Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Epic Collection: Volume 1: 1963-1965: The Howling Commandos


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, with George Roussos, Steve Ditko, Frank Giacoia, Chic Stone & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1657-2 (TPB)

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos began as an improbable, decidedly over-the-top and raucous WWII combat comics series similar in tone to later ensemble action movies such as The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch and The Dirty Dozen. The surly squad of sorry reprobates premiered in May 1963; one of three teams concocted by men-on-fire Jack Kirby & Stan Lee to secure fledgling Marvel’s growing position as the publisher to watch.

Two years later Fury’s post-war self was retooled as the big-name star of a second series (beginning with Strange Tales #135, August 1965) when espionage shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the 007 film franchise became global sensations.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Domination by subversive all-encompassing hidden enemy organisations: with captivating super-science gadgetry and iconic imagineering from Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko.

For all that time, however, the original wartime version soldiered on (sorry: puns are my weapon of choice), blending a uniquely flamboyant house-bravado style and often ludicrous, implausible, historically inaccurate, all-action bombast with moments of genuine heartbreak, unbridled passion and seething emotion.

Sgt. Fury started out as a pure Kirby creation. As with all his various war comics, The King made everything look harsh and real and appalling: the people and places are all grimy and tired, battered yet indomitable.

The artist had served in some of the worst battles of the war and never forgot the horrific and heroic things he saw – and more graphically expressed in his efforts during the 1950s genre boom at a number of different companies. However, even at kid-friendly, Comics Code-sanitised Marvel, those experiences perpetually leaked through onto his powerfully gripping pages.

Kirby was – unfortunately – far too valuable a resource to squander on a simple war comic (or indeed the X-Men and Avengers: the other series launched in that tripartite blitz on kids’ spending money) and was quickly reassigned, leaving redoubtable fellow veteran Dick Ayers to illuminate later stories, which he did for almost the entire run of the series (95 issues plus Annuals) until its transition to a reprint title with #121 (July 1974).

The title then carried on until its ultimate demise in December 1981 with #167.

This initial trade paperback and eBook compendium collects the contents of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1-19 (spanning May 1963 to June 1965) and opens – just as you’d expect – with blistering premier ‘Sgt. Fury, and his Howling Commandoes’ (that’s how they spellled it in the storree-title – altho knot ennyware else).

Crafted by Lee, Kirby and inker Dick Ayers, the rip-snorting yarn is bursting with full page panels interrupted by ‘Meet the Howling Commandos’ – a double-page spread starring the seven members of First Attack Squad; Able Company. This comprised Fury himself, former circus strongman/Corporal “Dum-Dum” Dugan and Privates Robert “Rebel” Ralston (a Kentucky jockey), former student Jonathan “Junior” Juniper, jazz trumpeter Gabriel Jones, mechanic Izzy Cohen and glamorous movie heartthrob Dino Manelli.

Controversially – even in the 1960s – this battle Rat Pack was an integrated unit with Jewish and black members as well as Catholics, Southern Baptists and New York white guys all merrily serving together. The Howling Commandos pushed envelopes and busted taboos from the very start…

The first mission was a non-stop action romp pitting ‘Seven Against the Nazis!’ and putting the squad through their unique paces as the ragged band of indomitable warriors take on hordes of square-necked Nazis to save D-Day and rescue a French resistance fighter carrying vital plans of the invasion.

They even bring back a high-ranking “kraut” prisoner and leave room for a Kirby fact-page comparing and contrasting six different side-arms of the period in ancillary feature ‘Weapons of War’

Issue #2 found the ‘7 Doomed Men!’ up to their torn shirts in Germans as they first infiltrate a French coastal town to blow up a U-Boat base and get back to England just in time to be sent on another suicide mission. This time it’s to destroy a secret facility at Heinemund in the heart of the Fatherland, where Nazi scientists are doing something sinister and nefarious with “hard water”…

These overblown fustian thrillers always played fast and loose with history and logic, so if you crave veracity above all, I’d steer clear, but if you can swallow a heaping helping of creative anachronism there’s always great fun to be had here – especially since nobody drew atomic explosions like Kirby…

This drama is topped off with more fact pages as ‘The Enemy That Was!’ explores the capabilities of ‘The German Infantryman’ whilst ‘Weapons of War: “Chatter Guns” of World War II’ details everything you need to know about submachine guns…

Rough-&-ready gallows humour and broad comedy became increasingly important to the series from #3 onwards, with home base rivalries and wry comradely sparring leavening the outrageous non-stop carnage of the missions. ‘Midnight on Massacre Mountain!’ sees the septet explosively invading Italy to rescue a US army division caught in a Nazi trap. Along the way they meet a brilliant OSS officer training partisan troops, and Fury believes that young Reed Richards will go far…

Supplementing this exploit is a fascinating feature revealing what ordnance and hardware cost in ‘America’s World War II Shopping List!’

‘Lord Ha-Ha’s Last Laugh!’ in #4 began an inking tour of duty for George Bell (AKA 1950s Kirby studio-mate George “Inky” Roussos) and introduced a love interest for the Sarge, after he meets aristocratic Red Cross volunteer Lady Pamela Hawley during an air raid in London. How cruel and tragic was fate then, that the Howlers’ very next mission takes them to Berlin to kidnap a young British nobleman with the same name, acting as a crucial propaganda mouthpiece for the Wehrmacht…

The mission is a double disaster. Not only does Pamela’s ignoble brother perish, but the debacle also costs the life of a Howler…

‘Weapons of War: Combat Rifles of World War II’ then ends this shocking, surprisingly grim and low-key melodrama…

Fury’s key appearance as a CIA agent in FF #21 – not included here – was released between that issue and #5, but no mention is made of it when the dark and cunning yarn introduces one of Marvel’s vilest, greatest villains. ‘At the Mercy of Baron Strucker’ sees Fury humiliated and defeated in personal combat against an Aryan nobleman who uses candid filmed footage as a propaganda tool of the Nazis. Only too late does dashing Dino point out how the nonplussed noncom has fallen for the oldest trick in Hollywood’s archvillain playbook…

A riotous rematch goes rather better after which ‘Weapons of War: Light Machine Guns of World War II’ ends matters in a graphically educational manner, before ‘The Fangs of the Desert Fox!’ in #6 dumps the Squad in the desert to confront the massed forces of General Erwin Rommel in a mission foredoomed to fail…

‘The Court-Martial of Sergeant Fury’ provides a glimpse into the hard-bitten hero’s past and offers insights into his tempestuous relationship with immediate superior Captain Samuel “Happy Sam” Sawyer. Of course, to get that information we must watch Fury endure a dramatic trial after seemingly sabotaging a mission and striking a commanding officer…

Although continuing to draw the magnificent, eye-catching covers, Kirby left the title with this issue. His astounding abilities were more profitably employed in the superhero titles, even as Lee began consolidating the ever-expanding Marvel Universe by utilising more WWII iterations of contemporary characters.

‘The Death Ray of Baron Zemo!’ in #8 pits the Howlers against a Captain America villain recently debuted in The Avengers. Ayers & Roussos capably depict the unit’s attempts to capture the Nazi super-scientist and a weapon which might shape the outcome of the entire war. The tale also introduced Junior Juniper’s replacement: a rather fruity caricature of a British soldier named Percival Pinkerton, resplendent in horn-rimmed specs, pencil moustache, fuchsia beret and impossibly utilitarian umbrella…

In #9 the implausibly audacious ‘Mission: Capture Adolf Hitler!’ goes awry after the latest Howlers’ invasion of Berlin again brings Fury face-to-face with Wolfgang von Strucker; leading to temporary capture and an astounding escape, after which ‘On to Okinawa!’ in #10 sees the squad achieve greater success when despatched to the Pacific to rescue a captured US colonel from the Japanese.

This tale also saw the debut of a bearded bombastic submarine commander who would become a series regular before eventually winning his own title (Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders) in 1967.

The pace had visibly slowed and melodramatic subplots increased by #11, with ‘The Crackdown of Capt. Flint!’ depicting Happy Sam briefly replaced by a spit-and-polish officer who soon learns the limitations of his ways after which, in #12, a raid on a V1 factory in the heart of Europe seemingly prompts Dino to join the Nazis ‘When a Howler Turns Traitor!’

It was just a pre-arranged ploy of course, but sadly nobody told the American commander, who latterly stuck the star in front of a firing squad…

This issue also included a Marvel Masterwork Pin-up of Fury by Ayers.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #13 is arguably the best issue of the entire 167 issue run. The title says it all…

‘Fighting Side-by-Side with… Captain America and Bucky!’ reunited Lee, Kirby & Ayers in a blistering battle yarn wherein the Howlers cross paths with the masked Sentinels of Liberty after both teams stumble across a top-secret Nazi operation to build an invasion tunnel under the channel to England. To resort to the terms of the times: “Wah-Hoo!”…

Ayers was back to pencil #14 with Lee scripting and Roussos inking a minor milestone as harassed Adolf Hitler decrees the creation of a Nazi answer to Fury’s elite attack force. All ‘The Blitzkrieg Squad of Baron Strucker!’ have to do is lure the Howlers to a V2 rocket base and spring their trap… Yeah, that’s all…

Irregular supplemental feature Weapons of War provides all the gen on the ‘B-26 Martin Marauder’ to inform and entertain in equal amounts before Steve Ditko stepped in to ink Ayers in issue #15 as ‘Too Small to Fight, Too Young to Die’ relates an ill-fated mission in Holland to destroy the dykes and flood the occupation forces. The job goes drastically awry and the Howlers “flee” back to Britain with nothing but a broken-hearted boy named Hans Rooten – who has no idea that his despised quisling father is in fact the Allies’ top spy in the region…

The boy is adopted as the Howlers’ plucky mascot but can’t accompany them when the squad is despatched to Africa in #16 to eradicate yet more Nazi super-weapons in ‘A Fortress in the Desert Stands!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia using the pseudonym Frankie Ray). From there it’s only a short camel-ride south until the ragtag rovers encounter spear-wielding natives and nasty Nazis engaged in a battle of Hearts & Minds ‘While the Jungle Sleeps!’ (by Lee, Ayers & Vince Colletta).

All this time the chalk-and-cheese romantic relationship between Nick and Lady Pamela Hawley has been developing to the point where the Yankee lout is ready to propose. That all ends in #18 (with Chic Stone inks) when, as the unit is busy sinking a German battleship in a Norwegian port, she is ‘Killed in Action!’

Crushed and crazy, Fury goes AWOL in the final tale of this collection, remorselessly hunting down the leader of the bomber flight which had targeted the hospital she worked in before extracting ‘An Eye for an Eye!’ in a satisfyingly shocking Lee story sensitively rendered by Ayers & Giacoia. The Howlers go along for the ride, but whether to help their leader or hold him back is debatable…

Gilding this gladiatorial lily, the book signs off with a wealth of stunning original art pages from Kirby and Ayers, several contemporary house ads, and previous collection covers. Whereas close rival DC increasingly abandoned the Death or Glory bombast at this time in favour of humanistic, almost anti-war explorations of war and soldiering, Marvel’s take always favoured action-entertainment and fantasy over soul-searching for ultimate truths. On that level at least, these early epics are stunningly effective and galvanically powerful exhibitions of the genre.

Just don’t use them for history homework.
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 2019 Marvel All rights reserved.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Dick Ayers & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4212-6 (HB)

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos began as an improbable, decidedly over-the-top, rowdy and raucous WWII combat comics series similar in tone to later ensemble action movies such as The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch and The Dirty Dozen. The surly squad of sorry reprobates premiered in May 1963, one of three action teams concocted by creative men-on-fire Jack Kirby & Stan Lee to secure fledgling Marvel’s growing position as the comics publisher to watch.

Two years later Fury’s post-war self was retooled as the big-name star of a second series (beginning with Strange Tales #135, August 1965) when TV espionage shows such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. or Mission: Impossible and the James Bond film franchise became global sensations.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Domination by subversive all-encompassing hidden enemy organisations: with captivating super-science gadgetry and iconic imagineering from Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko.

For all that time, however, the original wartime version soldiered on (sorry: puns are my weapon of choice), blending a uniquely flamboyant house-bravado style and often ludicrous, implausible, historically inaccurate, all-action bombast with moments of genuine heartbreak, unbridled passion and seething emotion.

Sgt. Fury started out as a pure Kirby creation. As with all his various combat comics, The King made everything look harsh and real and appalling: the people and places all grimy, tired, battered yet indomitable.

The artist had served in some of the worst battles of the war and never forgot the horrific and heroic things he saw (and more graphically expressed in his efforts during the 1950s genre boom at a number of different companies). However, even at kid-friendly, Comics Code-sanitised Marvel, those experiences perpetually leaked through onto his powerfully gripping pages.

Kirby was – unfortunately – far too valuable a resource to squander on a simple war comic (or indeed the X-Men and Avengers: the other series launched in that tripartite blitz on kids’ spending money) and he was quickly moved on, leaving redoubtable fellow veteran Dick Ayers to illuminate later stories, which he did for almost the entire run of the series (95 issues plus Annuals) until its transition to a reprint title with #121 (July 1974). The title then carried on until its ultimate demise, with #167, in December 1981.

Ex-serviceman Lee remained as scripter until he too was pulled away by the developing Marvel phenomenon after which a succession of youthful, next-generation writers took over, beginning with Roy Thomas who provide welcome background in his Introduction, after which this third hardback and eBook compendium re-presents the contents of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #24-32 and the second Annual (collectively spanning November 1965 to August 1966) opening with a Lee scripted, Ayers and Frank Giacoia (AKA Frankie Ray) inked milestone as the war-weary squad head back to America in ‘When the Howlers Hit the Home Front!’

Of course, they still find plenty of trouble when battle comrade and Kentucky gentleman “Rebel” Ralston and his family are captured by Nazi Bundists and the First Attack Squad forgoes leave to rush to the rescue. At adventure’s end, however, the victorious team are forced to leave grievously wounded corporal Dum Dum Dugan behind to recuperate…

John Tartaglione signed on as regular inker for ‘Every Man My Enemy!’ as the unit return to Britain to commence a secret mission and expose a spy who has infiltrated their Army camp. The hunt eventually uncovers one of history’s greatest super-villains and leads to the first of many deadly clashes between Fury and the most dangerous man alive…

Golden Age veteran Carl Hubbell deployed his pens and brushes on ‘Dum Dum Does It the Hard Way!’, as the doughty corporal is shot down in the Atlantic whilst seeking to rejoin the Howlers, precipitating a stirring saga of privation and courage as the flight crew’s life raft is picked up by merciless U-Boat commander Vice Admiral Ribbondorf – the Sea Shark! That move was only the Nazi’s first mistake…

Issue #27 – by Lee, Ayers & Tartaglione – then reveals the origin of the sturdy sergeant’s optical injury (which would, in later life, lead to his adopting that stylish eyepatch) when the squad are despatched to Germany to destroy a new Nazi beam weapon. A now-obligatory SNAFU separates the squad and ‘Fury Fights Alone!’ before finally escaping “Festung Europa” and battling his way back to Blighty…

In the previous volume readers saw how Hitler demanded that his elite field commander should form a specialist unit to surpass Fury’s Commandos. The result was The Blitzkrieg Squad of Baron Strucker and they proved utterly ineffectual. Now the Fuhrer gives his once-favoured Prussian aristocrat one last chance to prove himself by obliterating the French town (and Resistance stronghold) Cherbeaux: a task even the disaffected Junker feels is a step too far…

With the town mined and the population imprisoned within, Fury’s Commandos are sent to stop the promised atrocity in ‘Not a Man Shall Remain Alive!’ The battle in the streets ends with another spectacular face-off between the icons of two warring ideologies and ‘Armageddon!’ for the hostage city…

With Strucker’s threat seemingly ended, Roy Thomas begins his run with ‘Incident in Italy!’ as the First Attack Squad parachute into a trap and are locked up in a POW camp. With the spotlight on former movie idol Dino Manelli, the Howlers link up with partisans, bust open the camp, free the captives and blaze their way back to liberty, before ‘Into the Jaws of… Death!’ sees the heroes retraining for underwater demolitions before being distracted by the abduction of their commander, Captain Samuel “Happy Sam” Sawyer. It’s the biggest and last mistake this bunch of Gestapo goons ever make…

The monthly missions conclude here with another episode of infernal intrigue as one of the Howlers is insidiously indoctrinated and turns against his comrades as they battle for their lives in Norway while dealing with ‘A Traitor in Our Midst!’

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Annual #2 was released in August 1966, and offered a brace of reprints (not included here) plus an all-new but out-of-continuity tale by Thomas, Ayers & Tartaglione. ‘A Day of Thunder!’ is set on June 5th 1944 and stirringly reveals the pivotal role the Howling Commandos play in paving the way for D-Day…

Closing this comics campaign is an unused cover art by Ayers.

Whereas close rival DC increasingly abandoned the Death or Glory bombast at this time in favour of humanistic, practically anti-war explorations of war and soldiering, Marvel’s take always favoured action-entertainment and fantasy over soul-searching for ultimate truths. On that level at least, these early epics are stunningly effective and galvanically powerful exhibitions of the genre. Just don’t use them for history homework.
© 1965, 1966, 2017 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee & Dick Ayers, with George Roussos, Steve Ditko, Frank Giacoia, Vince Colletta, Chic Stone, Carl Hubbell & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2928-8 (HB)

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos began as an improbable, decidedly over-the-top and raucous WWII combat comics series similar in tone to later ensemble action movies such as The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch and The Dirty Dozen. The surly squad of sorry reprobates premiered in May 1963, one of three teams concocted by men-on-fire Jack Kirby & Stan Lee to secure fledgling Marvel’s growing position as a publisher to watch.

Two years later Fury’s post-war self was retooled as the big-name star of a second series (beginning with Strange Tales #135, August 1965) when espionage shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the 007 film franchise became global sensations.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Domination by subversive all-encompassing hidden enemy organisations: with captivating super-science gadgetry and iconic imagineering from Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko.

For all that time, however, the original wartime version soldiered on (sorry: puns are my weapon of choice), blending a uniquely flamboyant house-bravado style and often ludicrous, implausible, historically inaccurate, all-action bombast with moments of genuine heartbreak, unbridled passion and seething emotion.

Sgt. Fury started out as a pure Kirby creation. As with all his various combat comics, The King made everything look harsh and real and appalling: the people and places all grimy, tired, battered yet indomitable.

The artist had served in some of the worst battles of the war and never forgot the horrific and heroic things he saw – and more graphically expressed in his efforts during the 1950s genre boom at a number of different companies. However, even at kid-friendly, Comics Code-sanitised Marvel, those experiences perpetually leaked through onto his powerfully gripping pages.

Kirby was – unfortunately – far too valuable a resource to squander on a simple war comic (or indeed the X-Men and Avengers: the other series launched in that tripartite blitz on kids spending money) and quickly moved on leaving redoubtable fellow veteran Dick Ayers to illuminate later stories, which he did for almost the entire run of the series (95 issues and Annuals) until its transition to a reprint title with #121 (July 1974). The title then carried on until its ultimate demise in December 1981 with #167.

Following an enticing and revelatory reminiscence from Ayers in his Introduction, this second hardback and eBook compendium re-presents the contents of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #14-23 and the first Annual (collectively spanning January to October 1965) opening with a Lee scripted, George Roussos/Bell inked milestone as harassed Adolf Hitler decrees the creation of a Nazi answer to Fury’s elite attack force.

All ‘The Blitzkrieg Squad of Baron Strucker!’ had to do was lure the Howlers to a V2 rocket base and spring their trap… Yeah, that was all…

Regular supplemental feature Weapons of War then provides all the gen on the ‘B-26 Martin Marauder’ to inform and entertain in equal amounts.

