Incredible Hulk: Hulk Vs. The Marvel Universe


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roger McKenzie, Bill Mantlo, Peter David, Howard Mackie, Marie Severin, Frank Miller, Sal Buscema, Todd McFarlane, John Romita Jr., Jorge Lucas & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3129-8 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Incredible Hulk #1 hit newsstands and magazine spinners on March 1st 1962. The comic book was cover-dated May. He was technically (excluding once-&-future Ant-Man Henry Pym) the second superhero star of the dawning Marvel Age. A few more debuted that year – so Happy Anniversary all – before the true Annus Mirabilis Atomicus (stop sniggering: it hopefully means Year of Atomic Miracles) that was 1963…

This 2008 collection was unleashed on readers due to the World War Hulk event. Reprinted here are Fantastic Four #25-26, Journey into Mystery #112, Tales to Astonish #92-93, Daredevil #163, Incredible Hulk #300 & 340, Peter Parker: Spider-Man #14 and Hulk Vs. Fin Fang Foom cumulatively spanning cover-dates April 1964 to February 2008.

With the Big Green Galoot and his chartreuse cousin both making new screen appearances this year, it seems sensible to take another look at the original Marvel antihero’s irascible interactions with his fellow power-packed pals. First, though…

Bruce Banner was a military scientist caught in a gamma bomb detonation of his own devising. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors caused him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years the irradiated idol finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and misunderstood miscreant of the moment, until a new home was found for him in “split-book” Tales to Astonish: sharing space with fellow maligned misanthrope Namor the Sub-Mariner, who proved an ideal thematic companion from his induction in #70.

This book is for every fan (isn’t that all of us?) that asked eternal question “who would win if…?” and we open without preamble on an early landmark as Fantastic Four #25 (April 1964) sees a cataclysmic clash that had young heads spinning then and ever since.

The Hulk’s own title had folded after six issues, and he joined debuting solo star assemblage The Avengers, before explosively quitting in #2: joining Namor’s assault on them in #3. That globe-trotting romp delivered high energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history but you’ll need to go elsewhere to see it.

Here and now, it’s 3 months later and Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos use FF #25 to establish an evergreen tradition – the first of many instances of ‘The Hulk Vs The Thing’.

Accompanied by FF #26’s concluding episode ‘The Avengers Take Over!’, the is an all-out Battle Royale as the disgruntled man-monster searches Manhattan for former sidekick Rick Jones, with only an injury-wracked Fantastic Four to curtail his destructive rampage.

A definitive moment in the character development of The Thing, the action ramps up when a rather stiff-necked and officious Avengers team horns in, claiming jurisdictional rights on “Bob” Banner – this tale is plagued with pesky continuity errors that haunted Lee for decades – and his Jaded alter ego. Notwithstanding bloopers, this is one of Marvel’s key moments and still a visceral, vital read.

The second chapter of the Hulk’s career began in Tales to Astonish #59 (September 1964) as his became co-star to fading property Giant-Man – soon to be replaced by Marvel’s Man from Atlantis – whilst the Green Goliath’s guest star career continued unabated. Next up is a perfect example of that pulling power: the lead story in Journey into Mystery #112 (January 1965) where ‘The Mighty Thor Battles the Incredible Hulk!’

The Hulk and Mighty Thor share their 60th anniversary and whether in print, in animations or in blockbuster movies, that eternal question has been asked but never answered to anyone’s satisfaction whenever applied to the modern iteration of the age-old mythic war between gods and monsters. This tale is the first of many return engagements: a glorious gift to every fight fan and arguably Kirby & Chic Stone’s finest artistic moment, detailing a private duel between the two super-humans that occurred during that free-for-all between Earth’s Mightiest, Sub-Mariner and Ol’ Greenskin back in Avengers #3. The raw power of that tale is a perfect exemplar of what makes the Hulk work as a returning foe and yardstick of heroism and determination of those unlucky enough to battle him.

Technical aside: I’m reviewing the digital release and here that blistering bout is followed by JIM #112’s Tales of Asgard back-up ‘The Coming of Loki!’ by Lee, Kirby & Vince Colletta. I suspect you won’t find it in the physical copies of this book…

In Tales to Astonish #92 (June 1967) Lee, superb Marie Severin & Frank Giacoia promised a ‘Turning Point!’, depicting Banner hunted through a terrified New York City as prelude to his alter ego clashing with an incredible opponent in the next issue. Back then, Hulk didn’t really team-up with visiting stars, he just got mad and smashed them. Such was certainly the case as he became ‘He Who Strikes the Silver Surfer’: ironically driving off a fellow outcast who held the power to cure him of his atomic affliction.

There’s a big leap to March 1979 next as Daredevil #163 sees Matt Murdock offer the fugitive Banner sanctuary before the tormented scientist again loses his eternal struggle to suppress the monster inside. Inevitably, the forgone conclusion is the Man without Fear outclassed and punching up before getting creamed to save New York from the Hulk in ‘Blind Alley’ by Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller & Josef Rubinstein, after which we hurtle to Incredible Hulk #300 (cover-dated October 1984) and the end of an epic run by scripter Bill Mantlo and illustrator Sal Buscema. The Hulk had gone from monster outcast to global hero and Banner’s intellect had overridden the brute’s simplistic nature, but now, thanks to the insidious acts of dream demon Nightmare, banner was gone leaving only a murderous, mindless engine of gamma fuelled destruction to ravage New York City.

Inked by Gerry Talaoc, extended epic ‘Days of Rage!’ saw the unstoppable monster easily defeat every superhero in town before being exiled to another universe…

Of course, he came back and was mostly restored, but radical change remained a constant. October 1984’s Incredible Hulk #340 was highpoint in a game-changing run by Peter David and sensation-in-waiting Todd McFarlane. The Hulk was notionally de-powered and returned to the grey-skinned cunning brute of his first appearances just in time for a savage rematch with Wolverine in ‘Vicious Circle’. That inconclusive bout segues here to another battle with another shared-birthday boy.

The wondrous crawler was wracked with agonising ‘Denial’ (Peter Parker: Spider-Man #14, February 2000, by in Howard Mackie, John Romita Jr. & Scott Hanna) in a mismatched clash that occurred with Peter Parker reeling in shock and grief, believing his wife Mary Jane and baby daughter had died in a plane crash. All he had left was great responsibility and something to hit…

We end on a raucously rowdy light-heartedly cathartic note with a modern take on the classic monster battles motif. One-shot Hulk vs Fin Fang Foom #1 (February 2008) was by Peter David, Jorge Lucas & Robert Campanella, revealing an “untold tale” of the early Kirby-era with the gamma goliath headed to the far north in time to see a dragon decanted from the ice.

Parody pastiche ‘The Fin from Outer Space’ is a furious flurry of fisticuffs and fantastic force unleashed with the sole intent of making pulses pound…

With covers from Kirby – with Roussos and Stone, Marie Severin & Giacoia, Miller & Rubinstein, Bret Blevins, McFarlane & Bob Wiacek, Romita Jr. and Jim Cheung, John Dell & Justin Ponsor, this is a straightforward, no-nonsense, all-battle bill of fare no Fights ‘n’ Tights fan could have the strength to resist. Grab it if you can!
© 2020 MARVEL.

Thor: For Asgard


By Robert Rodi, Simone Bianchi & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4445-8 (HB/Digital edition) 978-1-84653-482-9 (TPB Marvel/Panini UK)

In his anniversary year and with another motion picture interpretation of Marvel’s Thor eagerly anticipated, it appropriate to remember his roots and that there’s plenty for established fans and freshly-interested parties to grapple with in book form. Here’s one that might tickle the fancy of older readers…

In an effective and beautiful re-imagining by Robert Rodi, illustrated with astounding imagination and beauty by Simone Bianchi (assisted by Andrea Silvestri and colourist Simone Peruzzi), the long dreaded Twilight of the Gods has begun and cracks are beginning to show in the heroic façade of the noble and mighty Asgardians…

Reprinting a six-issue miniseries published in 2010 under the Marvel Knights imprint, our saga opens in the second icy year of the dread Fimbulwinter, with shining god Balder long dead, all-father Odin long missing and Thor as long-suffering Regent.

