Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man 1964

Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man 1964

By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko with Jack Kirby

(Marvel/Panini UK)  ISBN 978-1-905239-58-0

The early years of Marvel Comics produced nothing but evergreen classics, and this cheap and cheerful softcover collection of the Spider-Man stories with cover-dates of 1964 – (issues #8-19 of the comic, plus the first Amazing Spider-Man Annual) is a wonderful way to introduce very valuable stories to the greater public in an accessible manner and at a very reasonable price. I’m not going to attempt to explain the vagaries of the US distribution system – just remember that in America the month on the cover denotes when the issue should be taken OFF sale – that’s why all the Christmas stories have February or March cover dates. This is a book for readers not collectors, okay?

The second year of the moody and misunderstood Peter Parker’s superhero career kicked off with a battle against a robot that divined his secret identity before going on a rampage at his high school, and a battle with the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch (drawn by Jack Kirby but inked by Spidey’s artistic godfather Steve Ditko, who drew everything else web-based in those formative years). Closely following were the first encounters with Electro and The Enforcers as Lee and Ditko balanced costumed villains with more down to earth criminals. Doctor Octopus made a return appearance and then Mysterio, The Green Goblin and Kraven the Hunter all took a bow. For added flavour – and free advertising – Lee began using guest appearances of his other heroic characters. The Hulk appeared with the Green Goblin, and Spider-Man actually teamed up with Daredevil to battle the Circus of Crime.

The growth of comics continuity can be seen here, as a storyline – innovative for the times – stretched over three episodes when the returning Green Goblin, Sandman and Enforcers seemingly made a coward of the web-spinner and not even the Human Torch could help him. It all worked out eventually, of course, and the year “concluded” – for the purposes of this book at least – with a re-presentation of the landmark, and still magnificently thrilling, battle against the ‘Sinister Six’. When a team of villains comprising Electro, Kraven, Mysterio, Vulture, Sandman and Doctor Octopus kidnap Aunt May and Peter’s girl friend Betty Brant, Spider-Man must defeat them without his Spider-powers! Also included are original pin-ups and special feature pages and the comedic short ‘How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Create Spider-Man’.

Full of energy, verve, pathos and laughs, gloriously short of post-modern angst and breast-beating, these fun classics are quintessential comic book magic, and along with the Fantastic Four, they form the very foundation of everything Marvel. This volume is a fabulous opportunity for new readers of all ages.

© 1964, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Wolverine: Wizard Masterpiece Edition

Wolverine: Wizard Masterpiece Edition

By various

(Marvel/Panini UK)  ISBN 1-905239-42-4

(A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD)

Here is a great big book of mutant mayhem to introduce new readers to the world of Wolverine. Although not what I’d call masterpieces, and certainly not a section of the choicest cuts, this volume has good, solid action, lots of great art and many big name creators on board. If you are new to the X-scene this is a handy package to bring you up to speed without breaking the bank.

The first tale comes from Uncanny X-Men #139 and 140 (1980), with Chris Claremont and John Byrne at their creative peak, telling a gripping story of a reconciliation with Wolvie’s previous team, Alpha Flight that turns into a hunt for a carnivorous monster called Wendigo. This is followed by Shattered Vows (Uncanny X-Men #172-173, 1983), as the diminutive mutant prepares to marry a Japanese princess but runs afoul of prejudice, evil mutants, and the Yakuza. The excellent Paul Smith deftly underplays the art to superb effect and Claremont once again supplies the script.

Vicious Circle by Peter David and Todd McFarlane, comes from Hulk #340 (1988), and is fondly regarded by fans as one of the few times both characters truly lived up to their savage reputations, and this is followed by Ann Nocenti and John Bolton’s Hunter and Prey, originally published as a back-up strip in Classic X-Men #25 in 1988. It highlights the primitive side of Logan in a primal triangle involving a bear, an obsessive hunter, and our hero, in an arctic wilderness.

Next up is a classic tale from Uncanny X-Men #268 (1990), Madripoor Knights, a contemporary tale which also flashes back to World War II. Here a pre-claws and adamantium skeleton-ed Logan teams with Captain America and the Black Widow (sort of), whilst beating the stuffings out of arch-Nazi Baron Strucker and the ever insidious ninja gang, The Hand. Claremont’s story is illustrated by the then rising star Jim Lee.

The longest story in the book is taken from Wolverine’s own comic (vol. 1. issues # 150-153, published in 2000) as writer/artist Steve Skroce constructs an epic confrontation against insurmountable ninja odds when Wolverine has to rescue his adopted daughter from the clutches of a Yakuza gang-lord or become the unwilling weapon in a battle for underworld supremacy of Japan. Blood Debt is seventy-seven action-packed, gore filled pages that nevertheless manages to maintain enough decorum to keep an all-ages rating, something of a mutant miracle in itself.

