Back Issues [Sonic CDay]: The Sonic Terminator


Sonic the Hedgehog CD (Sonic Team, 1993) released on this day back in 1993. produced alongside the blockbuster Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992), Sonic CD expanded upon the Blue Blur’s original debut title with lush graphics, a time travel mechanic, gorgeous anime cutscnes, and by introducing players to Metal Sonic (one of Sonic’s most popular and enduring rivals) and Amy Rose. Considered by many to be one of the best of the classic Sonic titles, Sonic CD might not be one of my favourites but it’s still a classic in it’s own right and worth a bit of celebration.


Story Title: “The Sonic Terminator (Part 1 to 5)”
Published: 29 April 1994 to 24 June 1994
Writer: Nigel Kitching
Artist: Richard Elson

The Background:
After Sonic the Hedgehog catapulted to mainstream success and helped SEGA to usurp Nintendo’s position at the top of the videogame industry, SEGA were quick to capitalise on Sonic’s popularity not just with videogames but also a slew of merchandise, including cartoons and comic books. About six months after Archie Comics began publishing a weird amalgamation of the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993 to 1996) and Sonic the Hedgehog/SatAM (1993 to 1994) cartoons, United Kingdom publisher Fleetway Editions Limited began publishing “Britain’s Official SEGA Comic”, Sonic the Comic (StC), a fortnightly publication that I collected diligently until its unfortunate end.

StC was built upon many different competing interpretations of Sonic’s lore.

Though pulling much of its lore from the now defunct Mobius and Doctor Ovi Kintobor storyline that was prevalent outside of Japan, StC was its own beast entirely and quickly veered away from the source material to recast Sonic the a mean-spirited leader of a gang of Freedom Fighters made up of both videogame characters and anthropomorphic characters adapted from the videogames. Like the Archie comics, StC often included a few very loose adaptations of the videogames, though these were often truncated or took the very basic idea of the source material and adapted it to fit with its noticeably different lore. Their adaptation of Sonic CD was no different, renaming Metal Sonic to Metallix and introducing one of the comic’s more dangerous and persistent secondary antagonists.

The Review:
“The Sonic Terminator” begins with the dramatic and violent death of Sonic the Hedgehog! Not to worry, though, this is simply a “practice robot” that was trashed by a blindly fast, electrically-charged figure that is kept in the shadows and only vaguely hinted at. Both Doctor Ivo Robotnik (who, at this point, was directly modelled on the character’s look from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog) and his assistant, Grimer, are pleased as punch with the results of this final test and prepare to send their new creation out to kill the real Sonic. Speaking of whom, Sonic is currently in the Emerald Hill Zone, where Robotnik’s Troopers (basically StC’s version of Swat-Bots in that they are humanoid robots that Sonic is able to smash without holding back as, unlike Badniks, they’re not powered by woodland critters) are arresting an entire village. Despite the concerns of his fellow Freedom Fighters (Porker Lewis, Johnny Lightfoot, Amy Rose, and Miles “Tails” Prower), Sonic rushes in to save the villagers and the entire gang winds up captured as a result, much to Johnny’s chagrin. Sonic, however, retains his steadfast cocky attitude; even when they come face-to-face with Trusk, the captain of the prison ship, and are told that they are being taken directly to Robotnik’s Badnik processing plant at the Veg-O-Fortress, Sonic simply yawns with boredom.

The first two issues are more concerned with a side plot involving the Sky Pirates.

This turns out to be because Sonic has some formidable backup on hand in the form of Captain Plunder and his Sky Pirates, a group of mercenaries and…well, pirates…who Sonic encountered in the Mystic Cave Zone in a previous issue. Thanks to Captain Plunder, Trusk is captured and the prisoners are freed but Porker accidentally lets slip to Filch the Poltergeist where Sonic’s cache of Chaos Emeralds is hidden and the pirates speed off the steal the booty. However, Sonic and the gang are easily able to follow them to North Cave and a fight breaks out; although Sonic is able to incapacitate most of Captain Plunder’s crew using his Super Spin Attack and both Amy and Tails are able to fight them off with their crossbow and a rock, respectively, Captain Plunder gets the upper hand when he takes Tails hostage. This, of course, earns Tails Sonic’s exasperated disdain (not only is StC-Sonic incredibly arrogant, pig-headed, and rude, he also has a tendency to insult his closest friends and constantly degrades Tails with the nickname “Pixel Brain”. It’s actually pretty fantastic to see him be such a snarky asshole all the time) and he is forced to allow Captain Plunder to take the six Chaos Emeralds.

Metallix is immediately established as a fearsome and merciless opponent.

Amusingly, however, rather than the evil energy of the Chaos Emeralds augmenting the Sky Pirates’ disreputable demeanours, they actually have the opposite effect since they absorb evil rather than radiate it and, as a result, Sonic is easily able to retrieve the gems from the now docile (and hippy-like) thieves. This happy ending, however, is mired in the dramatic reveal of StC’s version of Metal Sonic, Metallix, which attacks the Emerald Hill Zone with destructive energy blasts from its stomach laser and demands Sonic’s presence for “extermination”. “Part 3” of the story continues this threat and finally gets around to actually adapting the story of Sonic CD by having Metallix kidnap Amy to lure Sonic the Never Lake; although Sonic is busy playing Marxio Brothers, and despite his grouchy nature, he immediately rushes over to Never Lake and is shocked to find the forest that is usually growing there is gone and that the Miracle Planet has been transformed into a mechanical hellscape. After rescuing Amy from atop a steep column of rock, he snaps at her to cut out the hero worship and tell him what’s been going on. She manages to tell him that Dr. Robotnik has chained the Miracle Planet to Never Lake and transformed it into his newest base before any further exposition is rudely interrupted by Metallix.

Metallix takes Amy to the Miracle Planet and they are trapped there, cut off from greater Mobius.

Over the course of a few action-packed panels, a fight breaks out between Sonic and his unusually loquacious doppelgänger; Metallix tosses boulders at Sonic, all of which he is able to expertly hop over and burrow through, but he is surprised by the robot’s chest laser. The two them battle so fast and so aggressively that neither Amy, nor the reader, are able to make out the action. In the aftermath, Metallix emerges from the dust and smoke as the apparent victor before collapsing into shutdown. Sonic, battered and weary, still finds the energy to insult Amy but, while he appears to have defeated his robotic counterpart, Metallix hits him with a cheap shot and takes Amy to the Miracle Planet as “live bait” and the unimpressed Sonic races off in pursuit. By the time the Freedom Fighters arrive to help, they’re already too late as the Miracle Planet disappears before their eyes, trapping all on its surface in another dimension for an entire month. On the miniature world, Sonic quickly reunites with Amy (much to his dismay) in what appears to be the Bad Future of Metallic Madness. Both characters question how Dr. Robotnik was able to convert the Miracle Planet so quickly, given that the previous month showed no signs of his influence, but their conversation (and the prospect of them being marooned there for a month) is soon interrupted by Metallix. Uncharacteristically, Sonic chooses to flee rather than fight but, as Metallix charges its laser to kill Amy, he comes flying back in with a big Spin Attack after running around the entire planet in a few seconds. Metallix, however, is able to draw additional power from the mechanical surface of the planet; this allows him to erect an electrical shield and charge up a kill shot for his prey after Sonic trips on a loose cable.

Thanks to time travel shenanigans, Metallix is soundly defeated…for now..

Sonic and Amy are saved, however, by the sudden appearance by another Sonic, this one diminutive in stature and holding a grey stone. Sonic #1 is immediately suspicious of the newcomer but Sonic #2 forces him into an energy beam that turns him into a midget as well. Sonic #2 is able to tell Sonic #1 about the grey object he’s holding; it’s the Time Stone, a relic able to transport the holder back into the past and, while Sonic #2 distracts the recovered (and now, from their perspective, gigantic) Metallix, Sonic #1 races off to the past. Arriving in what appears to be Palmtree Panic before Dr. Robotnik polluted the Miracle Planet with his machinery, Sonic’s shock over the sudden disappearance of the Time Stone gives way to his awe at the presence of a massive piece of mechanical hardware. This is StC’s version of the Robot Transporter from the game, which is in the process of transforming and polluting the environment; thanks to having been shrunk, Sonic is easily able to hop inside of the machine and remove its power source, the Time Stone. Having destroyed the machine, Sonic uses the Time Stone to travel back to the present and, in the process, becomes Sonic #2 as he saves his past-self from Metallix, gifts him the Time Stone, and orders him to race off just as he was directed in order to continue the time loop. Although Metallix attacks Sonic with all its power, the environment begins to change around them as his actions in the past catch up to the present; as a result, not only is Dr. Robotnik’s influence erased from the Miracle Planet and Sonic returned to his normal height but Metallix is wiped from existence and the story ends with Sonic facing an entire month alone with Amy.

The Summary:
Now remember, I read Sonic the Comic religiously as a kid; for me, it was one of three influential factors into my fandom for Sonic (the others being the cartoons and, of course, the games themselves) so there is not only a lot of nostalgia there whenever I revisit the comic but quite a bit of bias as I was a big fan of the original stories StC told, its characterisations, and the way they included some elements from the videogames. As a result, I remember enjoying “The Sonic Terminator” as a kid but, as an adaptation of Sonic CD, it’s definitely lacking in many areas. Perhaps the biggest drawback to the story is that it spends two issues messing about with a side plot involving Captain Plunder; at the time, each story in StC was about five pages long so right away the writers have wasted ten pages of story on something that has nothing to do with Sonic CD, though it also appears as though the writers and artists had very little to work with when putting this story together.

Metallix steals the show and comes across as a formidable new villain for Sonic.

Indeed, they must have seen the opening video and maybe a few screenshots and had a rudimentary understanding of the game but there is next to nothing from Sonic CD included beyond the absolute bare minimum. There is only one Time Stone, for example; hardly any locations from the game are used, no enemies or Badniks beyond Metal Sonic appear, and Dr. Robotnik is practically non-existent for the entire story. One benefit of this, however, is that it means Metallix takes centre stage as the primary antagonist. Unlike other interpretations of Metal Sonic, Metallix is very chatty; it taunts Sonic, constantly calculates the odds of success and failure, and comes across as a very threatening and formidable foe not only in its array of attacks and blinding speed but also in its durability. It’s not often in StC that Sonic is unable to trash his robotic foes in one hit and Metallix was certainly the most persistent enemy he has encountered at this point. Even though this story seems to spell the end of the character, Metallix would return with a vengeance later down the line as part of the Brotherhood of Metallix and would be a formidable recurring adversary for Sonic, his friends, and even Dr. Robotnik.

The story’s art is incredible and elevates it despite lacking fidelity to Sonic CD.

What really makes “The Sonic Terminator” shine is the excellent artwork from the always incredible Richard Elson. Elson was to StC what Patrick “Spaz” Spaziante was to the Archie comics and he always delivered on portraying Sonic and the other characters in such a dynamic way. His rendition of Metal Sonic is fantastic and the way he conveys Sonic’s speed is brilliant, allowing for some action-packed panels that really sell the gruelling nature of Sonic’s clash against his doppelgänger. While there isn’t much for the other Freedom Fighters to do, this is at least in keeping with the solo nature of Sonic CD and, while the story isn’t a direct one-to-one adaptation of the source material, StC pretty much never did this when producing the few adaptations they did do over the years. As a result, “The Sonic Terminator” is a great story in the StC canon and perfectly sets Metallix up as a frightening adversary (and therefore a significant story in the large StC lore) but is maybe not so great for those expecting a more literal adaptation of Sonic CD.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read “The Sonic Terminator”, or any issues of Sonic the Comic for that matter? If so, what did you think of the story and the way it introduced its version of Metal Sonic? Were you disappointed by how few elements from Sonic CD were present in the story or were you just happy to see Sonic and Metallix go at it? Which of StC’s original characters was your favourite and what did you think to Sonic’s characterisation? How are you celebrating Sonic CD’s anniversary this year? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic CD, or Sonic in general, feel free to leave a comment below.

Back Issues [Spidey Month]: The Amazing Spider-Man #14


Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’m dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Story Title: “The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin”
Published: 9 April 1964 (cover-dated July 1964)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

The Background:
In 1962, Marvel Comics editor and head writer Stan Lee followed up on his success with the Fantastic Four with Spider-Man; his debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 proved to be one of Marvel’s best selling titles and Spider-Man’s popularity led to him getting his own solo title barely a year later and he quickly amassed one of the most colourful and memorable rogues galleries in all of comics. Easily one of Spider-Man’s most devious and iconic enemies is the Green Goblin; although a number of people have assumed this elf-like guise, the most famous face behind the mask is Norman Osborn, industrialist and father to Peter’s best friend. Stan Lee’s initial pitch was very different from what the Green Goblin turned out to be, and he continued to clash with artist Steve Ditko over the character’s true identity. Although his identity was initially a mystery, the Green Goblin would go on to be a central figure in many of Spider-Man’s most prominent storylines and a recurring figure in Spidey’s life both in and outside of comics.

