Back Issues: Guardians of the Galaxy (2008) #1-3

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning – Artist: Paul Pelletier

Story Title: “Somebody’s Got To Do It”
Published: 14 May 2008 (cover-dated July 2008)

Story Title: “Legacy”
Published: 18 June 2008 (cover-dated August 2008)

Story Title: “Beyond Belief”
Published: 10 July 2008 (cover-dated September 2008)

The Background:
Today, Marvel Comics’ Guardians of the Galaxy are well-known as a group of reprobates-turned-heroes thanks to their inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), however I think it’s fair to say that the team (and the concept) was relatively obscure compared to other Marvel heavy-hitters like the Avengers and Peter Parker/Spider-Man before the release of Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014). As I have already explored, the cosmic team was initially very different when they debuted in the pages of Marvel Super Heroes! #18 (Drake, et al, 1969) and, despite strong sales of the team’s debut issue, the Guardians of the Galaxy remained dormant for about five years and also underwent many alterations as they graduated to their own self-titled series. Between 2006 and 2007, Marvel Comics published a cosmic crossover series titled Annihilation (Giffen, et al), a sprawling storyline in which Annihilus spread destruction throughout the galaxy with his “Annihilation Wave”, an event heralded for proving such epics could occur without Marvel’s flagship characters at the helm. From August 2007 and June 2008, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning spearheaded a follow-up miniseries, Annihilation: Conquest, out of which was formed a new line-up of Guardians that served as direct inspiration for the MCU’s movies and subsequent multimedia iterations of the team.

The Review:
In place of the usual text boxes, the story is intercut with log debriefings from the Guardians as they reflect on their mission, and therefore jumps about between a few different time periods, which makes a step-by-step recap a little difficult so, instead, I’ll try and go mostly in chronological order. Two weeks ago, Star-Lord, Phyla-Vell/Quasar, and the last surviving member of the Nova Corps, Richard Rider/Nova, were discussing the power vacuum in the galaxy after back-to-back destructive conflicts with Annihilus and the Phalanx. Both battles caught them completely off-guard so, rather than establish a peacekeeping force like the Nova Corps, Star-Lord suggests assembling an “ass-kicking force” that can pre-emptively tackle threats before they can escalate. The first person Star-Lord recruits is Rocket Raccoon, primarily for his “military smarts” and also because he’s “the best tactical mind [he] ever met”. Although Star-Lord tries to grease the wheels by tanking Rocket up with alcohol, he didn’t need to do this, or pile on the compliments; recognising the guilt Star-Lord carries after unwittingly causing the Phalanx’s invasion, Rocket agrees to help but only if Peter quits giving himself a hard time over it, especially as they won the day in the end. Quasar then paid a visit to the grieving Drax the Destroyer whose daughter, Heather Douglas/Moondragon, perished in a previous battle against Ultron. Filled with regret over never having a “regular” relationship with her and having lost his purpose now that he has slain Thanos, Drax considers himself a liability to others because of his thirst for death, but Quasar offers him purpose and direction as part of Star-Lord’s team. Nova then went to recruit Gamora, who was incensed at the suggestion, and that Nova never tried to get her into bed following their victory over the Phalanx. However, despite her stubbornness, Gamora is won over not just by the prospect of a booty call with Rider but also by his compelling argument that she’s tired of being an emotionless killer and desires something more out of life. Together, the group turn to Adam Warlock/Him for further support; troubled by the recent incursions, which have weakened space and time so badly that fissures into extradimensional universes are threatening to spill God knows what into the galaxy and tear it apart, Warlock agrees to join them in order to ensure the stability and continuation of life across our universe.

The fledgling Guardians come together to defend the galaxy from interdimensional incursions.

The fledgling Guardians soon came into a violent conflict with the Universal Church of Truth, a group of zealots who, in an alternate timeline, worshiped Warlock like a God. There were some teething problems throughout this battle; Star-Lord struggled to pull these volatile egos together, leading to Warlock, Gamora, and Drax heading to the control deck to tackle the root of the problem. The Church’s templeship is powered by “faith”, specifically faith in life (which Warlock notes is ironic as the Church’s plan will destroy life rather than grant it) and, once they realise their sacred ship is in danger, the Church’s founders, the Crusaders, promptly teleport away, leaving their devout followers behind, much to the disgust of Warlock, Gamora, and Drax. By the time the others reach the control deck, their options are limited as the templeship is already breaching a fissure; to make matters worse, a gigantic, disgusting eldritch abomination comes through the breach. However, Quasar and the others are able to hold it back to buy Rocket time to destroy the control deck with a grenade; the remaining energy is absorbed by Warlock and Quasar and the threat is summarily ended. They promptly teleport victorious (though Rocket claims the bulk of the victory for himself) to Knowhere, an interdimensional crossroads on the outer edge of time-space that allows them to rapidly transport anywhere using their “passport” bracelets and which happens to be housed inside the severed head of a Celestial! Knowhere is maintained by a group of strange alien lifeforms and overseen by Cosmo the Spacedog, a telekinetic Russian-born hound who has a rivalry with Rocket, acts as their chief of security, and has been busy getting Knowhere up and running for their services. Knowhere is also home to a thriving alien society, including a marketplace and economic system, and to the steadily growing sapling that was once Groot and Brandt/Mantis, an empath who has the unenviable job of maintaining the psychological well-being of the team and facilitating their disparate personalities. However, her precognitive abilities also alert her to an impending betrayal from within, though she’s unable to inform them of this as it could threaten the delicate balance of the timeline. No sooner are the Guardians back at Knowhere that Warlock detects another fissure on the ice asteroid of 5G Hydronis, a place where time and space are being torn apart and where, upon melting away some of the ice, the Guardians are stunned to find the Avengers Mansion contained within!

As the team struggles against the Cardinals, the time-displaced Vance fights off a mysterious attacker.

Before they can properly process the implications of this, they’re attacked by more Lovecraftian beasts, this time giant, slobbering worms that burst up from the ice and ensnare them. Luckily, Major Vance Astro/Major Victory of the original Guardians of the Galaxy happened to be frozen on the planetoid and briefly helps the struggling team before promptly collapsing in a fit of confusion and exhaustion. Star-Lord and Rocket hold off the creatures to cover Drax and Gamora as they tend to Vance, then the group promptly teleports out of there as Warlock and Quasar destroy the asteroid and its monstrous inhabitants. Star-Lord sees providence in Vance’s appearance, especially the symbolism of the shield he carries and the importance both it and Captain Steve Rogers/Captain America had on the legacy of the Avengers. Still encased in his protective suit and apparently dislodged from the time stream, Vance suffers from crippling amnesia and can only remember some vague importance about being at exactly this time period. Mantis tends to Vance to try and acclimatise him to the time period and help him recover his lost memories; though Rocket, inspired by Vance’s story, is more concerned with pestering the team into adopting the Guardians of the Galaxy name. After picking up another fissure, the team head to a seemingly abandoned Dyson Sphere – a literal sun encased within an artificial shell – where they are attacked by Raker and his knightly Cardinals. Sent by the Matriarch of the Church to seek retribution and garbed in gleaming golden armour, the Cardinals are powered by the prayers of their faithful, proving a formidable threat since they are capable of doing anything as long as they believe it, including conjuring weapons and shields of golden energy. Offended by Warlock’s magic and with no time for the team’s heathenistic explanations, the Cardinals make short work of the group simply by believing they have the means to overpower them, meaning they not only break Star-Lord’s hand but also run the mighty Adam Warlock through with a sword. As the Guardians struggle against the self-righteous Cardinals, Vance is suddenly attacked by the time-displaced Stakar of the House of Ogord/Starhawk, who takes even Mantis off-guard thanks to being completely invisible to her mental powers. Starhawk attacks the confused Vance with very familiar claw-like appendages and their battle rages through Knowhere, destroying six of their teleportation batteries, before he teleports out without a single word and leaving the perplexed Vance to incur the wrath of Cosmo for all the damage he caused in the fight.

Gamora’s selfless actions galvanise the team, but the threat of betrayal hangs in the air…

Having accomplished their mission, the Cardinals return to their homeworld; however, many are also dissolved when the Dyson Sphere’s population rises against them; reduced to a corrosive bio-mass after their genetic experiments opened a fissure in their very DNA, the inhabitants have become a tortured, grotesque hive mind. Already beyond salvation, absorbing the Cardinals only accelerates their instability and threatens to open a more destructive fissure. As Gamora tends to Star-Lord’s wounds, he shares with the group his plan to lift the shield that protects the surface from the sun’s rays, a strategy that will fry the entire Dyson Sphere and its out of control inhabitants in one swift move. The idea works and the bio-mass is summarily set ablaze, but Peter’s plan to teleport to safety is scuppered thanks to the damage caused by Vance and Starhawk. With the protective dome fading quickly, Drax and Star-Lord both volunteer to restore it; unfortunately, Quasar’s power is taxed to the limited just trying to keep them safe, so Gamora opts to handle it herself. Thanks to her healing factor, and the limited protection offered by Quasar, Gamora is able to reach the controls and restore the dome and, though she survives the ordeal, she’s left chargrilled and mutilated by the heat of the supernova. Still, her teammates are impressed by her bravery and her actions galvanise the team yet, despite their victory, Warlock remains disturbed not just by the fact that He was unable to save that advanced civilisation but also by the motives behind the Universal Church of Truth’s attack. An epilogue reveals that the Matriarch sent Raker to engage the Guardians not to “purify” them for their interference in their plans, but to verify that Warlock is actually the real deal as it’s revealed she has His protective cocoon resting in her palace, indicating the presence of an imposter.

The Summary:
The story’s action is peppered with log entries from the individual Guardians that offers insight into their character and commentary on their actions; Star-Lord is cautiously optimistic about his new team despite their inelegant solutions to problems, Quasar had her doubts that the mismatched team of egos could pull it together despite Star-Lord’s determination, Rocket expressed regret at being talked into joining such an outfit and venturing into the dangerous depths of space, Warlock has His doubts but recognises the value of the Guardians given the short lifespan of the cosmos, and Drax bluntly refuses to elaborate on his many experiences with death. Gamora is easily the most vocal about her scepticism; almost every line she has questions their purpose and direction, to the point where even Drax, who was equally sceptical about his value to such a group, calls her out on her lack of team spirit when she boasts of her healing factor to the less-fortunate Quasar. This makes her selfless act to endure the searing heat of the sun’s flames all the more impressive and goes to great lengths to earn her the respect and admiration from her teammates. One of the things I loved about the MCU interpretation of the Guardians of the Galaxy is their dysfunctional dynamic; they banter with and aggravate each other, to the point where they generally spend more time arguing than co-operating, which lends to their charm. Those aspects are alive and well here; in the heat of battle, the team are more focused on coming up with a name for themselves than fending off their enemies; Warlock, who’s had some experience in leading teams, is the first one to point this out and even Star-Lord, for all his enthusiasm, begins to question his decisions when their distractions send him hurtling out of a window.

The banter snark, and dysfunctional family dynamic are all appealing elements to this team.

There’s some concern, mostly from Gamora, regarding Warlock’s nature; His talk of altering the timeline and general demeanour have Gamora questioning how much He’s changed since she last saw Him. It’s clear that Warlock has changed recently and knows far more than what He’s letting on to His teammates; His philosophy seems to be to simply tackle an issue before it can escalate and explain the why of the matter later since it’s inconsequential against the need for action. As much as I love Dave Bautista’s portrayal of Drax as this loveable meathead, this version of Drax is far more coherent and sensible, though he is a bit of a blunt instrument; he’s aggravated by Warlock’s complex explanations, Quasar’s constant questions, and sees little point in cooking when they have perfectly good bars at Knowhere. While the others are intrigued by the puzzle of Vance Astro, Drax couldn’t care less about the former Avenger, not least because fighting alongside Earth’s Mightiest Heroes directly led to his daughter’s death. Indeed, as much as the Destroyer would rather just get to the point (and the fighting), Drax is just as apt to make quips about Warlock’s out of date hairstyle as Rocket, resulting in a more well-rounded character than his MCU counterpart, for sure, but one far less entertaining, in my opinion. Rocket’s characterisation should be pretty familiar with fans of the MCU, however; he’s a trigger-happy, snarky little rodent who cares for Groot and begrudgingly follows Star-Lord’s lead presumably because he has nothing better to do. Star-Lord may lack the multiple pop culture references of his MCU counterpart but much of his character is familiar as well; this is actually a very different version of the character to how he was first introduced, where he was a little more bland and less prone to self-deprecation and quipping. Here, he’s desperately trying to atone for his actions in unleashing the Phalanx and is determined to make this team work, despite how inelegant their approach is. Though unsettled by the symmetry of Vance’s appearance to Captain America’s own dethawing years ago, Peter is excited at the idea of the group rallying around the iconography of the shield, though he remains completely unaware of a possible traitor in their midst since Mantis refuses to divulge this information just yet.

These new Guardians impress thanks to some fun dialogue, visually exciting action, and lingering mysteries.

It’s nice to read something a little more modern from Marvel Comics; there’s something to be said for the simplicity of older tales, which are generally far less complex in their narratives and easier to digest in a single readthrough, but the dialogue and, especially, the art are far more appealing in modern tales, at least to me. While they share a colour scheme in their vaguely-matching uniforms, the Guardians are all very distinct personalities and characters despite their similarities: for example, Star-Lord and Rocket have no powers, relying on their helmet, weapons, and gadgets to win the day but are clearly unique since one is a talking raccoon! Gamora and Drax are also somewhat similar, being battle-hungry killers looking for a greater purpose, but Gamora has her healing factor, cynicism, and promiscuousness and Drax carries his guilt and an almost self-destructive thirst for combat. Quasar and Warlock also have some similarities in that they’re both, essentially, cosmic wizards but Quasar’s powers are limited in a way Warlock’s aren’t; Warlock is also seen as the expert in the time/space fissures and clearly the heavy-hitter of the group, yet He’s still vulnerable and requires the aid of His teammates to combat these threats. I liked the appearance of Vance Astro, too, as a link to the original Guardians of the Galaxy and a mystery for the team to solve over subsequent issues; Knowhere also functions as a very visually interesting and fun homebase for the team, not least because of Cosmo and it being the head of a Celestial, and the story arc was brimming with personality and mystery. The Universal Church of Truth are very intriguing villains; essentially a gaggle of cosmic zealots who wield incredible power simply through faith, they betray their own cause through their destructive ways and have spread death and discord rather than life and hope. The Cardinals, especially, prove a fearsome threat; there’s a suggestion that they could’ve easily killed the Guardians were it not for the bio-mass suddenly attacking them and the nature of their mission, which again adds to the appeal of the team: they’re already flawed and volatile personalities but they’re not infallible and even the almighty Adam Warlock can be killed, which makes them very relatable as a dysfunctional family that’s more human that their appearances may suggest. All in all, I really enjoyed this three-issue arc for the fledgling Guardians of the Galaxy and would absolutely want to read more from this run based on the strength of these issues alone and how impactful this period was to their live-action interpretation.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to this new incarnation of the Guardians of the Galaxy? Which member of the team was your favourite? What did you think to Universal Church of Truth and the threat posed by the Cardinals? Did you enjoy the banter and team dynamic between the group? What did you think to the mystery surrounding Vance Astro’s appearance? Which version of the team is your favourite and why? Are you a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy comics and, if so, did you like the MCU’s interpretations of the characters and concepts? Be sure to share your thoughts on the Guardians of the Galaxy in the comments below and on my social media, and check out my other Guardians of the Galaxy-related content on the site.

Back Issues [HulkaMAYnia]: The Savage She-Hulk #1

Since his explosive debut in May 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. The Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers and undergoing numerous changes that have made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters, so what better way to celebrate all things Big Green than by dedicating every Sunday in May to the Green Goliath?

Story Title: “The She-Hulk Lives”
Published: 13 November 1979 (cover-dated February 1980)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: John Buscema and Chic Stone

The Background:
The Incredible Hulk (and his human alter ego, Doctor Robert Bruce Banner), was another creation of Marvel legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Inspired by a story of a hysterical mother exhibiting superhuman strength to rescue her trapped child, as well as classic movie monsters Frankenstein’s Monster and Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Lee and Kirby’s allegory to the foils of war initially debuted as a stone-grey figure who emerged at the onset of night. Although The Incredible Hulk was cancelled only a year and a half in, the character returned to a position of prominence thanks to subsequent expansions of his lore and character and the popularity of the Incredible Hulk television show. The eighty episode series not only established the Green Goliath as a mainstream icon but also directly led to the creation of his female counterpart; fearing that Incredible Hulk producer Kenneth Johnson would create a female spin-off as he had with The Bionic Woman (1976 to 1978), Marvel had Lee dream up a She-Hulk first so that they would own the rights, and the character would be the last one Lee created for Marvel until the early nineties. Written as the alter ego of Banner’s cousin, Jennifer Walters, She-Hulk was intentionally cast as a lawyer to promote equality and her original self-titled run lasted 1982, after which she made guest appearances, joined the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, and became known for both breaking the fourth wall and being a strong feminist icon for Marvel. Although a live-action film never came to pass in the early nineties, She-Hulk shared the spotlight with her cousin in the Incredible Hulk cartoon from the mid-nineties and made her live-action debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the tail-end of 2022.

The Review:
Our story begins with a dialogue box amusingly lamp shading Stan Lee’s tendency to get Banner’s first name wrong and finding the fugitive arriving in Los Angeles, California. After being on the run, hounded by the police and the military, ever since his first transformation into the Hulk, Banner has finally reached his limit and is in need of help, so he seeks out his kid cousin, Jennifer Walters, for some solace. I’m not entirely sure where his long-time friend, confidante, and on-and-off sidekick Rick Jones is or if the comics have ever mentioned Jennifer prior to this, but apparently they were extremely close as children, almost like brother and sister. Jennifer works as a successful criminal lawyer and affectionately refers to Banner as “Doc”, but also has absolutely no knowledge of his dual identity so you know what that means! Over the course of six panels and one page, Banner recounts the specifics of his origin and his curse to transform into a rampaging, near-mindless beast whenever angry or panicked thanks to a massive dose of Gamma radiation, and, despite her shock at this knowledge, Jennifer immediately insists that he come back to her home so that she can shelter and help him. Although he’s reluctant because of the inherent danger, she waves his concerns off since her profession means she’s used to living with danger; for example, she’s currently defending a low-level hoodlum named Monkton who’s been accused of murdering mobster Nick Trask’s bodyguard, which she believes is a frame-up.

Banner’s forced to give Jennifer a blood transfusion, transforming her into the Savage She-Hulk!

While she’s confident of her ability and safety, Banner isn’t so sure, and his concerns immediately turn out to be correct as Trask’s hitmen follow them back to her house and put a bullet in her back. Banner’s able to keep calm long enough to fend the gunmen off with a simple garden house and they hit the road to avoid attracting any unwanted attention, leaving Banner to struggle with his rising emotions and to find some way of helping the injured Jennifer. With no time to wait for an ambulance, he carries her over to (and breaks into) a convenient nearby doctor’s surgery and does the only thing he can think of: a blood transfusion with his blood (which, also conveniently, is the exact same as Jennifer’s) which stabilises her long enough for him to call for an ambulance and the police. For some reason, the cops immediately peg Banner as a suspect, especially when he doesn’t have an identification or credit cards, and the stress finally reaches boiling point, causing him to Hulk-out and escape custody (though we only get the briefest glimpse of the Hulk). The next day, Banner is relieved to learn from the local tabloid that Jennifer is doing well and reluctantly makes plans to leave town to avoid his true identity being discovered. However, while recovering in the hospital, Jennifer feels a strange tingling sensation throughout her body but this, and her concerns over Banner’s welfare, are quickly set aside when Trask’s hitmen come in posing as doctors and looking to finish the job they started. As they pin her down and attempt to chloroform her, Jennifer suddenly undergoes her own startling transformation, tossing her attackers aside and looming over them as a huge, muscular, savage green-skinned beauty they dub “She-Hulk”.

She-Hulk’s abilities are more than enough to force a confession and empower her to right wrongs.

Unlike her brutish cousin, Jennifer retains her intelligence and personality when transformed, but the surge of power afforded to her (especially after feeling so helpless mere moments before), causes her to lash out and revel in her newfound abilities. She easily tosses a hospital bed at one of her would-be murderers (probably killing him…) and chases down the others, ripping open elevator doors and hauling the elevator cart up when they try to escape! Though terrified by their pursuer, the hitmen are able to elude her, and she inspires only further fear in the hospital staff and orderlies due to her savage appearance and ceaseless pursuit of her targets. “Throbbing with power” and revelling in her superhuman strength, She-Hulk’s rational mind is somewhat clouded by her absolute rage and, as they try to race away in their car, she easily cripples their vehicle with a well-timed throw of a nearby road sign. She then manhandles one of them until he confesses that Trask hired them to kill her and admitting that it was Trask himself who killed Monkton. This is apparently enough for the nearby cops to arrest the gunmen, and they ultimately let She-Hulk go since “there’s no law against green skin” (and, apparently, destruction of city property, causing an affray, grievous bodily harm, and harassment are all hunky-dory). As She-Hulk flees, her anger fades alongside her incredible strength with it. She successfully makes it back to her hospital room without being seen, returning to her normal, human state just in time, and consoles herself with the knowledge that her newfound monstrous alter ego will be able to handle any threat that comes her way in the future.

The Summary: 
I was expecting a little more from “The She-Hulk Lives”, if I’m being honest. Her bombastic debut issue really could’ve done with being a double-length feature so we would could learn a little bit more about Jennifer and Banner’s past and relationship beyond a couple of panels, and the story almost reads like it could’ve been condensed down a little and been included as a back-up feature in the regular Hulk book. Thankfully, the artwork, writing, and dialogue are much better than what we normally saw in the sixties; unlike many female characters, Jennifer isn’t written as some air-headed bimbo and is actually a pretty capable woman in her own right. She clearly went to law school, or a similar educational institute, and is successful enough to have her own office and to be working on a big case. She’s also incredibly compassionate and loyal to her cousin; she doesn’t judge him for his affliction and offers to help him without hesitation, viewing him as a brother and sure that the two of them can work something out. Finally, she’s pretty self-confident; although he’s usually overly paranoid, Banner immediately recognises that her case against Trask is considerably dangerous but she’s so sure of herself that she doesn’t even consider there being any reprisals against her. Naturally, this ends up biting her in the ass and she nearly dies from a gunshot wound and this (and her subsequent spell in hospital) is the only time Jennifer is portrayed as being weak and in need of help from others.

Although I’d to see more of Jennifer and Banner/Hulk, She-Hulk made a decent impression.

Banner is so panicked at the thought of losing her that he gives her his blood without thinking and, for all his science-smarts, without even considering the effect his Gamma-irradiated blood might have on her. Due to the risk of being exposed and causing unnecessary destruction, he doesn’t even check in on her afterwards and quietly leaves the story without us even properly seeing the Hulk, which is actually to allow the She-Hulk to take centre stage. It’s not explored in this story but it can be assumed that the transfusion was far less potent than Banner’s own Gamma exposure, accounting for She-Hulk’s retained personality and intelligence and less impressive strength, but she’s still a force to be reckoned with in her green state and overcome with anger due to her previous helplessness and the evil of Trask’s men (and, it can be inferred, all such men who seek to undermine and hurt women). I do feel, though, that the story might’ve benefitted from a confrontation between She-Hulk and the Hulk; maybe she could’ve battled him to a standstill and helped calm him down through their shared condition and showing him some compassion. I have no doubt that this probably did happen in a subsequent issue or encounter between the two, but it does mean that She-Hulk’s debut falls a little flat even compared to her cousin’s first appearance since she only exerts herself against a few regular hoodlums. While this opens itself up into a feminist reading about a woman exerting power and dominance over an oppressive patriarchy, I feel that’s more inferred than explicitly showcased in her debut issue and wouldn’t come to the forefront until she was a bit more established.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

How did you find She-Hulk’s debut story? Did you read it when it was first published and, if so, did She-Hulk leave much of an impression on you or were you expecting something more? What did you think to the concept of a female Hulk and the idea that she is far more stable when transformed? Would you have liked to see her throw down with the Hulk here or were you happy with her rallying against common mobsters? What is your favourite She-Hulk story or moment and how are you celebrating the Hulk’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on She-Hulk, go ahead and share them below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check out my other Hulk content!

Back Issues: Marvel Premiere Featuring the Power of… Warlock #1

Story Title: “And Men Shall Call Him… Warlock!”
April 1972
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Gil Kane

The Background:
It’s generally accepted that Marvel Comics head honcho Martin Goodman tasked then-editor Stan Lee with creating a superhero team in response to DC Comics’ Justice League of America. Lee used this opportunity to create stories and characters that appealed to him and drafted a synopsis of the dysfunctional Fantastic Four for the legendary Jack Kirby to work on, creating the “Marvel Method” of writer/artist collaboration in the process. Although Kirby disputed this story, the duo are credited as co-creators of Marvel’s First Family, whose comic books went on to introduce characters and concepts that would become integral to Marvel Comics. One such character was the mysterious cosmic entity initially known only as “Him”; also created by Lee and Kirby, He first appeared in Fantastic Four #66 and 67 as an artificial being created by a malevolent group known as the Enclave, who were bent on world domination. After rebelling against his creators and being rechristening “Adam Warlock” by Herbert Wyndham/The High Evolutionary, an arrogant supervillain scientist known for creating bizarre animal/human hybrids, Warlock was imbued with the power of the Soul Gem and headed out into the universe to find his true self. Though a relatively unknown Marvel creation, Adam Warlock was at the forefront of one of the publisher’s biggest stories, The Infinity Gauntlet (Starlin, et al, 1991), fought against his own dark half given physical form, and was often positioned as an allegorical Messiah against the backdrop of cosmic discord. Adam Warlock has featured in minor roles outside of the comics, appearing as a supporting character in Marvel videogames and cartoons, and was name-dropped at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Gunn, 2017) as a future threat for the titular Guardians before making his live-action debut in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Gunn, 2023), portrayed by Will Poulter.

The Review:
Since Marvel Premiere #1, in true Marvel fashion, features a lengthy recap of Adam Warlock’s origin, I didn’t think it was necessary to do an in-depth review of His first true appearance in Marvel Comics but, for those who are curious, He came about after Ben Grimm/The Thing’s blind girlfriend, Alicia Masters, was abducted by the Enclave and taken to their unreasonably complicated, beehive-like lair. There, she learned that the Enclave’s highly advanced scientists desired to create a perfect race of human beings, with “Him” being the first; however, He proved so unstable and powerful that they were forced to contain Him and unable to look upon Him due to his blinding light. They wanted Alicia to sculpt a likeness of Him and she braved His destructive power to reach and appeal to Him, completely unaware that the Enclave wished to use His power to conquer the Earth. