering and Blaze still on the run, Ghost Rider #2 depicts the bedevilled biker dragged down to Hell in ‘Shake Hands With Satan!’ (Mooney & Shores) before the saga concludes in Marvel Spotlight #12 with the official debut of ‘The Son of Satan!’ by Friedrich, Herb Trimpe & Frank Chiaramonte, which reveals Daimon Hellstrom’s long-suppressed inner self to be a brutal scion of the Infernal Realm eternally at war with his fearsome father.

The liberated Prince of Hell swiftly rushes to Blaze’s aid – although more to spite his sire than succour the victim – and, with his own series off to a spectacular start, continues to take the pressure off the flaming-skulled hero. From Ghost Rider #3’s ‘Wheels on Fire’ (Friedrich, Mooney & John Tartaglione) a fresh direction is explored with more mundane menaces and contemporary antagonists such as the thuggish gang of biker Big Daddy Dawson – who has kidnapped the still frail Roxanne…

Blaze also learns to create a spectral motorcycle out of the Hellfire that perpetually burns through his body: a most useful trick considering the way he gets through conventional transport…

Eager to establish some kind of normal life, the wanted fugitive Blaze accepts a pardon by the State Attorney General in GR #4’s ‘Death Stalks the Demolition Derby’ (inked by Vince Colletta) in return for infiltrating a Las Vegas showman’s shady operation, leading to another supernatural encounter, this time against a demonic gambler dubbed Roulette in ‘And Vegas Writhes in Flame!’ by the transitional creative team of Marv Wolfman, Doug Moench, Mooney & Sal Trapani.

Closing up the show here – and slightly out of chronological order – is a yarn where Ghost Rider and Spider-Man battled a demented biker bad-guy. Marvel Team-Up #15 (November 1973 and by Len Wein, Ross Andru & Don Perlin) introduces lame-duck villain The Orb who had been maimed and disfigured years previously in a confrontation with Crash Simpson and now seeks belated revenge against his heirs in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee!’ He’d have been smarter to wait until Blaze’s roadshow was far away from superhero-stuffed New York City and its overly protective friendly neighbourhood webslinger…

Adding extra cachet following Ploog’s afterword are the August 1972 Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page announcing the debut of the Biker Ghost Rider and stunning selection of original art pages, cover and design sketches by Ploog, Chiaramonte, John Romita, Mooney & Shores, Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia and Andru & Perlin plus an eerie back-cover from FOOM #7 featuring early Ploog visualisations of the Blazing Biker.

In the 1990s The Original Ghost Rider reprinted these classic tales and the 13 covers by Mark Teixeira, Jimmy Palmiotti, Javier Saltares, Andy Kubert, Joe Quesada, Jan Anton Harps, Kevin Maguire, Brad Vancata, Mark Pacella, Jeff Johnson, Dan Panosian, Ploog, Klaus Janson, Michael Bair, Darick Robertson, Chris Bachalo, Kris Renkewitz & Andrew Pepoy suitably bring the fearsome fun to close for now…

One final note: backwriting and retcons notwithstanding, the Christian boycotts and moral crusades of 1980s and 1990s compelled the criticism-averse and commercially astute corporate Marvel to “translate” the biblical Satan of the early episodes into generic – and presumably more palatable or “acceptable” – demonic creatures such as Mephisto, Satanish, Marduk Kurios and other equally naff, low-rent downgrades.

However, the original intent and adventures of Johnny Blaze – and spin-offs Daimon Hellstrom and Satana (respectively the Son and Daughter of Satan), tapped into the late 1960’s global fascination with Satanism, Devil-worship and all things Spookily Supernatural which had begun with such epochal releases as Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski’s 1968 film more than Ira Levin’s novel), so please remember these aren’t your feeble bowdlerised “Hell-lite” horrors here. These tales are about the real-deal Infernal Realm and a good man struggling to save his soul from the baddest of all bargains – as much as the revised Comics Code would allow – so brace yourself, hold steady and accept no supernatural substitutes…
© 2019 MARVEL.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 4 1970-1975: It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn


By Steve Englehart, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Mike Friedrich, Tony Isabella, Chris Claremont, Sal Buscema, Tom Sutton, Herb Trimpe, Gil Kane, Don Heck, John Buscema, Bob Brown, Jim Starlin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302916039 (TPB)

X-Men was never one of young Marvel’s top titles but it did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek prettiness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of the college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

The core team consisted of tragic Scott Summers/Cyclops, telepath and mind-reader Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast in training with Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound (and temporarily deceased) telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the gradually emerging race of mutant Homo Superior. In latter days they had been joined by magnetic Polaris and cosmic ray fuelled Havoc…although they were usually referred to as Lorna Dane and Alex Summers.

However, by the time of this massive full-colour paperback and digital tome (collecting the covers from reprint issues X-Men #67-93 plus Annual #1-2, Amazing Adventures #11-17, Amazing Spider-Man #92, Incredible Hulk #150, 161, 172, 180-182, Marvel Team-Up #4, 23, Avengers #110-111, Captain America #172-175, Defenders #15-16 and Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4: spanning December 1970 through June 1975 and chronologically re-presenting every mutant appearance of the era) the outcasts had been reduced to reliving past glories and riding the guest star circuit. A one-shot entitled Giant-Sized X-Men #1 would soon change all that forever…

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 as 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 gone, the mutants were far from forgotten. The standard policy at that time to revive characters that had fallen was to pile on guest-shots and reprints. X-Men #67 (December 1970) saw them return in double-sized issues, re-presenting early classics beginning with the Juggernaut tale from #12-13. Although returned as a cheap but shelf-monopolising reprint vehicle, the missing Children of the Atom were reduced to bit-players throughout the ongoing Marvel universe, whilst the bludgeoning Beast was opportunistically transformed into a scary monster to cash in on the horror boom and ultimately a comedy foil in the Avengers.

Then, with sales of the spooky stuff subsequently waning in 1975, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas green-lighted a bold one-shot as part of the company’s line of Giant-Size specials and history was made…

A brace of covers – X-Men Annual #1 by Jack Kirby & Chic Stone and X-Men #67 by Marie Severin & Joe Sinnott – lead us to John Romita’s cover for Amazing Spider-Man #92 (January 1971) and a tale by Stan Lee, Gil Kane & Romita depicting ‘When Iceman Attacks’.

This actually concludes the Amazing Arachnid’s battle against corrupt political boss Sam Bullit, as the ambitious demagogue convinces the youngest X-Man that Spider-Man is a kidnapper. Despite being a closing chapter, this all-out action extravaganza efficiently recaps itself and is perfectly comprehensible to readers.

The covers to X-Men #68-74 (by Kirby, Dick Ayers, Sal Buscema, Werner Roth, Bill Everett & Kane) and King Size Annual #2 (Kane & Romita) further celebrate the individual and collective Merry Mutants comeback tour before the next story opens.

Alec Summers had left the X-Men, terrified of his uncontrollable cosmic power, to isolate himself in the deserts of New Mexico. When Lorna Dane goes looking for him in ‘Cry Hulk, Cry Havok!’ (Incredible Hulk #150 April 1972, Archie Goodwin, Herb Trimpe & John Severin) she encounters a menacing biker gang and an Emerald Giant violently protective of his privacy. Mercifully Havok proves a match for the rampaging titan…

The previous month Marvel had launched a reinvented X-Man in a solo series as a response to the world horror boom which shifted general comic book fare from bright shiny costumed heroes to dark and sinister monsters.

Premiering in Amazing Adventures #11 (March 1972), written by Gerry Conway and illustrated by the incredibly effective team of Tom Sutton & Syd Shores, ‘The Beast!’ reveals how brilliant Hank McCoy leaves Xavier’s school and takes a research position at the conglomerate Brand Corporation.