The Review:
According to the issue’s first splash page, the Green Goblin came about after a concentrated effort by the Marvel writing staff to deliver “the greatest 12¢ worth [they] can” and wastes no time in introducing readers to “a really different villain” by opening with the shadowy wrongdoer hard at work in his high-tech basement laboratory. There, the mysterious Green Goblin puts the finishing touches to his “flying broomstick”, a rocket-powered flying device that completes his fearsome, colourful costume. With his look complete, the Green Goblin meets with the Enforcers (Montana, Fancy Dan, and Ox), a trio of the city’s most notorious gangsters, and coerces them into working for him to defeat Spider-Man (who previously got the Enforcers arrested some time prior to this story) by intimidating them with sparks shot from his fingers. Strangely, the Green Goblin’s plan involves offering struggling filmmaker B. J. Cosmos the chance of a lifetime: a sure-fire action movie with the Green Goblin and the real Spider-Man as the stars!

The mysterious Green Goblin offers Spider-Man the chance to make bank on a Hollywood movie.

We then catch up with Peter Parker, who’s in a far better position, socially at least, than usual; not only did he get a 100% score in his last exam, but his intelligence earns him the admiration of Liz Allen, who not only coos over him but actually stands up to Eugene “Flash” Thompson when the football star continues to mock Peter for his lack of physical acumen. Peter’s surprise at seeing Liz leap to his defence and joy at seeing Flash taken down a peg or two is cut short when he hears news of the Green Goblin flying around the skies of Manhattan, so he quickly dashes off to confront the garishly garbed goblin as Spider-Man. Rather than getting into a fist fight, however, the Green Goblin tells Spidey about the movie opportunity and, despite his better judgement, the web-head goes to check it out and finds that the filmmaker is willing to pay him $50,000 to star in a movie that pits him against the Enforcers and the Green Goblin. Despite the fact that the last time he cashed in on his spider powers, Peter learned a harsh lesson about using his abilities responsibly, Spider-Man actually agrees and signs a contract since the cash would allow him to provide for his beloved Aunt May. Although receptionist Betty Brant isn’t best pleased at her man socialising with Hollywood starlets, and Aunt May worries about him making a big trip out to California, Peter is not only given license to get out on his trip but even assigned to cover the movie shoot by editor J. Jonah Jameson, thus promising even more profit from the gig.

Spider-Man is easily duped by the Green Goblin and attacked by the Enforcers.

Upon arrival, Spider-Man is amazed at B. J.’s make-up effects and doesn’t suspect that anything’s amiss (so much for his much-lauded spider-sense…), but quickly learns that he’s blundered into a trap when the Enforcers attack him during a “rehearsal”. Spider-Man’s agility and spider-sense help him to largely avoid the trio’s attacks, but he’s several disorientated when the Green Goblin tosses stun grenades at him and deftly avoids his web shooters thanks to his…*sigh*….rocket-powered broomstick. This gives the Enforcers the opportunity they need to dog-pile him, pummelling him mercilessly and leading to a common sequence where Peter musters all of his spider strength to throw them off and then whips up a “man-made dust storm” to temporarily blind his foes. The story then jumps back over the New York to find Aunt May already writing a letter to her nephew, Liz again standing up for Peter to Flash, and Betty continuing to suspect that Peter’s cheating on her over in Hollywood; I guess the point of this is to show that the never-ending drama in Peter’s life continues to churn over even when he’s not around, but the leaps in logic these characters make never fails to astound!

Of course the Hulk randomly shows up! I mean, why not?!

Thankfully, the story quickly returns to Spider-Man’s plight; the web-slinger takes cover in a nearby cave to catch his breath and ends up being trapped inside by, and with, the Enforcers and the Green Goblin. One by one, Spider-Man picks off the Enforcers; he nabs Montana, webs up Fancy Dan, and knocks out Ox with a single punch to the jaw, but the Green Goblin is not so easily ensnared thanks to burning away Spidey’s web net with his broomstick. As if things weren’t already complicated enough, who else should randomly appear in the cave but Doctor Bruce Banner’s enraged alter ego, the Incredible Hulk! Naturally, the Hulk attacks Spider-Man on sight and goes on a rampage, much to the Green Goblin’s glee. When Spider-Man’s attempts to reason with the Green Goliath fall on deaf ears, he’s forced to rely on his agility to avoid the Hulk’s attacks, stunned to see the beast tear through his webbing, and succeeds only in almost breaking his hand when he wallops the Hulk in the face! Realising that he can’t reason with or out-fight the Hulk, Spider-Man puts his health (and life) at risk by tricking the Hulk into smashing the boulder and freeing them from their confinement.

Spider-Man must settle for having survived as he’s left out of pocket and clueless to the Goblin’s identity.

Now back out in the open and able to swing again, Spider-Man turns his attention back to the Green Goblin; however, he’s too weak to properly overpower the Goblin’s broomstick and ends up falling to the water below. When he spots the Hulk heading back into the cave, Spider-Man is duty-bound to rescue the Enforcers before the Green Goliath can find and hurt them, and flees the scene to confront B. J. over his business associates. B. J. is aghast that the army would arrest his stars, but quickly hits on the genius idea of trying to sign the Hulk to an exclusive contract as a replacement antagonist. When Spidey arrives to talk about his fee, the web-slinger is left out of pocket due to the film being cancelled and given just enough money to cover his trip back to New York. Rather than be concerned about the Hulk being free out in the desert or question his willingness to sell his abilities out for fame and fortune, Peter returns to the city and ponders where and when the mysterious Green Goblin will strike next. Speaking of Spidey’s fiendish new foe, the story ends with the Green Goblin returning to his lair and lamenting his failure to destroy the web-spinner and position himself as the new head of a worldwide criminal syndicate. Still, the experience (and the unexpected appearance of the Hulk) teaches the Green Goblin the valuable lesson that one can never think of everything, but he consoles himself in his anonymity and resolves to strike even harder in his next criminal escapade.

The Summary:
Um…okay, so…Marvel claim, right from the first page of the story, that the Green Goblin will be this big, impressive, unbelievable new foe for Spider-Man and the fiend’s big debut plot is to trick Spider-Man into signing on the a film so the Green Goblin and his unimpressive goons can try and beat him up. I mean, as far as villainous plots go, it’s hardly tossing your girlfriend off a bridge or murdering countless innocents! While the Green Goblin would eventually live up to his hype and become arguably Spider-Man’s most dangerous villain ever, you’d never know it from this first issue; and you can’t even say that Marvel didn’t know how to debut new Spidey foes at the time as Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus made a much more impressive debut that same year some months prior and he came across as a far more formidable foe.

Considering how important he would become, the Green Goblin makes an inauspicious debut.

Just about the only thing that the Green Goblin has going for him is the question of his true identity; when he’s not wearing his mask, his face is constantly obscured or in shadow and I can imagine this was incredibly intriguing at the time as it was uncommon for us readers to not know who Spidey’s villains were behind their colourful costumes. Rather than flying his iconic glider, the Green Goblin straddles a ridiculous rocket-power broomstick and tosses stun grenades instead of his trademark pumpkin bombs; he doesn’t seem to exhibit any superhuman powers, and yet is able to intimidate the Enforcers just by causing some sparkles to fly from his fingers (an ability that doesn’t show up again this issue and appears to have no actual function). The Green Goblin barely even fights with Spider-Man; instead, he sets the Enforcers against him, and these three are incredibly underwhelming characters. Sure, Ox is a brute and Montana has his trusty lasso and I guess Fancy Dan is supposed to be quite agile, but they’re never really portrayed as an actual threat even when they have the numbers advantage.

The Hulk completely overshadows the Green Goblin and only adds to the mess of the issue’s plot.

Then there’s the nonsensical inclusion of the Hulk! Now, I get it; Marvel loved to cram in random cameos from their other characters into stories at the time, and it’s incredibly possible that there’s more context for his appearance in his own comic, but all he really does is completely overshadow the Green Goblin and the main plot. Not only that, but Peter acts really out of character here; he signs up for a movie deal without hesitation despite his vow to use his powers responsibly rather than for personal gain and is not only easily duped by the Green Goblin but is spider-sense is unreliable, at best, at warning him of the obvious dangers around him. The action is pretty good, to be fair, but then it always is in Spider-Man comics; ultimately, this is a good showcase for Spidey as you get to see him hold his own against the Hulk, but the entire selling point of the story was the conflict between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin and we get so little of that that the Goblin may as well have not been in the story at all. This is the very definition of style over substance; the Green Goblin is mysterious and colourful but hardly makes a great first impression and the story is full of filler, nonsense, and overshadowed by the Hulk. This could have been a cool opportunity to have this strange, maniacal imp-like villain torment Spider-Man and constantly give Spidey the slip but, instead, we get this weird plot about him duping him with a movie deal, and then Spidey just checks out of there rather than trying to chase after him, resulting in an inauspicious first appearance for someone who would become one of Spider-Man’s most dangerous foes.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What are your thoughts on the Green Goblin’s inauspicious debut? Were you a fan of the villain at the time or did he win you over in a different story (and, if so, which one?) What did you think to Peter’s willingness to sign up for a movie deal and shirk his responsibilities? Who is your favourite Spider-Man villain and why? What did you think to the Hulk showing up in this story? Whatever your thoughts on the Green Goblin, sign up to share them below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check back in next Friday as Spider-Man Month continues!

Back Issues [Spider-Man Day]: The Amazing Spider-Man #1


Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ll be dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Story Title: “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man vs. The Chameleon!”
Published: 1 March 1963
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

The Background:
By 1962, Marvel Comics had achieved incredible success with the Fantastic Four and, eager to follow up on this, Marvel editor and head writer Stan Lee sought to create a teenaged superhero for his younger readers to identify with. Inspired by a fly climbing up his office wall, Lee created Spider-Man (with the emphasis on the hyphen) and turned to artist Steve Ditko to finalise the character’s costume and accessories. Spider-Man’s debut almost didn’t happen, however, as Marvel publisher Martin Goodman disliked the concept and relegated the story to the final issue of Amazing Fantasy. However, Amazing Fantasy #15 proved to be one of Marvel’s best selling titles at the time; Spider-Man’s subsequent popularity led to him getting his own solo title barely a year later and The Amazing Spider-Man has been in publication ever since.

The Review:
The issue begins with what has, in my experience, become a tried and true staple of all Spider-Man comics and that is the recap of Spider-Man’s origin. Some time after the death of Uncle Ben and bringing his murderer to justice as Spider-Man, Peter Parker recounts to himself (and the reader) the story of how he was bitten by a radioactive spider, took on a costumed persona to try and earn some money, and inadvertently caused his uncle’s death by not using his powers responsibly.

Maybe the other kids are right to mock Peter; he should have taken cash in hand!

Now, he and his beloved Aunt May are in a bit of a bind; they have no money to pay their bills and the landlord is literally on their doorstep demanding the rent! Although Peter offers to quit school to get a job, May insists that he continue his studies to become the scientist his uncle always dreamed he would be and, very briefly, Peter considers using his superhuman abilities to commit crimes to pay the bills. Quickly, though, he realises that his Aunt May would be devastated if he was ever caught and imprisoned and, instead, decides to fall back on show business. His duel commitments as Spider-Man and bookish nature continue to make Peter a laughing stock at school since all the hip kids of the sixties want to do is have fun and “jive” rather than study. Still, they would be amazed if they knew that Peter was really Spider-Man, who puts on a dazzling show at the town hall but, while he gets paid, he’s unable to actually get a hold of the money since he not only foolishly asks for a cheque but he asks that it’s made out to “Spider-Man”! I mean, come on, Pete; at least take cash in hand! At the same time, Spidey finds public opinion of him is immediately swayed thanks to the efforts of J. Jonah Jameson, writer and editor of the Daily Bugle, who not only writes a scathing editorial branding Spidey a “menace” but also goes all over New York City delivering lectures that paint Spidey as a bad influence and an outlaw compared to “real heroes” like his son, astronaut John Jameson, because he hides behind a mask.

Spider-Man runs rings around the Fantastic Four when they try to contain him.

Although many aren’t taken in by Jameson’s words, his efforts are enough to put an end to Spidey’s media appearances. Peter is similarly driven to frustration at his inability to get a part-time job and the fact that Aunt May has resorted to pawning her jewellery to make ends meet. The next day, Peter is on hand to witness John Jameson lose control of a space capsule shortly after launch after the guidance device malfunctions. While the guys in charge of the launch fail to think of a way to save the astronaut, Peter suits up as Spider-Man and, despite Jameson’s protests, hitches a ride on a plane to intervene. After webbing himself to the capsule, Spidey is able to manually engage the emergency chute and the capsule glides safely to the ground. However, despite his good deed, Peter is shocked and angered to find that Jameson has called for Spider-Man’s arrest following the incident and has even publicly blamed the wall-crawler for the entire thing as a means to fool the public into thinking him a hero. This time, public opinion is swayed massively in Jameson’s favour and a wanted notice is posted for Spidey’s capture; even worse, Aunt May also believes Spider-Man to be a dangerous criminal. Thankfully, in the next story, Peter hits upon the genius idea of trying to repair his reputation (and make some cash) by joining the much-loved Fantastic Four, thinking the team would jump at the chance to work with a super-powered teenager (why, especially when they have Johnny Storm/The Human Torch on the team already, is anybody’s guess). Since you apparently can’t just walk into the Baxter Building, Peter does the only natural thing and breaks in as Spider-Man; unsure of his intentions, Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic activates the building’s self-defence measures and tries to hold him captive in a plexi-glass cage.