A better warrior than ruler, the Thunderer leads an embattled, increasingly contentious and disgruntled populace in punitive forays against old enemies such as the Frost Giants. All around them, former vassal states are stretching long unused muscles and airing old grievances whilst the unhappy ruler’s two closest advisors are at constant odds with each other…

With the snowy streets of Asgard awash with resentment, if not outright sedition, Idunn informs the out-of-his-depth Storm Lord that the Golden Apples – source of Asgardian immortality – are almost gone and with Spring and Summer banished, no more will grow.

Asgard’s enemies are gathering, led by a secret mastermind, Odin’s mysterious mission has gone awry and, in the gleaming city, mutterings have become desperate, traitorous acts. With even Valhalla – glorious Hall of the Dead – threatened, and now murder in the streets, Thor needs all his powers to help him, but even his faithful magic mallet has betrayed him: it has been long indeed since the Prince of Asgard was worthy enough to wield the Hammer of the Gods…

With chaos and destruction from every faction and direction, can hard-pressed Thor hold things together, or is the truly heroic action letting Ragnarok come and starting afresh amid the ruins…?

Bleak, subtly allegorical and utterly enchanting, this moody epic of endings and new beginnings is a powerful tale of a deftly different pantheon that will delight newcomers to the character but possibly irritate long-term Marvelites. Moreover, by ending on a foreboding note – completists should take heed – the tale is not completely done yet and more may follow…

The moody, sexy, and uncompromisingly violent tale is augmented in this 2019 re-release by a ‘Spotlight’ addendum, featuring stills from the movies and heavily-illustrated background feature ‘For Asgard!’ by historian Mike Conroy, covering author Rodi’s other Thor sagas (The Deviant Saga, Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers and Astonishing Thor). This volume is also still readily available in a British released edition from Marvel/Panini UK.
© 2019 MARVEL.

Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 16


By Len Wein, Roger Stern, John Buscema, Walter Simonson, Tony DeZuñiga, Sal Buscema & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0358-9 (HB/Digital edition)

Once upon a time, disabled physician Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway, only to stumble into an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, he found an ancient walking stick which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder! Within moments, he was defending the weak and smiting the wicked.

Months swiftly passed, with the Lord of Storms tackling rapacious extraterrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs, but these soon gave way to a vast kaleidoscope of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces, usually tackled with an ever-changing cast of stalwart immortal warriors at his side…

Whilst the ever-expanding Marvel Universe had grown ever-more interconnected as it matured through its first decade, with characters literally tripping over each other in New York City, the Asgardian heritage of Thor and the soaring imagination of Jack Kirby had most often drawn the Thunder God away from mortal realms into stunning, unique landscapes and scenarios.

However, by the time of this power-packed compendium, the King was long gone and in fact enacting his Second Coming – technically third, but definitely Second Return to the House of (mostly his) Ideas – and only echoes of his groundbreaking presence remained. John Buscema had visually made the Thunder God his own over the interceding years, whilst a succession of scripters had struggled with varying success to recapture the epic scope of Kirby’s vision and Stan Lee’s off-kilter but comfortingly compelling faux-Shakespearean verbiage…

Spanning January-December 1977, this power-packed compilation re-presents The Mighty Thor #255-266 and Annual #6, and leads with ‘Over the Rainbow Bridge’: an engaging Introduction intriguingly illustrated  from involved illustrator and eventual redeemer of the Thor franchise – Walter Simonson.

The action opens behind the Kirby cover for Thor #255, as Len Wein & Tony DeZuñiga launch a new epic interstellar adventure in ‘Lo, the Quest Begins!’ Previously, embattled Asgard survived invasion only to learn their divine Liege Lord Odin had gone missing. Now, having exhausted every avenue of location available, Thor is compelled to search the galaxies, prompted by vague hints from all-knowing spirit Mimir of a distant destination – the Doomsday Star…

Boarding spacefaring dragonship Starjammer, Thor, Lady Sif, and Warriors Three Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg set (solar) sail, leaving a beleaguered Eternal Realm under the stewardship of Balder the Brave and his dark inamorata Karnilla the Norn Queen. However, before they even leave local space, the seekers encounter – and battle – malign aliens marooned ever since they initially fought the Storm Lord in his debut adventure…

A classic case of Marvel Misunderstanding occurs in #256 as the voyagers encounter an ancient and colossal colony ship populated by the last survivors of a civilisation that died from over-exploiting their environment. As the Asgardians are joined by Rigellian Recorder Memorax, the slowly-fading Levianons reveal how their poverty and resource-blighted existence has been further threatened by an invasive beast who takes the elderly like a ‘Lurker in the Dark!’ (Wein, John Buscema & DeZuñiga).

When the hideous Sporr also abducts recently wounded Sif, enraged Thor leads a savage counter-assault that sparks incomprehensible tragedy in concluding chapter ‘Death, Thou Shalt Die!’

Another mineral-based miscreant resurfaces in #258. ‘If the Stars be Made of Stone!’ sees the Starjammer attacked by space pirates inexplicably led by human super-villain – and early Thor foe – the Grey Gargoyle. The job is not one he wants, but as the unwilling captain conspires with the beaten-&-enslaved Asgardians for a chance to see again the Green Hills of Earth, their plot is exposed by fanatical second-in command Fee-Lon.

The brutal usurper is a truly ferocious brigand, but ultimately fights in vain to end the gods’ ‘Escape into Oblivion!’

Meanwhile in Asgard, Balder and Karnilla have been resisting an invasion helmed by arch-traitors Enchantress and Executioner. As Walter Simonson signs on beside Wein & DeZuñiga from #260, that subplot expands and intensifies even as ‘The Vicious and the Valiant’ sees the interstellar questors finally locate the Doomsday Star and falter before ‘The Wall Around the World!’ (inked by Ernie Chan).

The terrifying global construct is comprised of the power-drained husks of dead gods, but determinedly pushing on, the seekers discover Odin has been captured and slowly diminished by the energy-leeching Soul-Survivors whose civilisation subsists on stolen divine power. As they valiantly strive to save their sovereign, the Asgardians learn to their cost that ‘Even an Immortal Can Die!’ (#262, illustrated by Simonson & DeZuñiga).

Thankfully, ‘Holocaust and Homecoming!’ proves Odin is both wily and mighty as the heroes’ ferocious clash and inevitable victory results in a weary and wounded pantheon returning to Asgard to find it taken over by Loki and his cohort of treacherous allies.

With Odin in a coma – and ultimately abducted again – a covert civil war erupts between the returned champions and the city Loki has subverted. ‘Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me!’ sees a sinister scheme exposed, but not before Loki unleashes ultimate weapon The Destroyer against his step-brother in #265’s ‘When Falls the God of Thunder…!’ (inked by Joe Sinnott). As before, it’s not long before Loki loses control of his ultimate sanction…

Once again, everything hinges on the power and determination of Thor and his valiant resistance to chaos. In #266’s ‘…So Falls the Realm Eternal!’, Wein, Simonson & DeZuñiga show the Thunderer at his indomitable best, keeping Loki at bay and off kilter until the Warriors Three rescue and revive an extremely unhappy All-Father…

This saga presaged a change of focus that we’ll cover in the next volume but before then the epic entertainment concludes with ‘Thunder in the 31st Century!’ by Roger Stern, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson from Thor Annual #6 (December 1977).

A riot of time-busting mayhem, it commences with Mighty Thor plucked from contemporary Manhattan: accidentally summoned to the time period of the original/future (time travel tenses suck!) Guardians of the Galaxy by a cyborg maniac named Korvac.

The legendary god-warrior briefly joins Vance Astro, Charlie 27, Yondu, Nikki, Martinex and Starhawk to bombastically battle super-powered aliens and thwart the sinister cyborg’s scheme to become master of the universe. At the conclusion, Thor returns to his own place and time, unaware how Korvac will reshape the destiny of reality itself in coming months…

To Be Continued…

Augmenting this volume is a blockbusting original art gallery, offering 21 pages of sketches, layouts, pencils and fully inked covers, splash and story-pages by Kirby & John Verpoorten, Buscema, DeZuñiga, Simonson, Joe Sinnott &Ernie Chan: a true treat for every art lover.

The tales gathered here may lack the sheer punch and verve of the early years but fans of ferocious Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy will find this tome still stuffed with intrigue and action, magnificently rendered by artists who, whilst not possessing Kirby’s vaulting visionary passion, were every inch his equal in craft and dedication. In Thor’s anniversary year, this a definite and decidedly engaging must-read for all fans of the character and the genre.
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor vs. Hulk


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart,Bill Mantlo, Peter David, Erik Larsen, Jeph Loeb, Jeff Parker, Peter B. Gillis, Jim Shooter, Sal Buscema, M.C. Wyman, Angel Medina, Jorge Lucas, Ed McGuinness, Gabriel Hardman & Ron Wilson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8515-4 (TPB/Digital edition)

It bears repeating: on an inescapable primal level, comic books are all about one question; “who’s strongest/who would win if…?

The Incredible Hulk and Mighty Thor share their 60th anniversary this year, and whether in print, in animations or in blockbuster movies, that eternal question has been asked but never answered to anyone’s satisfaction whenever applied to the modern iteration of the age-old mythic war between gods and monsters.

Packed with potent past clashes from the very start, this titanic tome opens with an erudite Introduction from former editor Ralph Macchio (no, the other one) outlining the concussive delights that follow. Contained herein are bouts and sagas first seen in Avengers #3; Journey into Mystery #112; Sub-Mariner #35; Defenders #10; Incredible Hulk #255, 440; Thor #385, 489; Incredible Hulk Annual 2001; Hulk (2008) #5-6, 26; and What If? #45, spanning cover-dates January 1964 – December 2010, but there’s no time for nonsense or niceties as the action opens at full throttle with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Paul Reinman revealing how in Avengers #3 ‘The Avengers Meet… Sub-Mariner!’

The previous issue saw latent animosities between Iron Man, Giant-Man, Wasp, and Thor lead to the aggressively volatile Hulk quitting the team in disgust. He returned as an outright villain in partnership with the vengeful prince of devastated Atlantis in a globe-trotting romp delivering high-energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history as the assorted titans clashed in abandoned World War II tunnels beneath the Rock of Gibraltar. Naturally, there was no clear winner when Thunderer and Gamma Goliath briefly battled…

The true birth of this particular grudge match came via a potent flashback in Journey into Mystery #112 (January 1965) which gave the readers what they had been clamouring for with ‘The Mighty Thor Battles the Incredible Hulk!’: a glorious gift to all those fans who perpetually asking the question “who’s stronger…?”

Possibly Kirby & Chic Stone’s finest artistic moment, it detailed a private duel between the two super-humans appearing off-camera during the free-for-all between The Avengers, Sub-Mariner and the Jade Juggernaut.

Jumping to a new decade, we see the solitary green gargantuan reconsidering his position on teamwork as a 2-part tale heralded the formation of a new supergroup. The Defenders’ story officially begins with Sub-Mariner #34-35 (February & March 1971: with only the latter included here).

The Prince of Atlantis was an early advocate of the ecology movement, and here (rather fractiously) recruited Hulk and The Silver Surfer to help him destroy an American nuclear weather-control station. Concluding in ‘Confrontation’ (by Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney) the misunderstood trio battled a despotic dictator’s forces, the US Army, UN defence forces and the mighty Avengers to prevent the malfunctioning station from accidentally vaporising half the planet, offering the emerald berserker another shot at that long-haired upstart who claimed to be the strongest one there is…

When the Defenders formed, their clandestine nature and line up (avowed antisocial menaces Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Valkyrie and enigmatic Doctor Strange) allowed mystic villains Loki and Dormammu to foment a war between the non-team and The Avengers that became a classic crossover event when that was a rare thing…

It lead to ‘Breakthrough! in Defenders #10 (November 1973) as Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema & Frank Bolle lavished many pages on epic standoff ‘The Incredible Hulk Vs. Thor’ before the inevitable joining together of warring camps in ‘United We Stand!’ That’s a great story you will need to seek out elsewhere as here we’re all about the bash… no trouble…

Courtesy of Bill Mantlo & Sal B, Incredible Hulk #255 (January 1980) detailed Thunder Under the East River!’ as reasons for the inescapable rumble become harder to manufacture. Here, the monster’s meanderings in New York and innate simmering belligerence are sufficient to spark off another blockbusting brouhaha while Thor #385 (November 1987) saw Jim Shooter provide a plot for Stan Lee to script, while Erik Larsen & Vince Colletta handled all the bellicose pictorial breakages in another city-set smash-up in ‘Be Thou God or Monster!’

After Image Comics’ debut compelled the Big Two (that would be DC and Marvel) to chase their deconstructivist, edgy style in the mid-1990s, radically reimagined Hulk and Thor bouts took on added grit and grimness. The changes were first seen in Thor #489’s ‘Hel and High Water’ (August 1995 by Thomas, M. C. Wyman & Mike DeCarlo) as a Hulk with Banner’s intellect rescued the Thunderer from beyond Death’s grasp, yet still ended up trading blows, whilst Incredible Hulk #440 (April 1996) featured Peter David, Angel Medina & Robin Riggs’ ‘The Big Bang’ as Thor strove against evil Future Hulk The Maestro with the world at stake and the lethal Leader pulling the strings…

Harking back to glory days, Incredible Hulk Annual 2001 (by Larsen, Jorge Lucas, Al Milgrom, Al Vey & Greg Adams) pastiched and homaged classic Kirby Kaos in ‘The Hammer Strikes’ as Thor drags the Jade Juggernaut across time and space in an extended clash but finds nowhere where their struggle will not create carnage and catastrophe…

Years passed and it transpired that green was not the only gamma wavelength to bear bitter fruit…

Cover-dated October & November 2008 and crafted by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness, Mark Farmer & Dexter Vines, Hulk (volume 2) #5-6 detailed a no-holds barred battle between Thunder God and a ruthless Red Hulk (AKA General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross) in ‘Rolling Thunder’ before concluding with ‘Blood Red’ with the original Green Goliath and Avengers stepping in stop the carnage. Hulk #26 (December 2010, by Jeff Parker & Gabriel Hardman) then provides a notional rematch as prelude to cosmic shenanigans in ‘Scorched Earth Part II’…

Wrapping up the furious fisticuffs is an out of chronology tale from What If? #45 (June 1984) by Peter B. Gillis, Ron Wilson, Ian Akin & Brian Garvey, wherein Banner’s worst nightmare came true in ‘What If the Hulk Went Berserk?!’ Set in the early months after the Gamma bomb mutated the scientist, it thrillingly details the alternate Earth deaths of most of the budding Marvel Universe before Thor even arrives…

Adding to the beefy brilliance is a range of Classic Battles’ as depicted by Frenz & Milgrom (from Incredible Hulk #393), Arthur Adams & Laura Martin (Avengers Classic #3), Kirby, Reinman & Paul Mounts (Avengers Epic Collection #1) and John Romita Sr. & Richard Isanove (Avengers/Defenders War TPB), and cover sketches for (Red) Hulk #6 by Ed McGuinness.

Vivid, vibrant and valiantly irresistibly vicarious, these fabulous forays are primal yet perfect examples of superhero stories’ Prime Directive and deliver all the pictorial punch and panache any Fights ‘n’ Tights fiend could hope for.
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved

Thor: Vikings


By Garth Ennis, Glenn Fabry & various (Max Comics/ MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1175-7 (TPB)

It’s the anniversary year of Marvel’s thunder god. Here’s a strange saga sparked during that time that will delight some and annoy the leather pants off others. Still, in my fathers’ Valhalla there are many mansions… unless the drunken warriors have wrecked them…

In the middle of 1962, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby launched their latest offbeat superhero creation in anthology monsters-and-mysteries title Journey into Mystery #83. The tale introduced disabled American doctor Donald Blake who took a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion fleet.

Fleeing in terror, he was trapped in a cave wherein lay an old, gnarled walking stick. When, in helplessness and frustration, the puny human smashed the cane into the huge boulder obstructing his escape, Blake’s insignificant frame was transformed into the bold and brawny Norse God of Thunder, Thor!

The series grew from formulaic beginnings battling aliens, commies and cheap thugs into a vast, panoramic and breathtaking cosmic playground for Kirby’s burgeoning imagination. Anthological Journey into Mystery inevitably became Mighty Thor where, after years of bombastic adventuring, the inconsistencies of the Blake/Thor relationship were re-examined and finally clarified to explain how an immortal godling could also be locked within a frail short-lived mortal.

