Ant-Man/Giant-Man Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Leon Lazarus, Al Hartley, Dick Ayers, Don Heck, Steve Ditko, Carl Burgos, Bob Powell & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2911-0 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Little Bit of Vintage Wonderment… 8/10

If you’re of a particularly picky nature – and what comic fan isn’t? – you might consider the Astonishing Ant-Man one of the earliest heroes of the Marvel Age of Comics. He first appeared in Tales to Astonish #27 (cover-dated January 1962), in one of the splendidly addictive men-vs-monsters anthology titles that dominated in those heady days of Science Fiction Double-Feature B-Movies.

As superheroes proliferated to explosively dominate the early 1960s, he was rapidly retooled and recycled to become a key pillar of the company’s powerhouse pantheon… but not for long…

This second episodic, eclectic and entomologically edifying compendium – available in hardback and digital formats – gathers the pertinent portions of Tales to Astonish #53-69: spanning March 1964 to July 1965 and tracing the first gradual decline and fall of the “Man of Many Sizes”. The comic adventures herein are preceded by a typically voluble Stan Lee Introduction before the action and drama recommences.

TTA #53 led with a spectacular battle-bout rematch as our hero and his partner Janet Van Dyne are ‘Trapped by the Porcupine!’ (by Lee & Dick Ayers) and closed with the Wonderful Wasp narrating short fantasy yarn ‘When Wakes the Colossus!’ (actually crafted by Lee, Larry Lieber & Don Heck).

The next issue saw Heck illustrate the Crusading Couple’s catastrophic trip to Santo Rico and finding ‘No Place to Hide!’: trapped and powerless in a South American banana republic run by brutal commie agent El Toro. This was neatly counter-balanced by the Wasp’s sci fi saga ‘Conquest!’ by Lee, Lieber & Sol Brodsky.

An implacable old foe defeated himself in ‘On the Trail of the Human Top!’ when the psychotic mutant killer steals Giant-Man’s size-changing pills in #55, following which Lee, Lieber & George Bell produce the Wasp’s fable ‘The Gypsy’s Secret!’

A larcenous stage conjuror proves far more trouble than you’d suspect in ‘The Coming of The Magician!’ – even successfully abducting the Wasp before his defeat, which Jan celebrated by regaling us all with tall tale ‘Beware the Bog Beast!’ (Lee, Lieber & Paul Reinman) after which TTA #57 featured a big guest-star as the size-changing sweethearts set out ‘On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!’, courtesy of Lee, Ayers & Reinman, with sinister savant Egghead waiting in the wings and pulling strings. A minor landmark occurred in the back of that issue as the Wasp participated in a complete solo adventure. ‘A Voice in the Dark!’, by Lee, Lieber & Chic Stone, saw Jan defeat a big burly jewel thief. It was precious little to crow over, but Marvel had finally let a lady loose on her own with no apparent riot or collapse of the macho social order. Things would certainly get better… but not soon…

These were not only signs of the increasing interconnectivity Lee was developing but also indicated that the strip was losing impetus. In a market increasingly flooded with superheroes, the adventures of Giant-Man were not selling as well as they used to or should…

Captain America cameo-ed in #58’s epic Africa-based battle with a giant alien in ‘The Coming of Colossus!’ (Lee, Ayers & Reinman), supplemented by the Wasp’s second lone hand, played this time against an old enemy in ‘The Magician and the Maiden!’ by Lee & Lieber.

The beginning of the end for Giant-Man came in Tales to Astonish #59 and ‘Enter: The Hulk!’ (Lee, Ayers & Reinman), with the Avengers inadvertently prompting the Size-Shifting Sentinel to hunt down the Green Goliath. Although the Human Top engineered the blockbusting battle, Lee was the real mastermind as, one month later, The Hulk began co-starring in his own series and on the covers, whilst Giant-Man’s adventures shrank back to a dozen or so pages. Ten issues later Hank and Jan would retire making way for amphibian antihero Namor, the Sub-Mariner

Before then though there’s a rousing house ad and comic fact-feature ‘Let’s Learn About Hank and Jan’, leading to the first half-sized yarn. Produced by Lee, Ayers & Reinman, Tales to Astonish #59’s ‘The Beasts of Berlin!’ was a throwback in many ways to the daft old days, as the duo smuggle themselves over the Wall and into the Russian Sector to battle Commie Apes (no, really!) behind the Iron Curtain.