The Chameleon impersonates Spider-Man to steal military plans!

Contrary to the now-iconic front cover image, Spidey immediately breaks free of this trap and, as a result, gets into a tussle with the Fantastic Four. He tosses Benjamin Grimm/The Thing aside with ease, webs up Mr. Fantastic’s elastic arms, easily outmanoeuvres Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl’s pathetic efforts to ensnare him in a rope thanks to his spider-sense, and uses his fantastic agility to run rings around the Human Torch. Eventually, cooler heads prevail and the five are able to talk it out. However, when Spidey learns that the Fantastic Four are a non-profit organisation, and that they are in doubt about his reputation thanks to Jameson, he promptly leaves, disgruntled. Meanwhile, at a military installation across the city, Dmitri Smerdyakov/The Chameleon uses his incredibly life-like masks and disguises to steal documents from a restricted area to sell to Soviet Russia. After hearing of Spidey’s failed attempt to join the Fantastic Four, and his status as a public menace, the Chameleon not only deduces that Spidey must be desperate but also that he would make for a perfect fall guy for his plot to steal more missile defence plans. To that end, he uses his fancy technology to broadcast a message that only Spider-Man, with his heightened senses, would be able to hear (the Chameleon apparently being smart enough to work that out as well, conveniently) and, unable to pass up the chance to make some money, Peter (oddly referred to as “Peter Palmer” in one panel) heads to respond to the call.

Spidey apprehends the Chameleon but does little to repair his reputation.

At the same time, the Chameleon masquerades as Spidey and steals the plans using a specially-created web gun and fleeing in a helicopter right as the real Spidey arrives to be accosted by the cops. Realised he’s been played for a fool, and having spotted the helicopter’s escape, Spidey dramatically slingshots and parachutes his way across the city using his webs and then steals a motorboat to track the Chameleon to a Soviet submarine. Despite the Chameleon’s best efforts, Spider-Man is able to force him to the ground and convince the cops of his innocence. However, the Chameleon escapes custody using a smoke pellet and slipping into another face mask, that slippery devil! Despite being out of web fluid, Spider-Man is easily able to track the Chameleon down in the local vicinity using his spider-sense but, just as he nabs the crook, the cops accost Spidey, believing him to be the fake! Enraged and despondent, Spider-Man escapes into the night completely unaware that the cops did catch the Chameleon in the very next panel and thus proving that he was innocent all along.

The Summary:
The Amazing Spider-Man #1 is a pretty decent comic, overall. Like all comic books published in the sixties, it suffers a little bit from the narrative style of the time but, unlike others I’ve reviewed from around this time, these are nowhere near as bad; characters aren’t constantly yabbering on in “hip” slang, for instance, and while Spidey and the Chameleon do constantly narrate their actions as they go, it’s not as intrusive as in other comics. As a result, I found this an enjoyable enough read but it’s not as good as it could be simply because it wastes quite a bit of time reminding readers of Spider-Man’s origin. Still, The Amazing Spider-Man #1 quickly establishes many of the character traits and recurring themes that would plague Peter throughout his career; mainly, money troubles, public opinion, Jameson’s endless crusade, and the frail nature of his Aunt May.

I’ve always found the Chameleon to be an underwhelming villain but he’s good enough here.

Peter Parker is a youth constantly on the short end of life; nothing ever seems to work out for him in either of his guises and he is constantly beaten down by society no matter what he does, and yet he perseveres. This aspiring quality is emphasised here; though Peter does get angry and dejected at his lot in life, he never gives in to the temptation towards crime and is steadfast in his decision to use his powers for good. One good thing that comes from this issue is the answer to the question of who Spidey’s first super-villain was and the answer, disappointingly, was the Chameleon. It might just be me but I’ve never been a fan of this character, or of stories of mistaken identity and fraud in my superhero comics, but thankfully that latter aspect is only a small part of The Amazing Spider-Man #1. If anything, more time could have been spent on the Chameleon framing Spidey for crimes; this would have made Jameson’s tirade against the web-slinger make a little bit more sense (he just comes across as an asshole and a blowhard here), to say nothing to turning the public (and the Fantastic Four) against him and adding to Peter’s woes.

The Fantastic Four dropped in for what amounted to a quick cameo amidst some classic Spidey action.

Also, I feel like the front cover is deliberately misleading; clearly designed to attract readers of the Fantastic Four, who were Marvel’s first big superhero success story, it kind of implies a greater conflict with the group that, in reality, is confined to just a few panels. This is good, on the one hand, as Spidey never needed their help in getting out of danger or anything but it does kind of set the foundation for a bad practice in Marvel (and all of comics for that matter) to use popular or established characters to sell their new releases (ironically, Spider-Man would come to be one of the most infamous examples of this). Still, the comic is full of relatable teenage woes and angst, colourful and larger-than-life characters, and set the standard for Spidey’s status quo going forward. There could maybe have been a little more action and web-slinging amidst all the angst but it’s still an enjoyable read and a must-have for any die-hard Spider-Man fan.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on Spider-Man’s iconic debut solo outing? Were you a fan of the character at the time or were you introduced to him through some other means and, if so, what were they? How relatable did (or do you) find Spider-Man as a character? What is your favourite Spider-Man storyline, costume, or character and why? What did you think to the Chameleon being his first villain? Do you like the angle that the public is so easily turned against Spidey or do you think it doesn’t make much sense given how many superheroes run around New York? How are you celebrating Spider-Man Day today? Whatever your thoughts on Spider-Man, leave a comment below and be sure to stick around for Spider-Man Month starting this Friday!

Back Issues [X-Men Month]: Giant-Size X-Men #1


To commemorate, the culmination of their long-running and successful X-Men movies, 20th Century Fox declared May 13th as “X-Men Day”, a day to celebrate all things Mutant and X-Men and celebrate Marvel’s iconic collection of superpowered beings who fight to protect a world that hates and fears them.


Story Titles: “Second Genesis!”, “…And When There Was One!”, “Assault Force!”, and “Krakoa…The Island That Walks Like a Man!”
Published: May 1975
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Dave Cockrum

The Background:
In 1963, after achieving success with characters like the Fantastic Four, Tony Stark/Iron Man, and, of course, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee and Jack Kirby dreamed up the concept of “Mutants”, ordinary people who developed extraordinary powers once they hit puberty. In contrast to lauded superhero teams like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, the X-Men were hated and feared by the general public and thus used to tackle variety of social issues, most notably racism. Unfortunately, the X-Men initially struggled to find an audience and the comic was cancelled by issue sixty-six in 1970. Five years later, under the direction of Chris Claremont, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum collaborated on a revival of the title, which saw an international team of Mutants join the team, breathed new life into the title, and the X-Men have been an enduring and popular team in comics ever since, influencing an entire generation with a much-lauded animated series in the nineties and, of course, a series of massively successful live-action movies.

The Review:
The story opens in Winzeldorf, Germany where a torch-carrying horde of bigots are chasing after Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler; despite his demonic appearance, Nightcrawler pities the braying crowd for their “mindless prejudices” and laments that they are so blinded by their hatred of him that they’re risking their own safety. Rather than teleport to safety, Nightcrawler opts to leap into the crowd and fight them off with the only language the bigots understand: violence. The numbers game is too much for the young Mutant, however, but he is saved from a fiery death by the timely intervention of Professor Charles Xavier/Professor X, who freezes the horde with his incredible mental powers and offers Kurt a place at his school in order to both shield him from such hatred and help him “find [his] true potential”, an offer that Nightcrawler gratefully accepts. The story then jumps over to Quebec, Canada where Xavier meets with another Mutant, Logan/Wolverine (also codenamed Weapon X by the Canadian government). Having been impressed with Wolverine’s recent fight against Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Xavier offers the abrasive Mutant a place on his team to help other Mutants in need. Wolverine jumps at the chance to be freed from the shackles Canadian government, resigning in typical Wolverine fashion and happily leaving alongside the wheelchair-bound professor.

Xavier is able to recruit his new team, despite some reservations from the would-be X-Men.

After Xavier quickly recruits former ally Sean Cassidy/Banshee over the course of three panels, the story jumps over to Kenya where a group of African tribesmen beg Ororo Monroe/Storm to use her powers of weather to end the drought that has ravaged their lands. Revered as a Goddess, Storm conjures winds and rain to help out the struggling natives and, after informing Storm of her Mutant status, Xavier appeals to her curiosity enough to recruit her to his cause as well. Siro Yoshida/Sunfire of Osaka, Japan is recruited even faster and easier than Banshee and then Xavier heads over to Siberia to draft Piotr “Peter” Rasputin/Colossus (despite his reservations about leaving his family), a muscle-bound patriot who is able to cover his skin in an organic metal that renders him strong and impenetrable enough to shield his sister from a runaway tractor. Finally, Xavier travels to Camp Verde, Arizona to recruit the last member of his new team of X-Men, John Proudstar/Thunderbird, a Mutant swift and strong enough to catch up to and bring down a charging bison. If Wolverine was a bit rough around the edges, Thunderbird is down-right rude as he offers Xavier little more than ridicule and boastful pride; Xavier is able to convince him to his cause, however, by questioning his courage.

The X-Men are attacked and captured, leaving Cyclops the sole survivor.

The team assembles at Xavier’s school in Westchester, New York, now garbed in uniforms made of “unstable molecules” that Xavier obtained from Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic. Sunfire demands answers and Xavier provides them by introducing them to Scott Summers/Cyclops, who informs them all that the X-Men have disappeared. Cyclops relates how the team were alerted to a new Mutant (who was “so powerful as to defy classification”) on the island of Krakoa by Xavier’s Mutant-detecting machine, Cerebro; Cyclops lead Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, Warren Worthington III/Angel, Bobby Drake/Iceman, Alexander Summers/Havoc, and Lorna Dane/Polaris to Krakoa but, shortly after landing, they were attacked by an unseen foe. Cyclops awoke disorientated, his costume in tatters, and without his visor and briefly unable to project his trademark optic blasts; he took the Strato-Jet back to Xavier’s mansion to alert the professor (finding his powers to have increased in the process) and assemble a new team to rescue the X-Men.

The new X-Men struggle to work as a cohesive unit thanks to their egos.

Although Sunfire initially refuses to go along with the mission, claiming to hate his fellow Mutants as much as humans, he intercepts the jet on the way to Krakoa to join the mission anyway. This, as noted by both Storm and Thunderbird, calls attention to the fragility of this new, untested team and they’re right to point this out as Xavier has effectively slapped together a team of egos, misfits, and strangers who have even less field training as a unit that the original X-Men. Regardless, the team soon arrives at Krakoa and Cyclops splits them into teams of two: Storm and Colossus head to the North, Banshee and Wolverine the East, Sunfire and Nightcrawler the South (much to Sunfire’s chagrin), and Thunderbird and Cyclops take the West. Upon landing, Cyclops and Thunderbird note that strange temples have suddenly erupted from the ground and, as they move to investigate, they are attacked by living vines. Over on the East side of the island, Banshee and Wolverine are similarly attacked by a giant crab but, thanks to Wolverine’s viciousness and Banshee’s scream, they make short work of the crustacean. Meanwhile, on the North side, Storm and Colossus manage to fight their way out of a seemingly sentiment landslide and, finally, Sunfire and Nightcrawler battle through a flock of raging birds on the South side all while Sunfire continually berates Nightcrawler with sarcasm and criticism.

By pooling their energies into Polaris, the X-Men defeat Krakoa and blast it into space!

Regardless, the team all rendezvous at the temple, break their way in, and find the X-Men being held captive and, apparently, fed upon by vines. After the X-Men are rescued, their prison crumbles to pieces and Angel scolds Cyclops for coming back for them as the island comes to life around them. It turns out that Krakoa itself is the Mutant Xavier detected, having been brought to ravenous life by an atomic blast, and referring to itself as “we” as it details its plan to feed upon “Mutant energies”. Krakoa attacks the two teams of Mutants, who struggle to co-ordinate their strategies and to make a dent on the Mutant’s considerable hide. Thankfully, Xavier telepathically contacts Cyclops and informs him of Krakoa’s one weak point; while Xavier mentally battles the creature, Cyclops directs the team from the ground, channelling Storm’s ability to conjure lightning into Polaris and then adding his and Havoc’s energy blasts to the building magnetic force. The result is a surge of magnetic energy that disrupts Krakoa’s ability to retain its humanoid form and, as the island breaks apart around them, the team blast their way to safety on an ice float. As they watch, Krakoa is hurled off the planet’s surface and away from the planet and the Mutants survive the tumultuous seas thanks to Iceman’s ice-bubble and are left united and victorious.

