Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 10


By Mike Friedrich, Barry Alfonso, Tom Orzechowski, Bill Mantlo, George Tuska, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Chic Stone & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0351-0 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Iron Clad Entertainment Gold… 8/10

Arch-technocrat and supreme survivor Tony Stark has changed his profile many times since his debut in Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963) when, whilst a VIP visitor in Vietnam observing the efficacy of the munitions he had designed, the inventor was critically wounded and captured by sinister, savage Communists.

Put to work building weapons with the dubious promise of medical assistance on completion, Stark instead created the first Iron Man suit to keep himself alive and deliver him from his oppressors. From there it was a simple jump to full time superheroics as a modern Knight in Shining Armour…

First conceived in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis at a time when Western economies were booming and “Commie-bashing” was an American national obsession, the emergence of a new and shining young Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity, wealth and invention to safeguard the Land of the Free and better the World, seemed an obvious development. Combining the then-sacrosanct faith that technology and business in unison could solve any problem, with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil, Stark – the Invincible Iron Man – seemed an infallibly successful proposition.

Of course, whilst he was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism – a glamorous millionaire industrialist/scientist and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his alter-ego – the turbulent tone of the 1970s soon relegated his suave, “can-do” image to the dustbin of history.

With ecological disaster and social catastrophe from the myriad abuses of big business the new zeitgeists of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting a few tricky questions from the increasingly politically savvy readership.

With glamour, money and fancy gadgetry not quite so cool anymore the questing voices of a new generation of writers began posing uncomfortable questions in the pages of a series that was once the bastion of militarised America…

This grand and gleaming chronological compendium – available in hardback and digital editions – completes that transitional period; reprinting Iron Man #68-81 (June 1974 – December 1975) and offering one last insightful measure of historical context courtesy of then-departing writer Mike Friedrich’s Introduction.

Iron Man #68-71 comprised the opening sortie in a multi-part epic which saw mystic menace The Black Lama foment a war amongst the world’s greatest villains, with ultimate power, inner peace and a magical Golden Globe as the promised prizes.

Written by Mike Friedrich and illustrated by Tuska & Mike Esposito, it all begins in Vietnam on the ‘Night of the Rising Sun!’ where the Mandarin struggles to free his consciousness which is currently trapped within the dying body of Russian super-villain the Unicorn.

Stark’s pacifist love interest Roxie Gilbert had dragged the inventor to the recently “liberated” People’s Republic in search of (part-time Iron Man) Eddie March’s lost brother Marty: a POW missing since the last days of the war. Before long, however, the Americans are separated after Japanese ultra-nationalist, ambulatory atomic inferno and sometime X-Man Sunfire is tricked into attacking the intrusive Yankee Imperialists…

The assault abruptly ends once Mandarin shanghaies the Solar Samurai and uses his mutant energies to power a mind-transfer back into his own body. Reinstated in his original form, the Chinese Conqueror commences his own campaign of combat in earnest, eager to regain his castle from rival oriental overlord Yellow Claw.

Firstly, though, he must crush Iron Man – who had tracked him down and freed Sunfire in ‘Confrontation!’ That bombastic battle ends when the Golden Avenger is rendered unconscious and thrown into space…

‘Who Shall Stop… Ultimo?’ then finds the reactivated giant robot-monster targeting the Mandarin’s castle (claimed by the Claw in a previous battle) as the sinister Celestial duels the ancient enemy to the death, with both Iron Man and Sunfire arriving too late and forced to mop up the sole survivor of the contest in ‘Battle: Tooth and Yellow Claw! (Confrontation Part 3)’…

After all that Eastern Armageddon, a change of pace was called for, so Stark takes in the San Diego Comicon in #72’s ‘Convention of Fear!’ (by Friedrich, Tuska & Colletta, from a plot by Barry Alfonso), only to find himself ambushed by fellow incognito attendees Whiplash, Man-Bull and The Melter – who are made an offer they should have refused by the ubiquitous Black Lama…

Next issue the Super-Villain War kicks into high gear with ‘Turnabout: A Most Foul Play!’ (illustrated by Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard & Jim Mooney and derived from a premise by letterer Tom Orzechowski).

After secret-sharing confidantes Pepper Potts-Hogan and her husband Happy settle a long-festering squabble with Tony at Stark International’s Manila plant, Iron Man returns to Vietnam and a deadly clash with the Crimson Dynamo in a hidden, high-tech jungle city which is subsequently razed to the ground by their explosive combat.

Iron Man #74’s ‘The MODOK Machine!’ (inked by Dick Ayers) brings the Black Lama’s contest to the fore as the Mad Thinker electronically overrides the Avenger’s armour and set helpless passenger Stark upon the malevolent, mutated master of Advanced Idea Mechanics…

Without autonomy, the Golden Gladiator is easily overwhelmed and ‘Slave to the Power Imperious!’ (inked by Chic Stone) sees him dragged back to the Thinker’s lair and laid low by a strange psychic hallucination even as MODOK finishes his cognitive co-combatant and apparently turns the still-enslaved steel-shod hero on his next opponent… Yellow Claw.

As this is happening, elsewhere radical terrorist Firebrand is somehow sharing Stark’s Black Lama-inspired “psycho-feedback” episodes…

The tale wraps on a twisty cliffhanger as the Claw destroys MODOK and his clockwork puppet Avenger, only to discover that the Thinker is not only still alive but still holds the real Iron Man captive.

That’s quite unfortunate as the following issue – #76 – blew its deadline and instead reprinted Iron Man #9 (represented here by just the cover) before Friedrich, Jones & Stone’s ‘I Cry: Revenge!’ finds the fighting-mad hero breaking free of the Thinker’s control, just as Black Lama teleports the Claw in to finish his final felonious opponent…

Still extremely ticked off, the Armoured Avenger takes on all comers but is ambushed by the late-arriving Firebrand who has been psionically drawn into the ongoing melee.

As Iron Man goes down, the Lama declares non-contestant Firebrand the ultimate victor, explaining he has voyaged from an alternate universe before duping the unstable and uncaring flaming rabble-rouser into re-crossing the dimensional void with him…

Although a certifiable maniac and cold-blooded killer, Firebrand is Roxie Gilbert’s brother and the groggily reviving Iron Man feels honour-bound to follow him through the rapidly closing portal to elsewhere…

Deadline problems persisted, however, and the next two issues are both hasty fill-in tales, beginning with #78’s ‘Long Time Gone’ – by Bill Mantlo, Tuska & Vince Colletta – which harks back to the Avenger’s early days and a mission during the Vietnam war which first brought home the cost in blood and misery Stark’s munitions building had caused. IM #79 shares ‘Midnite on Murder Mountain!’ (Friedrich, Tuska & Colletta) wherein the hero emphatically ends the scientific abominations wrought by deranged geneticist and determined mind-swapper Professor Kurakill…

At last, Iron Man #80 returned to the ongoing inter-dimensional saga as Mission into Madness!’ – Friedrich, Stone & Colletta – follows the multiversal voyagers to a very different America where warring kingdoms and principalities jostle for prestige, position and power.