Using private sector resources to research the causes of genetic mutation, McCoy becomes embroiled in industrial skulduggery and – to hide his identity – uses his discoveries to “upgrade” his animalistic abilities – temporarily turning himself into a fearsome anthropoid creature with startling new abilities. At least it was supposed to be temporary…

Bracketed by Kane & Frank Giacoia’s covers for X-Men #75-76, Steve Englehart assumes the writing reins in AmazingAdventures #12 (May), and monster maestro Mike Ploog takes the inker’s chair for ‘Iron Man: D.O.A.’ as McCoy, trapped in a monstrous new shape, took extreme measures to appear human as he desperately strove to find a cure for his condition. Unfortunately, Brand is riddled with bad characters and when Tony Stark visits, it’s inevitable that the Beast and Iron Man clash…

Incomprehensibly that battle led to Iron Man’s death; or so McCoy thought. In fact, the monster has been mesmerized by villainous Mastermind in a scheme to force the outcast to join the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. ‘Evil is All in Your Mind!’(Englehart, Sutton & Giacoia) also reintroduces two characters from the wildest fringes of Early Marvel continuity who will both play major roles in months and years to come. Patsy Walker was an ideal girl-next-door whose wholesome teen-comedy exploits had delighted readers for decades since her debut in Miss America #2 (Nov. 1944).

She starred in seven separate comic series until 1967. Here she joins the cast of the Beast as the tag-along wife of her boyhood sweetheart Buzz Baxter who had grown from an appealing goof to a rather daunting military martinet and Pentagon liaison. As McCoy is throwing off the defeated mesmerist’s psychic influence, Captain Baxter lays plans to capture the maligned mutate…

George Tuska & Vince Colletta’s cover for X-Men #77 precedes the next full story, proving the other X-Men were not forgotten. New Horror-Hero rising star Morbius, the Living Vampire was making things tough for Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #4 (September 1972) as the Human Torch temporarily bows out to be replaced by the mutant team. ‘And Then… the X-Men!’ is a terse, tense thriller written by Conway, inked by Steve Mitchell and illustrated by the magnificent Gil Kane at the top of his form detailing how the outsiders hunt the sanguine predator in search of a cure for as the ailing arachnoid…

Bloodsuckers literal and metaphorical are also the order of the day in Amazing Adventures #14. ‘The Vampire Machine’ (inked by Jim Mooney) sees Iron Man return as computerized killer and incipient AI assassin Quasimodo attacks Brand Corp. in an attempt to steal radical technology to build himself a body…

Kane & Giacoia’s cover for X-Men #78 precedes AA #15’s ‘Murder in Mid-Air!’ (rendered by Sutton, Giacoia & John Tartaglione) finding a gravely wounded Beast making an unexpected ally and confidante, before old comrade the Angel comes calling, encountering a hideous artificially mutated monster dubbed the Griffin en route. This tale reintroduced another old friend of Hank McCoy’s and should segue into another X-crossover (Incredible Hulk #161, March 1973), but not before the cover of X-Men #79 and 80 intermingle with AA #16 – wherein our hirsute hero battles an old foe in the Halloween thriller ‘…And the Juggernaut Will Get You… If You Don’t Watch Out!’ by Englehart, Bob Brown & Frank McLaughlin, with a horde of classic caricatures from cartoon legend Marie Severin.

It was the last time McCoy would be seen in a full tale until the bombastic Beast joined the Avengers. Amazing Adventures #17 featured a 2-page framing sequence by Englehart, Jim Starlin & Mike Esposito (included here) which bracketed an abridged reprint of the Beast origin back-ups from X-Men #49-53 (which are not).

At last that Hulk hiatus ends as ‘Beyond the Border Lurks Death!’ (Englehart, Trimpe & Sal Trapani) sees the Green Goliath and Bouncing Blue Beast as reluctant allies in a battle against old X-foe the Mimic, whose ability to absorb the attributes of others has gone tragically, catastrophically haywire…

X-Men #81’s cover leads to another titanic team-up – from Avengers #110-111 (April and May 1973) – as Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Vision and Black Panther investigate the disappearance of the mutant heroes and are thoroughly beaten by their oldest enemy sporting a new power.