That startling saga took the immortal hero back to his long-distant youth and finally revealed that the mortal surgeon was no more than an Odinian construct designed to teach the Thunder God humility and compassion…

As decades passed the series underwent numerous reboots and re-imaginings to keep the wonders of fabled Asgard appealing to an increasingly jaded readership. An already exceedingly broad range of scenarios spawned even greater visual variety after the Thunderer’s introduction to the pantheon of cinematic Marvels with his ongoing triumphs making him a bona fide blockbuster movie star. To be frank, there were always comics ventures that allowed for some fairly broad interpretations of the god and his universe, such as this rousing yarn…

In this scintillating gore-spattered traditional fantasy yarn – collecting Thor: Vikings #1-5, which originally ran from July- November 2003 – scripter Garth Ennis  and illustrator Glenn Fabry indulge their inner barbarians with a yarn strictly not for the young or sensitive…

In 1003 AD, pitiless reiver Harald Jaekelsson has just finished destroying the village of Lakstad when its shaman curses the lawless raiders who have destroyed his family and friends.

Maybe, if Harald hadn’t butchered him at that moment, allowing the elders’ blood to feed the runestone he held, the sadistic killer’s ship and crew would not have spent the next thousand years crossing the ‘Endless Ocean’ to the New World…

On finally arriving in the port of New York, the undead accursed monsters set about their old ways of rapine and slaughter, before their rampage is briefly halted by a challenge from the sky as Thunder God Thor demands their surrender…

Sorcery-stained zombie lord Harald is unimpressed and as his undead crew grotesquely devastate Manhattan, he savagely beats the god nigh unto death. With his longship now sailing the skies above the city, the northman basks in carnage in his new-won ‘Kingdom of Iron’, unaware that the Thunderer still lives and has been joined by Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Strange…

As Harald builds his throne on the city’s highest tower, the magical medic sees to Thor and marshals resources to battle a foe that outmatches him in mystic might. ‘Time Like a River’ finds the embattled heroes exploring chronal echoes, seeking a solution to the old wise man’s curse… and finding it in the blood he spilled casting it.

To counter Harald’s horde, Strange searches history for the old man’s bloodkin, and plucks them from their own times to battle the rapacious revenants. Outcast and frustrated Viking battle-maiden Sigrid, Teutonic knight Magnus of the Danesand disillusioned Luftwaffe Ace Oberstleutnant Erik Lonnroth arrive in the ravaged city just after the Marines are slaughtered and Mighty Avengers admit defeat and regroup.

Horrified by the atrocities being perpetrated, the time-strayed trio determine to ‘Fight the Good Fight’, suitably enhanced by Strange’s sorceries…

As Jaekelsson squats on his high seat, the heroes go to work with a will, and soon the Viking lord is compelled to join the battle. Once more easily outmatched by the ruthless reiver, the outraged god needs all he’s got to win the day and save his people in ‘See You in Valhalla’…

Although shocking at the turn of the century, the Asgardians and greater Marvel pantheon have by now fully integrated into our movie-led culture, and contemporary readers won’t be taken aback at the themes and uncompromising action scenes so lovingly crafted here. Thor: Vikings is bold and brutal, filled with action and leavened with dark, dark humour and well worth any thunder follower’s time and attention.
© 2021 MARVEL

Mighty Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor volume 1 – The Vengeance of Loki


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby with Larry Lieber, Robert Bernstein, Joe Sinnott, Al Hartley, Don Heck & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-302931681 (PB)

These stories are timeless and have been gathered many times before, but today I’m again focussing on format. The Mighty Marvel Masterworks line launched with economy in mind: classic tales of Marvel’s key creators and characters re-presented in chronological order. It’s been a staple since the 1990s, but always in lavish, hardback collectors editions. These editions are cheaper, on lower quality paper and – crucially – smaller, about the dimensions of a paperback book. Your eyesight might be failing and your hands too big and shaky, but at 152 x 227mm, they’re perfect for kids. If you opt for the digital editions, that’s no issue at all…

1962 was a big year for New-Kid-on-the-Block Marvel, with star debuts aplenty all celebrating sixty glorious years in 2022. Most oldsters will cite the Amazing Spider-Man as the most significant premier, but after the Marvel Movie revolution, this guy can probably claim equal star status…

Even more than The Fantastic Four, The Mighty Thor was the arena in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s string of power-packed signature pantheons began in a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by the rapidly resurgent company who were not yet Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This gloriously economical full-colour tome – also available in eFormats – re-presents those pioneering Asgardian exploits from JiM #83-100, cover-dated August 1962 to January 1964 in a blur of innovation and seat-of-the-pants myth-revising and universe-building…

Cover-dated August 1962, Journey into Mystery #83 found a bold costumed warrior jostling aside the regular fare of monsters, aliens and sinister scientists in a brash, vivid explosion of verve and vigour. The initial exploit followed disabled American doctor Donald Blake, who takes a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Fleeing, he is trapped in a cave where he finds an old, gnarled walking stick. When, in his frustration, he smashes the stick into a huge boulder obstructing his escape, his puny frame is transformed into the Norse God of Thunder!

Plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Lieber and illustrated by Kirby and inker Joe Sinnott (at this juncture a full illustrator, Sinnott would become Kirby’s primary inker for most of his Marvel career), ‘The Stone Men of Saturn’ is pure early Marvel: bombastic, fast-paced, gloriously illogical and captivatingly action-packed. The hugely under-appreciated Art Simek was the letterer and logo designer.

It was clear that they were making it up as they went along – not in itself a bad thing – and that infectious enthusiasm shows in the next adventure…

‘The Mighty Thor Vs. the Executioner’ is a “commie-busting” tale of its time, with a thinly disguised Fidel Castro wasting his formidable armies in battle against our hero. Dr. Blake’s nurse Jane Foster is introduced: a bland cipher adored from afar by the Norse superman’s timid alter-ego. The creative team settled as Dick Ayers replaced Sinnott, and with #85’s ‘Trapped by Loki, God of Mischief!’ the final element fell into place with the “return” of a suitably awesome arch-foe; in this case the hero’s half-brother.

This evil magician and compulsive trickster escaped divine incarceration and his first thought was to bedevil Thor by causing terror and chaos on the world of mortals he was so devoted to. Here also, a new and greater universe was first revealed with the tantalising hints and glimpses of the celestial otherworld and more Nordic gods…

Issue #86 introduced another recurring villain. Zarrko, bristling at the sedentary ease of 23rd century life, travels to 1962 and steals an experimental “C-Bomb”, forcing the Thunderer into a stirring hunt through time and inevitable clash with super-technology ‘On the Trail of the Tomorrow Man!’

On his return, Blake became a target of Soviet abductors. Those sneaky spies even managed to make Thor a ‘Prisoner of the Reds!’ before he eventually emerges unscathed and triumphant…

‘The Vengeance of Loki’ sees the God of Mischief’s return in #88,wherein the malevolent miscreant uncovers Thor’s secret identity and naturally menaces Jane Foster whilst ‘The Thunder God and the Thug’ offers adventure on a much more human scale, with a gang boss running riot over the city and roughshod over a good woman’s heart. It gives the Asgardian a chance to demonstrate a more sophisticated and sympathetic side by crushing him and freeing her from Thug Thatcher’s influence.

Issue #90 was an unsettling surprise as the grandeur of Kirby & Ayers was replaced by the charming yet angst-free art of Al Hartley, who illustrated Lee & Lieber’s stock alien-invasion yarn ‘Trapped by the Carbon-Copy Man!’ A month later the Storm Lord tackles ‘Sandu, Master of the Supernatural!’, with Sinnott handling all the art, in a thriller starring a carnival mentalist who – augmented by Loki’s magic – comes catastrophically close to killing our hero…

Sinnott drew JiM #92’s ‘The Day Loki Stole Thor’s Magic Hammer’ (scripted by Robert Bernstein over Lee’s plot), moving the action fully to the mythical realm of Asgard for the first time as Thor seeks to recover his stolen weapon after Loki ensorcelled the magnificent mallet. Kirby & Ayers momentarily returned for Cold War/Atom Age thriller ‘The Mysterious Radio-Active Man!’ – again scripted by Bernstein – as Mao Tse Tung unleashes an atomic assassin in retaliation for Thor thwarting China’s invasion of India. Such “Red-baiting” was common in early Marvel titles, but their inherent jingoistic silliness can’t mar the eerie beauty of the artwork. With this tale, the rangy, raw-boned Thunder God completed his slow metamorphosis into the husky, burly blonde bruiser who dominated any panel he was drawn in.