Here the Lama is revealed as King Jerald of Grand Rapid: a ruler under threat from outside invaders and insidious usurpers within. He’d come to our Earth looking for powerful allies but had not realised that travel to other realms slowly drives non-indigenous residents completely crazy…

With the mind-warp effect already destabilising Iron Man and Firebrand, it’s fortunate that treacherous Baroness Rockler makes her move to kill the returned Jerald immediately, and the Earthlings are quickly embroiled in a cataclysmic ‘War of the Mind-Dragons!’ before turning on each other and fleeing the devastated kingdom for the less psychologically hazardous environs of their homeworld…

Closing the covers on this stellar compilation are Gil Kane’s stellar front to all-reprint Giant-Size Iron Man #1 and a short gallery of original art covers and pages by Kane, Jones & Pollard.

With this volume Marvel fully embedded itself in the camp of the young and the restless who experienced at first hand and every day the social upheaval America was undergoing. Their rebellious teen sensibility and increased political conscience permeated forthcoming publications as the core audience grew beyond Flower Power protests into a generation of acutely aware activists. Future tales would increasingly bring reformed and repentant capitalist Stark into many unexpected and outrageous situations…

These Fights ‘n’ Tights classics are amongst the most underrated tales of the period and are well worth your time, consideration and cold cash…
© 1974, 1975, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Bugle Boy


By Alexandre Clérisse, translated by Edward Gauvin (Europe Comics)
No ISBN – digital only edition

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: What All Those War Stories Really Mean… 9/10

The dead don’t care what we do, but how we treat and remember them defines who we are as a culture and species. Inspired by a true story, Trompe la mort was first published in 2009, offering a humorous, whimsical tone to what must have been a pretty depressing situation…

Translated by digital-only Europe Comics, The Bugle Boy is a story of debts paid and brothers-in-arms honoured, which begins as an ageing veteran decides to settle some long outstanding affairs…

Marcel is a surviving participant of WWII, and as a surly bugger of 85-years vintage, is inexplicably moved by an impending notion to sort out unfinished business before he joins the rest of his generation in the boneyard.

Back in the war, he was a dashing young company bugler and is now increasingly unsettled at the events which forced him to bury his beloved instrument on a battlefield. As memories of those fraught, often humiliating days keep coming to him, the gritty old sod, with his feisty and unwillingly dutiful granddaughter Andrea, embark on an unpleasant, cross-country bus trek to the distant rural region where – in 1940 – he and his comrades fought their first and last battle.
Before being captured, the idealistic lad he was buried that bugle before it could be employed as it should, and now all he can think of is getting it back.

Sadly, once all the tedious and painful travails of the journey are completed, Marcel has a still-more difficult problem to solve. The instrument has been already found and turned by the Mayor into a tourist-trap badge of French patriotism. It’s grandly installed in the local town museum – which is now dedicated to bugles of all sorts – as the heart and soul of the town’s rebirth. With elections coming, the wily demagogue is planning on exploiting it and the glorious – if comfortably mis-defined – past, as the clarion symbols of his re-election campaign. He has no intention of returning it to its rightful owner.

But not if Marcel and Andrea have anything to say about it…

Writer/artist Alexandre Clérisse was born in 1980 and began seriously making comics in 1999 through a series of experimental fanzines. In 2002 he graduated from EESI school of Visual Arts in Angoulême – where he still resides – and began releasing such superbly readable Bande Dessinee as Jazz Club, Souvenir de l’empire de l’atome (seen in English as IDW’s Atomic Empire) and all-ages Seek-&-Find book Now Playing

Heartwarming and irreverent, poignant and deeply funny, The Bugle Boy has all the force and gently subversive wit of classic Dad’s Army episodes and cannot fail to hit home with any reader possessing grandparents who remember and kids who wonder what war is really like…
© 2019 – Dargaud – Clérisse. All rights reserved.

Mata Hari


By Emma Beeby, Ariela Kristantina, with Pat Masioni & Sal Cipriano (Berger Books/Dark Horse)
ISBN: 987-1-50670-561-3(TPB) eISBN: 987-1-50670-590-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because History is Never Straightforward or Straitlaced… 9/10

Until relatively recently (some would argue that should read “hopefully soon”), History has never really treated women well or even fairly. When not obscured, sidelined or just written out, they have been cruelly misunderstood and misrepresented.

Moreover, we’re all painfully aware these days, a bold lie or convenient fabrication has far more veracity that simple, muddled, messy truth.

Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” MacLeod (née Zelle) was born on August 7th 1876 in Leeuwarden, in the Dutch Netherlands, to milliner and later industrialist Adam Zelle. She was the eldest of four children and raised in wealth until her father lost it. Her life became more troubled and remarkable after that, before she died on 15th October 1917 in front of a French Firing Squad.

In between, she had married, lived in the East Indies, had children she never really knew and remade herself as a rather scandalous dancer and performer. Margreet adopted the stage name Mata Hari (it means “eye of the dawn” in Malay) and her gifts led to her becoming a courtesan in the highest circles of privileged society, with princes, ambassadors, tycoons and generals all clamouring for her attention. She was also courted by some countries – including France and Great Britain – to act as an espionage operative…

After a chequered life during a period when European society welcomed strong independent women, she was accused on meagre evidence of spying for the Germans during the Great War, and convicted.

Deemed to have caused the death of 50,000 men, and the moral ruination of countless others, Mata Hari has become the purest and most enduring symbol of the deadly, cunning femme fatale…

In the last few decades, serious historical investigation has cast a rather different, and far fairer complexion on the mythical spy in film, song, ballet, books, musicals and all arenas of popular culture, none better than an imaginative 5-issue miniseries from Dark Horse’s Berger Books imprint, a collaboration of writer Emma Beeby (Judge Dredd, Doctor Who, Judge Anderson), artist Ariela Kristantina (Wolverine: The Logan Legacy, Deep State, Insexts), colourist Pat Masioni and letterer Sal Cipriano.

Blending hard fact with emotive supposition and informed extrapolation, the sorry episode unfolds in the flashbacks and daydreams of a prisoner held at the Saint-Lazare Prison for Prostitutes in Paris in October 1917. Opening chapter ‘Bare Faced’ introduces Margreet as she desperately struggles to complete a book that will tell her story in her own words…

Against a backdrop of political and military manipulation resolved to make an example of her, ‘Bare Breast’ details her disastrous, life changing marriage and its terrible consequences whilst ‘Bare Heart’ relates her fight back to independence and notoriety after which ‘Bare Teeth’ moves on to the war and the great love for a Russian soldier that leads to her ultimate downfall in ‘Bare All’…

Real life doesn’t work the way narrative would like and the people there aren’t actors. This contemplative tale (packed with documentary photos and available in paperback and digital formats) carefully acknowledges that frustrating complexity in an account scrupulously devoid of heroes and outright villains whilst exposing centuries of institutionalised injustice – in an extremely entertaining manner. It closes with a series of textual Codas (offering many more intimate photos of the woman and her times) with ‘Mata Hari’s Conviction’ relating the oddities and strange events regarding the disposal of her body and an authorial opinion by Beeby in ‘Was Mata Hari a Martyr?’…

In both word and imagery, Mata Hari is a potent, beguiling, evocative and uncompromising retelling of a murky and long-misconceived historical moment that any fan of history and lover of comics will adore…
Mata Hari text and illustrations © 2019 Emma Beeby and Ariela Kristantina. All rights reserved.