‘… And Now Magneto!’ (Englehart, Don Heck, Giacoia & Esposito) ends with half the team brainwashed captives of the master villain with the remaining crusaders desperately searching for new allies.

Not included here is their journey to San Francisco to recruit Daredevil and the Black Widow so the saga resumes and concludes in Avengers #111 as, ‘With Two Beside Them!’ (Englehart, Heck & Esposito) the returned heroes and West Coast vigilantes successfully rescue the X-Men and Avengers enslaved by the malign Magneto…

With X-Men #82 (June), the covers generally reverted to recoloured and modified versions of the original releases: rendered by Dan Adkins, Ross Andru, Heck, Tuska & Giacoia, bringing us to February 1974 and Incredible Hulk #172.

A Roy Thomas plot and Tony Isabella script sees the Gamma Giant captured by US soldiers and hurled into another dimension, allowing the unstoppable mystic menace to inadvertently escape. ‘And Canst Thou Slay… The Juggernaut?’reveals that even his magically augmented might cannot resist our favourite antihero and features a telling, conclusive cameo by Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Professor X, after which the Tuska cover for X-Men #87 precedes a crucial episode in the lives of the mutant adventurers.

Englehart was at this time making history with an allegorical saga in Captain America and the Falcon mirroring the national scandal of President Nixon and Watergate. The Patriotic Paragon found himself framed for murder and smeared by a media disinformation campaign and forced to go on the run to clear himself.

Brought to you by Englehart, Sal Buscema & Vince Colletta, it begins in Captain America #172 as ‘Believe it or Not: The Banshee!’ finds Cap and the Falcon tracing a lead to Nashville, clashing with the eponymous fugitive mutant and stumbling into a clandestine pogrom on American soil…

For months mutants have been disappearing unnoticed, but now the last remaining – Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Charles Xavier – have tracked them down, only to discover that Captain America’s problems also stem from ‘The Sins of the Secret Empire!’ whose ultimate goal is the conquest of the USA…

Eluding capture by S.H.I.E.L.D., Steve and Sam infiltrate the evil Empire, only to be exposed and confined in ‘It’s Always Darkest!’ before abruptly turning the tables and saving the day in #175’s ‘…Before the Dawn!’ (interrupted only by the cover for X-Men #88) wherein the vile grand plan is revealed, the mutants liberated and the culprits captured. In a shocking final scene, the ultimate instigator is unmasked and horrifically dispatched within the White House itself…

Marvel Team-Up #23 (July 1974, by Len Wein, Kane & Esposito) offers a case of mistaken identity – and powers – before Human Torch Johnny Storm and Iceman fractiously unite to stop Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man on ‘The Night of the Frozen Inferno!’ after which Ed Hannigan & Giacoia’s cover for X-Men #89 carries us to Defenders #15 (September), which initiates a 2-part duel with Magneto who first institutes a ‘Panic Beneath the Earth!’ – courtesy of Wein, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson – leading telepath Charles Xavier to enlist the outcast heroes’ (Dr. Strange,Nighthawk, Valkyrie and Hulk) aid. The concluding clash involves the insidious Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and ‘Alpha, the Ultimate Mutant’ (inked by Esposito) as well as the apparent end of a true master of evil…

The same cover-month that X-Men #90 (by John Buscema) was released, a pivotal X-character made a rather inauspicious debut.

Incredible Hulk #180 (October 1974 by Wein, Trimpe & Jack Abel) declares ‘And the Wind Howls… Wendigo!’ as the Green Giant gallivants across the Canadian Border and encounters a witch attempting to cure her brother of a curse which has transformed him into a rampaging cannibalistic monster. Unfortunately, that cure means Hulk must become a Wendigoin his stead…

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

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

The aftermath spilled over into #182’s ‘Between Hammer and Anvil!’ with Trimpe taking sole charge of the art chores for the two pages included here as Wolverine is called off by his Canadian spymasters…

John Buscema & Tuska’s cover for X-Men #91 then leads to the last story in this colossal compendium as in Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4 Wein, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Chic Stone & Joe Sinnott unite to introduce ‘Madrox the Multiple Man’: a young mutant who grew up on an isolated farm unaware of the incredible power he possesses.