Steve Ditko stepped in to ink Ayers in issue #15 as ‘Too Small to Fight, Too Young to Die’ related an ill-fated mission in Holland to destroy the dykes and flood the occupation forces. The job soon goes drastically wrong and the Howlers “flee” back to Britain with nothing but a broken-hearted boy named Hans Rooten – who had no idea that his despised quisling father was in fact the Allies’ top spy in the region…

The boy is adopted as the Howlers’ plucky mascot but can’t accompany them when the squad is despatched to Africa in #16 to eradicate yet more Nazi super-weapons in ‘A Fortress in the Desert Stands!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia using the pseudonym Frankie Ray). From there it’s only a short camel-ride south until the ragtag rovers encounter spear-wielding natives and nasty Nazis engaged in a battle of Hearts & Minds ‘While the Jungle Sleeps!’ (by Lee, Ayers & Vince Colletta).

All this time the chalk-and-cheese romantic relationship between Nick and English aristocrat Lady Pamela Hawley had been developing to the point where the Yankee lout was ready to propose. That all ends in #18 when, whilst the unit is busy sinking a German battleship in a Norwegian port, she is ‘Killed in Action!’ (Chic Stone inks).

Crushed and crazy, Fury goes AWOL in the next issue, remorselessly hunting down the leader of the bomber flight which had targeted the hospital she worked in before extracting ‘An Eye for an Eye!’ in a satisfyingly shocking Stan Lee story sensitively rendered by Ayers & Giacoia. The Howlers go along for the ride, but whether to help their leader or hold him back is debatable…

A far grimmer Fury is still in the mood for cathartic carnage in #20, so when ‘The Blitz Squad Strikes!’ features the German Kommandos invading a Scottish castle filled with imprisoned Nazi airmen, he and the Howlers are more than delighted to lead the sortie to retake it.

In the next issue the long-running rivalry with First Attack Squad; Baker Company again results in frantic fisticuffs before being interrupted by another last-ditch rescue mission in Czechoslovakia ‘To Free a Hostage!’ (inked by Golden Age legend Carl Hubbell, as was the next issue).

However, even after Allied scientist and captive daughter are reunited, the bubbling beef with B Company doesn’t diminish and when both units are subsequently sent to sabotage the oil refinery at Ploesti the defending forces capture everybody. However, after the gloating Nazis try making Fury and his opposite number to kill each they quickly learn ‘Don’t Turn Your Back on Bull McGiveney!’ and even Strucker’s Blitz Squad can’t contain the devastating destruction that follows…

The final WWII exploit contained herein is the Giacoia-inked saga of ‘The Man Who Failed!’, wherein a rescue jaunt to Burma to save nuns and orphans results in shameful revelations from English Howler Percy Pinkerton’s past: simultaneously supplying close insight into why our True Brit upper lips are so stiff…

This combat compendium then concludes with the 15-page lead story from Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos King Size Annual #1 (1965) as the post-war Howlers are called up and mustered to the 38th Parallel to defend democracy from Communist aggression. This particular escapade sees them rescuing former Commanding Officer Colonel Sam Sawyer and results in Fury winning a battlefield ‘Commission in Korea!’ to at last become a Lieutenant in a rousing romp by Lee, Ayers & Giacoia. Also extracted from that that might special are pictorial features ‘A Re-introduction to the Howlers’; ‘A Birds Eye View of HQ, Able Company – Fury’s Base in Britain’; ‘Plane’s-Eye View of Base Tactical Area, Sub-Pen, Dock and Air-Strip!’ and ‘Combat Arm and Hand Signals’ before a 2-page house ad feature for the hero’s super-spy iteration as ‘Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ wraps everything up in Marvel’s military fashion.

Whereas close rival DC increasingly abandoned the Death or Glory bombast at this time in favour of humanistic, almost anti-war explorations of war and soldiering, Marvel’s take always favoured action-entertainment and fantasy over soul-searching for ultimate truths. On that level at least, these early epics are stunningly effective and galvanically powerful exhibitions of the genre.

Just don’t use them for history homework.
© 1965, 2017 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dennis O’Neil, Roy Thomas, John Severin, Joe Sinnott, Don Heck, Howard Purcell, Ogden Whitney, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott, Jim Steranko & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2686-7 (HB)

Veteran war-hero and superspy Nick Fury debuted in Fantastic Four #21 (cover-dated December 1963): a grizzled, world-weary and cunning CIA Colonel at the periphery of the really big adventures in a fast-changing world.

What was odd about that? Well, the gruff, crudely capable combat everyman was already the star of the minor publisher’s only war comic, set twenty years earlier in (depending on whether you were American or European…) the beginning or middle of World War II.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos was an improbable, decidedly over-the-top and raucous combat comics series, similar in tone to later movies such as The Wild Bunch or The Dirty Dozen and had launched in May of that year.

Nevertheless, Fury’s latter-day self soon emerged as a big-name star once espionage yarns went global in the wake of popular TV sensations like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the elder iteration was given a second series beginning in Strange Tales #135 (cover-dated August 1965).

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Conquest by a subversive, all-encompassing, hidden enemy organisation. The unfolding saga came with captivating Kirby-designed super-science gadgetry and – eventually – iconic and game-changing imagineering from Jim Steranko, whose visually groundbreaking graphic narratives took the comics art form to a whole new level…

For those few brief years with Steranko in charge, the S.H.I.E.L.D. series was one of the best strips in America – if not the world – but when the writer/artist left just as the global spy-fad was fading, the whole concept faded into the background architecture of the Marvel Universe…

This astounding full-colour compendium (available in hardcover and digital editions) deals with the outrageous, groundbreaking, but still notionally wedded-to-mundane-reality iteration which set the scene.

Here Jack Kirby’s genius for graphic wizardry and gift for dramatic staging mixed with Stan Lee’s manic melodrama to create a tough and tense series which the new writers and veteran artists that followed turned into a non-stop riot of action and suspense, with Steranko’s late arrival only hinting at the magic to come…

These epic early days of spycraft encompass Strange Tales #135-153 and Tales of Suspense #78, collectively covering August 1965 to February 1967 and guaranteeing timeless thrills for lovers of adventure and intrigue.

Following a little history lesson from Kirby scholar John Morrow in his Introduction, the main event starts with ST #135 as the Human Torch solo feature is summarily replaced by Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. – which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division

In the rocket-paced first episode, Fury is asked to volunteer for the most dangerous job in the world: leading a new counter-intelligence agency dedicated to stopping secretive subversive super-science organisation Hydra. With assassins dogging his every move, the Take-Charge Guy with the Can-Do Attitude quickly proves he is ‘The Man for the Job!’ in a potent twelve-page thriller from Lee, Kirby & Dick Ayers.

Even an artist and plotter of Kirby’s calibre couldn’t handle another strip at that busiest of times, so from the next issue “The King” cut back to laying out episodes, allowing a variety of superb draughtsmen to flesh out the adventures. Even so, there’s probably a stunning invention or cool concept on almost every page that follows…

‘Find Fury or Die!’ brought veteran draughtsman John Severin back to the company; pencilling and inking Kirby’s blueprints as the new Director becomes the target of incessant assassination attempts and we are introduced to masked maniac the Supreme Hydra

The tension ramps up for the next instalment as a number of contenders are introduced – any of whom might be the obscured overlord of evil – even as S.H.I.E.L.D. strives mightily but fails to stop Hydra launching its deadly Betatron Bomb in ‘The Prize is… Earth!’

Despite the restrictions of the Comics Code, these early S.H.I.E.L.D. stories were stark and grim and frequently carried a heavy body count. Four valiant agents died in quick succession in #137 and the next issue underscored the point in ‘Sometimes the Good Guys Lose!’ with further revelations of Hydra’s inner workings.

Fury and fellow Howling Commando war heroes Dum-Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones meanwhile played catch-up after Hydra assassins invade S.H.I.E.L.D.: almost eliminating Fury and munitions genius Tony Stark – the only man capable of destroying the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over the world. Although Nick saves the inventor, he is captured in the process…

Tortured by Hydra in #139’s ‘The Brave Die Hard!’ (with Joe Sinnott replacing Severin as finisher), Fury finds an unlikely ally in Laura Brown: Supreme Hydra’s daughter and a young woman bitterly opposed to her father’s megalomaniacal madness.

Even with only half a comicbook per month to tell a tale, creators didn’t hang around in those halcyon days and #140 promised ‘The End of Hydra!’ (by Don Heck & Sinnott over Kirby) as a S.H.I.E.L.D. squad invades the enemy’s inner sanctum to rescue the already-free-and-making-mayhem Fury. In the meantime, Stark travels into space to remove the Betratron Bomb with his robotic Braino-Saur system. The end result leaves Hydra temporarily headless…

Strange Tales #141 has Kirby return to full pencils (inked by Frank Giacoia pseudonymously moonlighting as Frank Ray) for the mop-up before ‘Operation: Brain Blast!’ introduces Mentallo – a renegade from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ESP division – who joins with technological savant the Fixer to attack the organisation as the first step in an ambitious scheme to rule the world.

The momentous raid begins in ‘Who Strikes at… S.H.I.E.L.D.?’ (illustrated by Kirby with Mike Demeo – AKA Esposito) with the deadly rogues hitting hard and fast: seizing and mind-controlling Fury before strapping him to a mini-H-bomb. With Howard Purcell & Esposito embellishing Kirby’s layouts, Dugan and the boys come blasting in ‘To Free a Brain Slave’ in #143…

A new and deadly threat emerges in #144 as ‘The Day of the Druid!’ as a mystic charlatan targets Fury and his agents with murderous flying techno-ovoids. Happily, new S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit Jasper Sitwell is on hand to augment the triumphant fightback in ‘Lo! The Eggs Shall Hatch!’ (finished by Heck & Esposito).