The Complete Aces High issues 1-5 (EC Archives)


By Irv Werstein, Carl Wessler, Jack Oleck, George Evans, Jack Davis, Bernie Krigstein & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-308-4 (HB) eISBN 978-1-50670-727-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Compelling Combat Comics Classics… 9/10

No smug commentary today, just appropriate business.
Legendary imprint EC Comics began in 1944 when comicbook pioneer Max Gaines sold the superhero properties of his All-American Comics company to half-sister National/DC.

Gaines only retained Picture Stories from the Bible. His plan was to produce a line of Educational Comics with schools and church groups his major target market. He latterly augmented his core title with Picture Stories from American History, Picture Stories from Science and Picture Stories from World History.

Sadly, the worthy project was already struggling badly when he died in a boating accident in 1947.

His son William was dragged out of college and into the family business and – with much support and encouragement from unsung hero Sol Cohen (who held the company together until the initially unwilling Bill Gaines abandoned his dreams of a career in chemistry) – transformed the ailing enterprise into Entertaining Comics

After some tentative false starts and abortive experiments, Gaines and his multi-talented associate Al Feldstein settled into a bold and impressive publishing strategy, utilising the most gifted illustrators in the field to tell a “New Trend” of stories aimed at an older and more discerning readership.

From 1950-1954 EC was the most innovative and influential publisher in America, dominating the anthologised genres of crime, horror, war and science fiction. Moreover, under the auspices of writer, artist and editor Harvey Kurtzman, the company introduced an entirely new beast: the satirical comicbook…

Kurtzman was hired to supplement the workforce on the horror titles but wasn’t keen on the genre and instead suggested a new action-adventure title. The result was Two-Fisted Tales which began with issue #18 as an anthology of rip-snorting, he-man dramas. However, with America embroiled in a military “police action” in Korea, the title soon became primarily a war comic and was rapidly augmented by a second, Frontline Combat.

Also written and edited by Kurtzman, who assiduously laid-out and meticulously designed every story, it made for great entertainment and a unifying authorial voice but was frequently a cause of friction with his many artists.

In keeping with the spirit of the New Trend, these war stories were not bombastic, jingoistic fantasies for glory-hungry little boys, but rather subtly subversive examinations of the cost of conflict which highlighted the madness, futility and senseless, pointless waste of it all…

When the McCarthy-era anti-comics crusade of the 1950s crushed the industry and gutted EC output by effectively banning horror, crime, gore, political commentary and social justice, Gaines and Feldstein retrenched: releasing experimental titles under the umbrella of a “New Direction”.

Kurtzman’s Mad – which had defined a whole new genre, bequeathing unto America Popular Satire – converted into a monochrome magazine, safely distancing the outrageously brilliant comedic publication from the fall-out caused by the socio-political witch-hunt which eventually killed all EC’s other titles…

Denied a soapbox to address social ills, Gaines’ new books concentrated on intrigue, adventure and drama informed by new modern fascinations: either intellectual or mass entertainment fads.

Impact, Extra!, Piracy and Valor all clearly reflected themes of contemporary film and TV, whilst Psychoanalysis and M.D. targeted mature audiences through the growing genre of medical dramas. Incredible Science Fiction bridged the transition from old range to new line up whilst also tapping into movie trends. Final offering Aces High carried on a tradition of breathtaking war comics, but omitted ethical commentary to concentrate on aviation sagas dedicated to the myth of honourable combat conducted between knights of the skies…

Although still graced with stunningly beautiful artwork and thoughtful writing, the New Direction titles couldn’t find an audience and died within a year.

This volume of Dark Horse’s EC Archives gathers the entire run of Aces High (#1-5, spanning March to December 1955) gathering some of the most gorgeous art of the era – or ever – but with scripts curtailed by the newly instituted Comics Code Authority and Gaines’ own sense of financial survival, that compelling edge of social crusading was lost…

The fraught history of the company is outlined here in an informative Introduction by Grant Geissman after which Howard Chaykin’s Foreword provides keen insights into the times and the gifted creators involved before the stories begin. Sadly, as is often the case, despite diligent efforts by researchers and historians, many of these tales have no writing credit, but c’est la vie, non?

Aces High was very much a star vehicle slanted towards the interests and expertise of aviation aficionado George Evans who leads off the first issue – after editorial ‘Prop Wash’ – with ‘The Way it Was’, scripted by Irv Werstein. With an WWI veteran taking his grandson to an air show, Evans traces the history and development of his war in the air, emphasising the true cost in lives…

Uncredited prose feature ‘The Stork with Talons’ details the career of legendary aviator Charles Nungesser after which masterful Wally Wood delineates the history of Lieutenant Tom Pomeroy: a newly qualified combat pilot who can’t understand why his fellow airmen consider him ‘The Outsider’

Bernie Krigstein was one of the most innovative illustrators in comics – as well as commercial and gallery art – and in ‘The Mascot’ captures the air of hopeful fervour as an American squadron in France realise that the stray mutt they’ve adopted can predict who will not return from missions…

The premiere outing concludes with Carl Wessler & Jack Davis introducing ‘The New C.O.’ whose ideas of conduct are revolting but unarguably effective…

The second sortie opens with ‘Chivalry!’ by Wessler, Evans: crossing No-Man’s Land for a peek at the German view as a Jagdstaffel of decent, patriotic fliers must find a way to deal with new posting Lt. Horst Viegel, whose only consideration is adding to his kill-tally…

RAF legend Albert Ball is eulogised in text page ‘The Ace of Aces’ after which Krigstein limns a tale of ‘Revenge’ wherein a USAC captain hunts down the German flier who strafed Red Cross nurses and cost him his one true love…

Wessler & Wood detail the vagaries of luck afflicting a string of pilots assigned ‘Locker 9’ before prose page ‘Laughing Warrior’ précis’ the life of France’s greatest air ace Georges Guynemer before Jack Davis renders the devious saga of doctrinaire military martinet Major Trout whose quibbling antics in ‘Footnote’ have salutary, lifesaving underpinnings…

Aces High #3 takes wing with Oleck & Evans’ ‘The Rules’ as novice replacement Lt. Edward Dale disdains hour and fair play to become famous and pays the inevitable price, after which ‘Prop Wash’ reprints the letters of the many fans the comic book won whilst Krigstein’s ‘The Spy’ offers a touch of the old EC magic as American pilots cast suspicious eyes on a fellow squadron member who has a German name…

A tragic pilot-training washout reduced to the role of spanner-wielding ‘Greasemonkey’ redeems himself in a superb Wood rendered yarn before prose fiction ‘The Acid Test’ (with a grizzled raddled veteran having to deal with his baby brother joining the squadron) segues into a gleeful, yet dogged battle of wills between an established ace and a cocky replacement pilot over ‘The Case of Champagne’ by Wessler & Davis.