Sinnott illustrated the next three adventures – ‘Thor and Loki Attack the Human Race!’, ‘The Demon Duplicator’ and ‘The Magic of Mad Merlin!’ – but these mediocre tales of magic-induced amnesia, science-fuelled evil doppelgangers and an ancient mutant menace were the last of an old style of comics. Lee took over scripting with Journey into Mystery #97 and a torrent of action wedded to soap opera melodrama resulted in a fresh style for a developing readership.

‘The Lava Man’ in #97 was again drawn by Kirby, with the subtly textured inking of Don Heck adding depth to the tale of an invader summoned – at the behest of Loki – from subterranean realms to menace humanity. More significantly, a long running rift between Thor and his overbearing father Odin was established after the Lord of Asgard refuses to allow his son to love the mortal Jane.

This acrimonious triangle was a perennial sub-plot fuelling many attempts to humanise Thor, because already he was a hero too powerful for most villains to cope with. Most importantly, this issue is notable for the launch of a spectacular back-up series. ‘Tales of Asgard – Home of the Mighty Norse Gods’ provided Kirby with a vehicle to indulge his fascination with legends. Initially adapting classic tales, but eventually with all-new material particular to the Marvel pantheon, he built his own cosmos and mythology, which underpinned the company’s entire continuity. This first saga, scripted by Lee and inked by George Bell (AKA old Golden Age collaborator George Roussos), outlined the origin of the world and the creation of the World Tree Yggdrasil.

‘Challenged by the Human Cobra’ introduces the serpentine villain (bitten by a radioactive Cobra, would you believe?) in a tale by Lee & Heck, whilst Kirby – with them in attendance – offered ‘Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants!’: a short, potent fantasy romp laying the groundwork for decades of cosmic wonderment to come.

The same formula held for issues #99 and #100, closing the story portion of this collection. The lead tale (the first 2-part adventure of the run) introduces brutal, ‘Mysterious Mister Hyde’ – and concludes a month later with‘The Master Plan of Mr. Hyde! It reveals a contemporary chemist who transforms into a super-strong villain at will and who frames Thor for his crimes, whilst in primordial prehistory, Kirby details Odin’s war with ‘Surtur the Fire Demon’ and latterly (with Vince Colletta inking) crafts an exploit of the All-Father’s so different sons in ‘The Storm Giants – a tale of the Boyhood of Thor’. As always, Lee scripted these increasingly influential comicbook histories…

To Be Continued…

Rounding off the increasingly spectacular shenanigans are bonus features comprising pre-edited original art from Kirby, Sinnott Ayers and Heck plus a landmark house ad.

These early tales of the God of Thunder show the development not only of one of Marvel’s core narrative concepts but, more importantly, the creative evolution of perhaps the greatest imagination in comics. Set your common sense on pause and simply wallow in the glorious imagery and power of these matchless adventures and discover the true secret of what makes comic book superheroes such a unique experience.
© 2021 MARVEL

Marvel Two-in-One Masterworks volume 1


By Steve Gerber, Len Wein, Mike Friedrich, Chris Claremont, Jim Starlin, Gil Kane, Sal Buscema, George Tuska, Herb Trimpe, Bob Brown & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6633-7 (HB)

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

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

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

After the runaway success of Spider-Man’s collaborations in Marvel Team-Up, the House of Ideas reinforced the trend with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic member – beginning with two test runs in Marvel Feature before graduating to its own somewhat over-elaborate title.

This compelling compendium – available in hardback and digital formats – gathers the contents of Marvel Feature #11-12 and Marvel Two-In-One #1-10, covering September 1973 – July 1975, and opens with a Roy Thomas Introduction explaining how it was Stan’s idea…

Then the much told tales take centre stage with a perennial favourite pairing and the Thing once more clashing with The Incredible Hulk in ‘Cry: Monster! by Len Wein, Jim Starlin & Joe Sinnott (from MF #11).

Here, Kurrgo, Master of Planet X and the lethal Leader manipulate both blockbusting brutes into duking it out – ostensibly to settle a wager – but with the mighty minded, misshapen masterminds each concealing hidden agendas…

That ever-inconclusive yet cataclysmic clash leaves Ben stranded in the Nevada desert where Mike Friedrich, Starlin & Sinnott promptly drop him in the middle of the ongoing war against mad Titan Thanos with Iron Man helping Ben crush monstrous alien invaders in ’The Bite of the Blood Brothers!’ (Marvel Feature #12, November 1973): another spectacular and painfully pretty all-action punch-up.

Still stuck in the desert when the dust settles, Ben laboriously treks to a minor outpost of civilisation just in time to be diverted to Florida for the grand opening of his own title. Cover-dated January 1974, Marvel Two-In-One #1 sees Steve Gerber, Gil Kane & Sinnott magnificently detail the ‘Vengeance of the Molecule Man!’, with Ben learning some horrifying home truths about what constitutes being a monster after battling with and beside ghastly, grotesque anti-hero Man-Thing.

With the second issue Gerber cannily trades a superfluous supporting character from his Man-Thing series to add some much-needed depth to the team-up title. ‘Manhunters from the Stars!’ pits Ben, old enemy Namor, the Sub-Mariner (another series Gerber was currently writing) and the Aquatic Avenger’s feisty and single-minded cousin Namoritaagainst each other as well as aliens hunting the emotionally and intellectually retarded superboy Wundarr. Another dynamically, intoxicating tale illustrated by Kane & Sinnott, this case also leaves the Thing as de facto guardian of the titanic teenaged tot…

Sal Buscema signed on as penciller with #3 as the Rocky Ranger joins the Man Without Fear ‘Inside Black Spectre!’: a crossover instalment of the extended epic then playing out in Daredevil #108-112 (in case you’re wondering, this action-packed fight-fest occurs between the second and third chapters) after which ‘Doomsday 3014!’ (Gerber, Buscema & Frank Giacoia) finds Ben and Captain America visiting the 31st century to save Earth from enslavement by the reptilian Brotherhood of Badoon, leaving Wundarr with Namorita for the foreseeable future…

The furious future-shocker concludes in MTIO #5 as the original Guardians of the Galaxy (not the movie group) climb aboard the Freedom Rocket to help our time-lost heroes liberate New York before returning home. The overthrow of the aliens was completed by another set of ancient heroes in Defenders #26-29 (which is also the subject of a different review)…

Marvel Two-In-One #6 began a complex crossover tale with the aforementioned Defenders as Dr. Strange and the Thing witness a cosmic event which begins with a subway busker’s harmonica and leads inexorably to a ‘Death-Song of Destiny!’ (Gerber, George Tuska & Mike Esposito) before Asgardian outcasts Enchantress and the Executioner attempt to seize control of unfolding events in #7’s ‘Name That Doom!’ (pencilled by Sal Buscema).

As they are thwarted by Grimm and the valiant Valkyrie, there’s enough of an ending here for casual readers, but fans and completists will want to hunt down Defenders #20 or Defenders Masterworks link please volume 3 for the full story…

Back here, however, MTIO #8 teams Grimm and supernatural sensation Ghost Rider in a quirkily compelling Yuletide yarn. ‘Silent Night… Deadly Night!’ – by Gerber, Buscema & Esposito – finds the audacious Miracle Man trying to take control of a very special birth in a stable…

Gerber moved on after plotting Thor team-up ‘When a God goes Mad!’ for Chris Claremont to script and Herb Trimpe & Joe Giella to finish: a rushed and meagre effort with the Puppet Master and Radion the Atomic Man making a foredoomed power play, before issue #10 concludes this initial compendium.

Crafted by Claremont, the still much-missed Bob Brown & Klaus Janson, it is a slice of inspired espionage action-intrigue with Ben and the Black Widow battling suicidal terrorist Agamemnon who plans to detonate the planet’s biggest nuke in blistering thriller ‘Is This the Way the World Ends?’.