When his parents pass away, the kid is inexplicably drawn to New York City, but the mysterious hi-tech suit he wears to contain his condition soon malfunctions and the boy devolves into a ambulatory fission device who can endlessly, lethally replicate himself…

Thankfully the FF are aided by mutant Moses Charles Xavier who dutifully takes young Jamie under his wing…

Concluding with the covers to X-Men #92 and 93 (by Ron Wilson & Giacoia and John B & Tuska), house ads and the wraparound October 1986 cover to one-shot The Incredible Hulk and Wolverine #1 – by John Byrne & Abel – this massive meander into Marvel mutant minutiae is a little scrappy and none too cohesive but is packed to the brim with wonderful comics sagas and groundbreaking mini-masterpieces which reshaped the way we tell stories to this day. This comprehensive collection is an unquestionable treasure no fan should be without.
© 2019 MARVEL.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 10


ISBN: 978-1-3029-0956-7 (HB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss.

He quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased: fading during post-war reconstruction 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 (and – so nearly – seminal TV paranoia-fest The Prisoner). 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 hardback and digital formats reprints Captain America and the Falcon #193-200, Marvel Treasury Special: Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles and Captain America Annual #3 (cumulatively spanning January-August 1976) revealing how, when Kirby came aboard as writer, artist and editor, he had big plans for the nation’s premiere comicbook patriotic symbol in the year of its 200th anniversary…

All that is covered with far more attention to detail in Jon B. Cooke’s Introduction before a crucial battle for the nation begins with Captain America and the Falcon #193 offering the opening salvo in an epic storyline leading up the immortal super-soldier’s own Bicentennial issue (sort of).

Gone now was all the soul-searching and breast-beating about what the country was or symbolised: America was in peril and its sentinel was ready to roar into action…

Inked by fellow veteran Frank Giacoia ‘The Madbomb’ exposes a‘Screamer in the Brain!’ as a miniscule new weapon is triggered by unknown terrorists, reducing an entire city block to rubble by driving the populace into a mass psychotic frenzy.

Experiencing the madness at close hand, Cap and the Falcon are swiftly seconded by the US government to ferret out the culprits and locate a full-scale device hidden somewhere in the vast melting pot of America…

‘The Trojan Horde’ introduces plutocratic mastermind William Taurey who intends on correcting history, unmaking the American Revolution and restoring a privilege-ridden aristocracy upon the massed millions of free citizens. Using inestimable wealth, a cabal of similarly disgruntled millionaire elitists, an army of mercenaries, slaves cruelly transformed into genetic freaks and other cutting-edge super-science atrocities, the maniac intends to forever eradicate the Republic and plunder the resources of the planet. Thank every god you know that it couldn’t happen today…

Moreover, when he is finally elevated to what he considers his rightful place, the first thing Taurey intends to do is hunt down the last descendent of Colonial hero Steven Rogers: a rebel who had killed Taurey’s Monarchist ancestor and allowed Washington to win the War of Independence…

Little does he suspect the subject of his wrath has already infiltrated his secret army…

In‘It’s 1984!’ (inked by D. Bruce Berry), Cap and Falcon get a first-hand look at the kind of fascistic world Taurey advocates, battling their way through monsters, mercenaries and a mob fuelled by modern mind-control and pacified by Bread and Circuses, before ultra-spoiled elitist Cheer Chadwick takes the undercover heroes under her bored, effete and patronising wing…

Sadly, even she can’t keep her new pets from being sucked into the bloody, brutal Circus section of the New Society, where American loyalists are forced to fight for their lives in ultra-modern gladiatorial mode in the ‘Kill-Derby’ even as the US army raids the secret base in ‘The Rocks are Burning!’ (Giacoia inks).