The writing was on the wall by issue #61. With the Hulk already most prominent on the covers, hastily-executed stories and a rapid rotation of artists, it was obvious Giant-Man was waning. ‘Now Walks the Android’ was a fill-in rather rapidly illustrated by Steve Ditko & George (Bell) Roussos, starring Egghead and his latest technological terror-weapon after which ‘Versus the Wonderful Wasp’ (by Golden Age icon Carl Burgos & Ayers) recycles an ancient plot wherein a thief steals Giant-Man’s costume and equipment, leaving the mere girl to save the day…

‘The Gangsters and the Giant’ in #63 – by Lee, Burgos & Stone – incestuously reproduces the plot of #37 with the gem-stealing Protector here re-imagined as “the Wrecker” and comes with a Marvel Masterwork pin-up of the Diminutive Duo by Chic Stone. ‘When Attuma Strikes’ (Burgos & Reinman) offers a crumb of imagination and wit as Hank and Jan split up and the heartbroken lass gets herself abducted by an undersea tyrant. This last was scripted by incredibly under-appreciated and almost anonymous comics veteran Leon Lazarus.

One last attempt to resuscitate the series came with the addition of another Golden-Age legend. Bob Powell signed on as artist for issue #65’s ‘Presenting the New Giant-Man’ (scripted by Lee, inked by Heck) wherein the Master of Many Sizes built a better costume and powers, but almost dies at the hands of a cat and spider he accidentally enlarges in the process.

With a fresh new look, the last five issues are actually some of the best tales in the run, but it was clearly too late.

Frankie (Giacoia) Ray inked Powell for ‘The Menace of Madam Macabre’, with a murderous oriental seductress attempting to steal Pym’s secrets, and Stone applied the brushes for ‘The Mystery of the Hidden Man and his Rays of Doom!’, wherein a power-stealing alien removes Hank Pym’s ability to shrink, before the series concludes with a powerfully impressive 2-parter in Tales to Astonish #68 and 69. ‘Peril from the Long-Dead Past’ and ‘Oh, Wasp, Where is Thy Sting?’, were inked by Vince Colletta and John Giunta respectively.

So far along was the decline that Al Hartley had to finish what Stan Lee started: concluding a tense and thrilling tale of the Wasp’s abduction by the Human Top and the abrupt retirement of the weary, shell-shocked heroes at the saga’s end.

(Gi)-Ant-Man and the Wasp did not die, but instead joined the vast cast of characters which Marvel kept in relatively constant play through team books, via guest shots and in occasional re-launches and mini-series.

Despite variable quality and treatment, the eclectic, eccentric and always fun exploits of Marvel’s premier “odd couple” remain an intriguing and engaging reminder that the House of Ideas didn’t always get it right, but generally gave their all to entertaining their fans.

By turns superb, stupid, exciting and appalling this tome and these tales epitomise the best and worst of Early Marvel (with the delightful far outweighing the duff) and certainly won’t appeal to everybody, but if you’re a Fights ‘n’ Tights fan with a forgiving nature the good stuff here will charm, amaze and enthral you whilst the rest could just be considered as a garish garnish to provide added flavour…
© 2020 MARVEL.

Iron Man Epic Collection volume 4 1970-1972: The Fury of the Firebrand


By Archie Goodwin, Gerry Conway, Allyn Brodsky, Mimi Gold, Robert Kanigher, Gary Friedrich, Johnny Craig, Don Heck, George Tuska, Herb Trimpe, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2207-8 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Glittering Bauble of Shiny Nostalgic Marvel Madness… 8/10

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions (just like now), the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity and invention to safeguard and better the World, seemed inevitable. Combined with the then-sacrosanct belief that technology and business could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil, the concept behind the Invincible Iron Man seems an infallibly successful proposition.

Of course, where once Tony Stark was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism: a glamorous millionaire industrialist/inventor and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his metal alter-ego, the tumultuous tone of changing times soon resigned his suave, playboy image to the dustbin of history and, with ecological disasters and social catastrophe from the abuse of industry and technology the new mantras of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting some tricky questions from the increasingly socially conscious readership.

All of a sudden maybe that money and fancy gadgetry weren’t quite so fun or cool anymore…?

This sterling hardback – and eBook – compilation covers the period May 1970 through May 1972, re-presenting Iron Man #25-46 and incorporating a tumultuous team-up with the Man Without Fear from Daredevil #73 which held a key portion of a rather complex comics crossover.