The Summary:
Those who read my review of The X-Men #1 (Lee, et al, 1963) will remember that I wasn’t exactly impressed with the X-Men’s debut appearance. Setting aside the sexist attitudes and outdated dialogue at work in that comic, the story was a plodding, laborious read that ended right as it was about to get interesting. Additionally, you may recall that I’m not exactly the most well-read of X-Men fans; I find the lore to be somewhat impenetrable because there are so many characters and so many stories that even trying to read the most famous arcs can leave you scratching your head in bemusement at the density of the mythology. Giant-Size X-Men #1 is therefore far more accessible, in some ways, as it acts as a soft reboot for the comic that features some of the most iconic X-Men ever created.

Most of the new X-Men get a chance to shine with their colourful powers and abrasive personalities.

What makes Giant-Size X-Men #1 a better read than The X-Men #1, though, is that the characters are much more visually interesting and distinct in their personalities. Wolverine, Thunderbird, and Sunfire are all different levels of abrasive, with Sunfire openly clashing with Nightcrawler, Wolverine resorting to violence at the drop of a hat, and Thunderbird offering criticisms on the stability of the new team. Conversely, Storm, having lived a sheltered life where she was worshipped as a Goddess, is somewhat naïve and Nightcrawler just wants everyone, human and Mutant alike, to be accepted. Banshee, Cyclops, and Professor X are, of course, some familiar faces to long-time X-Men readers. Thankfully, both Professor X and Xavier are far less annoying than in their debut comic; Xavier is less of a stern, uncompromising teacher and more a worried father-figure desperate to rescue his students from their mysterious fate and Cyclops, rather than trying to force his authority over the new Mutants, is similarly concerned only with holding the fledging team together long enough to rescue his friends and loved ones.

Krakoa exists mainly to bring the X-Men together and it doesn’t take much to defeat it.

Similar to The X-Men #1, Giant-Size X-Men #1 is more concerned with introducing and assembling its team of Mutants rather than all-out action but, as I say, it does a far better job of doing this than its predecessor as the new team is introduced in interesting ways rather than just expositing their abilities in the Danger Room. Although little is made of Nightcrawler’s teleportation abilities or Wolverine’s heightened senses, each of the new characters get a bit of time to shine, although the final battle against Krakoa boils down more to Polaris channelling various energies into herself rather than a concentrated group effort besting the island-sized Mutant. Still, I much preferred the dialogue, characterisations, and presentation here than in the X-Men’s debut story, though I’ll admit that a lot of that has to do with me favouring these characters and the move away from redundant exposition and storytelling from the sixties.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts of Giant-Size X-Men #1? What did you think to the new X-Men and their introduction? Which of the new characters was your favourite? What did you think to Krakoa as the main threat and the way it was defeated? Which era of the X-Men is your favourite and who is your favourite ever team/character? How are you planning on celebrating X-Men Day this month? Whatever your thoughts, leave a comment below, and be sure to come back every Saturday for the rest of May for more X-Men content.

Back Issues [Multiverse Madness]: Strange Tales #110


In September 1961, DC Comics published “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen thanks to the concept of the multiverse, an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to co-exist and interact. Marvel Comics would also adopt this concept and, to celebrate the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Raimi, 2022) this month, I’ll be both celebrating the Master of the Mystic Arts and exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) equivalent of the multiverse every Sunday of May.


Story Title: “Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic!”
Published: 9 April 1963 (cover-dated July 1963)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: Steve Ditko

The Background:
Dr. Strange began life as the brainchild of legendary artist Steve Ditko, when he submitted a five-page pitch for a new type of character, one who dabbled in black magic, to the immortal Stan Lee. The character was so named as he was to debut in the pages of Strange Tales, a Marvel Comics anthology title that initially published horror tales, and it was Lee who infused the character with many of his more elaborate spells and quirks. Known for his surreal visuals and bizarre adventures, Dr. Strange has since become one of Marvel’s most pivotal figureheads. The Master of the Mystic Arts has been at the centre of many of Marvel’s most important stories and remains one of their most powerful characters, and has even successfully crossed over into the mainstream thanks to featuring in various videogames, cartoons, and the MCU.

The Review:
The story begins with a man being tormented by horrific nightmares as he sleeps; presumably having tried every solution to no avail (though there’s no actual in-comic evidence of that), he seeks out the help of the mysterious Dr. Strange, a man rumoured to practise the dark arts, in order to ease his torment. The next morning, he arrives “on a quiet street in New York’s colourful Greenwich Village” at the fantastic home of the aforementioned doctor, and begs for his help. The man tells of a haunted figure, bound in chains, who incessantly glares at him in his dreams, and Strange immediately pledges to visit him that evening and discover the answer by entering the man’s slumbering mind!

Dr. Strange agrees to help a man being tormented by horrific nightmares.

Before this, though, Dr. Strange indulges in a bit of meditation where he separates his soul (or “metaphysical spirit”) from his physical form and effortlessly travels through walls and across vast distances to “a hidden temple somewhere in the remote vastness of Asia” where his wizened master dwells. The old man warns Strange of a darkness that threatens him and urges him to be cautious as Strange is set to succeed the elderly wizard as the defender against the forces of evil. Dr. Strange heeds the warning, and promises to depend upon his magical amulet when under threat, and makes good on his promise to visit the man and enter his nightmare using his metaphysical spirit form.

In the dream dimension, Dr. Strange comes under threat from the mysterious Nightmare.

In the desolate void of the dream world, Strange encounters the figure tormenting the man and demands answers. The cloaked spirit claims to the symbol of the evil this man has done to a “Mr. Crang”, but their conversation is quickly interrupted by the arrival of a caped, shadowy figure on horseback, one far more menacing and known all-too-well to Dr. Strange. The entity is Nightmare, a being of darkness and chaos, who vows to make Strange pay for entering the hostile dream dimension once more. As Dr. Strange’s physical body is left helpless and in a trance, the sleeping man awakens and, keen to keep Strange from revealing what he knows about Mr. Chang, pulls out a gun and prepares to murder the sorcerer on Nightmare’s bidding!

Thanks to the intervention of his master, Strange is saved and the criminal is exposed.

However, Dr. Strange isn’t left entirely helpless; he calls out to his master for aid and, from half a world away, the elderly wizard manipulates the mysterious golden amulet around Strange’s neck. The trinket glows brighter and brighter, revealing “a fantastic metal eye […] such as no mortal has ever beheld” and, upon seeing this strange eye, the would-be gunman freezes on the spot and is left immobile. This is all the distraction Strange needs to easily dart past Nightmare and return to his body, though his shadowy foe vows to have his revenge one day. Upon returning to the physical world, Strange compels the man to speak the truth and he finally reveals that his nightmares were caused by all the robberies he committed against other businessmen. The story ends with Dr. Strange urging the man to confess to his crimes as it’s the only way he’ll be able to sleep and thus ends the…less than thrilling first appearance of the Master of the Mystic Arts.

The Summary:
“Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic!” is very clearly a back-up tale in a comic book featuring a bunch of different short stories and, as a result, is a brisk little episode simply designed to introduce this quirky new character to Marvel’s readers. We really don’t learn a whole hell of a lot about anything going on here; we don’t even learn the name of the man being haunted by Nightmare let along any background on Dr. Strange, his origin, or his motivations. Even Dr. Strange’s powers are vague, at best, with the focus of this first story being solely on his ability to astral project and enter dreams to help others. His magical amulet isn’t named or explained beyond being this mystical artefact and a lot of the familiar trappings either aren’t really here or are ill-defined compared to what you might expect from the character.

While the story’s not that great, Dr. Strange stands out as an enigmatic highlight.

The story itself is incredibly simplistic, which is most likely due to how few panels and pages were allotted to tell the tale, and there’s definitely a lot of questions left hanging in the air for subsequent stories to fill us in on, which is a refreshing change from other superhero debuts that bombard the reader with nothing but exposition. “Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic!” is arguably too vague, though, but it’s definitely very intriguing; Dr. Strange isn’t really positioned as a superhero in the traditional sense and is, instead, more of an enigmatic consultant for ailments and supernatural occurrences. The real standout here is the art, particularly regarding Dr. Strange’s character design; while the backgrounds and locations aren’t that interesting (the dream dimension is basically an empty void), Dr. Strange is colourful and eye-catching and I enjoy how he gives off a wise, almost condescending authority that would become so synonymous with the character going forward. The hooded figure and Nightmare are intriguing malicious forces representing guilt, sin, and chaos but they’re very vaguely defined, so it’s pretty easy for Dr. Strange to steal the show. It’s just a shame that he basically spends the entire story either standing around or sitting down in a trance rather than doing something more interesting, like casting spells or spewing out nonsense incantations.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you read “Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic!”? Do you own a copy of Strange Tales #110? What did you think to the story and the mystery surrounding Dr. Strange? Do you think that the tale needed a few more pages to tell a bit more of his story or did you enjoy the intrigue surrounding Dr. Strange and Nightmare? What are some of your favourite Dr. Strange stories and who is your favourite villain of his? Do you enjoy multiverse shenanigans in comics or do you find them to be overly complicated? Whatever your thoughts on Dr. Strange, sign up to drop a comment down below or let me know on my social media and check back next Sunday for more Multiverse Madness from the Sorcerer Supreme.

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: Aliens vs. Predator


In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ve been looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’ve dubbed “Crossover Crisis”.


Story Title: “Aliens vs Predator”
Published: November 1989 to February 1990
Writer: Randy Stradley
Artist: Phill Norwood

The Background:
Founded in 1980 by Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Comics separated itself from the heavy-hitters like DC Comics and Marvel Comics by primarily publishing creator-owned titles. In 1988, the company achieved greater mainstream success by publishing licensed stories and adaptations of horror and science-fiction films and franchises, the most prominent of these being the merging of the Alien franchise (Various, 1977 to present) and the Predator films (Various, 1987 to present). About a year before a Xenomorph skull appeared as a trophy in Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990), the two alien species clashed in this three-issue short story that was the brainchild of writer Chris Warner. This story served as the basis for a five-issue follow-up that greatly expanded upon the premise, which soon exploded into a slew of additional publications, action figures, videogames, and (eventually) live-action movies that pitted the two creatures against each other.

The Review:
Our story begins “some time in the future” where the commercial transport vessel Lecter is making its way to the ranching outpost of Prosperity Wells on the planet Ryishi. Pilots Scott and Tom provide the entirety of the story’s narration, and are deeply engaged in a debate about the ethics and morals of mining other worlds for their resources, especially after humanity used up Earth’s in such a short space of time. Tom believes that it’s irresponsible to strip other worlds of their resources as it could stunt or even prevent the evolution of entire species, while Scott believes that it’s absolutely necessary to ensure the long-term survival of the human race.

Against the backdrop of a philosophical debate, Predators forcibly harvest Xenomorph eggs.

Their debate is briefly interrupted by what they assume is a meteor but is actually a Predator spacecraft darting through the cosmos. Scott and Tom’s discussion about the morals of harvesting unintelligent species for food and such are paralleled by the Predator’s harvesting on Xenomorph eggs aboard their ship; as Scott delivers a lecture about survival of the fittest and the strong overpowering the weak, the eggs and their Facehugger contents are scanned and processed and placed into pods to be seeded on other worlds. The eggs are all being forcibly harvested from a captive Xenomorph Queen, here an allegory for the “bitch” that is Mother Nature, who has no choice but to pump out egg after egg and watch as they are summarily processed and shot into space in a clean and efficient system.

Broken Tusk fends off a challenge by the upstart Top-Knot.

As Scott and Tom move their philosophical debate on to the merits of technology versus man’s primal nature, the story introduces us to a Predator warrior known colloquially as “Broken Tusk”. As Broken Tusk arms himself with all the standard Predator weaponry we’ve come to know and love over the years, Scott and Tom endlessly comment on the difference between passive leaders and active combatants. Broken Tusk observes a bout of ritual combat between other Predators and we catch a glimpse of just how many worlds have been seeded with Xenomorphs by the creatures in order to give them something worthwhile to hunt. When upstart Predator “Top-Knot” wins the bout, he’s not content with just choosing which hunting ground he gets to visit and challenges Broken Tusk’s position, which results in the rookie being bested by his superior.

The Predators engage in a successful hunt and gain their ritual markings.

One of the Predator’s seeding pods touches down on a marsh-like alien world; the automated, tank-like vehicle drives around the environment dropping off Xenomorph eggs in its wake before finally exploding, ensuring that many of the native creatures become impregnated by the Facehuggers. As Scott and Tom move their discussion to safari hunts and the like, Top-Knot and his hunting party make landing to begin their hunt, quickly and efficiently moving through the foliage and tracking their Xenomorph prey by following the exploded dead bodies. Soon, the Predators are attacked by the full-grown Xenomorphs; despite the Aliens’ greater numbers, the Predators have the benefit of their advanced weapons and their absolute devotion to the thrill of the hunt. They emerge victorious, having suffered only one casualty, and Top-Knot brands one of his subordinates with the Xenomorph’s acid blood for successfully executing his first kill.