Jack Oleck & Evans lead off #4 as ‘The Green Kids’ sees a daily argument over sending raw recruits into combat changes complexion after angry, embittered Flight Leader Joseph Caswell is promoted to Squadron Commander and must now decide who flies and who doesn’t..

More postal praise in ‘Prop Wash’ leads to a wry examination of superstition in Wessler & Krigstein’s ’The Good Luck Piece’ after which the writer teams with Wood for ‘The Novice and the Ace’ wherein a cunning psychological trick unnerves an entire US squadron… until a callow newcomer takes a chance…

Prose fiction ‘The Last Laugh’ details the last mistake of an escaping German pilot, before Wessler & Davis reveal the tribulations of an American mechanic hungry to fly against the Boche in ‘Home Again’

The short-lived series came to a close with #5, leading with Oleck & Evans’ ’C’est La Guerre!’ as American pilots play dice to decide who goes on a suicide mission after which prose page ‘Airman Unknown’ details how a veteran of the Lafayette Escadrille sought to identify and repatriate the bodies of lost American fliers.

Breaking with tradition, this issue includes episodes from WWII, beginning with the Davis-illumined ‘Iron Man!’ and P-47 pilot Fred Allison who believes he can’t be shot down, after which Wessler & Krigstein take us back to the Great War for ‘Spads Were Trump’.

Here valiant American Lt. Walt Muller conceals a deeply personal reason for avoiding combat against German Ace the Red Eagle…

An incongruous prose review and guide of film and record releases, ‘The Entertainment Box’ leads into a Wood tour de force to end the issue and series. ‘Ordeal’ relates the astounding record of P-40 pilot Lt. Stoner against the Japanese in the Pacific Theatre of War, before exposing the one thing he cannot face…

The covers – by Evans – have all been restored from the masterful colour guides of original colourist Marie Severin, resulting – with modern reproduction techniques – in a sequence of graphic poems of unsurpassed beauty, whilst original house ads and commercial pages from the period tantalise in a way no other ads ever could, completing a nostalgic experience like no other.

The New Direction was a last hurrah for the kind of literate, mature comics Gaines wanted to publish. When they failed, he concentrated on Mad magazine and satire’s gain was comics’ loss. Now you have the chance to vicariously relive those times and trends, I strongly suggest that whether you are an aged EC Fan-Addict or nervous newbie, this is a book no comics aficionado can afford to miss…
© 1955, 2017 William M. Gaines Agent, Inc. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2017 Grant Geissman.

Captain Marvel Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Steve Englehart, Mike Friedrich, Chris Claremont, Jim Starlin, Alfredo Alcala, Al Milgrom & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5877-6 (HB)

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

In 1968, upstart Marvel was in the ascendant. Their sales were rapidly overtaking industry leaders National/DC and Gold Key Comics and, having secured a new distributor which would allow them to expand their list of titles exponentially, the company was about to undertake a creative expansion of unparalleled proportions.

Once each individual star of “twin-books” Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales was awarded their own title, the House of Ideas just kept on going. In progress was a publishing plan which sought to take conceptual possession of the word “Marvel” through both reprint series like Marvel Tales, Marvel Collector’s Items Classics and Marvel Super-Heroes. Eventually, showcase titles such as Marvel Premiere, Marvel Spotlight and Marvel Feature also proudly trumpeted the name, so another dead-cert idea was to publish an actual hero named for the company – and preferably one with some ready-made cachet and pedigree as well.

After the infamous DC/Fawcett copyright court case of the 1940s-1950s, the prestigious designation Captain Marveldisappeared from newsstands. In 1967, during the “Camp” craze superhero boom generated by the Batman TV series, publisher MLF secured rights to the name and produced a number of giant-sized comics featuring an intelligent robot able to divide his body into segments and shoot lasers from his eyes.

Quirky, charming and devised by the legendary Carl Burgos (creator of the Golden Age Human Torch), the series nevertheless failed to attract a large following in that flamboyantly flooded marketplace and on its demise the name was quickly snapped up by Marvel Comics Group.

Marvel Super-Heroes was a brand new title: it had been reconfigured from double-sized reprint title Fantasy Masterpieces, which comprised vintage monster-mystery tales and Golden Age Timely Comics classics, but with the twelfth issue it added a showcase section for characters without homes such as Medusa, Ka-Zar, Black Knight and Doctor Doom, plus new concepts like Guardians of the Galaxy and Phantom Eagle to try out in all-new stories.

To start the ball rolling, the title headlined an alien spy sent to Earth from the Kree Galaxy. He held a Captain’s rank and his name was Mar-Vell.

After two appearances, Captain Marvel catapulted straight into his own title and began a rather hit-and-miss career, battling spies, aliens, costumed cut-ups such as Sub-Mariner, Mad Thinker and Iron Man. Most frequently, however, he clashed with elements of his own rapaciously colonialist race – such as imperial investigative powerhouse Ronan the Accuser – all the while slowly switching allegiances from the militaristic Kree to the noble, freedom-loving denizens of Earth.

Disguised as NASA scientist Walter Lawson, he infiltrated a US missile base and grew closer to security chief Carol Danvers, gradually going native even as he was constantly scrutinised by his ominously orbiting commanding officer Colonel Yon-Rogg – Mar-Vell’s ruthless rival for the love of the teeming starship’s medical officer Una

The impossible situation came to a head when Mar-Vell gave his life to save the empire from overthrow from within. As a reward, vast, immortal hive-mind the Supreme Intelligence inextricably bonded the expiring warrior with voice-of-a-generation and professional side-kick Rick Jones who – just like Billy Batson (the naïve lad who turned into the original Fawcett Captain Marvel by shouting “Shazam!”) – switched places with a mighty adult hero whenever danger loomed.

By striking a pair of ancient, wrist worn “Nega-bands” together they could temporarily trade atoms: one active in our universe whilst the other floated, a ghostly untouchable, ineffectual voyeur to events glimpsed from the ghastly anti-matter Negative Zone.

The Captain was an alien lost on Earth, a defector from the militaristic Kree who fought for humanity three hours at a time, atomically chained to Rick by mysterious wristbands which enabled them to share the same space in our universe, but whenever one was active here the other was trapped in a terrifying isolated antimatter hell…

The book was cancelled soon after that… only to return some more!

A series which would not die, Captain Marvel returned again in the summer of 1972 for another shot at stardom and intellectual property rights security and secured its place when Jim Starlin used the title to wage a cosmic war with his greatest creation: the Mad Titan Thanos.