Soon, the Patriotic Pair realise it has all been for nought since the colossal full-sized Mad-Bomb is still active: carefully hidden somewhere else in their vast Home of the Brave…

The offbeat ‘Captain America’s Love Story’ then takes a decidedly different and desperate track as the Bastion of Freedom has to romance a sick woman to get to her father – the inventor of the deadly mind-shattering device – after which ‘The Man Who Sold the United States’ accelerates to top speed for all-out action as the hard-pressed heroes race a countdown to disaster with the Madbomb finally triggering by ‘Dawn’s Early Light!’ for a spectacular showdown climax which surpasses all expectation.

Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles was originally released as part of the nationwide celebration of the USA’s two hundredth year in Marvel’s tabloid-sized Treasury Format (80+ pages of 338 x 258mm dimensions), taking the Star-Spangled Avenger on an incredible excursion through key eras and areas of American history.

An expansive, panoramic and iconic celebration of the memory and myth of the nation, this almost abstracted and heavily symbolic 84-page extravaganza perfectly survives reduction to standard comic dimensions, following Captain America as cosmic savant (and retrofitted Elder of the Universe the Contemplator) Mister Buda propels the querulous hero into successively significant segments of history.

Enduring a blistering pace of constant change, Cap encounters lost partner Bucky during WWII, meets Benjamin Franklinin Revolutionary Philadelphia and revisits the mobster-ridden depression era of Steve Roger’s own childhood as ‘The Lost Super-Hero!’.

In ‘My Fellow Americans’ Cap confronts Geronimo during the Indian Wars and suffers the horrors of a mine cave-in, before ‘Stop Here for Glory!’ finds him surviving a dogfight with a German WWI fighter ace, battling bare-knuckle boxer John L. Sullivan, resisting slavers with abolitionist John Brown, and observing both the detonation of the first Atom Bomb and the Great Chicago Fire…

‘The Face of the Future!’ even sees him slipping into the space colonies of America’s inevitable tomorrows, and segueing into pure emotional fantasy by experiencing the glory days of Hollywood, the simple joys of rural homesteading and the harshest modern ghetto, before drawing strength from the nation’s hopeful children…

Inked by such luminaries as Barry Windsor-Smith, John Romita Sr., Herb Trimpe and Dan Adkins, the book-length bonanza is peppered with a glorious selection of pulsating pin-ups.

After thus exotically absorbing the worth of a nation, the Star-Spangled Avenger abruptly diverts back to business basics as Captain America Annual #3 offers a feature-length science fiction shocker which eschewed convoluted back-story and cultural soul searching and simply pitted the valiant hero against a cosmic vampire in ‘The Thing From the Black Hole Star!’: a riot of rampaging action and end-of-the-world wonderment featuring a fallible but fiercely determined fighting man free of doubt and determined to defend humanity at all costs…

This supremely thrilling collection also has room for a selection of bonus treats beginning with a Kirby tribute page by Bob Budiansky & Duffy Vohland (from F.O.O.M. #10), the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page announcing the King’s return in all October issues, assorted house ads, and extracts and articles from company fanzine F.O.O.M. (#11, September 1975 ) an all-Kirby issue declaring – behind a new Kirby/Joe Sinnott cover – that ‘The King is Here! Long Live the King!’ and that ‘Kirby Speaks!’,

Supplemented by stunning artwork from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alex Boyd’s Appreciation ‘The Once and Future King!’ is balanced by Charley Parker’s ‘The Origin of King Kirby’, ‘Kirby’s Kosmik Konsciousness’ and a caricature from the wonderful Marie Severin.

Also on show are cover roughs and un-inked pencils to delight art fans and aficionados, as well as original page art by Kirby inked by Giacoia & Windsor Smith.

The King’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the medium and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, always make for a captivating read and this stuff is amongst the most bombastic and captivating material he ever produced. 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…
© 1975, 1976, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Brent Anderson, Bob McLeod, Dave Cockrum, Terry Austin, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3013-0 (HB)

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

This sixth superb 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.

Gathering Uncanny X-Men #141-150 – spanning January to October 1981 – the action opens without preamble or hesitation as an evocative and extended subplot opens which would dictate the shape of mutant history for years to come. ‘Days of Future Past’ depicts an imminently approaching dystopian apocalypse wherein almost all mutants, paranormals and superheroes have been eradicated by Federally-controlled Sentinel robots.