As Marvel continuity grew evermore interlinked, ‘Them!’ details a Captain America team-up for Fury in the first of the Star-Spangled Avenger’s many adventures as a (more-or-less) Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Taken from Tales of Suspense #78 (June 1966): scripted by Lee with Kirby full pencils and Giacoia inks, the story depicts the WWII wonders battling an artificial assassin with incredible chemical capabilities, after which Nick seeks the creature’s mysterious makers in Strange Tales #146, ‘When the Unliving Strike!’ (Kirby, Heck & Esposito).

Proclaiming themselves a technological Special Interests group, Advanced Idea Mechanics courts S.H.I.E.L.D.’s governmental and military masters, promising potent and incredible new weapons if only they sacked that barbaric slob Fury, but the surly supremo is getting close to exposing A.I.M.’s connection to “Them” and an old enemy thought long gone…

A concerted whispering campaign and “briefing-against” seemingly sees Fury ousted in ‘The Enemy Within!’ and put on trial in ‘Death Before Dishonor!’ (scripted by Kirby with Heck & Esposito finishing his layouts), but it’s all part of a cunning counter-plan which delivers a shattering conclusion and ‘The End of A.I.M.!’ in #149 (scripted by Denny O’Neil, with art by Kirby & Ogden Whitney).

Then, revealed by Lee, Kirby, John Buscema & Giacoia, a malign and devilishly subtle plan is finally exposed in Strange Tales #150 as Fury’s team puts together clues from all the year’s past clashes to come to one terrifying conclusion: ‘Hydra Lives!’

The shocking secret also hints at great events to come as newcomer Steranko assumes the finisher’s role over Lee & Kirby for ‘Overkill!’ with Fury targeted by the new Supreme Hydra who devises a cunning scheme to infiltrate America’s top security agency and use his enemy as the means of triggering global Armageddon…

Although the Good Guys seemingly thwart that scheme, ‘The Power of S.H.I.E.L.D.!’ is actually helpless to discern the villain’s real intent as this initial dossier of doom ends on a cliffhanger after ‘The Hiding Place!’ (ST #153 and scripted by Roy Thomas) closes with the arch villain comfortably ensconced in Fury’s inner circle and ready to destroy the organisation from within…

To Be Continued…

Although the S.H.I.E.L.D. saga stops here, there’s an added bonus still to enjoy: the aforementioned FF #21. This revealed Fury as a wily CIA agent seeking the team’s aid against a sinister demagogue called ‘The Hate-Monger’ (Lee & Kirby, inked by comics veteran George Roussos, under the protective nom-de-plume George Bell) just as the 1960s espionage vogue was taking off, inspired by James Bond films and TV shows like Danger Man.

Here Fury craftily manipulates Marvel’s First Family into invading a sovereign nation reeling in the throes of revolution in a yarn crackling with tension and action…

Fast, furious and fantastically entertaining, these high-octane vintage yarns are a superb snapshot of early Marvel Comics at their creative peak and should be part of every fanboy’s shelf of beloved favourites.

Don’t Yield! Back S.H.I.E.L.D.!
© 1965, 1966, 1967, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, George Roussos & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6792-1

Inspired by the James Bond films and pioneering TV shows like Danger Man, ultimate super-spy Nick Fury debuted in Fantastic Four #21 (December 1963): a grizzled and cunning CIA Colonel at the periphery of big adventures. In typical spook style, he craftily manipulated the First Family of Marvel superheroes into invading a sovereign nation, just as the 1960s espionage vogue was taking off.

What’s weird about that? Well, the gruffly capable everyman was already the star of the little company’s only war comic, set twenty years earlier in – depending on whether you were American or European – the middle or beginning of World War II.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, an improbable, decidedly over-the-top and raucous combat comics series (similar in tone to later ensemble action movies such as The Magnificent Seven, Wild Bunch or The Dirty Dozen) had launched in May of that year. Fury’s post-war self became a big-name star when espionage shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. became global sensations and the elder iteration was given a second series beginning in Strange Tales#135 (August 1965).

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Domination by subversive all-encompassing hidden, enemy-organisation Hydra: all with captivating Jack Kirby-designed super-science gadgetry and, later, iconic imagineering from Jim Steranko whose visually groundbreaking graphic narratives took the art form to a whole new level.

For all that time, however, the original wartime version soldiered on (sorry: puns are my weapon of choice), blending a uniquely flamboyant house-bravado style and often ludicrous, implausible, historically inaccurate, all-action bombast with moments of genuine heartbreak, unbridled passion and seething emotion.

Sgt. Fury seems to be a pure Jack Kirby creation. As with all his various combat comics, The King made everything look harsh and real and appalling: the people and places all grimy, tired, battered yet indomitable.

The artist had served in some of the worst battles of the war and never forgot the horrific and heroic things he saw – and more graphically expressed in his efforts during the 1950s genre boom at a number of different companies. However, even at kid-friendly, Comics Code-sanitised Marvel, those experiences perpetually leaked through onto his powerfully gripping pages.

Following another typically exuberant Stan Lee Introduction this first Trade Paperback (and eBook) memorial compendium re-presents the contents of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1-13 (spanning May 1963 to December 1964) opening – just as you’d expect – with blistering premier ‘Sgt. Fury, and his Howling Commandoes’ (that’s how they speled it in the storree-title – altho knot ennyware else).

Crafted by Lee, Kirby and inker Dick Ayers the rip-snorting yarn is bursting with full page panels interrupted by ‘Meet the Howling Commandos’ – a double-page starring the seven members of First Attack Squad; Able Company. This comprised Fury himself, former circus strongman/Corporal “Dum-Dum” Dugan and Privates Robert “Rebel” Ralston (a jockey), former student Jonathan “Junior” Juniper, jazz trumpeter Gabriel Jones, mechanic Izzy Cohen and glamorous movie star Dino Manelli.

Controversially – even in the 1960s – this combat Rat Pack was an integrated unit with Jewish and black members as well as Catholics, Southern Baptists and New York white guys all merrily serving together. The Howling Commandos pushed envelopes and busted taboos from the very start…

The first mission was a non-stop action romp pitting ‘Seven Against the Nazis!’ and putting the squad through their various paces as the ragged band of indomitable warriors tackled hordes of square-necked Nazis and saving D-Day by rescuing a French resistance fighter carrying vital plans of the invasion. They even brought back a high-ranking “kraut” prisoner. There was even room for a Kirby fact-page comparing and contrasting six different side-arms of the period in ancillary feature ‘Weapons of War’

Issue #2 found the ‘7 Doomed Men!’ up to their ripped shirts in Germans as they first infiltrated a French coastal town to blow up a U-Boat base and got back to England just in time to be sent on another suicide mission. This time it was to destroy a secret facility at Heinemund in the heart of the Fatherland where Nazi scientists were doing something sinister and nefarious with “hard water”…

These overblown fustian thrillers always played fast and loose with history and logic, so if you crave veracity above all I’d steer clear, but if you can swallow a heaping helping of creative anachronism there’s always great fun to be had here – especially since nobody drew atomic explosions like Kirby…

This drama was topped off with more fact pages as ‘The Enemy That Was!’ explored the capabilities of ‘The German Infantryman’ whilst ‘Weapons of War: “Chatter Guns” of World War II’ details everything you need to know about submachine guns…

Rough and ready gallows humour and broad comedy became increasingly important to the series from #3 onwards, with home base rivalries and wry comradely sparring leavening the outrageous non-stop carnage of the missions. ‘Midnight on Massacre Mountain!’ finds the septet explosively invading Italy to rescue a US army division caught in a Nazi trap. Along the way they meet a brilliant OSS officer training partisan troops, and Fury thought that young Reed Richards would go far…

Supplementing this exploit is a fascinating feature revealing what ordnance and hardware cost in ‘America’s World War II Shopping List!’

‘Lord Ha-Ha’s Last Laugh!’ in #4 began an inking tour of duty for George Bell (AKA 1950s Kirby studio-mate George “Inky” Roussos) and introduced a love interest for the Sarge, when he meets Red Cross volunteer Lady Pamela Hawley during an air raid in London. How cruel and tragic was fate then, that the Howlers’ very next mission took them to Berlin to kidnap a young British nobleman with the same name, acting as a crucial propaganda mouthpiece for the Wehrmacht…

The mission was a double disaster. Not only did Pamela’s ignoble brother perish but the debacle also cost the life of a Howler…

‘Weapons of War: Combat Rifles of World War II’ then ended this shocking, surprisingly grim and low-key melodrama…

Fury’s appearance in FF#21 – not included here – was released between that issue and #5, but no mention was made of it when the dark and cunning yarn introduces one of Marvel’s vilest, greatest villains. ‘At the Mercy of Baron Strucker’ sees Fury humiliated and defeated in personal combat against an Aryan nobleman before candid filmed footage is used as a propaganda tool of the Nazis. Only too late did dashing Dino pointed out how the nonplussed noncom had fallen for the oldest trick in Hollywood’s playbook…

The riotous rematch went rather better after which ‘Weapons of War: Light Machine Guns of World War II’ ends matters in a graphically educational manner, whilst ‘The Fangs of the Desert Fox!’ in #6 dumped the Squad in the desert to tackle the hordes of General Erwin Rommel in a mission foredoomed to fail…

‘The Court-Martial of Sergeant Fury’ then provides a glimpse at the hard-bitten hero’s past and offers insights into his tempestuous relationship with immediate superior Captain Samuel “Happy Sam” Sawyer. Of course, to get that information we have to watch Fury endure a dramatic trial after seemingly sabotaging a mission and striking a commanding officer…

Although continuing to draw the magnificent, eye-catching covers, Kirby left the title with this issue. His astounding abilities were more profitably employed in the superhero titles, even as Lee began consolidating the ever-expanding Marvel Universe by utilising more WWII iterations of contemporary characters.