This fourth stellar Masterworks compilation (available in luxurious hardback and far-ranging eBook formats and spanning September 1972 to September 1976 whilst gathering Captain Marvel #34-46) details what happens after the ultimate villain was defeated and seemingly killed.
It is preceded by an Introduction by incoming scripter Steve Englehart who – with co-plotter and illustrator Al Milgrom – charted an even more cosmic course for the Good Captain…

With the universe saved and restored, Starlin’s run ended on a relatively minor note in Captain Marvel #34 as ‘Blown Away!’ – plotted by Jim, inked by Jack Abel and dialogued by Englehart – explored the day after doomsday.

As Rick tries to revive his on-again, off-again musical career, newly extant secret cabal the Lunatic Legion despatches Nitro, the Exploding Man to acquire a canister of nerve gas from an Air Force base where Carol Danvers is Chief of Security…

Although the Protector of the Universe defeats Nitro, he succumbs to the deadly toxin which escapes its canister in the explosive melee. From this exposure he would eventually contract the cancer that killed him – as depicted in Marvel’s first Graphic Novel, The Death of Captain Marvel – but that’s a tale for a different review…

Issue #35 finds Mar-Vell all but lifeless in ‘Deadly Genesis’ (Englehart, dialoguer Mike Friedrich & artist Alfredo Alcala). Simultaneously, Rick languishes in the Negative Zone where he is attacked by insectoid monster Annihilus …until a barely-remembered 3-hour time-limit automatically switches his body with the comatose Kree hero.

Later, as Rick’s manager Mordecai Boggs drives him to a gig, Rick’s consciousness slips into the N-Zone and animates Mar-Vell’s unresponsive body to escape Annihilus, and the lad realises this new power is merely one tactic in a cunning plan devised by the duplicitous, devious Supreme Intelligence…

Meanwhile on Earth, Rick’s vacated body has been taken to hospital where old friends Ant-Man and the Wasp are fortuitously visiting when the Living Laser attacks. The villain has been artificially augmented by his new masters, but it’s not enough to stop the retired Avengers or prevent Rick reclaiming his body and using the Nega-bands to restore his bonded soul mate to their particular brand of normality…

At this time, deadline difficulties caught up with the title and #36 was reduced to running a reprint of his origin from Marvel Super-Heroes #12. This Essential edition only includes the foreboding 3-page bookend ‘Watching and Waiting’ by Englehart, Starlin, Alan Weiss & friends, before the saga properly relaunches in #37 with ‘Lift-Off!’ from Englehart, Milgrom & Klaus Janson.

Although Mar-Vell easily discerns that the Lunatic Legion’s attacks stem from the Moon, Rick insists on playing a gig before they set off. After bidding farewell to Mordecai and his sometime stage partner Dandy, they wisely prepare for their trip by outfitting the boy with an advanced spacesuit…

Mar-Vell blasts off but only makes it as far as the outer atmosphere before being attacked by another Lunatic agent. Cyborg Nimrod is no match for Kree firepower, however, and in the Neg-Zone implacable Annihilus endures a painful defeat when he again assaults Rick who joyously revels in the sheer power packed into his EVA gear…

Crisis averted, the bored, naive kid swallows a “vitamin” Dandy slipped him before departure and is transported on a trip unlike any he’s ever experienced. Tragically, as Mar-Vell reaches the air-filled lost city in the “Blue Area of the Moon” he too begins to experience bizarre hallucinations and is utterly unable to defend himself when the all-powerful Watcher ambushes him…

The austere, aloof cosmic voyeur Uatu is part of an ancient, impossibly powerful race of immortal beings who observe all that occurs throughout the vast multiverse but never act on any of it. Non-interference is their fanatical doctrine, but Uatu has continually bent – if not broken – the adamantine rule ever since he debuted in Fantastic Four #13…

Now, somehow, the Legion have co-opted the legendarily neutral astral witness. Once Uatu defeats Mar-Vell, the demi-god despondently dumps his victim with the Lunatic Legion who are exposed as rebel, supremacist Kree plotting to overthrow the Supremor. Fundamentalists of the original race which assimilated the millions of other species, the colonially aggressive and racially purist Blue Kree plan to execute their captive who seemingly has ‘…No Way Out!’, but are unprepared for the closer psychic link which the hallucinations have forged between Earth kid and Kree captain…

With the insurgents defeated, Mar-Vell and Rick follow the repentant Uatu as he returns to his own distant world in #39 to voluntarily undergo ‘The Trial of the Watcher’

In the aftermath of that mind-bendingly bizarre proceeding, Rick and Mar-Vell are finally liberated from their comic bond. With both now independently existing in the positive-matter universe and able to return and leave the Negative Zone at will, their troubles seem over. They couldn’t be more wrong…

CM #40 shifts focus as ‘Rocky Mountain ‘Bye!’ (inked by Al McWilliams) reveals how the space-farers return to an Earth which has no real use for them. As Mar-Vell battles a deadly beast possessing the corpse of his first love Una, Rick finds his music career and even his beliefs are considered irrelevant and of no value. Equally heart-sore and dispirited, the former cellmates reunite and decide to travel to the stars together…

The first stop is Hala, capital of the Kree Empire and Mar-Vell’s birthworld as #41 reveals ‘Havoc on Homeworld!’ (Englehart, Milgrom, Bernie Wrightson, P. Craig Russell, Bob McLeod & Terry Austin) with the populace suddenly swept up in a race war against “Pinks” (human flesh-toned Kree mulattos like our hero).

Determined to warn the Supremor of the conflict and the schemes of the Lunatic Legion, the heroes are appalled to learn the strife has been actively instigated by the colossal mind-collective…

It transpires that, from his earliest moments in military service, Mar-Vell has been groomed by the Supremor to be its ultimate foe. As the ruthless amalgamation of military minds seeks to jump-start the development of the evolutionarily-stalled Kree, it desperately needs an enemy to contend against and grow strong…

Distracting his baffled, betrayed opponents with Ronan the Accuser, the Supreme Intelligence places one Nega-band on Rick and another on Mar-Vell and casually banishes them to the farthest reaches of the empire…

Issue #42 sees them deposited in an insane pastiche of Earth’s wild west mining towns and quickly embroiled in interstellar claim-jumping and a ‘Shoot-Out at the O.K. Space Station!’ (inks by Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito). As the Kree with a star on his chest lays down the law and has a showdown with the cosmically-charged Stranger, close by Drax the Destroyer is ravaging worlds and planetoids, slowly going insane for lack of purpose. Rick goes his own way and is almost fatally distracted by a beautiful girl nobody else can see…

Drax was created to kill Thanos, but since the Titan’s defeat – by someone else – the devastating construct has wandered the universe, slowly going crazy.

CM #43 shows how – unaware that Thanos still lives – the purposeless nemesis takes the opportunity to assuage his frustrations by attacking the hero who stole his glory in ‘Destroy! Destroy!’ (Englehart & Milgrom).