The Summary:
The original, three-issue run of Aliens vs. Predator is basically just a prelude to greater things to come in the subsequent Aliens vs. Predator (Stradley, et al, 1990) comics series. Consequently, it’s quite the brief and tantalising glimpse into this shared universe of the two popular, sci-fi/horror franchises, but establishes a lot of the themes for how these franchises would crossover going forward. Rather than being set in the present day or on Earth, like the Predator films tend to be, Aliens vs. Predator takes place in the future like the Aliens films; it also heavily borrows from the aesthetics of Alien (Scott, 1977), especially in the depiction of the Lecter, which is essentially the same kind of vessel as the Nostromo. Similarly, the Predator’s spaceship and appearances are heavily inspired by what we see in the first two films, but the comic greatly expands upon their society and depiction even while utilising a philosophical debate between two humans for the entirety of its dialogue.

The story provides a glimpse into the Predator’s society and lore.

Aliens vs. Predator took the idea of the Xenomorphs being this biomechanical infestation, a swarm of vicious insect-like creatures, and really ran with it; because they lack the higher levels of intelligence seen in the Predators, they are reduced to being forcibly bred specifically for young Predators to test their mettle. The visual of the Xenomorph Queen being strung up and held captive is a powerful one, and one that subsequent comics, and movie and videogame adaptations would heavily borrow from, and is a humbling visual considering how formidable the Alien Queen was depicted in Aliens (Cameron, 1986). The implication is clear: The Predators, with their greater intelligence and superior technology and weapons, were easily able to overpower and capture a Xenomorph Queen and make a regular routine of harvesting her eggs for their own ends. They’re so efficient at it that the entire process is completely automated, with the eggs being forcibly removed, processed, and seeded without any manual intervention on the Predators’ part. Predator society is expanded upon greatly here; we see the hierarchy and feudal nature of the species, with ritual combat being the norm and the younger, less experienced hunters having to fight against their peers for recognition and the chance to hunt. Like lions and other members of the animal kingdom, it’s common for the young upstarts to challenge their betters in an attempt to claim the top position. While this doesn’t go well for Top-Knot, as he’s easily bested by Broken Tusk, he’s still dispatched to lead a hunting party, so it seems as though making the challenge isn’t necessarily a sign of disrespect. During the hunt, even the inexperienced Predators are formidable and capable warriors; while we don’t get to see much of their traditional strategies (there’s no cloaking, no need to modulate their prey’s voices, and very little use of the plasma cannon), we do get to see them working in a co-ordinated effort to eradicate their prey. Although the Aliens are fast and strong and have the numbers advantage, the Predators are keen hunters and superior warriors, meaning they are victorious with minimal effort, and the honour that comes from killing a Xenomorph is of high standing in their society (which, again, would be a crucial plot point in later stories).

A decent story, but clearly just a taste of greater things to come for this crossover.

However, it has to be said that the concept of bringing together the Aliens and Predator franchises probably sounded better on paper than it worked in execution. I have read the subsequent comic series, and it’s definitely a lot better and more in-depth, but I didn’t want to get into that without first tackling the three-issue arc that kick-started this entire sub-franchise and Aliens vs. Predator, while a novelty, is really just an appetiser for the main course. Dark Horse Comics teased readers by framed the first two stories as Aliens and Predator tales, so the actual Aliens on Predator action doesn’t kick in until right at the end, and it’s very brief when it does happen. I applaud the creative use of Scott and Tom’s philosophical debate as a parallel to the events of the story, but I found myself tuning the text boxes out and focusing more on the visuals. While the art does tell us a lot about what the Predators and even the Xenomorph Queen are thinking and feeling, I am not a massive fan of the art on show here. It’s both messy and yet simple, oddly coloured (I get that we hadn’t seen much of the Predator society or their ships but there’s a lot of odd purples and yellows and blues here), and it’s not that easy to tell the Predators apart. Obviously, this is in keeping with the aliens as depicted in the movies, which had very subtle differences, but I think for a comic you need a little more than just a barely distinguishable broken tusk or hair being styled differently. It’s also a little disappointing that we don’t get more variations of the Xenomorphs; considering they were all born from alien lifeforms, it’s a little odd that they are just carbon copies of the drones seen in Aliens, but again I can understand why this decision was made as it makes sense to focus on the familiar visual of a Predator we recognise from the movies fighting Aliens as they appear in the films. Overall, it’s a fun little novelty that’s worth checking out as long as you read it as a prelude to the longer, far more exciting and visually interesting follow-up.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever read the original, three-issue Aliens vs. Predator story? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comics or did you pick up the collected edition as I did? Were you also disappointed by the brevity of the story and the artwork or did it get you excited to see subsequent clashes between the two aliens? Which of the two creatures, and franchises, was/is your preference? Which of the Aliens vs. Predator stories or adaptations was your favourite? Would you like to see the two battle again in some form or another? Whatever your thoughts on Aliens vs. Predator, and comic book crossovers of this kind, sign up to drop a comment down below or share your thoughts on my social media.

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans


In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.


Story Title: “Apokolips… Now!”
Published: January 1982
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Walt Simonson

The Background:
As I’ve mentioned on a couple of occasions, DC Comics and Marvel Comics have had a surprisingly collaborative and amicable relationship over the years that has led to some inter-company friendships, homages, and co-publications between the two comic book giants. By 1982, both Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men and DC’s Teen Titans were seeing a resurgence in popularity thanks to both teams featuring an exciting new creative and character line-up. Over in Marvel Comics, writer Chris Claremont had revitalised Marvel’s Mutant team by introducing a group of diverse and multi-cultural new characters while the New Teen Titans, under the pen of Marv Wolfman, had been aged up and also included some of the title’s most synonymous characters. With so many similarities between the two teams, and considering the success of the two titles were selling at the time, a crossover between the two was a smart business move for both parties.

The Review:
“Apokolips… Now!” begins at the Source Wall, an impossibly large stone wall that represents the edge of the known universe and which is comprised of the legendary Promethean Giants, who were turned to stone for trying to breach the boundaries of the cosmos. There, we find Metron, the generally impartial intellectual of the New Gods, conversing with all-mighty Darkseid, who gifts him with the “Omega-Phase Helmet”, a highly advanced crown that allows Metron’s Mobius Chair to achieve the impossible and penetrate the great stone wall in order for them both to achieve their heart’s desire (Metron for knowledge and Darkseid for power).

A normal day at the X-Mansion is interrupted by a vision of Jean.

The story then jumps to Westchester, New York where Professor Xavier’s X-Men are engaging in a training session within the Danger Room, an exercise that grates on Logan/Wolverine’s patience despite his respect for the professor. After impressing Xavier with their teamwork, the Mutants retire for dinner and the story takes the opportunity to catch us up not only with the current X-Men roster and their powers (the aforementioned Wolverine, Scott Summers/Cyclops, Ororo Munroe/Storm, Piotr “Peter” Rasputin/Colossus, Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat) but also the tragic rise and downfall of Jean Grey, who attained incredible cosmic powers as the Phoenix that eventually corrupted and consumed her. The X-Men’s memories of Jean are extracted by Darkseid and the Phoenix briefly assumes a corporeal form where she begs for help from Cyclops much like Barry Allen/The Flash did in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Raven and Starfire are spooked by Phoenix while Robin is jumped by Deathstroke!

Meanwhile, over at Titans Tower (yes, in this story, the Marvel and DC universes again exist in a shared world rather than being separate, parallel worlds), Rachel Roth/Raven of the New Teen Titans finds her dreams interrupted by a prophetic nightmare of a woman, taking the shape of a flaming bird, destroying their world. When Garfield Logan/Changeling assumes the form of a similar bird, Koriand’r/Starfire randomly loses control of herself and attacks him; well aware of the threat that the Phoenix poses, Starfire summons the remaining members of the team (Wally West/Kid Flash, Donna Troy/Wonder Girl, and Victor Stone/Cyborg) away from their procrastinations, personal lives, and crimefighting antics to bring them up to speed on the Phoenix’s destructive power. Dick Grayson/Robin, however, is kept from joining his team mates when he butts heads with one of Darkseid’s Parademons only to be attacked by Slade Wilson/Deathstroke the Terminator, who not only reveals that he’s in cahoots with Darkseid but is easily able to knock Robin unconscious thanks to his superior physical and mental abilities. The X-Men discover that Jean’s parents and other areas across the world have also witnessed visions of Jean and mysterious incidents all linked to Jean’s past. After locating Robin, Starfire relates Phoenix’s legend as the “chaos-bringer” and a cataclysmic force; although Robin points out that cosmic threats are a little out of their league, and the more pressing issue of Deathstroke’s current plot, he promises Starfire that they’ll do everything they can to track down and stop Phoenix. The story then introduces us to Ravok the Ravager, another of Darkseid’s henchmen who he recruits as part of his plot to siphon the Phoenix’s vast cosmic powers.

Both the X-Men and Teen Titans are captured with a ridiculous amount of ease.

Weary from pushing himself too far, Xavier enters a deep sleep and barely has enough time to defend himself when Starfire bursts into the X-Mansion and attacks him in a rage. Xavier’s unparalleled psychic powers are subdued by a combination of Cyborg’s ultrasonic blasts and Raven’s dark “Soul-Self”, however Robin is disturbed and irritated at his team’s recklessness in breaking into the mansion and attacking Xavier without provocation. His reprimanding is interrupted by the arrival of Ravok and his Shock Commandos, who storm the mansion looking for the X-Men but quickly adapt to defeat and kidnap all of the Teen Titans but Changeling, who follows along undetected. While investigating New Mexico, the X-Men comes across Deathstroke and one of Darkseid’s “Psi-phons”; although they easily destroy the Psi-phon and are able to fend off the Parademons, Deathstroke quickly recovers from Wolverine’s initial attack to take each of the Mutants out with a “fear ray” that grounds Storm, a “toxi-grenade” that renders Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and even Wolverine unconscious while a Parademon blasts Cyclops, and overpowers even Colossus’ hulking metallic form. Deathstroke and Ravok bring their captives to all-mighty Darkseid, who waits at the Source Wall and immediately sees through Changeling’s deception to subdue him, and then kills Ravok for his ineptitude with his destructive “Omega Beams”.

Darkseid summons Dark Phoenix but the heroes quickly join forces to confront the New God.

Darkseid secures his captives to a gigantic machine, the “Psychon-Wave”, which painfully and forcefully draws upon their superhuman powers and the Mutants’ memories of Jean, concentrating them on the breach in the Source Wall to bring Dark Phoenix back to life. He then regales the inquisitive Changeling with the reason for this plot (basically, he wants to use the Phoenix to transform the Earth into a new Apokolips that will allow him to conquer first New Genesis and then the length and breadth of reality itself). Hungry for destruction, Phoenix willingly accompanies Darkseid through a Boom Tube to begin this plot but, quite ludicrously, the heroes’ restraints disappear when Darkseid departs! Freed from captivity, the Teen Titans and the X-Men immediately agree to work together to stop Darkseid and Phoenix despite Wolverine not being happy about working with kids. While Shadowcat tries to flirt with Changeling and Kid Flash comments on the diversity of the X-Men, Cyborg, Xavier, Starfire, and Cyclops locate and acquire the Mobius Chair, which Shadowcat and Changeling accidentally activate to provide them with a means of escape. Tensions are stirred when Colossus sees Shadowcat flirting with Changeling and when Starfire kisses Colossus in order to learn Russian, but the team are soon carried back to New York in order to fulfil Cyclops’ solemn vow to make Darkseid pay for violating Jean’s memory and peace. They follow Phoenix’s unique psychic trail to a series of underground tunnels beneath the city where they are attacked by Deathstroke’s Parademons once more. Rather than waste time in a pointless battle, Robin and Cyclops give the order to collapse the tunnel and blast an escape route for their two teams, which conveniently brings them out right at Darkseid’s main base.

Dark Phoenix threatens the Earth’s safety so is subjected to a psychic attack.

Impressed at the tenacity of his foes, Darkseid dispatches Deathstroke and Dark Phoenix to hold the two groups off while he complete his work; although Starfire attacks Dark Phoenix in a fury, her starbolts succeed only in further empowering the corrupted Jean, who vehemently resists Nightcrawler’s attempts to reason with her and equally overwhelms even Raven’s Soul-Self. Dark Phoenix then powers up Darkseid’s “Hellpit” and Darkseid boasts about how this will transform Earth into Apokolips within mere minutes. Interestingly, he actually offers the X-Men and the Teen Titans the opportunity to yield and join his cause, which isn’t something I’ve ever seen Darkseid do before, but Shadowcat and Changeling opt instead to use their powers to try and disrupt and destroy the technology powering the Hellpit. For their insubordination, Darkseid commands Dark Phoenix to destroy them but they are saved at the last second by the combined power of Raven, Xavier, and the Mobius Chair. After Cyclops subdues Deathstroke and Robin spirits Shadowcat and Changeling out of danger, Dark Phoenix is bombarded by a psychic assault that simultaneously drains her rage and hatred and overwhelms her with love and affection.

Darkseid is defeated when the Phoenix Force is unleashed against him.