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

Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s still buckets of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so why not to add this colossal comics chronicle to your straining superhero bookshelves?
© 2020 MARVEL

Decades: Marvel in the ‘60s – Spider-Man Meets the Marvel Universe


By Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Roy Thomas, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, John Romita Sr, Gene Colan, Werner Roth & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1660-2 (TPB)

The Amazing Spider-Man was first seen in the middle of 1962, so expect plenty of wallcrawling reviews over the next twelve months, and if any of us make it to the end I’m sure we’ll all be well-versed in Arachnid Lore with our book shelves (physical or digital) positively groaning with sublimely re-readable tales and tomes…

For Marvel, it’s always been all about the team-ups…

In the company’s 80th Anniversary year of 2019, they published plenty of reprint material in archival formats designed to highlight specific triumphs of the House of Ideas. One of the mot interesting was the Decades project: collecting material from each era seen through a themed lens. For the 1960s – with so very much astounding innovation to be proud of – the editors opted to re-present critical confrontations of the company’s signature star with the other breakthrough characters that formed the bedrock of the Marvel Universe. After all, it’s always been all about the team-ups…

Within this trade paperback/digital delight – in full or in extract – are bombastic battles and eccentric encounters between the wondrous wallcrawler and the other growing stars of the ever-expanding firmament, culled from Amazing Spider-Man #1, 8, 14, 16; Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2; Fantastic Four #73; Fantastic Four Annual #1; Strange Tales Annual #2; Tales to Astonish #57; The Avengers #11; The Avengers Annual #3; Daredevil #16, 17, 27 and The X-Men #35 spanning March 1963 to 1968. The curated cruise begins with a context-setting Introduction from Jess Harrold, before we see a skinny kid in a costume meet his heroes for the first time…

Marvel is often termed “the House that Jack Built” and Kirby’s contributions are undeniable and inescapable in the creation of a new kind of comic storytelling, but there was another unique visionary toiling at Atlas-Comics-as-was, one whose creativity and even philosophy seemed diametrically opposed to the bludgeoning power, vast imaginative scope and clean, broad lines of Jack’s ever-expanding search for the external and infinite.

Steve Ditko was quiet and unassuming, voluntarily diffident to the point of invisibility, but his work was both subtle and striking: simultaneously innovative and meticulously polished. Always questing for the ideal, he explored the man within. He saw heroism and humour and ultimate evil all contained within the frail but noble confines of humanity. His drawing could be oddly disquieting… and, when he wanted, decidedly creepy.

Crafting extremely well-received monster and mystery tales for and with Stan Lee, Ditko had been rewarded with his own title. Amazing Adventures/Amazing Adult Fantasy featured a subtler brand of yarn than Rampaging Aliens and Furry Underpants Monsters: an ilk which, though individually entertaining, had been slowly losing traction in comics ever since DC had successfully reintroduced costumed heroes.

Lee & Kirby had responded with Fantastic Four and the ahead-of-its-time Incredible Hulk but there was no indication of the renaissance ahead when officially just-cancelled Amazing Fantasy featured a brand new and rather eerie adventure character…

It wasn’t a new story, but the setting was familiar to every kid reading it and the artwork was downright spooky. This wasn’t the gleaming high-tech world of moon-rockets, mammoth monsters and flying cars… this stuff could happen to anybody…

The debut of Spider-Man and his pathetic, loser, young alter ego Peter Parker was a landmark moment. The hard luck hero effortlessly made the jump to his own title. Holding on to the “Amazing” prefix to jog reader’s memories, the bi-monthly Amazing Spider-Man #1 arrived with a March 1963 cover-date and two complete stories. It also prominently featured the aforementioned FF and took the readership by storm. Excerpted here are the 5 pages wherein the cash-strapped youngster breaks into the Baxter Building determined to get himself hired by the team and ends battling his idols…

That’s followed by a back-up story from 1963’s Fantastic Four Annual #1 which expanded the incident into a proper yarn. ‘The Fabulous Fantastic Four Meet Spider-Man’ sees Kirby redraw the moment with Ditko inking and it is superb, smartly segueing into the lead feature from the same year’s Strange Tales Annual #2. This terrific romp from Lee, Kirby & Ditko depicts an early Marvel Misapprehension as the wallcrawler is framed by international art thief and disguise-master The Fox, and hot-headed Johnny Storm determines to bring the aggravating arachnid to justice. Guess how that works out…

Cover-dated January 1964, Amazing Spider-Man #8 led with a battle against the computer dubbed the Living Brain, but you’ll need to look elsewhere for that. An extra vignette in that issue provided another Lee/Kirby/Ditko delight. ‘Spiderman Tackles the Torch!’ is a 6-page comedy romp wherein a boisterous and envious wall-crawler gate-crashes a beach party thrown by the flaming hero’s girlfriend… with suitably explosive consequences.

Marvel’s growing band of stars were pooping up everywhere in others titles by this time, and the next snippet – 5 pages culled from Amazing Spider-Man #14 (July 1964) – sees the webspinner’s battle against the Green Goblin and Enforcers interrupted by the Incredible Hulk who delivers an unforgettable lesson in staying in your own weight class. That same month, Tales to Astonish #57 saw Giant-Man and the Wasp ‘On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!’ – courtesy of Lee, Dick Ayers & Paul Reinman – with sinister mastermind Egghead pulling strings to make the complete strangers into mortal enemies…

September 1964 found Amazing Spider-Man #16 extending the wallcrawler’s circle of friends and foes whilst battling the Ringmaster and his Circus of Evil and encountering freshly minted fellow loner hero in a dazzling and delightful‘Duel with Daredevil’ (Lee & Ditko), after which The Avengers #11 (by Lee, Don Heck & Chic Stone) details how ‘The Mighty Avengers Meet Spider-Man!’ This is a clever and classy cross-fertilising tale featuring time-bending tyrant Kang the Conqueror who attempts to destroy the team by insinuating within their serried ranks a robotic duplicate of the outcast hero.

Next up is arguably Ditko’s greatest artistic triumph of this era: the lead tale from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 (October of that year and filled out with vintage Spidey classics).

Ditko was on peak form: fast enough to handle two monthly strips, and at this time also blowing away audiences with another ill-fitting, oddly tangential superhero. The disparate crusaders met in ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange!’: an entrancing fable unforgettably introducing the Amazing Arachnid to arcane realities and metaphysical mysteries as he joins the Master of the Mystic Arts to battle power-crazed mage Xandu in a phantasmagorical, dimension-hopping masterpiece involving ensorcelled zombie thugs and the stolen Wand of Watoomb. After this, it was clear that Spider-Man could work in any milieu and that nothing could hold him back…

Now sporting his signature all-red outfit, the Man Without Fear re-encountered Spider-Man in Daredevil #16-17 (May & June 1966 and crafted by Lee, John Romita the elder and inker Frank Giacoia) as ‘Enter… Spider-Man!’ introduces diabolical criminal mastermind Masked Marauder who has big plans; the first of which is to get DD and the wallcrawler to kill each other…

With chapter ‘None are so Blind…’ opens a convoluted a sub-plot which would lead to some of the highest and lowest moments of the early Daredevil series – such as Spidey accusing Law-firm partner Foggy Nelson of being the Scarlet Swashbuckler and Matt Murdock inventing a twin brother Mike – but the art is superb and the action is nonstop, so there’s not much to complain about…

Next comes Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 3 and ‘…To Become an Avenger!’ with the World’s Mightiest Heroes offering the webspinner membership if he can capture and bring them the Hulk. As usual, all is not as it seems but the action-drenched epic, courtesy of Lee, Romita (on layouts), Don Heck, & Mike Esposito is the kind of guest-heavy, power-punching package that made these summer specials such a prize…

Jumping to April 1967, Daredevil #27 (Lee, Gene Colan & Giacoia) closes a chapter as a leaner, moodier Man Without Fear manifested. Earlier episodes saw the hopeless romantic triangle of Murdock, best friend Foggy and their secretary Karen Page become a whacky quadrangle by introducing fictitious twin Mike Murdock. Now he would be “exposed” as Daredevil to divert suspicion from the blind attorney who actually battled all those weird villains…

Well that happened, and – still skulking in the background – arch-villain Masked Marauder slowly honed in on DD’s actual alter ego. He got closest in ‘Mike Murdock Must Die!’ after Stilt-Man teams with the Marauder before Spider-Man abrasively helped out in a brief cameo to take down the long-legged loon…

Cover-dated August 1967, The X-Men #35 finally found Marvel’s top teens in the same story. At that time the mutant heroes were hunting secret cabal Factor Three who had used robot arachnoids to kidnap Professor X.