The epic clash ends in #44 as ‘Death Throws!’ sees the pointless conflict escalate until Rick’s imaginary friend intervenes and opens the Destroyer’s eyes…

With sanity restored all round, Mar-Vell then voyages to a Kree colony world ravaged by cyborgs and life-absorbing Null-Trons and discovers Supremor has been subtly acting to merge him and Rick into one puissant being to further his evolutionary agenda in ‘The Bi-Centennial!’

Forewarned, and with a small band of most unlikely allies, the cosmic conflict then wraps up in blockbusting fashion as Rick and Mar-Vell unite by not combining to defeat the Supremor in a battle ‘Only One Can Win!’ (scripted by Chris Claremont, and limned by Milgrom & Austin)…

This bombastic battle book of cosmic conflict and stellar spectacle also incorporates bonus treats in the form of the cover of all-reprint Giant-Size Captain Marvel #1, cover art from Ron Wilson & Giacoia and original artwork and colour guides from Starlin.

Captain Marvel was never the company’s most popular or successful character but the good stuff is amongst the very best the House of Ideas produced in its entire history.

If you want to see how good superhero comics can be, you’ll just have to take the rough with the smooth and who knows… you might see something that will blow your mind…
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Palace of Tears Part 1


By Michael Lomon, with Alice Mazzilli
No ISBN

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Old School Blockbuster Family Entertainment… 9/10

Those of you who get out to popular events are probably well aware that all this week the Thought Bubble Yorkshire Comic Art Festival is lighting up the North, and morphs into a massive Comic Con on Saturday and Sunday (9th and 10th November).

As well as all the usual wonderments, mega guest stars convivial and bon homie of such enterprises, Thought Bubble is very proud of the number of comics and graphic novels that use the event for a high-profile launch springboard.

If you have the opportunity, you should go. Take your friends and family too. They’ll have a great time and maybe see that you aren’t that weird – relatively speaking – after all…

One enterprising chap attending the celebration is artist, illustrator and Motion Graphics Designer Michael Lomon – who wearily balances the complex digital day job with an irresistible drive to create thrilling traditional adventures (in actual pen and ink, yet!) – will be there, launching in person his latest extravaganza The Palace of Tears Part 1.

Somewhere in times forgotten or yet to be experienced, a poor fisherman dredges up a strange casket which contains possible doom and potential untold wealth. After opening the ornate flotsam – and subsequently outwitting the arcane horror within – the fisherman is set upon a precarious path to riches, selling very special fish to the Sultan.

However, human nature being what it is, neither vendor nor consumer can leave well enough alone and the equanimous daily transaction soon comes fatally adrift…

Accused of wizardry and cast into a dungeon, the cunning angler is astounded when a most unusual liberator manifests in a blaze of destructive luminescence and goes on a cataclysmic rampage.
That’s when things start to get really interesting… and quite terrifying…

Derived from an ancient Jewish folk tale and originated previously as a webcomic, this scintillating science fantasy tome offers a stunning, suspenseful yet fast-paced romp visually informed by classical fairy tales such as the Arabian Nights and Sinbad, with lush, lavish artwork referencing the very best of Michael Kaluta, Charles Vess, Moebius and the cinematic exploits of Douglas Fairbanks. It’s frankly quite dazzling to behold…
Absorbing, charming and over far too soon for my impatient attentions, this a sheer delight you must experience for yourself: either by going to the Comic Con and shelling out or via the usual web-based emporia…
© 2019 Michael Lomon. All rights reserved.

Find out more about The Palace of Tears at and other fine products at www.michaellomon.com
Find out more about Thought Bubble Yorkshire Comic Art Festival at https://www.thoughtbubblefestival.com/

Batman Begins – the Movie and Other Tales of the Dark Knight


By Scott Beatty, Denny O’Neil, Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Bill Willingham, Kilian Plunkett, Dick Giordano, Rick Burchett, Scott McDaniel, Tom Fowler & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0440-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Bat Fun… 8/10

It looks like I’m just destined to be wrong. Do you remember flared jeans, or even bell-bottoms? From which time? As the 1970s gasped to a close I said that we’d never see those again. Horribly, tragically, I was wrong.

I was seven when the Batman TV show first aired, and I loved it. By the time I was nine I had learned the word ‘travesty’ and loathed the show with a passion. When it was all over and the “Camp” fallout had faded from my beloved comics, giving way to the likes of Frank Robbins, Denny O’Neil and the iconoclastic Neal Adams, I was in seventh heaven and praised pantheons of deities that I should never see ‘Batmania’ again. I was, of course, doubly wrong.

The Caped Crusader reconquered the world in 1989 and only the increasing imbecility of its movie sequels stopped that particular multimedia juggernaut. Now there’s a been a whole new sequence of films (some not half-bad – though that’s beside the point) spin-offs and a new iteration beyond that beckons. Each of these cinematic milestones generated its own host of print (and latterly, digital) tie in Bat Products.

Originally released in 2005, this crafty marriage of an inevitable “Official Movie Adaptation” of Batman Begins with a well-considered selection of thematically similar stories is one of the best I can recall and a nice prospect if you’re looking for a great read or ideal gift option…

The lead feature – creditably handled by Scott Beatty on script with Kilian Plunkett & Serge LaPointe illustrating – is an intensely readable reworking of the myth, so much so that I was able, for once, to stifle the small, shrill and incessant comic-fan voice that always screams “why do they keep mucking about with this?”, and “why isn’t the comic version good enough for those movie morons?”

I do, however, still question the modern hang-up with having to start from origin stories at all. Was Star Wars: A New Hope a relative flop because we didn’t know how Darth Vader got Laryngitis? Which Bond movie tells us how he got to be so mean and sardonic? Why can’t film-makers assume that an audience can deduce motivation without a brand-spanking-new road-map every time? Although to be painfully honest, most modern comics seem to be afflicted with this bug too…

Could it be that it’s simply a cheap way of adding weight to the villain du jour, who can then become a Motivating Force in the Birth of the Hero? Said baddies this time out are the Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul, but I’m not going to speak any more about the cinema or plot of a movie that’s already being superseded by this generation’s Gotham Guardian. Batman fans will have already passed judgement…

Accompanying the filmic iteration, and following a pin-up by Ruben Procopio, is ‘The Man Who Falls’ by the aforementioned O’Neil and veteran Bat-artist Dick Giordano and taken from Secret Origins of the World’s Greatest Heroes. This is a skilful, engaging comics retooling of the so-pliable natal legend, created to address the media mania around the 1989 movie.

Hard on its heels and prefaced by a pin-up courtesy of Bill Sienkiewicz comes one of the better stories of recent vintage. ‘Air Time’ is by Greg Rucka, Rick Burchett & Rodney Ramos from Detective Comics #757 in 2001. It’s a taut countdown thriller that in many ways presages the style adopted for the wonderful procedural series Gotham Central.