Imminently departing scripter Archie Goodwin pins Iron Man’s new Green colours to the comic’s mast in #25’s stunning eco-parable ‘This Doomed Land… This Dying Sea!’, ably assisted by EC legend Johnny Craig, whose slick understated mastery adds a sheen of terrifying authenticity to proceedings. Here, the Armoured Avenger clashes and ultimately teams with veteran antihero Namor the Sub-Mariner, before being compelled to destroy one of his own hyper-polluting facilities, consequently overruling and abandoning his company’s previous position and business model…

Tragically, his attempts to convince other industry leaders to do likewise meets with the kind of reaction that tragically then (and again now) typifies America’s response to the real-world situation…

Original Iron Man artist Don Heck returned for the fantasy-fuelled romp ‘Duel in a Dark Dimension!’ (scripted by Goodwin and inked by Craig) with guest villain The Collector kidnapping Stark’s right-hand man Happy Hogan in a convoluted scheme to secure an extradimensional super-sword…

America’s mounting racial tensions took centre-stage in ‘The Fury of the Firebrand!’, introducing an inflammatory radical with a secret and highly personal hate-filled agenda aimed squarely at Stark and the fat cats he represented. The incendiary fiend was also a human napalm grenade…

Goodwin bowed out with #28’s riotous return match ‘The Controller Lives!’, wherein the mind parasite attacks Stark and SHIELD agent Jasper Sitwell through an old girlfriend, after which Mimi Gold scripted an old-fashioned commie-buster yarn, drawn by Heck and inked by Chic Stone in #29, with Iron Man liberating a tropical paradise from its enslaving socialist overlords in ‘Save the People… Save the Country!’.

Impressive new kid on the block Allyn Brodsky took over as scripter with #30’s ‘The Menace of the Monster-Master!’: a rousing rampage full of Maoist menace with a giant lizard ravaging Japan until the Golden Avenger steps in, taking charge and exposing a cunning plot…

Far more intriguing is ‘Anything… For the Cause!’ wherein back-to-nature hippie protesters and outraged teen radicals are manipulated by an unscrupulous local businessman. This social drama also adds cool young Irish science nerd Kevin O’Brian to the regular cast.

IM #32’s ‘Beware… The Mechanoid!’ (illustrated by George Tuska & “Joe Gaudioso”) then relates a salutary tale of a benign alien explorer making the tragic mistake of exploring America whilst disguised as a black man…

Heck & Gaudioso (actually moonlighting Mike Esposito) handled the art for ‘Their Mission: Destroy Stark Industries!!’as corporate raider Spymaster unleashes his Mission: Impossible-inspired team The Espionage Elite to deprive America of both the inventor and his company. This fast-paced thriller concluded in bombastic finale ‘Crisis… and Calamity!!’with the near-death of a cast regular, signalling the advent of a darker, more driven Armoured Avenger…

Something of a comics wunderkind at this time, Gerry Conway assumed the writer’s reins in Iron Man #35 as the traumatised hero understandably seeks ‘Revenge!’ on Spymaster before being distracted by an ongoing battle between Daredevil, Nick Fury, Madame Masque and the global criminal network Zodiac – all contesting ownership of an extra-dimensional wish-granting super-weapon.

That battle spills over into Daredevil #73 and a mass abduction into another dimension in ‘Behold… the Brotherhood!’(by Conway, Gene Colan & Syd Shores) before messily and inconclusively concluding halfway through Iron Man #36 (Heck & Esposito). The remainder of the issue and battle for the Zodiac Key is necessarily shelved as the Steely Centurion is waylaid by terra-forming aliens in ‘…Among Men Stalks the Ramrod!’

Incapacitated and with his recently transplanted new heart critically damaged, Stark reveals his secret to Kevin O’Brian ‘In This Hour of Earthdoom!’ (Jim Mooney inks) before rapidly retrenching, recuperating and ultimately repelling the invaders. The fantastic fantasy drama pauses here for a hard-boiled and pleasantly low-key diversion in the form of an engaging gangster caper from Conway, Tuska & Esposito wherein Iron Man is forced to respond quite assertively ‘When Calls Jonah…!’

Conway resumes the mad science tales – with Herb Trimpe illustrating – in ‘A Twist of Memory… a Turn of Mind!’, wherein insidious oriental mastermind White Dragon (Yes, I know, but social relevance clearly advanced at its own piecemeal rate and racial profiling was less obvious than poisoned air and rivers…) deviously turns Stark into a brainwashed pawn, thereby inadvertently enslaving the Golden Avenger too.

Devoted assistant Kevin O’Brian comes to the rescue, but is led down a path to inevitable doom when he assists his mind-locked employer in a torturous ‘Night Walk!’ (by Tuska & Jim Mooney) to save his sanity and defeat the sinister foe.