‘The Death Ray of Baron Zemo!’ in #8 pits the Howlers against a Captain America villain recently debuted in The Avengers. Ayers & Roussos capably depict the unit’s attempts to capture the Nazi scientist and a weapon which could shape the outcome of the entire war. The tale also introduced Junior Juniper’s replacement: a rather fruity caricature of a British soldier named Percival Pinkerton, resplendent in horn-rimmed specs, pencil moustache, fuchsia beret and impossibly utilitarian umbrella…

In #9 the implausibly audacious ‘Mission: Capture Adolf Hitler!’ goes awry after the latest Howlers’ invasion of Berlin again brings Fury face-to-face with Wolfgang von Strucker; leading to temporary capture and an astounding escape whilst ‘On to Okinawa!’ in #10 sees the squad achieve greater success when despatched to the Pacific to rescue a captured US colonel from the Japanese.

This tale also saw the debut of a bearded bombastic submarine commander who would become a series regular before eventually winning his own series (Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders) in 1967.

The pace had visibly slowed and melodramatic subplots increased by #11, with ‘The Crackdown of Capt. Flint!’ depicting Happy Sam briefly replaced by a spit-and-polish officer who soon learns the limitations of his ways, after which in #12, a raid on a V1 factory in the heart of Europe seemingly prompts Dino to join the Nazis ‘When a Howler Turns Traitor!’

It was just a pre-arranged ploy though, but sadly nobody told the American commander, who latterly stuck the star in front of a firing squad…

This issue also included a Marvel Masterwork Pin-up of Fury by Ayers.

Closing the show on a true high, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #13 is arguably the best issue of the entire 167 issue run. The title says it all…

‘Fighting Side-by-Side with… Captain America and Bucky!’ reunited Lee, Kirby & Ayers in a blistering battle yarn as the Howlers crossed paths with the masked Sentinels of Liberty after both teams stumble across a top secret Nazi operation to build an invasion tunnel under the channel to England. To resort to the terms of the times: “Wah-Hoo!”…

Gilding this gladiatorial lily, the book signs off with several contemporary house ads, and full creator biographies.

Whereas close rival DC increasingly abandoned the Death or Glory bombast at this time in favour of humanistic, almost anti-war explorations of war and soldiering, Marvel’s take always favoured action-entertainment and fantasy over soul-searching for ultimate truths. On that level if no other, these early epics are stunningly effective and galvanically powerful exhibitions of the genre. Just don’t use them for history homework.
© 1963, 1964, 2013, 2017 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

S.H.I.E.L.D. by Lee & Kirby: The Complete Collection


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Denny O’Neil, John Severin, Don Heck, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott, Howard Purcell, Ogden Whitney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9901-4

Veteran war-hero Nick Fury debuted in Fantastic Four #21 (December 1963): a grizzled, world-weary and cunning CIA Colonel at the periphery of the really big adventures.

What was odd about that? Well, the gruffly capable everyman was already the star of the minor publisher’s only war comic, set twenty years earlier in (depending on whether you were American or European…) the middle or beginning of World War II.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos was an improbable, decidedly over-the-top and raucous combat comics series, similar in tone to later movies such as The Wild Bunch or The Dirty Dozen and had launched in May of that year. Although Fury’s later self became a big-name star when espionage yarns went global in the wake of popular sensations like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the elder iteration was given a second series beginning in Strange Tales #135 (August 1965).

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Conquest by a subversive, all-encompassing, hidden enemy organisation. The saga came with captivating Kirby-designed super-science gadgetry and, later, iconic imagineering from Jim Steranko whose visually groundbreaking graphic narratives took the art form to a whole new level (but that’s a subject of another Complete Collection…).

For those few brief years with Steranko in charge, the S.H.I.E.L.D. series was one of the best strips in America – if not the world – but when the writer/artist left just as the global spy-fad was fading, the whole concept faded into the background architecture of the Marvel Universe…

This astounding full-colour paperback compendium, however, deals with the outrageous, groundbreaking, but still still carefully wedded-to-mundane-reality iteration which set the scene. Here Jack Kirby’s genius for gadgetry and gift for dramatic staging mixed with Stan Lee’s manic melodrama to create a tough and tense series which the new writers and veteran artists that followed turned into a non-stop riot of action and suspense…

This stunning hardback omnibus gathers those early days of spycraft; comprising Fantastic Four #21, Tales of Suspense #78 and Strange Tales #135-150 – spanning December 1963 to November 1966 – and providing timeless thrills for lovers of adventure and intrigue.

Fantastic Four #21 introduced the latter-day Fury as a CIA agent seeking the team’s aid against a sinister demagogue called ‘The Hate-Monger’ (by Lee & Kirby with inks by comics veteran George Roussos, under the protective nom-de-plume George Bell) just as the 1960s espionage vogue was taking off, inspired by James Bond films and TV shows like Danger Man.

Fury craftily manipulated Marvel’s First Family into invading a sovereign nation in the throes of revolution in a yarn cracking with tension and action.

The main event starts next as Strange Tales #135 (August 1965) saw the Human Torch solo feature replaced by Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. – which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division

In the rocket-paced first episode, Fury is asked to volunteer for the most dangerous job in the world: leading a new counter-intelligence agency dedicated to stopping secretive subversive organisation Hydra. With assassins dogging his every move, the Take-Charge Guy with the Can-Do Attitude quickly proves he is ‘The Man for the Job!’ in a potent twelve-page thriller from Lee, Kirby & Dick Ayers.

Even an artist and plotter of Kirby’s calibre couldn’t handle another strip at that busiest of times so from the next issue “The King” cut back to laying out episodes, allowing a variety of superb draughtsmen to flesh out the adventures. Even so, there’s probably a stunning invention or cool concept on almost every page that follows…

‘Find Fury or Die!’ brought veteran draughtsman John Severin back to the company; pencilling and inking the Kirby’s blueprints as Fury becomes the target of incessant assassination attempts and we are introduced to the masked Supreme Hydra

The tension ramps up in the next instalment as a number of contenders are introduced – any of whom might be the obscured overlord of evil – even as S.H.I.E.L.D. strives mightily but fails to stop Hydra launching its deadly Betatron Bomb in ‘The Prize is… Earth!’

Despite the restrictions of the Comics Code, these early S.H.I.E.L.D. stories were stark and grim and frequently carried a heavy body count. Four valiant agents died in quick succession in #137 and the next issue underscored the point in ‘Sometimes the Good Guys Lose!’ with further revelations of Hydra’s inner workings.

Fury and fellow Howling Commando war heroes Dum-Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones meanwhile played catch-up after Hydra assassins invade S.H.I.E.L.D. and almost eradicate Fury and munitions genius Tony Stark: the only man capable of destroying the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over the world. Although Nick saves the inventor, he is captured in the process…

Tortured by Hydra in #139’s ‘The Brave Die Hard!’ (with Joe Sinnott replacing Severin as finisher) Fury finds an unlikely ally in Laura Brown: Supreme Hydra’s daughter and a young woman bitterly opposed to her father’s megalomaniacal madness.

Even with only half a comic book per month to tell a tale, creators didn’t hang around in those halcyon days and #140 promised ‘The End of Hydra!’ (Don Heck & Sinnott) as a S.H.I.E.L.D. squad invades the enemy’s inner sanctum to rescue the already-free-and-making-mayhem Fury, just as Stark travels into space to remove the Betratron Bomb with his robotic Braino-Saur system. The end result left Hydra temporarily headless…

Strange Tales #141 saw Kirby return to full pencils (inked by Frank Giacoia pseudonymously moonlighting as Frank Ray) for the mop-up and ‘Operation: Brain Blast!’ as Mentallo – a renegade from S.H.I.E.L.D. ESP division – joined with technological savant the Fixer to attack the organisation as the first step in an ambitious scheme to rule the world.

The raid began in ‘Who Strikes at… S.H.I.E.L.D.?’ (illustrated by Kirby with Mike Demeo – AKA – Esposito) with the deadly rogues hitting hard and fast: seizing and mind-controlling Fury before strapping him to a mini-H-bomb. None too soon, however, Dugan and the boys come blasting in ‘To Free a Brain Slave’ in #143 with Howard Purcell & Esposito embellishing Kirby’s layouts.

A new and deadly threat emerged in #144 as ‘The Day of the Druid!’ saw a mystic charlatan target Fury and his agents with murderous flying techno-ovoids. Happily, new S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit Jasper Sitwell was on hand to augment the triumphant fightback in ‘Lo! The Eggs Shall Hatch!’ by Heck & Esposito over Kirby.

As Marvel continuity grew evermore interlinked, ‘Them!’ saw Captain America team with Fury in the first of the Star-Spangled Avenger’s many adventures as a (more-or-less) Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Taken from Tales of Suspense #78 (June 1966: scripted by Lee with Kirby full pencils and Giacoia inks), the story saw the WWII wonders battling an artificial assassin with incredible chemical capabilities after which Nick sought the creature’s mysterious makers in Strange Tales #146 ‘When the Unliving Strike!’ (Kirby, Heck & Esposito).

As technological Special Interests group Advanced Idea Mechanics courted Fury’s governmental and military masters, promising incredible weapons if only they sacked that barbaric slob Fury, the S.H.I.E.L.D. supremo was getting close to exposing A.I.M.’s connection to “Them” and an old enemy thought long gone…

A concerted whispering campaign and “briefing-against” seemingly sees Fury ousted in ‘The Enemy Within!’ and put on trial in ‘Death Before Dishonor!’ (scripted by Kirby with Heck & Esposito finishing his layouts) but it’s all part of a cunning counter-plan which results in a shattering conclusion and ‘The End of A.I.M.!’ in #149 (with script from Denny O’Neil, and art by Kirby & Ogden Whitney).

As depicted by Lee, Kirby, John Buscema & Giacoia, a malign and devilishly subtle plan is finally uncovered in Strange Tales #150 as Fury’s team put together clues from all the previous year’s clashes and come to one terrifying conclusion: ‘Hydra Lives!’