KReasons’ (Batman #604, 2002), by Ed Brubaker & Scott McDaniel, revisits Batman’s origins in a tale seeking to redefine his relationship to inimical amour Catwoman, before the volume concludes with the brilliant ’Urban Legend’ from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #168.

In a grim and unsettling tale of frailties, Tom Fowler illustrates a wickedly sharp Bill Willingham script stuffed with the dark humour and skewed sensibilities that made his Fables stories such a joy for grown-ups who love comics.

This is a smart package for any casual reader the films might send our way, with a strong thematic underpinning. In an era of streaming and ultra-rapid home release, I’m increasingly unsure of the merit of comic adaptations, but if you are into such things it’s probably best they’re done well, like here…
© 1989, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Who Killed Kenny? – 45 Cases to Solve


By Pera Comics (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-6811-2224-3 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Compelling Crime Cartooning… 8/10

There’s an irreverent, adult-oriented animated TV show about really unpleasant kids that’s quite popular around the world. It’s got a number of catch-phrases that people in the know often quote to each other. This book is nothing to do with that show in any way at all and besides, imitation as the cheapest sincerest form of flattery…

Seriously though, this tiny (130x 160 mm) hardback – or digital – diversion is as much game and quizbook as comics extravaganza, and although tipping its hat to the iconic South Park, is in fact a hugely popular fair play mystery game developed by cartoonist Alessandro Perugini and unleashed periodically on Instagram.

As “Pera Comics”, the artist explains it all in ‘Who is Pera’ and ‘Who is Kenny?’ but unless I’ve already convinced you to dash off and buy, I’ll blather on a bit and describe how the eponymous latter is a perpetual victim cast adrift in time and space and how each easily-accessible cartoon adventure finds him dead. From clues visual and verbal, participants must decide whether his fate is accident, suicide or murder. You get points for correct answers and rise up the rankings from Simple Agent through various Detective grades to, ultimately, a Pera Detective!

The eccentric exploits begin in ancient Rome with lengthy introductory adventure ‘The Ides of Kenny!’, to be followed by a flood of rapid-fire, funny, quirky brain-teasers such as ‘Who Killed Kenny? Devil or God?’, ‘Who Killed Kenny? Beethoven or Mozart’, ‘Who Killed Kenny? A, B, or C?’, ‘Homicide or Suicide?’, and ‘Who Killed Kenny? Zombie or Vampire?’.

The enjoyment and bloodletting never seem to end!
Deliriously daft, morbidly macabre and insanely addictive, this is a splendid treat for the easily bored with idle hands and will make for an ideal stocking-stuffer.
© 2018 Pera Comics/Tunué S.r.l. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.

Who Killed Kenny? will be published on November 14th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.
For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at nbmpub.com

V for Vendetta/V for Vendetta 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition



By Alan Moore & David Lloyd, with Tony Weare, Steve Whitaker, Siobhan Dodds & various (Vertigo)

ISBN: 978-1-4012-8500-5(30th Deluxe HB) 978-1-4012-0841-7(TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Groundbreaking, Life-Changing Comics Masterpiece… 10/10

Very few pieces of literature enter public consciousness and fewer still from the relatively young land of graphic narratives. Here’s one of the best…

The serial V for Vendetta began in 1982 in legendary British comics magazine Warrior. The deviously convoluted mystery play describes a highly individualistic resistance campaign conducted by an enigmatic flamboyant and ruthless “anarchist” against a fascistic British government which stumbles into power after a nuclear exchange destroyed all the bigger countries.

Or does it?

This is just as much a tale of intellectual and political awakening. Most events are seen (and the escalating situation unravels) through the eyes and experiences of Evey Hammond, a pathetic little nobody rescued from secret policemen – almost as an afterthought – by V during his first highly public exploit.

The sinisterly suspenseful series was originally presented in stark and stunning black & white, every chapter title beginning with a “v” word. Fans of classic British strip art revelled in occasional contributions from the wonderful Tony Weare (Matt Marriot, Pride of the Circus, Savage Splendour, The Colditz Story and much, much more) who fully illustrated the chapter dubbed ‘Vincent’ and also assisted master stylist David Lloyd in creating a masterpiece of daunting visual atmosphere throughout.

This was no mean feat as V – whilst dismantling with lethal efficiency the machineries of a totalitarian and ever vigilant State that constantly voiced its views that everything was better in the Good Old Days – declared himself the true guardian of lost or forgotten British culture. This demanded a phenomenal amount of research and vital trust that the readership would pick up on some pretty obscure references, both Verbal and Visual…

The then-controversial jump to colour (I, for one, would kill for a fully monochrome director’s cut edition of this saga) following DC’s appropriation of the saga was deftly handled by Lloyd himself, with the hued back-up of much-missed Steve Whitaker and Siobhan Dodds, whilst the relentless lettering of Alan Moore’s astounding script came courtesy of Jenny O’Connor, Steve Craddock & Elitta Fell.

And yes, pitiless protagonist V generally adopts the seeming of ultimate anti-authoritarian rebel Guido “Guy” Fawkes. His once-common masked vulpine visage was rescued from vintage obscurity for this tale: subsequently becoming a symbol and tool of anonymity for new generations of rebels, resisters and occupiers…

The subtle shadings of the large cast and the device of telling this from the point of view of the villains as much as the protagonists adds vast shades of meaning to this exploration of free will and oppression, and it’s still shocking to realise that the “hero” is too often indistinguishable from his opponents: philosophically or physically…

The collected book was released in the early 1990s, re-released to coincide with a movie adaptation and is now available in a snazzy hardback Deluxe edition.

Although temporarily reclaiming the image for good old Guy Fawkes night, this review is actually a paean of praise for our art form’s ultimate resistance tract and I would strongly suggest that if you are still uninformed and unentertained, you should the experience V as soon as viable. Moore & Lloyd made a magnificent beast and it should be viewed in all its glory, before vile politics ends us all…
© 1988, 1989, 1990, 2009, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 11


By Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Gerry Conway, Tony Isabella, Bob Brown, Gene Colan, Don Heck, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0346-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Unbeatable Fights ‘n’ Tights Fun… 8/10

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for much of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in very large part to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. He fought gangsters, a variety of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion, quipping and wisecracking his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody, quasi-religious metaphor he’s been seen as in latter years.

After spending years in a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page Murdock took up with Russian émigré and occasional client Natasha Romanoff, the infamous and notorious spy dubbed The Black Widow.

She was railroaded and framed for murder and prosecuted by Matt’s best friend and law partner Foggy Nelson before the legal eagle cleared her. Subsequently leaving New York with her for the wild wacky and West Coast, Matt joined prestigious San Francisco law firm Broderick & Sloan but adventure, disaster and intrigue sought out the Sightless Swashbuckler anywhere…

This eleventh hardback and eBook collection re-presents Daredevil #108-119, spanning March 1974 through March 1975, as well as Marvel Two-in-One #3, wherein twin storylines converged, and offers a heartfelt reminiscence eulogising unique authorial voice and much-missed scripter Steve Gerber in an effusive Introduction by sometime collaborator Mary Skrenes.