Simultaneously, Marianne Rodgers, a woman they both love, begins a slow glide into madness as her telepathic powers gradually grow beyond her control and start eating at her mind…

Issue #41 continued a convoluted storyline dealing with mystery mastermind Mr. Kline. (For the full story you should also track down contemporaneous Daredevil and Sub-Mariner issues: you won’t be any the wiser but at least you’ll have a full set…)

Next, ‘The Claws of the Slasher!’ sees squabbling saboteurs target Washington DC during a Senate investigation into Stark Industries; accidentally triggering a psychic transformation in Marianne, who temporarily morphs into a mind-warping harpy in ‘When Demons Wail!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia). The clash culminates in a blockbusting, extra-long battle against psionic godling Mikas in ‘Doomprayer!’ (with Mooney inks). During that cataclysmic conflict O’Brian dons his own super-armour to join the fray as The Guardsman; causing his own mental state to rapidly deteriorate and making his eventual showdown with Stark utterly unavoidable…

Plotted by Conway, scripted by DC A-Lister Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Tuska & Vince Colletta, Iron Man #44 finds Stark near death after his last battle. In ‘Weep for a Lost Nightmare!’, he is watched over by Kevin and Marianne as Kline dispatches a robotic copy of old adversary The Night Phantom to finish the ailing hero off. The tale was truncated midway and completed in the next issue – presumably due to deadline problems.

Gary Friedrich scripted concluding chapter ‘Beneath the Armour Beats a Heart!’ in #45, after which Stark faces a revolt by his own Board of Directors who convince the jealousy-consumed O’Brian to stand with them.

When student protestors invade the factory, greed-crazed capitalist and reactionary revolt instigator Simon Gilbertconvinces O’Brian to don his Guardsman suit and teach the kids a lesson, leading to a horrific escalation in ‘Menace at Large!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) wherein Iron Man intervenes to save lives and causes the fully-amok O’Brian’s death…

To Be Continued…

The galvanised wonderment also includes the covers of Iron Man Annuals #1 and 2, a selection of house ads and a gallery of original art covers and interior pages by Marie Severin & Sam Grainger, Sal Buscema, Tuska and Frank Giacoia, to wrap up this collection with the Golden Gladiator carefully politically repositioned at a time when Marvel solidly set itself up at the vanguard of a rapidly changing America increasingly at war with itself.

With this volume Marvel further entrenched itself in the camp of the young and the restless, experiencing first hand, and every day, the social upheaval America was undergoing. This rebellious teen sensibility and enhanced political conscience permeated the company’s publications as their core audience evolved from Flower Power innocents into a generation of acutely aware activists. Future tales would increasingly bring reformed capitalist Stark into many unexpected and outrageous situations…

But that’s the meat of another review, as this engrossing graphic collection is done. From our distant vantage point the polemical energy and impact might be dissipated, but the sheer quality of the comics and the cool thrill of the eternal aspiration of man in perfect partnership with magic metal remains. These superhero sagas are amongst the most underrated but impressive tales of the period and are well worth your time, consideration and cold hard cash…
© 2020 MARVEL.

Spider-Man Vs. Mysterio


By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, Gerry Conway, Roger Stern, Howard Mackie, Peter David, Dan Slott, John Romita Sr., Ross Andru, John Romita Jr., Marie Severin, Alex Saviuk, Todd Nauck & Marcos Martin, with Don Heck, Javier Pulido & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1871-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fabulous Fights ‘n’ Tights Fantasy… 8/10

Heroes are only truly defined by their enemies and superheroes doubly so, with the added proviso that costumed crusaders generally have a rogue’s gallery of fantastic foes rather than just one arch-nemesis. Even so, there’s always one particular enemy who wears that mantle: Moriarty for Sherlock Holmes; Blofeld for James Bond; Luthor for Superman.

Spider-Man has always had two top contenders… but Mysterio was never one of them.

However, this nifty trade paperback (and eBook) compilation gathers many of the now-cinematic evil enigma’s key and most entertaining clashes with the Wondrous Wallcrawler, tracing his devious development whilst offering an uncomplicated, no-frills thrill-ride of frantic spills and chills, equally appetising to film-inspired new meat and grizzled old veterans of the Fights ‘n’ Tights arena.

Collecting Amazing Spider-Man #13, 66-67, 141-142, 618-620; Web of Spider-Man #90; Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #11-13 and Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #50-51 – collectively spanning June 1964 to April 2010 – the moody menace manifests sans preamble in ‘The Menace of… Mysterio!’ (by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko from Amazing Spider-Man #13).