The mechanoids rule over a shattered world on the edge of utter annihilation. New York is a charnel pit with most surviving superhumans kept in concentration camps and only a precious few free to fight a losing war of resistance.

Middle-aged Kitty Pryde is the lynchpin of a desperate plan to unmake history. With the aid of telepath named Rachel(eventually to escape that time-line and become the new Phoenix) Pryde swaps consciousness with her younger self in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the pivotal event which created the bleak, black tomorrow where all her remaining friends and comrades are being pitilessly exterminated one by resolute one…

‘Mind Out of Time’ sees the mature Pryde in our era, inhabiting her own 13-year-old body and leading her disbelieving team-mates on a frantic mission to foil the assassination of US senator David Kelly on prime-time TV by a sinister new iteration of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – super-powered terrorists determined to make a very public example of the human politician attacking the cause of Mutant Rights…

Fast-paced, action-packed, spectacularly multi-layered, bitterly tragic and agonisingly inconclusive – as all such time-travel tales should be – this cunning, compact yarn is indubitably one of the best individual tales of the Claremont/Byrne era and set the mood, tone and agenda for the next two decades of mutant mayhem…

With the timeline restored and tragedy averted, things slow down at the X-Mansion as John Byrne left for pastures new. His swan song in #143 was a bombastic romp which finds lonely, homesick Kitty home alone at Christmas… except for a lone N’garai ‘Demon’ determined to eat her. Her solo trial decimates the X-Men citadel and proves once and for all that she has what it takes…

The changing of the guard in X-Men #144 was marked by ‘Even in Death…’, scripted by Claremont and illustrated by Brent Anderson & Joseph Rubenstein wherein heartbroken Scott Summers (who quit the team after the death of Jean Grey AKA the Phoenix) fetches up in coastal village Shark Bay and joins the crew of Aleytys Forester’s fishing boat.

Trouble is never far from the man called Cyclops, however, and when she introduces him to her dad, the hero must draw upon all his inner reserves – and uncomprehending help of the macabre swamp guardian Man-Thing – to repel the crushing, soul-consuming assaults of pernicious petty devil D’spayre

Dave Cockrum returned to the team he co-created in #145, joining Claremont & Rubinstein in an extended clash of cultures as ‘Kidnapped!’ sees the team targeted by Doctor Doom thanks to the machinations of deranged assassin Arcade. With half of the team – Storm, Colossus, Angel, Wolverine and Nightcrawler – invading the Diabolical Dictator’s castle, a substitute-squad consisting of Iceman, Polaris, Banshee and Havoc are despatched to the maniac’s mechanised ‘Murderworld!’ to rescue a kidnapped coterie of innocent family and friends…

Sadly, in the interim Doom has triumphed over the invaders to his castle, but his act of entrapping claustrophobe Ororo has backfired, triggering a ‘Rogue Storm!’ that might erase the USA from the globe…

Issue #148 opens with Scott and Aletys shipwrecked on a mysterious island holding the remnants of a lost civilisation but the main event is a trip to Manhattan for Kitty, accompanied by Storm, Spider-Woman Jessica Drew and Dazzler Alison Blair. That’s a good thing as wandering mutant empath Caliban calamitously attempts to abduct the child in ‘Cry, Mutant!’ by Claremont, Cockrum & Rubinstein…

A major menace resurfaces in #149 to threaten Scott and Aletys, but the X-Men are too busy dealing with resurrected demi-god Garokk and an erupting volcano in ‘And the Dead Shall Bury the Living!’ before all the varied plots combine and coalesce in anniversary issue #150 (October 1981).

Extended epic ‘I, Magneto…’ sees the merciless, malevolent master of magnetism threaten all humanity. with Xavier’s team helpless to stop him… until a critical moment triggers an emotional crisis and awakening of his long-suppressed humanity…

These are some of the greatest X-stories Marvel ever published; entertaining, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating, offering an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 1980, 1981, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.