When ally Banshee is captured mid-sentence during a crucial communication with the team in ‘Along Came A Spider…’(by Roy Thomas, Werner Roth & Dan Adkins) everybody’s favourite wallcrawler is mistaken for a foe. After the desperate, distraught mutants find the hero amidst robot wreckage, he is forced to battle for his life against the increasingly unstable teens…

Ending this chronological collaboration excursion is Fantastic Four #73 (April 1968) which carried an instant-classic crossover that overlapped an ongoing Thor storyline and conclusion to a long-running Daredevil story wherein the sightless crusader is ousted from his own body by Doctor Doom. After warning the FF of imminent attack, the Swashbuckler subsequently defeats Doom on his own, but neglects to tell the heroes of his victory…

Thus, outmatched and unable to convince them any other way, DD enlists currently the de-powered Thunder God and ever-eager webspinner in to solve the problem Marvel style – with a pointless, spectacular and utterly riveting punch-up – in ‘The Flames of Battle…’

These timeless team-ups of Marvel’s original loner comprise a superb catalogue of splendid triumphs to be enjoyed over and over again. How can you not?
© 2019, MARVEL

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 18


By David Michelinie, Roger Slifer, Steve Gerber, Tom DeFalco, Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant, Bill Mantlo, Jim Shooter, Scott Edelman, Mark Evanier, John Byrne, George Pérez, Carmine Infantino, Jim Mooney, Don Newton, Michael Netzer, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0960-4 (HB)

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

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

Re-presenting Avengers #178-188, Avengers Annual #8-9, plus Marvel Premier #49 and material from Marvel Tales #100 (cumulatively spanning December 1978 to October 1979), these stories again see the team in transition.

Jim Shooter, having galvanised and steadied the company’s notional flagship, moved on, leaving David Michelinie to impress his own ideas and personality upon the team, but such transitions are always tricky and a few water-treading fill-ins were necessary before progress resumed. For behind the scenes details you can read Michelinie’s fascinating Introduction before diving in to the fabulous action and drama…

After the death and resurrection of the heroes in the previous volume, Korvac’s defeat leads seamlessly into Avengers Annual #8, getting back to business with a monolithic Fights ‘n’ Tights melee in ‘Spectrums of Deceit!’, courtesy of Roger Slifer, George Pérez, Pablo Marcos & Ricardo Villamonte. It sees the sentient power-prism of archvillain Doctor Spectrum systematically possessing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The upshot is another blockbusting battle against the Squadron Sinister and ethically ambivalent Femizon Thundra and another guest shot for mighty Ms. Marvel…

A subtle change of pace and tone came in Avengers #178. ‘The Martyr Perplex!’ – by Steve Gerber, Carmine Infantino & Rudy Nebres – sees mutant Hank McCoy/The Beast targeted by master brainwasher The Manipulator in a tense psycho-thriller teeming with shady crooks and government spooks, after which Tom DeFalco, Jim Mooney, Al Gordon & Mike Esposito deliver a 2-part yarn introducing tragic mutant Bloodhawk and an ambitious human hitman in ‘Slowly Slays the Stinger!’

Whilst Stinger cautiously executes his commission, another cohort of champions accompany Bloodhawk to his desolate island home of Maura for a ‘Berserkers’ Holiday’, just in time to battle an animated and agitated stone idol. When they return victorious, Stinger is waiting and the assemblage loses its newest ally forever…

Finally getting back on track, Avengers #181 introduces new regular creative team David Michelinie & John Byrne – augmented by inker Gene Day – as ‘On the Matter of Heroes!’ sees intrusive and obsessive Government Agent Henry Peter Gyrich lay down the law and winnow the army of heroes down to a federally acceptable seven.

As the Guardians of the Galaxy headed back to their future, Iron Man, the Vision, Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Beast and Wasp must placate Hawkeye after he is rejected in favour of new member The Falcon – reluctantly parachuted in to conform to government affirmative action quotas…

Almost immediately, Gyrich’s methodically calculated plans are in tatters as an elderly Romani sorcerer attacks. He claims mutants Wanda and Pietro Frank as his long-lost children and traps their souls inside little wooden dolls, and the resultant clash in #182’s ‘Honor Thy Father’ (inked by Klaus Janson) creates even more questions, as overwhelming evidence seems to confirm Django Maximoff’s story. The upshot sees the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver leave with him on a quest for answers…

Michelinie, Byrne, Janson & D(iverse). Hands provide a breathtaking all-action extravaganza in #183-184 as ‘The Redoubtable Return of Crusher Creel!’ finds Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel cleared by Gyrich to replace the Witch…

Elsewhere in the Big Apple, the formidable Absorbing Man has decided to leave the country and quit being thrashed by heroes. Unfortunately, his departure plans include kidnapping a young woman “for company”, leading to a cataclysmic showdown with the heroes and Hawkeye (still determined to win back his place on the team) and resulting in carnage, chaos and a ‘Death on the Hudson!’…

Historical continuity addicts Mark Gruenwald & Steven Grant plot #185’s ‘The Yesterday Quest!’ for Michelinie, Byrne & Dan Green to execute as, in America, new robotic ally Jocasta strives to entice the Vision even as his wife and brother-in-law arrive in Balkan Transia. In the shadow of mystic Mount Wundagore Wanda is beguiled by Modred the Mystic, leaving Quicksilver to perish if not for the ministrations of talking humanoid cow Bova.

The wetnurse once employed by the High Evolutionary doesn’t mind, after all she was his mother’s midwife years ago…

‘Nights of Wundagore!’ then unpicks years of mystery with secrets of the mutants’ origins; how she passed them off as the stillborn children of American superhero Bob Frank and offers big hints as to their true father. Wanda meanwhile has lost a magic duel with Modred and is possessed by ancient demon Chthon. Pietro barely survives his clash with her/it, and calls for help, but thanks to more pointless bureaucracy from Gyrich, its hours before the Avengers – missing Iron Man but including Wonder Man – arrive to face the world rending

‘Call of the Mountain Thing!’ Although they ultimately triumph, not every participant makes it out alive…

The way home is just as momentous as #188’s ‘Elementary, Dear Avengers’ (by Bill Mantlo, Byrne, Green & Frank Springer) begins with a side trip to Inhuman City Attilan and news that Quicksilver is about to become a dad, and ends with the team causing an international incident by diverting over Russian airspace. Thankfully, the incident overlaps with a secret Soviet science experiment going badly wrong, compelling the heroes to tackle sentient elements with a taste for death and destruction

Avengers Annual #9 then introduces a lethal secret from the past as Mantlo, Don Newton, Jack Abel & Joe Rubinstein reveal a deadly robotic sleeper locked beneath Avengers Mansion. ‘…Today the Avengers Die!’ reprises Iron Man’s battle against deadly vintage mechanoid Arsenal and reveals that the Howard Stark-built weapon was cached in his old townhouse. Now ‘Something Deadly Lurks Below!’ proves that they should have let sleeping bots lie…

Rounding out the chronologically completist action is a snippet from Marvel Tales #100 (February 1979) and a solo yarn from Marvel Premier #49 (August 1979). The first finds time-displaced Two-Gun Kid and Hawkeye battle Killgrave the Controller in ‘Killers of a Purple Rage!’ by Scott Edelman, Michael Netzer & Terry Austin, after which Mark Evanier, Sal Buscema & Dave Simons craft a try-out mission for The Falcon who faces the sinister ‘Sound of the Silencer’: finding profit not patriotism motivates his string of assassination attempts

Available in hardback and digital iterations, and supplemented by original art from Pérez, Dave Cockrum, Byrne, Gene Day & Green; previous collection covers by Steve Epting & Tom Palmer and letters columns debating the new origins for Pietro and Wanda, this archival tome and this type of heroic adventure might not be to every reader’s taste but these – and the epic yarns that followed – set the tone for decades to come and informed all those movies everybody loves.
© 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection volume 6: A Traitor Stalks Among Us 1972-1973


By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Barry Windsor-Smith, Rick Buckler, John Buscema, Don Heck, George Tuska, Jim Starlin, Bob Brown, Sam Kweskin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2911-4 (TPB)

One of the most momentous events in comics (and now, film) history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate gang of heroic individuals banded together to combat an apparently out of control Incredible Hulk.