This sets the scene for the bombastic debut by Jim Steranko, but that’s to be seen in another collection at another time…

Here the epic espionage extravaganza wraps up with appetising Afterword ‘Against the Hordes of Hydra’ by Lee and a treasure trove of original art pages comprising covers, pencils and inked pages – and even try-out pages – by Kirby, Severin, Whitney and Buscema, plus a rousing 1965 House Ad plugging not just the Espionage elite but the simultaneously debuting Sub-Mariner strip in Tales to Astonish #70.

Fast, furious and fantastically entertaining, these high-octane vintage yarns are a superb snapshot of early Marvel Comics at their creative peak and should be part of every fanboy’s shelf of beloved favourites.
© 2015 Marvel Characters. Inc. All rights reserved.

Secret Warriors volume 5: Night


By Jonathan Hickman, Mirko Colac, Alessandro Vitti, David Marquez & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4803-6

In his “Infinity-formula” extended career, Marvel’s immortal secret agent Nick Fury fought in every war since WWII, worked for the CIA and ran numerous iterations of superspy agency S.H.I.E.L.D.; generally finding over and again that nobody could be trusted – not to stay clean and decent – in a world of temptation.

Worse yet, even the best of men could be forced to whatever was necessary given the right motivation…

Too many times the spooks “on our side” became as debased as the bad guys in a world where covert agencies were continually exposed as manipulative, out-of-control tools of subversion, oppression and ambition.

The taste of betrayal and those seeds of doubt and mistrust never went away, and following a succession of global crises – including a superhero Civil War and the rise of a certified maniac to the second most powerful position in America – Fury was ousted as S.H.I.E.L.D. director.

His immediate successor Tony Stark proved to be a huge – if well-meaning – mistake, and after an alien invasion by Skrulls the entire organisation was mothballed. He was replaced by the dynamic Norman Osborn and his cultishly loyal H.A.M.M.E.R. outfit. It was a case of giving a rabid fox the keys to the henhouse…

As America’s Director of National Security, the former Green Goblin instituted a draconian “Dark Reign” of oppressive, aggressive policies which turned the USA into a paranoid tinderbox.

The nation’s Top Fed was specifically tasked with curbing the unchecked power and threat of a burgeoning metahuman community, but he was also covertly directing a cabal of the world’s greatest criminals and conquerors; intent on divvying up the planet between them. The repercussions of Osborn’s rise (and inevitable fall) were felt throughout and featured in many series and collections throughout the entire fictive universe.

His brief rule also drastically shook up the entrenched secret empires of the planet and his defeat destabilised many previously unassailable clandestine Powers and States…

Fury, a man driven by duty, fuelled by suspicion and powered by a serum which kept him vital far beyond his years, didn’t go away. He just went deep undercover and continued doing what he’d always done – saving the world, one battle at a time. From this unassailable, unsuspected vantage point, free of the shackles of politically motivated oversight, Fury picked his battles and slowly gathered assets and resources he had personally vetted or constructed…

The indomitable freedom fighter had always known that to do the job properly he needed his own trustworthy forces and no constraints. To this end he had spent decades secretly sourcing and stockpiling his own formidable, unimpeachable army. Decades in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. had provided him with mountains of data on metahumans. From these he had compiled “Caterpillar Files” covering many unknown, unexploited and, most importantly, untainted potential operatives who might one day metamorphose into true assets…

His first move was to assemble a crack squad of super-human agents. Team White initially comprised Yo Yo Rodriguez AKA Slingshot, neophyte mystic Sebastian Druid, JerryStonewallSledge, J.T.HellfireJames, instinctive leader Daisy Johnson – codenamed Quake – and the terrifyingly volatile Alexander: a 12-year old boy with incredible power.

The child Phobos was destined to become a true god and personification of Fear itself but until then his daily-growing divine gifts were Fury’s to use… if he dared…

In the aftermath of the wave of crises the old soldier had come across a truly shocking piece of intel: for most of his career, S.H.I.E.L.D. had been no more than a deeply submerged and ring-fenced Hydra experiment.

All Fury’s world-saving triumphs had been nothing more than acceptable short-term losses for a secret society which claims to reach back to ancient Egypt, secretly steering the world for millennia.

However since Osborn and the Skrull invasion had shaken things up, the old war-dog now had an honest chance of wiping out his perfidious many-headed, faceless foe forever…

Hydra had been badly damaged by the crisis, and as the dust settled Baron Wolfgang von Strucker sought to capitalise on the chaos to regenerate the cult in his own image, seizing all fallow assets, technology and even experienced agents abandoned by friends and enemies alike…

To this end, Strucker co-opted breakaway factions of Hydra and convened a new hierarchy of deadly lieutenants loyal to him alone. However even with Viper, Madame Hydra, Kraken, Silver Samurai, The Hive and mystically resurrected mutant ninja The Gorgon on board, the prospect of wedding super-science and corporate rapaciousness with ancient magic and millennial covert cabals was a risky ploy…

Their rabid rapid expansion also gave Fury an opportunity to place one of his own deep within the organisation…

To further bolster his own relatively meagre forces, Fury reached out to selected old S.H.I.E.L.D. comrades and especially his former second-in-command Dum-Dum Dugan who had gathered up the most trustworthy agents and veterans into a private security agency – the Howling Commandos Private Military Company. Warriors to the last, they were all looking for one last good war and a proper way to die…

Some of them got their wish when the good guys launched a daring raid and stole three of the mothballed colossal flying fortress warships dubbed Helicarriers, laying the groundwork for an imminent, unavoidable and very public shooting war…

Fury’s counterattack failed spectacularly and in the resultant chaos that followed things only got worse…

Now Hydra has once more splintered into factions again leaving Strucker embroiled in a globe-spanning vendetta with Soviet-founded subversive organisation Leviathan. Moreover, their once-covert conflict has escalated into a monstrously damaging and destructively public shooting war resulting in thousands of collateral civilian casualties all over Earth…

Written throughout by Jonathan Hickman, this fifth complex and intriguing espionage epic collects Secret Warriors #20-24 (November 2010-March 2011) and opens with the eponymous 3-parter ‘Night’ and ‘How Did Things Ever Come to This?’ (art by Mirko Colak and Alessandro Vitti) wherein Fury briefs his diminished White team – Hellfire, Stonewall, Slingshot, Daisy, Phobos and human teleporter Eden Fesi – about the growing crisis and tells them how they’re going to stop it.

Once the squad’s preparations to raid and eradicate Hydra’s key base are finalised, the traitor in Fury’s handpicked team takes the first opportunity to pass on the plans to the always-one-step-ahead opposition…

Infiltrating the supposedly unsuspecting Gehenna Base in ‘This is How it was Always Going To Be’ Team White find a veritable army of hostiles led by Gorgon, Strucker and Madame Hydra waiting for them, but still manage to plant a devastating “mountain-breaker” bomb before beginning a frantic retreat. In the melee Fury and Phobos are separated from the rest.

Confronted by Gorgon, the boy-god tricks his grizzled human mentor into leaving before turning to duel the Gorgon. After a shattering battle with enchanted swords Alex dies heroically, enigmatically stating “this is how it’s supposed to be”…

The tragedy concludes with ‘I Gave Everything I Had’ as the mountain-breaker – aided by Daisy’s quake powers – detonates and Fury pragmatically drives his protégés to a secret rendezvous where his back-up escape plan is waiting.

The old warrior then selects one of the squad to join him in a rearguard action and, as they hold back the Hydra hordes, makes it plain that he’s aware of the greedy treachery which caused this debacle and Phobos’ death.

Only Fury rejoins the rest of Team White as they make their hairsbreadth escape…

In the aftermath, Strucker fumes, his frustration at fever pitch and his power further diminished by the desertion of The Gorgon and Madame Hydra. He is not expecting his faithful subordinate Kraken to try to kill him…

Illustrated by Alessandro Vitti, ‘Rebirth’ offers an elucidatory flashback which clarifies the mechanics of the team’s lucky escape. Six months previously Fury had very publicly kicked junior sorcerer Sebastian Druid out, declaring him a liability.

It was another ruse and ‘There Is No Out’ reveals how the portly mage was subsequently hot-housed by cyborg SHIELD agent John Garrett whose draconian training program turned the sad sack into a lethally capable operative in complete control of his eldritch abilities.

As a graduation test Garrett had Druid assassinate one of the Leviathan leaders and make it appear as if Hydra was behind the killing…

The Beginning of The End commences with ‘Wheels Within Wheels Part One’ (art by David Marquez & Vitti) as another strand of Fury’s Byzantine scheme seemingly falls apart. A year ago and unknown to all, he had activated another, completely covert Caterpillar team of super-agents, led by his own son Mikel.

Now ‘I Did My Best’ reveals how that entire squad falls in battle against Hydra rebel Hive and a shell-shocked, heartbroken and utterly beaten Nick Fury surrenders himself to Kraken and his Hydra host…

To Be Concluded…

This excellent exercise in tense suspense and Machiavellian manipulation also includes a stunning ‘Cover gallery’ by Jim Cheung and Paul Renaud to supplement the bleak, engagingly cynical, convoluted, over-the-top action and dazzling cloak-and-dagger conflicts: employing enough intrigue to bamboozle even the most ardent espionage aficionado, with the added bonus that far less knowledge of Marvel continuity is necessary to fully appreciate this particularly intense and engaging effort to the full.
© 2010, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Uncanny X-Men Vs. S.H.I.E.L.D.


By Brian Michael Bendis, Chris Bachalo, Kris Anka, Tim Townsend, Al Vey & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-628-1

During the cataclysmic events of Avengers versus X-Men, staunch and steadfast ScottCyclopsSummers – transformed and possessed by the overwhelming Phoenix Force – killed his beloved mentor and father-figure Professor Charles Xavier.

In the aftermath Summers united with former comrades Magik, Magneto and Emma Frost in a hard-line alliance devoted to preserving mutant lives at all costs: even, if necessary, by sacrificing human ones.