Here a chilling super-foe premiers in the form of a seemingly eldritch mercenary hired by publisher J. Jonah Jameson to capture Spider-Man. Eventually, however, the bizarre bounty-hunter reveals his own dark criminal agenda and is exposed as a scientific trickster not a mystic marauder…

When Ditko quit Marvel the webspinner’s adventurers were limned by John Romita and a succession of stellar associates. One of most spectacular collaborations came in Amazing Spider-Man #66-67 (November & December 1968) as Lee scripted a psychedelic blockbuster for Romita, Don Heck & inkers Mike Esposito (Mickey Demeo) and Jim Mooney to illuminate. This time, the psychotic special-effects mastermind returns seeking loot and vengeance in ‘The Madness of Mysterio!’ as the master of FX illusions engineers his most outlandish stunt, with the wallcrawler subjected to a bizarre form of mind-bending resulting in an all-out action-packed brawl entitled ‘To Squash a Spider!’.

Perhaps more interestingly, this yarn introduces Randy Robertson, college student son of the Daily Bugle’s city editor and one of the first young black regular roles in Silver Age comics.

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

Jump forward a few years to February & March 1975 and Amazing Spider-Man #141-142 and – as Peter Parker comes to terms with the death of first love Gwen Stacy – a long-running comedy thread ends with the frankly ridiculous Spider-Mobile crashing into the harbour, thanks to a series of apparent hallucinations, but the wallcrawler barely has time to care as a supposedly long-dead enemy returns in ‘The Man’s Name Appears to be… Mysterio!’

Despite the psychological assaults escalating and Parker continually questioning his own sanity, the mystery is solved through rational deduction and violence in ‘Dead Man’s Bluff!’, with all entertainment coming courtesy of Gerry Conway, Ross Andru & Esposito…

Even more years later, a fanciful piece of classic Spider-history is unpicked by Roger Stern John Romita Jr. & Mooney in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #50 and 51 (from January & February 1981) as ‘Dilemma’ and ‘Aliens and Illusions!’ (the latter pencilled by Marie Severin) reveal how special effects guru Quentin Beck was secretly battling the Amazing Arachnid long before he adopted his luminous fishbowl hat and green tights…

Crafted by Howard Mackie, Alex Saviuk & Sam de la Rosa, Web of Spider-Man #90 (November 1992) was part of the wallcrawler’s 30th anniversary celebrations. ‘The Spider’s Thread’ again delves into secret personal history as the hero’s old theatrical agent returns, presaging a manic series of attacks from an army of impossible foes… until Spidey discerns his real enemy in ‘Sleight of Mind!’

Set during the first superhero Civil War, 3-parter ‘I Hate a Mystery’ is by Peter David, Todd Nauck, Robert Campanella, & Rodney Ramos and comes from Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #11-13 (October-December 2006). Peter Parker has recently gone public with his identity after acquiescing to the Super Human Registration Act, but his life as a high school science teacher is shattered by press intrusion and the vengeful acts of three separate but equally unhappy Mysterios…

The dramatic quotient of this collection cranks into overdrive for concluding extended epic ‘Mysterioso’, originally seen in Amazing Spider-Man #618-620 (March & April 2010), by writer Dan Slott and art team Marcos Martin, Javier Pulido & Javier Rodriguez. Divided into ‘Un-Murder Incorporated’, ‘Re-Appearing Act’ and ‘Smoke & Mirrors’, the wallcrawler’s war against Mr. Negative and an army of old enemies takes an even darker turn after Aunt May is turned evil and a seemingly undead Mysterio is hired by cyborg mafioso Silvermane to destroy his bitter rival Hammerhead. The chaotic final clash is even more confused and cataclysmic and leaves us all on a tense cliffhanger…

Adding extra sheen are info pages, cover reprints (from Spider-Man Classics, Marvel Tales and others), variant covers and pin-ups by Ditko, Dwayne Turner, Romita Sr. and Jr. and Joe Quinones, plus Marvel Handbook fact-pages on all three villains who have thus far played Mysterio.

Epic and engaging, this grab-bag of aerial assaults and titanic tussles is pure comicbook catharsis: fast, furious fun and thrill-a-minute-melodrama no fights ‘n’ Tights fan could resist.
© 2019 MARVEL.

Ant-Man/Giant-Man Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, with Ernie Hart, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2049-0 (HB) 978-0-7851-6768-6 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Nostalgic Marvel Mayhem… 8/10

Marvel Comics initially built its fervent fan base through strong, contemporarily relevant stories with strikingly illustrated art, but most importantly by creating a shared continuity closely following the characters through not just their own titles but also through frequent guest appearances in other comics. Such interweaving meant that even today completists seek out extraneous stories for a fuller picture of their favourite’s adventures. The quest was not helped by the House of Ideas releasing vintage tales in any kind of chronological order, and Henry Pym (in all his many costumed iterations) was one of the last Marvel Superheroes to get the prestigious Masterworks treatment. The movie franchise might also have had something to do with it…

If you’re of a particularly picky nature – and what comic fan isn’t? – you could consider the Astonishing Ant-Man to be one of the earliest heroes of the Marvel Age of Comics. He first appeared in Tales to Astonish #27 (cover-dated January 1962), in one of the splendidly addictive men-vs-monsters anthology titles that dominated in those heady days of Science Fiction Double-Feature B-Movies.

This episodic, eclectic and entomologically edifying compendium – available in hardback, trade paperback and digital formats – gathers pertinent portions of January 1962 cover-dated Tales to Astonish #27 and the first tranche of the succeeding superhero series that eventually followed. Included herein are the relevant contents of issues #35-52, spanning September 1962 to February 1964, preceded by a fascinating and informative Introduction from Dick Ayers who inked the debut tale and was artistically associated with the characters for much of the run.

The itty-bitty sagas reveal the scintillating solo outings of a brilliant but troubled scientist who became an unlikely, uncomfortable and even mentally unstable superhero and here begins with what was just intended to be another throwaway filler thriller…

The initial 7-page short introduces Dr Henry Pym, a maverick scientist who discovers a shrinking potion and becomes ‘The Man in the Anthill!’: discovering peril, wonder and even a kind of companionship amongst the lowliest creatures on Earth… and under it…

This engaging piece of fluff, which owed more than a little to classic movie The Incredible Shrinking Man, was plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by Larry Lieber and stunningly illustrated by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers.

Clearly, the character struck a chord with someone since – as the DC Comics-inspired superhero boom flourished – Pym was rapidly retooled as a full-fledged costumed do-gooder, debuting again with TTA #35 in ‘The Return of the Ant-Man’(Lee, Lieber, Kirby & Ayers). The plot concerns a raid by Soviet agents (this was during the height of Marvel’s “Commie-Buster” period when – a bit like now – every other villain was a Red somebody or other and rampaging socialism was a cultural bête noir) wherein Pym is captured and held prisoner in his own laboratory. Forced to disinter the abandoned shrinking gases and cybernetic devices he’d ambitiously built to communicate with ants, Dr. Pym soundly trounces the spies and resolves to use his powers for the good of Mankind…

The same creative team produced the next four adventures, beginning with ‘The Challenge of Comrade X!’ (#36) as an infallible Soviet super-spy is dispatched to destroy the Diminutive Daredevil, after which Ant-Man is temporarily ‘Trapped by the Protector!’ – a cunning jewel-thief and extortionist who ultimately proves no match for the Tiny Titan.

‘Betrayed by the Ants!’ features the debut of intellectual arch-foe Egghead, a maverick and mercenary research scientist who attempts to usurp the hero’s control of insects whilst ‘The Vengeance of the Scarlet Beetle!’ sees a momentary return to scary monster stories as a radioactively mutated, super-intelligent bug seeks to eradicate humanity with only Pym capable of stopping him…

Sol Brodsky replaced Ayers as inker for ‘The Day that Ant-Man Failed!’ in #40, as a deadly Hijacker robbing freight trucks pushes the shrinking inventor to new heights of ingenuity, after which Kirby moved on: his lavishly experimental perspectival flamboyance replaced by the comforting realism and enticing human scale of Don Heck who limned a classy alien invasion yarn in ‘Prisoner of the Slave World!’ before depicting a mesmerising menace who controls people with ‘The Voice of Doom’ in TTA #42.

The following issue H. E. Huntley (AKA veteran writer/artist Ernie Hart) replaced Lieber as scripter with ‘The Mad Master of Time’: a run-of-the-mill mad – or, rather, disgruntled and misguided – scientist yarn. With the next issue (#44) Kirby returned to pencil a significant change to the series….

Inked by Heck, ‘The Creature from Kosmos’ introduces The Wasp – Pym’s bon vivant crime-fighting partner Janet Van Dyne – in a double-length tale featuring a murderous alien marauder who kills her father. There was even an expanded secret origin for Ant-Man: a rare and uncharacteristic display of depth revealing that Pym was actually a tragic widower. When his Hungarian wife Maria was murdered by Communist agents, it irrevocably changed the young scientist from a sedentary scholar into a driven man of action….

Ant-Man uses his discoveries to endow bereaved and vengeful Janet with the power to shrink and grow wings and she becomes his crime-fighting partner. In double-quick time they overcome ‘The Terrible Traps of Egghead’ (Lee, Huntley & Heck) before travelling to Greece to thwart another alien invasion ‘When Cyclops Walks the Earth!’

Back in the USA, the Diminutive Duo battle magic trumpeter Trago in ‘Music to Scream By’ and defeat an avaricious weapons designer who builds himself a unique battle suit to become super-thief ‘The Porcupine!’: all serving as placeholding before the next big change which manifests with Tales to Astonish #49’s ‘The Birth of Giant-Man!’.

Lee scripted and Heck inked Kirby who had returned to pencil the epic story of how Pym learns to enlarge as well as reduce his stature, just in time to tackle the threat of trans-dimensional kidnapper The Eraser. In the next issue Steve Ditko inked The King in ‘The Human Top’, the first episode of a 2-part tale showing how our hero struggles to adapt to his new strength and abilities.

The blistering conclusion ‘Showdown with the Human Top!’ was inked by Ayers who would go on to draw the bulk of the succeeding stories until the series’ demise. Moreover, with this issue (#51) back-up feature The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale began. It initially mixed sci-fi mystery vignettes narrated by the heroine, fact-features and solo adventures, before evolving into Marvel’s first female starring solo feature. Here however Janet is simply a whimsical narrator detailing chilling space thriller ‘Somewhere Waits a Wobbow!’ (actually related by Lee, Lieber & George Roussos in his Marvel identity of George Bell).

The super-hero adventures settled into a rather predictable pattern from then on: individually effective enough but rather samey and uninspired when read in quick succession. You’ll need the next volume for most of those but here at least the comics craziness concludes with a straightforward super-villain clash as TTA #52 ‘The Black Knight Strikes!’ (Lee & Ayers) is supplemented by the Wasp’s crime & punishment homily ‘Not What They Seem!’

Despite variable quality and treatment, the eclectic, eccentric and always fun exploits of Marvel’s original “little guy” and premier “odd couple” remain an intriguing and engaging reminder that the House of Ideas didn’t always get it right, but generally gave their all to entertaining fans.

By turns superb, stupid, enthralling and merely engaging, this tome is augmented by house ads and a gallery of original art pages by Kirby & Brodsky and Don Heck, epitomising the best and worst of Early Marvel (with the delightful far outweighing the duff). It certainly won’t appeal to everybody, but if you’re a Fights ‘n’ Tights fan with a forgiving nature or a movie-goer looking for extra input, the good stuff here will charm and amaze you whilst the rest could just be considered as a garish garnish to provide added flavour…
© 2020 MARVEL.

Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Bill Mantlo, Gerry Conway, Roger Stern, Sal Buscema, Ron Wilson, George Tuska & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2218-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Simply Superb Merry Marvel Madness … 8/10

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 the mass 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 awarded 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, after abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man (created for the magazine market in 1968) died after two issues, Marvel Team-Up was the second full Spider-Man title. Debuting in March 1972, it was a resounding hit.

This fifth fabulous compilation (in hardback and digital formats) gathers material from MTU #41-52, plus a crossover from Marvel Two-in-One #17, and a rare seasonal sage from tabloid rarity Marvel Treasury Edition #13, cumulatively spanning January-December 1976. The book opens with an informative assessment and appreciation from historian and archivist Bruce Canwell in his Introduction before we plunge into the many-starred dramas…

A major 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, however, neophyte scripter Bill Mantlo begins an era of closer continuity with an extended time travel epic that took taking the wallcrawler to the farthest, weirdest corners of Marvel’s ever-expanding universe…

With artists Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito in control of the horizontal and vertical, a truly impressive and ambitious multi-part epic opens with the Amazing Arachnid visiting the past and a number of alternate tomorrows beginning with ‘A Witch in Time!’

Here mutant Avenger Scarlet Witch is abducted from her rightful time and place by infamous witch-hunter Cotton Matherwho uses Doctor Doom’s time machine to drag her back to Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Her plight is observed by Spider-Man who naturally follows, but after failing to save her, the webspinner is himself accused of infernal sorcery in that rabid Massachusetts township…

Whilst Mather fans hysterical flames of paranoia, the Avenger’s synthezoid husband time-travels to her side in #42’s ‘Visions of Hate!’, only to fall before the witchfinder’s mysterious power too. As the innocents of Salem prepare themselves for death, our heroes make their escape only to fall to Mather’s hitherto unseen benefactor The Dark Rider.

Just as the master manipulator reveals himself, however, the stakes change again when a severely affronted Victor Von Doom appears, angrily demanding to know who’s been playing with his toys in #43’s ‘A Past Gone Mad!’

The frantic battle against an immortal chronal predator seems predestined to fail until the time-tides are unexpectedly turned in MTU #44 with the last-minute arrival of mind-goddess Moondragon, but in the aftermath Spider-Man tragically discovers that history is well-nigh impossible to alter in ‘Death in the Year Before Yesterday!’

The arachnoid adventurer is the last to return to the 20th century but his departure in issue #45 results in deadly diversions and understandable ‘Future-Shock!’ as he overshoots his home time and lands in devastated (and now defined as an alternate future) New York City circa 2019 where Warrior of the Worlds Killraven helps him survive numerous attacks by mutants and Martians in terrifying tripods before sending the spider back on his way home..

Unfortunately, before he gets there the wallcrawler experiences another shocking stopover in ‘Am I Now or Have I Ever Been?’, with cyborg warrior Deathlok saving him from a mutant hive-mind in a Manhattan shattered by war a mere fifteen years after his own lost and longed-for era…

A scared, sad and sobered Spider-Man finally makes it home in Marvel Two-In-One #17 just in time for a crossover with Ben Grimm AKA the Thing. The blockbuster opens with ‘This City… Afire!’ by Mantlo, Sal B & Esposito where, after battling beside Ka-Zar in the dinosaur paradise of the Savage Land, big Ben is ignominiously returned to the Big Apple by mutated madman Basilisk. This manic malcontent has manifested an erupting volcano in the Hudson River and it needs to go…

Already reeling, Spidey swings into action for the cataclysmic conclusion in Marvel Team-Up #47 where Mantlo, Ron Wilson & Dan Adkins render the spectacular clash of heroes who boldly proclaim ‘I Have to Fight the Basilisk!’

Proving there’s no rest for the wicked or the righteous, MTU #48 begins another suspenseful extended saga when ‘Enter: the Wraith!’ (Mantlo, Sal B & Esposito) introduces Police Captain Jean DeWolff whilst Spidey and Iron Man struggle to stop a mad bomber using model planes to destroy city landmarks and Stark International properties. As the heroes fruitlessly pursue leads, the enigmatic Wraith turns his attention upon them, proving to be not only connected to Jean but some kind of psionic metahuman…

With Iron Man again the guest-star, issue #49 reveals that ‘Madness is All in the Mind!’ as the masked maniac resumes his irresistible psychic assaults: explosively attacking Manhattan even as the tragic story of Jean’s Police Commissioner dad and murdered cop brother comes out…

However, the connection between them and the unstoppable villain is only exposed after the webslinger and Golden Avenger recruit Master of Mystic Arts Doctor Strange who applies his unique gifts to the problem in #50’s ‘The Mystery of the Wraith!’

The saga concludes with Marvel Team-Up #51 and ‘The Trial of the Wraith!’: a legal confrontation steered by a most unusual panel of judges whose hidden abilities are not enough to prevent one last crack of the whip by the unrepentant renegade…

The thrills, spills and chills are followed with blatant fill-in ‘Danger: Demon on a Rampage!’: a rather rushed but action-heavy pairing of Spidey and Captain America from Gerry Conway, SB & Esposito which sees the heroes unite to take down Gallic mercenary Batroc and an enraged monster that has somehow slipped out of an adjacent dimension…

The bulging bonus section begins with a house ad for the Mighty Marvel Bicentennial Calendar of 1976 which follows in its entirety, featuring the artistic excellence of John Romita Sr, Frank Robbins & Frank Giacoia, Herb Trimpe, Bob Brown, Gil Kane, John Buscema, Ross Andru, Joe Sinnott, Sal Buscema, Frank Brunner, Jim Starlin & Alan Weiss, and Jim Mooney.

After original art and covers from the text of this collection, Gil Kane’s sketches and finished art for the covers and frontispieces of Marvel Treasury Edition #9 (Giant Superhero Team-Up) and Marvel Treasury Edition #13 (Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag) precede a delightful lost gem from the latter: an all-new clash between the Fantastic Four and Avengers by Roger Stern, George Tuska & Don Perlin. Thankfully, as the battle – with snowballs in Central Park – escalates, Daredevil, the Defenders and Champions are on hand to maintain the proper seasonal spirit…

These stories all have an honest drive to entertain and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about. Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented enthusiasts, there’s plenty of fun on hand here and younger readers will have a blast, so there’s no reason not to add this tome to your comics library…
© MARVEL 2020 Marvel.

Black Panther: Panther’s Quest


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple, no?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before too long he had reason to regret his demands…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvel Two-in-One Marvel Masterworks volume 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 11


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvel Two-in-One Marvel Masterworks volume 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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