The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the intervening decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in the Marvel multiverse has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

After instigators Stan Lee & Jack Kirby moved on, the team prospered under the guidance of Roy Thomas who grew into one of the industry’s most impressive writers, guiding the World’s Mightiest Heroes through a range of adventures ranging from sublimely poetic to staggeringly epic. He then handed over the scripting to a young writer who carried the team to even greater heights…

This stunning trade paperback compilation – also available in eBook iterations – assembles Avengers #98-114, plus a crucial crossover episode from Daredevil #99: collectively covering April 1972 to August 1973, confirming an era of cosmic catastrophe and cataclysmically captivating creative cross-pollination…

Even after saving the world, life goes on and seemingly gets more dangerous every day. Having ended war between the star-spanning Kree and Skrulls, ‘Let Slip the Dogs of War’ (#98, by Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith & Sal Buscema) sees harried heroes Captain America, Iron Man, the Vision, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Thor debating the loss of their comrade Goliath, missing in action since he explosively stopped a Skull warship from nuking Earth…

As the Thunderer heads for Asgard and its magic scrying mirrors, the fruitless debate is curtailed as war-mongering demagogue Mr. Tallon incites riot in the streets of New York. The gathered crowds attack the Avengers when they tried to quell the unrest and it is soon evident that the war-hawk has supernatural assistance.

…And in the dimensional void the Thunder God discovers all access to the Immortal Realms has been cut off…

By the time he returns to Earth his comrades are bewitched too. Joining with the seemingly immune Vision in a last-ditch, hopeless battle, the Storm Lord fights his greatest allies until the tide is turned by a perfectly-aimed arrow, heralding the return of Goliath to his original identity… Hawkeye.

Moreover, he has with him another Avenger: an amnesiac Hercules, Prince of Power, whose only certain knowledge is that Earth and Asgard are jointly doomed…

Inked by Tom Sutton, ‘…They First Make Mad!’ expands the epic as the Avengers call on all their resources to cure Hercules and decipher his cryptic warning whilst Earth’s leaders seem determined to catapult the planet into atomic Armageddon.

As Hawkeye explains his miraculous escape from death in space and how he found Hercules, the desperate call to assemble goes out, summoning every hero who has ever been an Avenger. Suddenly, two Grecian Titans materialise to trounce the team, dragging the terrified Prince of Power back to Olympus…

The saga ends in the staggeringly beautiful anniversary 100th issue ‘Whatever Gods There Be!’ (inked by Smith, Joe Sinnott & Syd Shores) as thirteen Avengers – including even the scurrilous Swordsman and blockbusting Hulk – invade the home of the Hellenic Gods to discover old enemy Enchantress and war god Ares are behind the entire malignant plot…

It’s always tricky starting fresh after an epic conclusion but Thomas and debuting penciller Rich Buckler – doing his best Neal Adams impersonation – had a secret weapon in mind: a Harlan Ellison tale inked by veteran brushman Dan Adkins.

‘Five Dooms to Save Tomorrow!’ was based on the novella from 1964 and sees the Avengers battling Leonard Tippit, an ordinary man granted god-like power so that he could murder five innocent human beings. To be fair though, those innocuous targets’ continued existence threatened Earth’s entire future…

Determined to stop him whatever the ultimate consequences, the Avengers eschew murky moral quandaries and are tested to their utmost, before the crisis is averted…

They are on firmer, more familiar ground in #102 when the Grim Reaper returns, offering to place the Vision’s consciousness in a human body in return for the android’s allegiance in ‘What to Do till the Sentinels Come!’ (Thomas, Buckler & Joe Sinnott). Meanwhile, the mutant-hunting robots kidnap the Scarlet Witch and start another scheme to eradicate the threat of Homo Superior forever…

A budding romance between the Witch and the Vision exposes tensions and bigotries in most unexpected places as the cataclysmic tale continues with ‘The Sentinels are Alive and Well!’ as the team search the globe for the monstrous mechanical marauders before being captured themselves whilst invading their Australian Outback hive.

The tale concludes ‘With a Bang… and a Whimper!’ as the assemblers thwart a project to sterilise humanity – but only at the cost of two heroes’ lives…

The grieving Scarlet Witch takes centre stage in #105 as ‘In the Beginning was… the World Within!’ pairs neophyte scripter Steve Englehart with veteran artists John Buscema & Jim Mooney. The team travel to South America and encounter cavemen mutants from the antediluvian Savage Land, after which the Avengers discover ‘A Traitor Stalks Among Us!’ (art by Buckler, George Tuska & Dave Cockrum) with the revelation that perennial sidekick Rick Jones has become atomically bonded to alien hero Captain Marvel: a revelation that triggers a painful flashback in memory-blocked Captain America, just as an old foe turns the team against itself.

Limned by Jim Starlin, Tuska & Cockrum, Avengers #107 reveals ‘The Master Plan of the Space Phantom!’ and his complex and sinister alliance with the Grim Reaper even as the love-sick Vision finally accepts the Faustian offer of a human body.

Unfortunately, the corpus on offer is the Star-Spangled Avenger’s…

‘Check… and Mate!’ – illustrated by veteran Avenger artist Don Heck and inkers Cockrum & Sinnott – wraps up the intriguing saga in spectacular fashion as an army of Avengers thrash Phantom, Reaper and assorted hordes of Hydra hoods. However, the true climax is the Vision and Witch’s final acknowledgement of their love for each other.

The announcement provokes a storm of trouble…

In #109 Hawkeye – who’s always carried a torch for Wanda – quits the team in a dudgeon and ‘The Measure of a Man!’ (Heck & Frank McLaughlin) finds the heartsick archer duped by billionaire businessman Champion and nearly responsible for causing the complete destruction of California before wising up to save the day…

Next the depleted team of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Vision and Black Panther investigate the disappearance of mutant heroes the X-Men and are thoroughly beaten by an old enemy with a new power.

‘… And Now Magneto!’ (Englehart, Heck, Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito) ends with half the team brainwashed captives of the villain with the remaining crusaders desperately seeking new allies. We then pop over to San Francisco and a crossover from Daredevil and the Black Widow #99 (May 1973, by Steve Gerber, Sam Kweskin & Syd Shores).

‘The Mark of Hawkeye!’ sees Natasha Romanoff’s old boyfriend fetch up on the Widow’s doorstep, determined to “reclaim” her. The caveman stunt culminates in the Archer’s sound and well-deserved thrashing, and when the last Avengers arrive, asking him to return and assist, he refuses. DD and the Widow don’t, though…

The saga resumes and concludes in Avengers #111 as, ‘With Two Beside Them!’ (Englehart, Heck & Esposito) the returned heroes and West Coast vigilantes successfully rescue X-Men and Avengers enslaved by malevolent Magneto. With the action over, Daredevil returns to California, but the Black Widow elects to stay with the World’s Mightiest Heroes…

Escalating cosmic themes and colossal clashes commence here with Avengers #112 and ‘The Lion God Lives!’ (Don Heck & Frank Bolle art) wherein a rival African deity manifests to destroy the human avatar of the Panther God. As T’Challa and his valiant comrades tackle that threat, in the wings an erstwhile ally/enemy and his exotic paramour make their own plans for the team…

Unreasoning prejudice informs #113’s ‘Your Young Men Shall Slay Visions!’ (art by Bob Brown & Bolle) wherein a horde of fundamentalist bigots – offended by the “unnatural” love between Wanda, the mutant and artificial being the Vision – turn themselves into human bombs to destroy the sinful, unholy couple. Soon after, ‘Night of the Swordsman’ (Brown & Esposito) formally introduces the reformed swashbuckler and his enigmatic psychic martial artist paramour Mantis to the team… just in time to thwart the Lion God’s latest scheme…

Rewarded with probationary status and the benefit of the doubt, they are in place for a forthcoming clash that will rock the universes…

As if extra enticements are even necessary, also included in this compendium are the stunning front and back covers crafted by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger & Marie Javins for Essential Avengers #1-3, and original art covers, pages and unused pencils by Windsor, Smith, Buckler, John Buscema, Starlin, Heck, Cockrum and Brown.

Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart were at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers; brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creations of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko while spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to.

These terrific tales are ideal examples of superheroes done exactly right: pivotal points as the underdog company evolved into a corporate entertainment colossus. These are some of the best superhero stories you’ll ever read and Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new peak of cosmic adventure…
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