This attitude appalled many of his friends and associates, creating a schism in the ranks of Xavier’s legion of protégés. Discarding Scott, his surviving “First Class” team-mates Beast and Iceman sided with second generation X-Men Wolverine, Psylocke and Storm: staying true to Xavier’s dream and opting to protect and train future X-generations of mutant kids through traditional methods at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning in Westchester, New York.

The opposing sides of the mutant question frequently clashed as the world experienced constant challenge and attack from all quarters. Amid the rising chaos new mutants began appearing in increasing numbers, all with more impressive talents than ever before.

Through careful orchestration, brilliant media massaging and by avoiding unprovoked acts of violence, Cyclops’ Extinction faction began winning the trust and respect of many oppressed sectors of humanity: the poor, the disenfranchised, the rebellious, the young…

When Xavier’s teenaged First Class of X-Men were brought into their own future and our Now (see All-New X-Men: Here Comes Yesterday) they initially stayed with the teachers and students of the Grey School but following the events of X-Men: Battle of the Atom, Hank “Beast” McCoy, Bobby “Iceman” Drake, Warren “the Angel” Worthington, fiercely idealistic young Scott, Jean Grey, as well as teenaged female Wolverine clone Laura “X-23” Kinney and even Grey School Head Professor Kitty Pryde shockingly defected to the mutant terrorist band they were summoned to counteract.

After a very public humiliation of Government-sponsored human/mutant team Uncanny Avengers, the internecine conflict had already heated up when the elder Cyclops – utterly convinced of his species’ imminent and inevitable eradication at human hands – offered a place to any Grey’s student wishing to join his own academy, the New Charles Xavier School: a covert college dedicated to training mutants to fight and survive rather than placidly wait for mankind to turn on them…

With Uncanny X-Men volume 3, #19.NOW and #20-24 (May-October 2014) scripter Brian Michael Bendis and primary illustrators Chris Bachalo & Tim Townsend (and additional inkers Jamie Mendoza, Mark Irwin, Victor Olazaba, Wayne Fauch & Jon Holdredge) rake the coals as a long-brewing plot pot boils over and the answers to a few long-running questions shake both mutant and human antagonists…

The eponymous 4-part drama opens in Atlanta where recently expelled Extinction student David Bond – AKA Hijack – is “detained” by a squad of S.H.I.E.L.D. heavies personally led by Director Maria Hill demanding to know the location of Scott Summers.

Almost from the start Magneto had been playing a double (or even treble) game; regularly betraying the mutant outlaws to Hill whilst also telling Cyclops at least some of what he was doing for her.

He then went missing after visiting the island of Madripoor where he found shapeshifter Mystique had created her own mutant utopia from the former rogue state. This exactly coincided with Alison Blaire, S.H.I.E.L.D. Mutant Liaison code-named Dazzler, being replaced by the chameleonic mutant Machiavelli …

Now the ongoing duel between the planet’s paramount paramilitary peacekeeping force and the Extinction faction is swiftly coming to a head.

The situation has been tensely escalating for months. The Extinction leaders had all suffered inexplicable major alterations to their powers after Xavier’s death and their public appearances usually resulted in attacks by robotic super-Sentinels which S.H.I.E.L.D. denied all knowledge of.

It was as if some undetected third force was in play…

In Madripoor the real Dazzler is in a coma, her body used to produce the highly addictive drug Mutant Growth Hormone. However when reprehensible Fred (The Blob) Dukes uncovers the secret it’s not long before his old boss Magneto knows too…

Meanwhile in Canada, Summers and time-bending student Eva Bell have used super computer Cerebro to hone in on a new mutant in Chicago and led the team into an ambush. The Sentinels awaiting their arrival possess the ability to disrupt their powers but happily are completely unable to withstand Magik’s demonic gifts…

Then in the catastrophic aftermath of the clash Cyclops sees common humanity again turning against his kind and declares war on S.H.I.E.L.D….

In Atlanta, Hill has gleaned only one useful titbit of information from Hijack. She now knows Summers is convinced S.H.I.E.L.D. is behind the Sentinel attacks but as she moves her team out to Chicago in the awesome and formidable Helicarrier she is psychically invaded by the mutants who probe her mind for confirmation.

In an act of bravado she opens her mind and shows that she knows nothing of the mechanical monsters. What she cannot prove – even to herself – is that some other faction of the Byzantine organisation is responsible, so she contacts her mutant expert Special Agent Dazzler…

And elsewhere the true power behind attacks gloats as his endgame approaches…

Back at base Summers finally deduces how their unknown foe has been targeting them with Sentinels and closes down Cerebro, whilst in Atlanta Hijack decides to strike out on his own, blithely unaware that he is being followed.

A brilliant, unconventional tactician, Cyclops makes a move nobody expects and pays a call on the Jean Grey School and enlists the aid of the elder Hank McCoy: his former comrade and a man who now despises him and everything he stands for…

However as he tries to question the Beast, his malfunctioning optic power goes wild and destruction rains down on the School just as, in the skies above, Hill arrives in the Helicarrier and Dazzler issues S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ultimatum…

Meanwhile in Madripoor the outraged Magneto has freed the real Alison, but as they make their way back to America the crisis is already peaking. On the grounds of the decimated school Hill and Summers face off but, even with suspicions at fever pitch on both sides, talk rather than action seems to be winning through.

Seeing all his schemes unravelling the mystery mastermind is forced into precipitate action, overriding the Helicarrier’s weaponry controls and raining down death and destruction on mutants and S.H.I.E.L.D. soldiery alike.

When Magneto and Dazzler arrives at the hidden Extinction Base he picks up the impatiently waiting students and fellow tutors before heading for Westchester to confront Mystique-as-Dazzler, unaware of the shattering clash already underway and utterly ignorant of the fact that the expelled and angry Hijack is also racing there…

At the Grey School the dreaded Mutant Extinction looks to be in full swing as the co-opted Helicarrier is reinforced by an army of Sentinels, driving outlaw Homo Superior, officially sanctioned X-Men and S.H.I.E.L.D. soldiery into a desperate alliance…

Bombastic and spectacular, all the plot threads and devious twists are drawn together and the true villains thoroughly dealt with in a classic and staggering resolution which will delight fans of mutant mayhem and Fights ‘n’ Tights furore… but this superb action-fest doesn’t end here.

Kris Anka steps in to render the last two issues – a shocking chapter in the then-ongoing Mortal Sins Crossover Event which begins when the sensational She-Hulk turns up at the battered Jean Grey School. She has a distressing and disturbing function to execute in her role as metahuman lawyer Jen Walters: the reading of ‘The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier’

The first onerous and almost impossible task is to gather all the aggrieved, bereaved and estranged students of the pioneering mutant messiah in one room…

In the secret Canadian fortress that houses the Extinction Team and students of the New Xavier School Alison Blaire is considering what Mystique did to her. She is not coping well…

And in South Carolina a young man named Matthew feels the first stirrings of unrelenting power within his body. Soon he will be the only survivor of a catastrophic detonation and the target of all S.H.I.E.L.D.’s deadly anti-mutant technologies and capabilities…

Eventually Cyclops is convinced to attend the reading, much to the dismay and disgust of his former team-mates.

Everybody knows that Xavier considered Scott his son and believes the first X-Man will be the main beneficiary despite also being the Professor’s murderer. Tension is high as this thought simmers in every mind even though Cyclops has already declared that he won’t accept any bequest…

However when the recorded video message finally plays what the great saviour reveals is no dispensing of gifts and chattels but a disclosure of Charles Xavier’s greatest, darkest secret…

To Be Continued…

With cover-&-variants by Bachalo & Townsend, Anka, Alexander Lozano, J. Scott Campbell, Adi Granov and Terry & Rachel Dodson as well as the usual digital extras accessible via the AR icon sections (Marvel Augmented Reality App) which give access to story bonuses once you download the free code from marvel.com onto your smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet.

Combining incredible adventure with clever characterisation and a colossal amount of comicbook carnage, this is a wonderfully cathartic conclusion and restart which no Costumed Drama addict could possibly resist.

™ & © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March


By Rick Remender, Roland Boschi & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-597-0

Once upon a time Captain America and youthful partner James BuchananBuckyBarnes cut a swashbuckling swathe thorough Nazis, madmen and monsters in every region of the Second World War.

In April 1945, following the tragic mission which killed the boy and hurled the Sentinel of Liberty into a decades long frozen slumber, an experimental Soviet spy sub recovered Bucky’s maimed body from the seas where it fell. Russian spymaster Vasily Karpov dreamed of extracting the fabled Super Soldier serum from the corpse but was doubly frustrated to discover that the indomitable young warrior was never augmented by the formula, nor was he completely dead…

Still, waste not, want not…

From the 1950s until the late 1980s the Soviets reputedly employed an infallible “ghost” assassin all over the world; utilising astoundingly efficient executions and deftly arranged accidents to secure the KGB’s aims. Moreover, whatever surveillance did capture the phantom hitman between 1955 and 1976 indicated that the killer didn’t age…

If you want the full story of how Bucky became an infallible human weapon of Communist oppression, check out Captain America: Winter Soldier Dossier Edition, but for today this scintillating new period yarn – collecting issues #1-5 of Winter Soldier: The Bitter March (April-September 2014) – offers a cool all-new, Cold War super-spy thriller starring that indomitable fallen idol as well as fascinating insights into the character of latest ideological Cap nemesis The Iron Nail

S.H.I.E.L.D. has been fighting the good fight since the end of WWII and this tale begins in 1966 when friendly rivals Nick Fury and Ran Shen are the outfit’s top operatives. Always bickering – good-naturedly, of course – the duo split up and attempt different methods of penetrating the formidable Castle Hydra alpine fortress and abduct two Nazi scientists who have devised a means of synthesising gold.

Brash, audacious and cocky, Shen is almost killed by the revolting Madam Worm before being embarrassingly rescued by Fury, but as the now compromised agents try to fly their captives – Peter and Milla Hitzig – out of the citadel, a third force intervenes.