Following a period of cosmic intensity which saw the heroes battling aliens and monsters as part of the first war against Thanos, a new direction began in #108 after Daredevil rebukes the Widow for using increasingly excessive force on the thugs they stalked.

In ‘Cry… Beetle’ (by Gerber, Bob Brown & Paul Gulacy) their heated arguments are forcibly curtailed when Matt’s oldest friend – and current New York DA Foggy Nelson – is shot and she refuses to rush to his side with Murdock…

Back in the Big Apple for #109, Matt meets Foggy’s radical student sister Candace and learns of a plot by a mysterious criminal organisation. Black Spectre seek to steal government printing plates but rapidly en route to stop the raid, the Scarlet Swashbuckler is intercepted by a larcenous third party whose brutal interference allows the sinister plotters to abscond with the money-making plates…

Even the arrival of the cops can’t slow the bludgeoning battle against the Beetle in ‘Dying for Dollar$!’ (Brown & Heck), but as the exo-skeletoned thugs breaks away in Manhattan, back in San Francisco Natasha is attacked by a terrifying albino mutant called Nekra, Priestess of Darkness, who tries to forcibly recruit her into Black Spectre.

After tracking down and defeating the Beetle, Daredevil meets Africa-based hero Shanna the She-Devil, unaware that the fiery American ex-pat is back seeking bloody vengeance against the same enemies who have attacked Foggy, Natasha and the US economy…

The next chapter came in Marvel Two-in-One #3 (May 1974, by Gerber, Sal Buscema & Joe Sinnott), providing a peek ‘Inside Black Spectre!’ as destabilising attacks on US prosperity and culture foment riot in the streets of the beleaguered nation. Following separate clue trails, the Thing links up with the Man without Fear to invade the cabal’s aerial HQ but are improbably overcome soon after discovering the Black Widow has defected to the rebels…

Daredevil #110 sees the return of Gene Colan – inked by Frank Chiaramonte – as the perfidious plot further develops in ‘Birthright!’, revealing Black Spectre is an exclusively female-staffed organisation, led by a pheromone-fuelled male mutant called Mandrill.

One of the first “Children of the Atom”, the ape-like creature had suffered appalling abuse and rejection until finding the equally ostracised Nekra. Once they met and realised their combined power, they swore to make America pay…

‘Sword of the Samurai!’ (Brown & Jim Mooney) in issue #111 opens with DD and Shanna attacked by a monstrous Japanese warrior even as the She-Devil at last discloses her own tragic reasons for hunting Nekra and Mandrill. When she too is taken by Black Spectre – who want to dissect her to discover how she can resist Mandrill’s influence – DD is again attacked by the outrageously powerful sword-wielding Silver Samurai

Triumphing over impossible odds, DD then infiltrates the cabal’s flying fortress in #112 before spectacular concluding with ‘Death of a Nation?’ (illustrated by Colan & Frank Giacoia) which finds the mutant duo seemingly achieving their ultimate goal by desecrating the White House and temporarily taking (symbolic) control of America.

…But only until Shanna, a freshly-liberated Natasha and fighting mad Man without Fear marshal their utmost resources…

Even with the epic over, Gerber still kept popping away at contemporary socio-political issues, as with #113’s ‘When Strikes the Gladiator!’ – illustrated by Brown & Vince Colletta – which opens with the Black Widow calling it a day, continues with Candace Nelson arrested for treason, teases with her then being kidnapped by one of DD’s most bloodthirsty foes and climaxes with the creation of a new major villain and an attack by one of Marvel’s most controversial monster heroes…

Ted Sallis was a government scientist hired to recreate the Super-Soldier serum that turned a puny, 4-F volunteer into Captain America. Due to corporate interference and what we today call “mission creep”, the project metamorphosed into a fall-back plan to turn humans into monstrous beings able to thrive in the most polluted of toxic environments…

When Sallis was subsequently captured by spies and consumed his serum to stop them from stealing it, he was transformed into a horrific mindless Man-Thing and vanished into the swamps of Florida…

Candace, an idealistic journalism student, had uncovered illicit links between Big Business, her own university and the Military’s misuse of public funds in regard to the Sallis Project, and when she attempted to blow the whistle, the government decided to shut her up. More worryingly, sinister scientific mastermind Death-Stalker imagined far more profitable uses for a solution that made unkillable monsters…

Trailing Candy’s abductors to Citrusville, Florida, Daredevil is ambushed by Gladiator and his macabre senior partner, but saved after a furious fracas by the mysterious muck-monster in #114’s ironically entitled ‘A Quiet Night in the Swamp!’ (Brown & Colletta). Deathstalker unfortunately escapes, returning to New York where he tries to kill Foggy and restart the clandestine Sallis Project.

Even though DD foils the maniac in #115’s ‘Death Stalks the City!’, the staggering duel ends inconclusively and the potential mass-murderer’s body cannot be found…

Colan & Colletta reunited for ‘Two Flew Over the Owl’s Nest!’ wherein Daredevil jets back to San Francisco in search of reconciliation with Natasha, only to blunder into the latest criminal enterprise of one of his oldest enemies. This time however, The Owl isn’t waiting to be found and launches an all-out attack on the unsuspecting and barely reconciled heroic couple.

Chris Claremont scripted the conclusion over Gerber’s plot, with Brown & Colletta back on the art as Natasha and She-Devil Shanna desperately hunt for the missing Man without Fear, before the avian arch-criminal can add him to a pile of purloined personalities trapped in his diabolical computerised ‘Mind Tap!’

With Gerber moving on to other projects, a little messy creative shuffling results in ‘Circus Spelled Sideways is Death!’ (#118 by Gerry Conway, Don Heck & Colletta). Here Daredevil leaves Natasha, resettles in New York and promptly battles the infamous but always-inept Circus of Crime and their latest star turn – a bat-controlling masked nut called Blackwing, after which Tony Isabella takes the authorial reins and end this outing with a clever piece of sentimental back-writing in ‘They’re Tearing Down Fogwell’s Gym!’ – rendered by Brown & Heck.

As Murdock negotiates a plea deal for Candace, the man who trained his boxer father Battling Jack Murdock comes by with a little problem. It seems a crazy crooked doctor is offering an impossible muscle and density boosting treatment that turns bantamweight pugilists into unstoppable rock-hard giant monsters…

Addling lustre to the proceedings, this tome also includes contemporary house ads and a wealth of original art page by Brown, Gulacy, Heck, Colan, Chiaramonte, Colletta & Mooney, plus pre-production-amended cover art.

As the social upheaval of the 1960s and early 1970s receded, the impressively earnest but often strident material was gradually replaced by fabulous fantasy tales strongly suggesting the true potential of Daredevil was in reach. These classic adventures are dramatic delights no action fan can afford to miss.
© 1974, 1975, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.