Drained, and close to unravelling, Dark Phoenix is easily goaded into reabsorbing the blast she fired at the Earth to sustain herself. When Darkseid moves to intervene, he is assaulted first by Kid Flash and then the combined forces of Cyborg, Wonder Girl, Colossus, and Starfire, who force his Omega Beams back into his eyes and therefore keep him from stopping Dark Phoenix from empowering herself and thus sparing the Earth. However, still at risk from being consumed by her raging power, Phoenix heeds Darkseid’s advice to focus her energies through a physical form and bonds herself to Cyclops. This, however, proves to be her undoing as Cyclops channels her powers with his undying devotion to his lost love and then turns the full Phoenix Force against Darkseid. The chaotic, flaming energy blasts itself, and Darkseid, across the vast cosmos of the universe to return to the Source Wall and thus imprison the New God within the Wall alongside the doomed giants of yore. Victorious, the two teams revel in how close they came to being destroyed and how fantastic their triumph was, while Scott finds some solace in Storm’s suggestion that Jean’s good soul ultimately saved them in the end. Finally, Metron returns to his chair and bids farewell to the imprisoned Darkseid, commenting that everything has returned as it once was as is to be expected.

The Summary:
“Apokolips…Now!” is quite the chaotic story; considering how many characters it has to juggle, it’s honestly surprising how coherent the story ends up being. If there’s one thing that always puts me off about team-based comics, especially X-Men and the Teen Titans, it’s the sheer abundance of characters and lore a single issue has to deal with so to mash the two together is no mean feat. The result is that no one single character from either team really gets any focus; indeed, many of the characters have next to nothing to do and the focus is, instead, on the meeting of the two teams rather than a bunch of separate interactions between them.

There are a lot of characters who don’t always get time to shine and whose interactions are a bit limited.

This is best seen in the fact that neither Robin or Cyclops get much of a chance to act as a field leader; Nightcrawler is basically a non-factor, and Wonder Girl may as well not be there. Sure, most of the characters are assumed to be busy in fisticuffs with the Parademons and the Shock Commandos but we don’t really get to see much of this. Indeed, we’re even denied a proper fight involving Deathstroke; he takes out Robin with a ridiculous amount of ease, subdues all of the X-Men largely single-handedly, and his fight with Wolverine all takes place off-panel! These days, I like to believe that you’d never see that happen given how prominent Deathstroke and Wolverine are but, in this, Deathstroke is little more than one of Darkseid’s minions who gets taken out pretty quickly to continue the focus on Dark Phoenix. Indeed, Jean’s presence gets more play here than a lot of the other characters; her death was still relatively new at the time and hadn’t been driven into the ground yet so her reappearance is a particularly emotional moment for the X-Men, particularly Cyclops. However, while it’s pretty cool to see Dark Phoenix enamoured with Darkseid and willing to commit global destruction on his behalf, it’s not really enough to elevate this story for me.

While the art is great, the story is just okay and wastes a lot of potential.

I’m not entirely sure where Metron went or what happened to him when he breached the Source Wall and Darkseid’s plot basically boils down to every other plan he has (he’s either seeking out the Anti-Life Equation or trying to conquer the universe, it seems) and, again, he really doesn’t do all that much. This isn’t entirely out of character for Darkseid, who typically allows his underlings to do his work for him, but it’s kind of weird to see him team up with Deathstroke. Like…did Darkseid pay Slade off? I can’t help but feel Trigon might have been a more suitable villain for the New God to ally with. Overall, it’s a pretty decent tale; we don’t get to see the X-Men and the Teen Titans facing off against each other (the closest we get to that is when the Teen Titans attack a weakened Xavier), which is a shame, but it’s fun seeing the teams co-operate. There’s a little tension in the brief Colossus/Shadowcat/Changeling “love triangle” but that’s about all the dissention we get; I would have liked to see how Robin and Cyclop’s leadership styles differ and more interactions from Kid Flash, Wolverine, Wonder Girl, and Storm. Instead, the comic is all about the spectacle of seeing these different comic publisher’s heroes and villains interact in as unspectacular a way as possible. A fun adventure, to be sure, but maybe a little too “safe” and it could very easily be any one of a hundred other X-Men or Teen Titan stories with a few tweaks…but at least the artwork is good.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever read The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you disappointed that the two teams didn’t come to blows or were you happy to see them just working together with no issues? Would you have preferred to see different characters in each team’s line-ups? What did you think to Darkseid’s plan and the return of Dark Phoenix? Would you like to see the X-Men interact with Marvel heroes again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans, and comic book crossovers of this kind, drop a comment down below and check back next Wednesday for the final instalment of Crossover Crisis.

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk


In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.


Story Title: “The Monster and the Madman”
Published: September 1981
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: José Luis García-López

The Background:
Although the two companies both publish stories of colourful, superpowered heroes in a cut-throat industry, the relationship between DC Comics and Marvel Comics has been surprisingly collaborative and amicable over the years (especially compared to many of the toxic fans” who argue on social media every day…) Sure, there’s been lawsuits and underhanded tactics from both companies, but not only were the legendary Stan Lee and the disreputable sham Bob Kane actually good friends but both companies borrowed from and inspired each other and they’ve even collaborated on many joint publications in the past.

DC Comics and Marvel Comics had a number of crossovers and joint ventures over the years.

Having already pitted Clark Kent/Superman against Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century (Conway, et al, 1976), DC and Marvel brought these two characters together again in 1981. That same year, the two companies also produced a sixty-four-page “Treasury Edition” comic book that pitted Bruce Wayne/Batman against Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk. At the time, graphic novels were nowhere near as commonplace as they are today and both characters were experienced a way of renewed mainstream interest off the back of a popular television series and moving away from the camp aesthetic of the 1960s, respectively. Like many of these early DC/Marvel crossovers, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk can fetch a pretty high price these days, and it also wouldn’t be the last time that their paths crossed in one form or another.

The Review:
One of the most reliable constants of many comic books, especially back in the 1960s through to the mid-1990s, was that many stories derail or pad out their narrative with a recap of their character’s origins and background. This seems to mostly happen to Spider-Man, who often interrupts whatever problem he’s having in the issue to recap his iconic origin and, don’t get me wrong, I get why this happens (you can’t expect every reader to be familiar with your characters, after all) but I much prefer it when comics simply have a bit of text before the story to catch readers up. Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk opts for this latter option and is all the better for it; before the story starts, we get a one page, two-column spread the recaps how Bruce Wayne saw his parents shot and trained his body and mind to become Batman and how Dr. Banner was bombarded with Gamma radiation and subsequently transforms into the rampaging Hulk whenever stressed or angry.

Banner raises the alarm when the Joker storms into a Wayne facility.

Like Superman vs. Spider-Man, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk begins with a prologue that establishes the villains of the story; the first is more of an abstract introduction as people all over Gotham City suffer from horrific and disturbing nightmares while the second is far more tangible as is shows that the Joker is back in town and has joined forces with a disembodied voice for nefarious reasons. The story then shifts to find Banner, under the pseudonym of “David Banks”, working a menial job for Wayne Research in order to get close to their “experimental Gamma-Gun”, and who is the only person to act fast enough to slip into a radiation suit and avoid the Joker’s debilitating laughing gas when the Harlequin of Hate and his goons show up to steal that same device!

Outmatched against the Hulk’s sheer power, Batman out-thinks the brute to take him down.

When Banner moves to raise the alarm, he is tackled and beaten by Joker’s thugs which, of course, causes him to transform into the Hulk! Quickly realising that their firepower is absolutely useless against the creature, the Joker orders his men to grab the Gamma-Gun and flee but their escape is impeded by the sudden arrival of the Batman! Unfortunately for Batman, the Joker immediately takes advantage of the Hulk’s child-like demeanour to convince the Green Goliath that Batman is his enemy and thus the two engage in fist fight! Batman initially holds back from confusing and potentially further antagonising the Hulk but finds his attempts to paralyse his foe by striking his nerve centres fruitless. Unable to harm the Hulk, Batman tries to keep his distance and out-think the creature and almost gets his spine snapped as a result! Batman is finally able to subdue the Hulk, however, by forcing him to breathe in a big lungful of his special Bat-gas but, though the Hulk is finally toppled, the Joker escapes with the Gamma-Gun. Batman returns to the facility as Bruce Wayne and immediately enlists the services of the grief-stricken Banner in the construction of a replacement Gamma-Gun.

The Joker and the Shaper conspire to capture the help using fake soldiers.

Back at the docks, the Joker activates the Gamma-Gun and allows his newfound friend, the Shaper of Worlds, to partially manifest in the real world and give us all a run-down on his origin as a parasite who feeds upon the dreams of others and bring them to life. He’s struck a bargain with the Joker (whose insane mind makes him “unique in all the universe”) to help restore the Shaper’s failing abilities, though exactly what the Joker is getting out of this deal is left unclear (and it is heavily implied that the Shaper scares even the Joker!) While Batman hits up Gotham’s underworld in search of the Joker, Banner finds the stress of his assignment putting him on edge. Although he’s briefly calmed down by a cup of Alfred Pennyworth’s tea, he continues to push himself without food or proper rest. Thus, when the Joker’s men arrive disguised as military officials charged with arresting Banner, it isn’t long before he turns green once again. When a specially-designed taser-rifle fails to have the desired effect on the Hulk, a massive blob-like creature enters the fray. Despite the Hulk’s increasing rage and best attempts, the creature is effectively able to absorb and contain the Hulk and spirit him away and Batman arrives in time only to hear Commissioner Jim Gordon receiving confirmation from General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross that the soldiers were fakes.

When the Hulk escapes from them, Joker enlists Batman’s aid in tracking the Jade Giant down.

Back at the Joker’s warehouse, the Hulk goes on a rampage when he hears the Clown Prince of Crime’s plan to revert him to Banner in order to make adjustments to the Gamma-Gun; despite the Shaper’s best efforts to quell the beast’s rage, both he and the Hulk are tormented by disturbing nightmares that leave the two physically and emotionally drained. Bored by the conflict, the Hulk flees but the Shaper comes to the conclusion that the crippling pain and madness his condition brings him can be cured not by the Gamma-Gun…but by the Hulk himself thanks to his unique Gamma properties and orders the Joker to recapture the beast. To facilitate this, the Joker explains the bind he’s in to Batman and enlists his aid, which soon leads to a second confrontation between the two characters. Bored of Batman and being constantly hounded by “puny humans”, the Hulk chooses to flee but a fight soon inevitably breaks out.

Following another fight, Batman is finally able to get the Hulk on side.

Once again, Batman chooses to fight smarter rather than harder, rolling with and doing everything he can to avoid or survive the Hulk’s attacks while trying to talk sense into the increasingly-enraged Hulk. Batman’s tricks result in the Hulk demolishing the building the two were fighting in and once again fleeing in order to be left in peace. Batman is finally able to get through to the Hulk by posing as a harmless old blind man and offering the creature his friendship, which calms the Hulk enough to the point where he willingly goes along with the Joker to confront the Shaper. However, angered that the Joker is willing to let the Hulk face this foe alone, Batman slaps his archenemy down and finally joins forces with the Jade Giant to battle a legion of their enemies brought to life by the Shaper’s powers. Finally on the same page, the two are easily able to overcome the living nightmares and fight their way to the Shaper, who holds them at bay with an impenetrable barrier. Angered at the idea of anything being stronger than he is, the Hulk charges ahead at full speed and exhausts his Gamma energy, reverting to Banner and curing the Shaper.

Despite his vast cosmic powers, Batman is able to trick the Joker into leaving himself vulnerable.

Despite Batman’s pleas, the Shaper honours the bargain he made with the Joker and, having been cured, bestows the Joker with “limitless, infinite power”. Effectively acting as a genie for the Joker, the Shaper makes all of the Joker’s wishes come true, transforming him into a God-like jester who unleashes chaos and madness throughout Gotham City and uses his reality-warping powers to shape the city, its people, and even Batman however he sees fit. When the Shaper refuses to renege on his word, Banner transforms back into the Hulk and finds himself transported to the Joker’s increasingly mental world. Batman goads the Joker into pushing his powers to the limit by criticising his creativity and lack of imagination; although this results in things becoming even more warped and abstract, it also has the intended side effect of overwhelming the Joker, leaving him wide open for a knockout punch. In the aftermath, the Shaper takes his leave, the Joker is confined to Arkham Asylum once again, and Batman allows Banner to slip away in order to find the peace he so desperately desires.

The Summary:
Given that I grew up mainly reading DC and Marvel Comics and annuals published in the seventies and eighties, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk’s presentation is immediately recognisable to me and these are the quintessential representations of these characters at that time, in my opinon. Batman is much more of a stoic tactician and a fair-minded vigilante than a grim, overly paranoid avenger of the night and the Hulk speaks with a child-like demeanour and, while he just wants to be left alone, is more than ready to throw hands when provoked.

Batman and Hulk tangle more than once in a brain vs. brawn bouts.

Thanks to the Hulk’s unpredictable and explosive demeanour, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk features a couple of fights between the two characters that are instantly believable. It’s not the first time that someone/a villain has manipulated the Hulk into trusting them or going nuts on a specific target and Batman is smart enough to not try and match the Hulk blow for blow. Instead, their fights are more about Batman trying to outmanoeuvre his foe, trying to reason with him, and using his physical skills and gadgets to stay out of the Hulk’s reach and to subdue him. It’s definitely a battle of brains versus brawn, which isn’t unusual when characters fight the Hulk but it’s definitely a spectacle seeing Batman trying to take on such an overwhelming foe. Superman versus the Hulk obviously makes more sense on paper but I don’t think it would have resulted in as interesting a story and probably would have descended into a slugfest instead.

Joker plays a vital role as an opportunistic and manipulative villain.

I’m not familiar with the Shaper of Worlds but the story does a pretty good job of establishing his powers and what he wants; desperate to cure the crippling pain and madness caused by his fading abilities, he enters into a partnership with the Joker to use Gamma radiation to stabilise him. It’s unusual to see the Joker acting out of fear or subordinate to another but his characterisation remains completely on point and he never seems to be a diminished threat. Instead, he remains in control and a tangible menace throughout; he’s smart enough to manipulate the Hulk and even convince Batman to help him, and then obtains God-like power and goes berserk bending and twisting reality, forcing Batman to think of ways to outsmart him, which is always fun to see.

The story avoids being an all-out slugfest for some interesting character interactions.

Overall, it was quite a decent crossover between the two. The Hulk typically doesn’t have one set location so setting the entire story in Gotham City was a good idea; seeing Banner and Wayne (and Alfred) interact was a nice little inclusion and something missing from Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man. While neither character’s supporting cast have very much to do, it was nice to see Gordon show up (and to have him communicate with Ross) and having the Shaper conjure up nightmarish visions of both character’s foes was pretty awesome, especially when the Hulk reacted to Batman’s enemies with disinterested rage. There could have been more interactions between Batman and the Hulk; entire pages and chapters go past without the two interacting at all, either in or out of costume/form, which is in contrast to Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man but I think this was done to keep the story from descending into a series of one-sided fights. After all, there’s only so many ways you can show Batman avoiding being pummeled by the Hulk before it gets repetitive, and we do get to see interesting character combinations and interactions (and a pretty decent Batman story featuring the Hulk) as a result.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you surprised that Batman was pitted against the Hulk? Do you think he should have met a different Marvel character instead? What did you think to the team-up between the Joker and the Shaper and the Joker’s acquisition of phenomenal cosmic powers? Would you like to see DC and Marvel collaborate again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk, and comic book crossovers of this kind, drop a comment down below and check back next Wednesday as Crossover Crisis continues!

Back Issues [Robin Month]: Batman: A Death in the Family


In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate every Sunday of April to celebrating the character?


Story Title: “A Death in the Family”
Published: September 1988 to November 1988
Writer: Jim Starlin
Artist: Jim Aparo

The Background:
Having been a regular part of Batman’s adventures since his debut, Dick Grayson eventually grew from a “Boy Wonder” and into a “Teen Wonder” as part of the Teen Titans; to continue the Batman and Robin dynamic, writer Gerry Conway and artist Bob Newton created Jason Todd to, quite literally, fill Grayson’s boots as the new Robin. Originally having a background and personality that was almost an exact copy of Grayson’s, Jason’s backstory and demeanour were dramatically altered by writer Jim Starlin following the Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1985 to 1986). Now a rebellious, impulsive brat from the streets with a volatile temper, readers came to dislike the new Robin and it was writer Jim Starlin who first proposed the idea of killing the character off. Dennis O’Neil decided to run a telephone campaign where the fans themselves would decide whether Jason lived or died following a brutal encounter with the Joker. Starlin and artist Jim Aparo crafted the story and produced two potential outcomes, one where Jason lived and one where he died but, despite some controversy, the results were heavily in favour of the young Robin’s demise. Jason’s death was a pivotal moment in Batman’s career; he kept a monument in the Batcave as a constant reminder of his greatest failure, mentally and physically struggled with the boy’s death even after Tim Drake took on the Robin mantle, and for fifteen years Jason was one of only a handful of comic cook characters whose death actually stuck.

The Review:
A Death in the Family begins by immediately emphasising that the dynamic between Batman and Robin has gotten a bit out of whack lately thanks to Jason’s reckless and impulsive attitude. After spending three weeks tracking down a kiddie-porn ring and cutting Commissioner Jim Gordon and the Gotham City police department in on the bust, Jason decides to go off script and attack the thugs head-on. Once they have subduing the pornographers, Batman chews Jason out since not only did his actions mean that Gordon missed out on the bust but they also lead to him (as in Jason) almost being shot in the back.

Jaosn’s reckless ways lead to him being grounded right when the Joker escapes from Arkham!

Although enraged at the time, Batman is left stunned at Jason’s cavalier attitude towards their job and, once back at Wayne Manor, confides in his butler and long-time confidante, Alfred Pennyworth, about Jason’s recent chaotic actions. Alfred suggests that Jason is still struggling to come to terms with the deaths of his parents and that being Robin is probably not the most productive way to work through his grief, a suggestion that Bruce begrudgingly agrees with. Jason, however, is angered at them talking about him behind his back and even more outraged when Bruce grounds him from being Robin and tries to get him to talk about his parents. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Batman is called out to Arkham Asylum (during the day, no less), where Gordon informs him that the Joker was able to get into the janitor’s storage room, mix up a version of his lethal laughing gas, kill a bunch of guards, and escape. Both Batman and Gordon are determined to use every resource available to track Joker down after he crippled Gordon’s niece, Barbara, in Batman: The Killing Joke (Moore, et al, 1988). Joker, however, is fully aware of the heat hanging over him and has a big plan to dismantle a cruise missile he has stored away in a warehouse and sell it off to terrorists and buy his way into politics.

Jason’s solo venture to find his real mother coincides with Batman’s search for the Joker.

Still fuming, Jason wanders around Gotham City and ends up at his old home near Crime Alley. This provides the story with the perfect opportunity to recap how Jason’s mother, Catherine, died of a “disease” when he was young and his father, two-bit criminal Willis Todd, ended up being murdered by his boss, Harvey Dent/Two-Face, leaving Jason in the care of an orphanage. Quite coincidentally, Mrs. Walker, a friend of Catherine’s, recognises Jason and provides him with a box of his personal effects, much to his stunned amazement. However, when looking through these documents, he discovers that Catherine wasn’t his real mother; thanks to the Batcave, Jason narrows down his mother’s true identity to one of three people and, believing that neither Bruce or Alfred would approve or support his endeavour, steals Bruce’s credit cards and heads out to track his true mother down. Although obviously wishing to chase after Jason, Batman is forced to continue tracking down the Joker after discovering the madman’s plot; this leads him to Lebanon, but he is constantly one step behind the Harlequin of Hate. Thankfully, though, Batman’s investigation and Jason’s search for his mother align when they come across each other in Beirut. Despite being angered at the boy’s impulsive actions, Batman is pleased to be working alongside his young partner once more and, together, the two are able to disrupt the Joker’s sale of his missile, something made all the easier when the missile explodes on its launcher and takes the Joker’s money with it. On the downside, the Joker escapes and Sharmin Rosen, an Israeli agent who helps the Dynamic Duo, turns out to not have ever sired a child, though Batman vows to help Jason track down the other two names on his list.

Shiva turns out to be a dead end and Sheila, Jason’s true mother, is in league with the Joker!

However, when they track down Shiva Woosan, they find that she has been kidnapped by Shite terrorists. Thankfully, Batman and Robin are able to infiltrate the Shite camp, where Shiva is revealed to be the deadly assassin and martial artist Lady Shiva and responsible for training the terrorists. A brutal fist-fight ensues between the Dark Knight and Shiva but Batman get the upper hand thanks to Jason choosing to help his mentor in subduing her. After destroying the camp, though, Jason is once again left disheartened when (after being subjected to sodium pentothal), Shiva reveals that has also never had a baby. This leaves Sheila Haywood, the last name on Jason’s list, who turns out to actually be Jason’s birth mother. While Jason is overjoyed to be reunited with his mother, he’s horrified when it turns out that she’s being blackmailed into helping the Joker get his hands on some medical supplies to help with his financial woes. This time, Jason does go to Bruce for help and Batman explicitly orders Jason to stay behind while he intercepts the supply trucks tainted by the Joker’s laughing gas. True to form, Jason doesn’t listen; he reveals his duel identity to his mother and she immediately sells him out to the Joker.

Superman is sent to keep Batman from avenging his partner’s death at the Joker’s hands.

While Batman disrupts the Joker’s plot, he’s left relying on one of the supply trucks to get him back to Jason since he loses his little Bat-mini-copter. As a result, Jason is left entirely at the Joker’s mercy and subjected to a brutal beating; he smacks Jason with his pistol, kicks him in the face, has henchmen put a beating on him, and then beats him to a bloody pulp with a crowbar! Note that the Joker does not beat Jason to death with the crowbar; he “merely” bludgeons him into a broken, bloody mess. Indeed, Jason is still cognizant enough to free his mother when the Joker betrays her but the two are caught in a massive explosion when the bomb the Joker left in the warehouse with them explodes. Batman arrives just in time to witness the explosion and, despite hoping against hope and knowing better, is devastated to find that not only has Sheila perished in the blast but so has Jason. Again, while it is a bit unbelievable that Jason’s body isn’t strewn over the wreckage in bloody chunks, it is the bomb that killed Jason; not the crowbar! Anyway, Bruce immediately sets about coming up with a suitable cover story for how and why Sheila and Jason were there and laying him to rest. However, Bruce refuses Alfred’s offer to contact Dick Grayson to help track down the Joker but Batman’s desire to bring the Joker to justice for his actions are complicated by the arrival of Clark Kent/Superman. Although sympathetic to Bruce’s plight, Superman reveals that he has been explicitly asked by the State Department to stop Batman’s vendetta since the Joker has been made he new Iranian ambassador and has thus been granted diplomatic immunity from all prior crimes!

Batman goes out looking for blood and remains unsatisfied with the Joker’s apparent end.

Unimpressed, Bruce ignores Superman’s warnings, and those of the United States government, and prepares for a final showdown. He (as Batman) makes one final attempt to appeal to the Joker’s decency and sanity but that obviously fails, and he spends a great deal of his inner monologue postulating on the mysterious connection between him and his enemy. Here, we learn that Bruce regrets not killing the Joker years ago, lamenting that he let Joker’s clear insanity stay his hand, but he can no longer justify allowing him to live any longer. Equal parts driven by rage and a moral obligation to spare the world (and other children) the Joker’s wrath, Bruce sets aside his usually strict moral code and commits himself to killing the Joker…or dying in the attempt. When Batman’s suspicions about the Joker’s true intentions at being a United Nations ambassador come to fruition, Superman is luckily on hand to put a stop to his attempt to gas everyone but, thanks to panic caused by his explosive back-up plan, the Clown Prince of Crime is able to escape to his helicopter on the roof. Batman, fuelled by a desire for revenge, pursues his enemy and, in the fracas, both are shot by one of the Joker’s henchman. Though Batman is only wounded, the Joker takes a slug in the chest and, with the helicopter in a death spiral, Batman bids his archenemy adieu and dives to safety. However, he remains unsatisfied when the helicopter crashes since he knows that no-one, not even Superman, will be able to recover a body to confirm the kill.

The Summary:
A Death in the Family is the quintessential Batman for me. Never mind your Frank Miller’s and Scott Snyder’s; I grew up with the likes of Jim Starlin and the simple, agile elegance of Jim Aparo. Although I’ve never been a fan of Batman’s blue-and-grey suit with yellow oval, it is still an iconic and timeless look for the character and Starlin’s characterisation of the Dark Knight is pretty much spot-on. Under his pen, he’s not just some grim, stoic avenger of the night; he’s a trusted ally of Jim Gordon’s, a respectable partner of the G.C.P.D., a stern (yet, crucially, fair) mentor, and a master detective. Indeed, as adept and skilled as Batman’s physical prowess was during this time (and in this story), it’s his intellect that is often given just as much time to shine, which really help to redefine the character as a more intellectual superhero.

As formidable as Batman is, he is still human and vulnerable.

Still, that’s not to say that Batman doesn’t get his fair share of action in this story. Both he and Robin get more than enough chances to shine; Starlin is sure to characterise the two as being a well-oiled unit even when Jason’s explosive temperament causes him to go off the rails. Batman is depicted as being cool, calm, and collected even when facing multiple armed foes and having to account for Jason’s volatile nature. While the everyday, run of the mill goons Batman fights don’t pose that much of a challenge to him, the story still goes to lengths to emphasise the physical skill, co-ordination, and special awareness Batman has to do what he does and it thus makes even more of an impact when Lady Shiva is able to match him blow-for-blow and deal some decent damage to Batman. Indeed, while Batman is characterised as being a master at what he does, he is by no means infallible; not only does his rage drive him into a wholly justified murderous vendetta by the story’s end but he also suffers a few significant physical injuries, including a bullet wound to his arm.

Jason’s reckless nature eventually leads to his brutal death.

Of course, a focal point to this story is Jason. While far from the insolent little prick he’s often characterised as being in flashbacks these days, Jason is still an emotionally-charged liability. He’s an angst-ridden teenager, one struggling to deal with the worst tragedy of his life and given free reign to unload his anger and resentment on Gotham’s underworld. While Dick was a daredevil and a risk-taker due to his background in the circus, Jason is just reckless and leaps into battle without a plan or a care for his own safety or the intricacies of Batman’s operation. Enraged at being shut out from his responsibilities as Robin, Jason finds renewed purpose in his search for his true mother; this helps mend the fences between him and Bruce, who of course sympathises with his young partner’s plight and genuinely wishes to help him in any way he can. Bruce agonises over having to pursue the Joker instead of Jason and this only adds to the grief and guilt he feels weighing upon him when he arrives all too late to save his headstrong partner from a gruesome fate.

Strapped for cash, the Joker goes to extreme measures to re-establish himself.

This is an interesting story for the Joker; like Batman, Joker went through a period of time where he was either absent from DC Comics or significantly altered but his threat really ramped up after Dennis O’Neil came onto the main Batman book. Now a calculating, vindictive, and incredibly intelligent villain, the Joker’s usual madcap nature is supplanted by a desperate need to quickly build up his finances and assume a position of real power through a political career. This backfires on him when he is arrogant enough to think he can assemble and reassemble a cruise missile, costing him his cash in the process, but also drives him to spiking medical supplies and trying to gas the United Nations while being protected from reprisals by diplomatic immunity. It’s a story very much driven by the Joker’s psychopathic and callous ways but not necessarily overwhelmed by him; it remains a dramatic tale of Batman struggling to help his unpredictable partner that culminates in a showdown with the Joker rather than him becoming the sole focus of the story like in a lot of later Batman/Joker stories.

Jason is beaten to a pulp with a crowbar and dies in a desperate attempt to save his mother.

Of course, you can’t really talk about A Death in the Family without mentioning the brutal and sadistic torture and death of Jason Todd. One of the things I like about the story is that, as much of a little ass as Jason is, you can totally see where he’s coming from; he’s young, hurting, and lashing out in blind anger. His demeanour shifts from being reckless with his safety to trying to find his birth mother once he finds out that she’s still alive and there’s a definite sense that he just wants to have that gaping hole in his heart filled, which is again obviously something Batman can very much relate to. This is emphasised to the fullest when Jason, beaten and clearly dying, uses the last of his strength to try and save his mother from the blast that kills them despite the fact that she betrayed him to the Joker. In the end, he died every bit the hero Batman raised him to be and is fully deserving of Bruce’s adulation in death. Indeed, while Jason was talented and gifted, he wasn’t quite the all-rounder that Dick was and nowhere near the suitable protégé Tim Drake would prove to be and yet, in making the ultimate sacrifice, he gave himself to Bruce’s cause in a way beyond his other partners and it was fascinating seeing Bruce slowly self-destruct in subsequent stories because of his guilt over Jason’s death, and seeing the incident being brought up every so often to remind him of his greatest failure.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you ever read A Death in the Family? What did you think to DC’s decision to kill Jason off? Were you a fan of the character back then or did you think he was an annoying little brat who deserved what he got? What did you think to the characterisation of Batman during this time? Were you a fan of the Joker’s inclusion in this story, and did you like the wrinkle of Superman being brought in to keep Batman in check? Did you realise that Jason died by a bomb and not the crowbar? Whatever your thoughts on A Death in the Family, and Jason Todd, leave a comment below and stick around for more Robin content this month.

Back Issues: The Amazing Spider-Man #102

Story Title: “Vampire at Large!” (also includes “–The Way it Began” and “The Curse and the Cure!”)
Published: November 1971
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Gil Kane

The Background:
After achieving incredible success with the Fantastic Four, Marvel editor and head writer Stan Lee created Peter Parker/Spider-Man, a teenage superhero who unexpectedly became one of Marvel’s best selling titles. Spider-Man’s popularity was such that he featured in a number of spin-offs, including Marvel Team-Up, which partnered him with other, less mainstream superheroes, and he quickly amassed one of the most colourful and memorable rogues galleries in all of comicdom. Doctor Michael Morbius was just one of these; the creation of writer Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, and billed as a “Living Vampire”, Morbius came into being thanks to the Comics Code Authority finally relaxing its ban on vampires and other supernatural beings in comic books, but was actually the product of science rather than magic. Morbius would go on to feature in a number of Marvel crossovers and stories, generally those involving supernatural characters such as Eric Brooks/Blade and the various Ghost Riders, but the only time I’ve ever encountered him is in his neutered depiction in the 1990’s Spider-Man cartoon. After years of stop/start efforts to make it onto the silver screen, Morbius inexplicably made his live-action debut recently, so I figured now is as good a time as any to revisit the Living Vampire’s debut and see if he’s really worth his own solo movie.

The Review:
Before tackling “Vampire at Large!”, it’s probably best to also give a bit more background on Morbius and the events surrounding his introduction. The character actually appeared in “A Monster Called…Morbius!” (Thomas, et al, 1971), a story which opened with Spider-Man startled to find that his attempt to cure himself has resulted in him growing four additional arms! Struggling with the despair and horror of his newfound predicament, Peter makes a desperate call to Doctor Curt Connors/The Lizard and is invited to stay at the Connor’s Long Island beach house until he can find a solution. However, after working tirelessly for two days straight, Spider-Man is frustrated by failure, but has little time to dwell on his misery as he is attacked by a grotesque, pale figure garbed in an elaborate cape ensemble.

While trying to rid himself of his for extra arms, Spidey is attacked by first Morbius…and then the Lizard!

This previous story also details how this vampiric man known as Morbius was found adrift in the ocean and slaughtered the crew of a vessel under the darkness of night. Washing ashore, Morbius flees to Connor’s summerhouse to sleep in the belfry and avoid the draining influence of the daytime sun, but awakens to find the six-armed Spider-Man awaiting him. The Living Vampire isn’t one for villainous monologues; he simply attacks, surprising the wall-crawler with his deathly visage, his superhuman strength, and his sharp fangs. Fatigued after working without a break for two days, Spider-Man is in little condition to fight and is knocked unconscious following a massive blow. Morbius’s meal is interrupted, however, by the unexpected arrival of Dr. Connors; stunned by the vampire’s horrific appearance, Connors transforms into the Lizard and “Vampire at Large!” begins with Spider-Man being caught between a brutal throwdown between the two tortured monstrosities.

Dr. Connors struggles to maintain his humanity and help Spider-Man whip up a cure.

With Morbius desiring to feed on Spider-Man’s blood and the Lizard fixated on killing the wall-crawler, the two monsters are almost evenly matched in strength and ferocity; however, Morbius gains the upper hand by sending the Lizard flying into an electrical gizmo, which renders the reptilian unconscious and easy prey for the Living Vampire. Unable to see anyone, least of all a tragic soul like Dr. Connors, fall victim to such a fate, Spider-Man intervenes and tries to get answers from Morbius, but the enigmatic vampire chooses to fly out into the night, unaware that Spidey has tagged him with one of this spider tracers, and leaving him with the weakened Lizard. Although Connors briefly returns to a reptilian version of his human form, he finds himself trapped as the Lizard but retaining some semblance of his humanity thanks to the effects of Morbius’s bite. Spider-Man and the Lizard resolve to combine their resources and intelligence to help cure both of their conditions; the Lizard theorises that Morbius’s vampiric bite must have infected him with an enzyme, but time is against them as the Lizard grows wilder and more animalistic with every passing minute.

In trying to cure his mysterious fatal disease, Morbius becomes a Living Vampire craving human blood!

We then re-join Morbius in the throes of another soliloquy regarding the anguish he feels during the day time, the screams and accusations of his victims, and his need to sleep through the day to keep those nightmarish thoughts out and remain at full strength. As he sleeps, however, Morbius not only begs for forgiveness from his victims but dreams about how he came to be; it seems he was once Doctor Michael Morbius, a Nobel Prize winning scientist stricken by a facial deformity and ravaged by a rare disease that he hoped to cure by conducting research on vampire bats using experimental shock treatment. Desperate for a cure so that he can give his beloved Martine the life she deserves, Morbius has his friend and colleague Nikos help him by subjecting him to an untested dosage of electrical current while garbed in a special suit; however, Morbius emerges forever changed, transforming into a monstrous, man-made vampire during the night and he accidentally kills Nikos with his bare hands. Horrified by the monster he has become, Morbius attempts to lose himself in the ocean’s tumultuous waves, only for his survival instinct to kick in, forcing him to the surface…and to an undead life of feeding upon the blood of the living.

Although Spidey recovers the serum, Morbius is seemingly lost beneath the sea.

While Peter’s friends, family, and colleagues worry after him, Spider-Man and the unpredictable Lizard finally manage to track Morbius down and, conscious of time being against him, Spidey is able to finally render the Living Vampire unconscious so that the Lizard can extract the enzyme they need from Morbius’s blood. Without even waiting to test it, the Lizard injects the serum into himself and becomes Dr. Connors once more; however, Morbius suddenly awakens, catching Spidey off-guard and making off with the serum in order to drink it for himself. Dr. Connors finally recognises Morbius as Morbius (I mean…the clue’s in the name, right?) and Spider-Man is compelled to help him, sympathising and identifying with his horrific fate, but Morbius is so determined to escape and live free that he collides a bridge and appears to drown in the river. On the plus side, Spider-Man is able to snag the serum before Morbius disappears beneath the water and successfully rids himself of his additional limbs, but guilt over Morbius’s fate weighs heavily on the web-slinger’s mind.

The Summary:
“Vampire at Large!” is a very different, and yet very familiar, Spider-Man story; of course you’ve got all the usual tropes you’d expect from a swingin’ Spidey tale set in the late seventies, but Peter’s usual depression, bad luck, and lamentations are made all the worse by the presence of his additional arms. Although Peter is cured of his four extra arms by the conclusion of the story (and you can bet such a plot point would be dragged out for months or even years today), it’s an entertaining and visually interesting sight to see Spider-Man swinging around with these four extra arms sticking out of his side, but they don’t really factor into the story that much beyond giving Peter something new to despair over and driving him to tirelessly find a cure for his condition. What I mean to say is that he doesn’t really get to use the extra arms in an interesting way; they’re simply a plot point, something to make him feel like a freak and an outcast and thus relate to the plight of the Lizard and the debuting Morbius even more.

Morbius’s superhuman strength and unending hunger make him a formidable foe.

I have to say that I wasn’t expecting the Lizard to show up in this story, but it does make sense that Spider-Man would turn to the one man who has experience in trying to cure a limb problem (even though Dr. Connors has been…less than successful in his attempts) and it’s a good job that he does go to Dr. Connors for help or else he would have been another of Morbius’s very victims. Morbius himself is, of course, the big star of the story; mysterious and enigmatic, Morbius makes a visual impression with his chalk-white skin, gruesome bat-like visage, and elaborate outfit that is like a superhero reimagining of Count Dracula’s regal attire. Able to fly at will, sporting superhuman strength, and driven by an overwhelming need to drink human blood, Morbius is a conflicted individual; he sought to cure himself of his fatal ailment, and instead became a monstrous creature of the night that laments having to prey upon his fellow man, and his condition, and yet is also motivated by an irresistible desire to survive at any cost. Initially, Morbius attacks with a silent, driven fury and, thanks to Spidey’s fatigue, easily overwhelms the web-slinger but, as the story progresses, he becomes much more loquacious and prone to the same soliloquies and grandiose boasting so closely associated with comic book villains.

All three struggle with their monstrous afflictions but only Morbius gives into it completely, to his undoing.

And yet, Morbius remains a tragic figure. There’s a definite theme in “Vampire at Large!” regarding humanity as each character has a monstrous condition that leaves them a freak of nature and a threat to their loved ones and fellow man: Peter is distraught that his four arms could shock his beloved Aunt May to death and spell the end of his secret identity and the few relationships he has left, Dr. Connors is continuously battling for control of his mind and body and against the animalistic urges of his scaly other half, and Morbius has seemingly given in to his gruesome urges. Indeed, he actively shuns the daylight not just because it weakens his vampiric abilities but also because he sees only the faces of those he has killed and is haunted by the screams of his victims. Initially, he is so horrified by his condition that he seeks to end his existence, but chastises himself for his short-sightedness, his survival instinct overriding his anguish, and is seemingly destroyed by his obsession with maintaining his freedom by the finale. Personally, I’ve never really been that big a fan of Morbius; he’s okay, but hardly a character I would deem to be a game-changer but his debut here was well handled as it was tied so closely with Spider-Man’s bizarre appendage predicament. He definitely had a mystery and aura around him, though his origins were ill-defined and vague compared to later iterations, and he had a striking appearance that set him apart from Spidey’s abundance of green-and-purple-garbed villains, but he’s definitely more at home in Marvel’s more supernatural and horror-themed books and, for me, little more than a footnote in Spider-Man’s history.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What are your thoughts on Morbius’s debut? Are you a fan of the character and, if so, what are some of your favourite Morbius tales? Were you disappointed with how brief Peter’s struggles with his four extra limbs was or do you think it was a good idea to not drag the concept out too long? What did you think to Morbius’s depiction, origin, and powers? Do you think the Lizard was necessary to this story? Are you excited for Morbius’s live-action debut or, like me, do you consider it a waste of time and money? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Morbius below or comment on my social media, and be sure to check back in next Friday for my review of Morbius’s big-screen debut.