Believed-mythical Soviet spook The Winter Soldier tries to snatch the creators of the Alchemy Formula for the USSR and only Fury’s last ditch counterattack drives him off. Now, with Fury missing – presumed dead – Shen must drag his captives through hostile country and arctic conditions or make a final sanction to keep their secret out of both Russian and Hydra hands…

Three days later they trek into the Warsaw Pact state of Nrosvekistan, where Shen calls for an extraction. The best S.H.I.E.L.D. can do is tool him up and advise him to hop a train to West Berlin. However before he can get to the station the infallible, relentless Winter Soldier reappears and the trio barely escape with their lives…

During the melee Shen hits his foe with a live power-line and the colossal shock temporarily stuns the cyborg, allowing the fugitives to get away. What Ran does not know is that the assassin was most debilitated by a wave of unexpected memories which saw him fighting in a strange costume beside lost hero Captain America…

Barely making the train, the trio catch their breath. Soon Milla is tending the agent’s wounds, much to her husband’s disgust. Neither ex-Nazi wants to go to America or Russia but with everybody gunning for them, the fanatical Peter is biding his time and waiting for an opportunity to take control of the situation…

Unknown to Shen the rogue scientist has already contacted Hydra who insert a recovery team on the train: telepathic assassin The Drain and electrical executioner Shocky Dan

As the Hydra killers covertly confer with Peter, the Drain realises that Herr Hitzig is just a greedy charlatan and hanger-on. His diffident wife is the one who actually created the Alchemy Formula and she is currently warming to the smooth, suave charms of the good-looking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent…

When the killers smash into their compartment they find Shen again battling the unstoppable Winter Soldier and make short work of them both…

With the horrified Milla a captive, the Drain disposes of her useless husband and prepares to move her back to the fortress, but despite being severely wounded, Shen is still in the game. Moreover, the Soldier, again dosed with electricity and instantly deprogrammed by the telepathic Drain, has thrown off decades of brainwashing and switched sides…

Another spectacular battle breaks out on the now runaway and rigged-to-explode train but when the inevitable detonation comes Shen and Milla have already escaped…

The Drain meanwhile has dealt with the shell-shocked Bucky and followed the fleeing duo, using his psychic powers to murder a town full of people who have come to their aid. His mental assaults also have a devastating affect on Shen – who has developed feelings for Milla – and when bloody but unbowed Bucky arrives it takes all his determination to shake the agent out of his funk and track the mental monster and his struggling prize through the constantly falling snows…

When they catch up, Shen deals with the Drain in a most unprofessional and final manner before he, Bucky and Milla hole up in a handy cabin to await better weather. As each reconsiders their past lives and uncertain futures they are blithely unaware that a Soviet hit squad and the infallible Nick Fury are hot on their trail, each side determined that if they can’t have the Alchemy Formula nobody will…

When all the shooting stops, the Russians only have their assassin back, nobody has Milla and Shen has no hope of a happy tomorrow…

Fast-paced, frantic and compellingly cynical, the story of why Ran Shen took the dark path that set him against America only tangentially involves the star draw Winter Soldier, but nevertheless delivers a gripping saga of intrigue, passion and explosive action.

Written by Rick Remender and illustrated by Roland Boschi, this blockbusting tribute to the spy-soaked Swinging Sixties is augmented by a covers-and-variants gallery from Andrew Robinson, In-Hyuk Lee, Chris Eliopoulos, Agustin Alessio, Rags Morales, Adi Granov and even offers a photo-cover from the movie, as well as AR icon add-on sections which allow the Marvel Augmented Reality App to grant access to story bonuses once you download marvel.com’s free code onto your smartphone or Android-enabled tablet.
™ and © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Uncanny X-Men: the Good, the Bad, the Inhuman


By Brian Michael Bendis, Chris Bachalo, Kris Anka, Marco Rudy, Tim Townsend & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-609-0

When the teenaged “First Class” of Charles Xavier’s X-Men were brought into their own future and our Now (see All-New X-Men: Here Comes Yesterday) they initially stayed with the teachers and students of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning.

However after the tragic events of X-Men: Battle of the Atom, Hank “the Beast” McCoy, Bobby “Iceman” Drake, Warren “the Angel” Worthington, Scott Summers, young Jean Grey, teenaged female Wolverine clone Laura “X-23” Kinney and the School’s Head Professor Kitty Pryde defected to the mutant terrorist band known as the Extermination Team.

During the cataclysmic events of Avengers versus X-Men the staunch and steadfast elder Cyclops – transformed and possessed by the overwhelming Phoenix Force – had killed his beloved father-figure Xavier.

In the aftermath Old Summers united with old comrade Magik and former foes Magneto and Emma Frost in a hard-line alliance devoted to preserving mutant lives at all costs: even, if necessary, by sacrificing human ones. This new attitude appalled many of their former associates and created a schism in the ranks of Xavier’s many protégés.

Discarding Scott, his surviving team-mates Beast and Iceman sided with second generation X-Men such as Wolverine, Psylocke and Storm: staying true to Xavier’s dream and opting to protect and train the coming X-generation of mutant kids through his traditional methods at the Jean Grey School.

The two opposing sides of the mutant question clashed constantly, as the modern world experienced constant challenge and attack from all quarters. Amid the rising chaos new mutants began appearing in increasing numbers, all with more impressive talents than ever before.

Through careful orchestration, brilliant media massaging and by avoiding visibly unprovoked acts of violence, Cyclops’ Extinction faction began winning the trust and respect of many oppressed sectors of humanity: the poor, the disenfranchised, the rebellious, the young…

Following a very public humiliation of the Government-sponsored human/mutant team Uncanny Avengers, the internecine mutant conflict heated up when Summers – utterly convinced of his species’ inevitable eradication at human hands – offered a place to any Grey’s School student wishing to join his own academy – the New Charles Xavier School: a covert college dedicated to training mutants to fight and survive rather than placidly wait for mankind to turn on them…

The bold ploy succeeded in luring away Angel and the psychically conjoined Stepford SistersCeleste, Mindee and Phoebe, before the situation was further muddied when both X-Men and Brotherhood of Mutants radicals from the future travelled back to address the issue of the time-displaced First Class.

As a result of that “Battle of the Atom” Cyclops found himself offering sanctuary to his youngest old friends, his callow earlier self and the girl who had given her life for him… twice…

With Uncanny X-Men volume 3, #14, 15.INH, 16-18 (January-May 2014) scripter Brian Michael Bendis and primary illustrators Chris Bachalo & Tim Townsend take a deft turn into a lighter tone, beginning with ‘Initiation’ (offering additional inking by Jamie Mendoza, Al Vey, Mark Irwin & Victor Olazaba) as the new kids bond with the extraordinary other students through the shared pain of Elder Cyclops’ draconian physical training regimen…

In a quieter moment Emma takes the unprepossessing Benjamin Deeds under her wing; fascinated by his seemingly feeble ability to make himself physically and psychically likable and trustworthy…

For a field test, she unleashes the nervous lad at a gambling palace in Atlantic City before setting a more risky task: waltzing into a high security S.H.I.E.L.D. facility to hand-deliver the mutant band’s ultimatum to America’s paramount paramilitary peacekeeping force…

Kris Anka then limns issue #15.INH – an offbeat tie-in to the then-ongoing Inhumanity Publishing Event. During the previous blockbuster Infinity, Thanos invaded Earth and battled the Inhumans’ ruler Black Bolt to a standstill.

As a last resort the embattled king released the Hidden People’s mutagenic Terrigen Mist into the outer world’s population where it would create millions more super-mortals, proving that human and Inhuman were not necessarily different races…

When Frost and Pryde accompany the academy’s girl contingent on a sybaritic shopping-fest in London, they encounter Latverian tourist Geldhoff just as his Terrigen-triggered transformation completes. However, whilst trying to convince him to return with them to the New Xavier School, they succumb to the panicky trans-human’s explosive new power, allowing obsessive A.I.M. geneticist Dr. Monica Rappaccini to swoop in and add Geldhoff to her rapidly expanding collection of potentially profitable specimens…

All along Magneto has been playing a double (or even treble?) game; regularly betraying the mutant outlaws to S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill, whilst also telling Cyclops at least some of what he’s doing for her.

Now (with art by Bachalo & Co), after meeting with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Dazzler, he is lured to the island of Madripoor to discover that Machiavellian shapeshifter Mystique has created her own mutant utopia in the former rogue state. He never returns to the New Xavier School…

Undaunted by the loss of a faculty member, the tough-love/education continues as the kids are dumped in the middle of a hostile nowhere and told to survive the monsters residing there. However one of the kids makes a huge mistake and even Nick Fury Jr. and the Avengers cannot save him from Cyclops’ harsh and very final judgement…

The drama concludes in psychedelic style (courtesy of Marco Rudy & colourist Val Staples) as Cyclops and his appalled team return to base and discover that Jean has been abducted by the alien Shi’ar. Also missing is Kitty Pryde and the rest of the time-tossed First Class…

This triggers a brutal flashback to the recent moment when Scott and Kitty lethally “negotiated” the terms under which she and her charges would join his group and his subsequent painful conversations with his teenaged-again One True Love and baffled and betrayed younger  self.

And now he has to face the fact that they are gone and he cannot save them…

To Be Continued…

With cover-&-variants by Bachalo & Townsend, Anka and Alexander Lozano, plus another photo-cover featuring TV sensations from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as the usual digital extras accessible via the AR icon sections (Marvel Augmented Reality App) which give access to story bonuses once you download the free code from marvel.com onto your smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet, The Good, the Bad, the Inhuman is a smart, sassy and amazingly engaging read: a fun-filled, fury-fuelled saga which craftily combines incredible adventure with clever characterisation and a mere modicum of furious Fights ‘n’ Tights action that no comics fan could possibly resist.

™ & © 2013, 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.