Accompanying these tales are featurettes and commentary culled from the pages of the fan magazine Wizard, covering such diverse topics as Wolverines Greatest Foes, blueprints for his skeleton, the best and worst costumes of the last thirty years, and even “what if Wolverine had been a woman?”

© 1980, 1983, 1988, 1990, 2000, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Uncanny X-Men: Alan Davis Omnibus

Uncanny X-Men: Alan Davis Omnibus

By Chris Claremont and Alan Davis

(Marvel/Panini UK)  ISBN 1-905239-40-8

(A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD)

Alan Davis has been a feature of the US comics scene — and a source of pride to his fellow Brits — for over twenty years now, so a compendium of his work is probably long overdue. It is, then, with mixed feelings that I have to say this is a joy and a disappointment as a package.

As always, his beautiful and influential picture-making is well worth the price of admission, especially when inked by his long-term collaborator, the masterful Mark Farmer, but the editors, by selecting such recent material (Uncanny X-Men issues #444-447, 450-451 and 455-459, – all from the last three years) have deprived newer readers of some wonderful tales. Not to mention ignoring the fact that Mr Davis is a writer of no mean ability himself.

Still, what is here is pretty good, as Chris Claremont scripts some rip-roaring tales featuring time-warps, Sentinels, an unstoppable robot Fury, a teenaged girl Wolverinette, and an all-out Battle Royale in the antediluvian Savage Land against the dinosaur counterparts of the Mutant superheroes for the fate of humanity on Earth, all of which show the range and versatility of the artist. Now if we can just work on a second volume…

© 2004, 2005, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Shadowland

ShadowlandBy Kim Deitch

(Fantagraphics Books)  ISBN 1-56097-771-X

Kim Deitch has been one of the leading lights of America’s Comix Underground since its earliest days, although as with Harvey Pekar and American Splendor, it is only in recent years that he has won wider acclaim: in his case for 2002’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams. For the past two decades he has been producing occasional short stories about a down-at-heel carnival and the shabby, eccentric no-hopers that have populated it through-out the 150 years. Shadowland is the first complete collection, and also features a splendid colour gallery of supplemental artwork.

Combining science-fiction, conspiracy theory, urban history and legend, show-biz razzmatazz, Film Noir and a highly developed sense of the absurd, he weaves an irresistible spell that charms, thrills and disturbs whilst his meticulous black and white drawing holds the reader in a deceptively fluffy grip.

Follow the story of clown and Carny Al Ledicker Jr. as he shambles his way through the sleaziest parts of the 20th century in this wonderful compendium and critique of the “Americana Way”.

Text, art & characters © 2006 Kim Deitch. All Rights Reserved

Marvel Masters: The Art of Jim Lee

Marvel Masters: The Art of Jim Lee 

By various & Jim Lee

(Marvel/Panini UK)  ISBN 1-905239-41-6

(A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD)

Since Jim Lee launched himself into the comics arena a lot has changed – and he’s been responsible for a large part of it. So a retrospective volume makes sense for any publisher which owns a large portion of his output. This thick tome contains some of his earliest work for Marvel (Alpha Flight issues #58-60, written by Bill Mantlo and inked by Al Milgrom) wherein he learned the trick to drawing huge casts of characters, and his first real successes (Punisher War Journal #6-7, written by Carl Potts), a visceral team-up of the Punisher and Wolverine, before concentrating on the X-Men runs that made his name and prompted his bid for independence.

From Uncanny X-Men #256-258 (scripted by Chris Claremont) comes a hi-octane, turbulent and perhaps over-blown battle with arch “Yellow Peril” stereotype The Mandarin, whose part in a super-villain pact has him attempt to destroy the misunderstood mutants as part of the “Acts of Vengeance” comic event. Don’t worry about it. There’s lots of semi-naked, exotic women, ninjas, big guns and shouting and hitting – just what every fan at the end of the 1980s demanded. And there’s plenty more where that came from in the last story-arc, reprinting X-Men #4-7, scripted by John Byrne and Scott Lobdell from Lee’s plots. This one features a glimpse into Wolverine’s past as a spy and the menace of Omega Red, a commie mutant whose touch can kill. Have no fear, though, the levels of angsty, hyper-tense testosterone remain at critical levels through-out.

Jim Lee’s work at Marvel shaped a generation of artists and his popularity directly led to the artist breakaway that resulted in Image Comics and a revolution in the industry. Although the work is a little unrelenting in tone, these stories are important and should be seen by a newer, wider audience. They’re quite well drawn, after all.

© 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Captain Britain Vol 1: Birth of a Legend

Captain Britain Vol 1: Birth of a Legend
Captain Britain

 

By Claremont, Friedrich, Trimpe & Kida

(Marvel/Panini UK) ISBN 1-905239-30-0

(A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD)

Marvel UK set up shop in 1972, reprinting their earliest successes in the traditional weekly papers format, swiftly carving out a corner of the market – although the works of Lee, Kirby et al had been appearing in other British comics (Smash!, Wham!, Pow!, Eagle, Fantastic!, Terrific!, and the anthologies of Alan Class Publications) since their inception.

In 1976 they decided to augment their output with an original British hero – albeit in a parochial, US style and manner – in a new weekly, although fan favourites Fantastic Four and Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. reprints filled out the issues. One bold departure was the addition of full colour printing up front for the new hero, and the equivalent back quarter of each issue.

Unremarkable even by its own standards at the time, this first compilation volume (featuring issues #1 through 23) of Captain Britain’s adventures reads quite well in the hyper-tense 21st century. There is a matter-of-fact charm and simplicity to the adventures that is sorely missed in these multi-part, multi-issue crossover days, and the necessity to keep attentions riveted and hungry for more in eight page instalments sweeps the willing reader along. Chris Claremont was given the original writing assignment apparently due to his being born here, Herb Trimpe the pencilling chores because he was actually resident here for awhile. Gary Friedrich eventually replaced the unhappy Claremont, but the artist, inked by golden age legend Fred Kida (Airboy, The Heap) provided rip-roaring art for this entire first volume. Future artists will include John Buscema, Alan Davis, and, if the publishers include the Black Knight strips from Hulk Weekly, John Stokes.

As for content, if you like old fashioned Marvel-style comics you’re in for a treat, as young Brian Braddock learns how to be a hero with help from the likes of Nick Fury and Captain America, not to mention Prime Minister James Callaghan, against the likes of Hurricane, The Vixen, Doctor Synne, Mastermind and even the Red Skull. The only possible quibble to endure is the petty annoyance of the volume ending mid-story, although the next volume is not too far away, apparently. If this sort of stuff doesn’t appeal, you might consider that these stories are pivotal to understanding the Alan Moore, X-Men and Excalibur tales of the last twenty years. Or the fact that there’s a free Captain Britain mask with the book. Not so easy to resist now, huh?

© 1977, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Runaways Vol 1: Pride and Joy

Runaways: Pride and Joy

By Brian K Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, David Newbold & Craig Yeung

Marvel ISBN 1-846530-10-5
(A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD)

Fashion has always played a large part in determining what goes into comic books, and popular culture has a tendency to feed on and breed with itself. It should come as no surprise then when publishers access the shtick that drives the burgeoning teen TV market.

Six young kids who have nothing in common except that their parents hang out together are suddenly bosom buddies once they discover that those same adults are in fact a team of super-villains intent on world conquest. As all parents can’t be trusted anyway, the kids have no problem banding together to use the powers they didn’t know they had to bring them to justice. The evil adults have manipulative fingers in every pie, however, and frame the kids who have to go on the run…

Playing to the same audiences that buy X-Men and watch the OC, Smallville and Hollyoaks, chock full of whiny, precocious brats taking the puberty-equals-alienation theme to new heights might make this unreadable to anyone whose hormones have stabilised, but in actuality the writing has moments of fun and genuine menace. Sadly the package is woefully betrayed by somewhat mediocre art, which looks a little like animation downloads seen on a screen coated in inch thick dust. Is grey and murky the new Black these days?

This volume originally saw print in the USA as a digest sized edition, and the more substantial page size does a lot to counteract my previous reservations regarding the picture quality.

© 2003, 2004, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Death’s Head Vol 1

Death’s Head Vol 1

By Simon Furman & various

Marvel/Panini UK ISBN 1-905239-34-3
(A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD)

Marvel UK had very few long-term successes in its twenty-plus years as a semi-autonomous company, but the robotic bounty hunter — sorry, free-lance peace-keeping agent — was certainly one of their most eccentric. Now the current regime have released the almost complete adventures in a cheerful bookshelf edition for your nostalgia tinged enjoyment.

Along with some welcome background on the big tin guy, there’s the very first one page adventure, the team-up with the Sylvester McCoy incarnation of Dr Who, the preliminary guest shot with the futuristic paramilitary sports team The Dragon’s Claws, and then the first seven issues of his own comic book series, all lavishly re-presented for a manic metal-head’s enjoyment. The only fault to find is the necessary exclusion of the battles against those other big robotic staples of the 1980s comic scene, The Transformers. Due to pesky copyright reasons the battles from Transformers # 113-151 have been left out, but this shouldn’t mar your enjoyment of this good old-fashioned comedy action-fest.

Always played as much for laughs as thrills and mercifully short on the breast-beating angst of his Marvel contemporaries, Death’s Head was created and written by Simon Furman, and this volume has artwork from Geoff Senior, Bryan Hitch, Lee Sullivan, Liam Sharp, John Higgins, Mark Farmer, Dave Hine, Paul Marshall and Jeff Anderson

© 1986-1989, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.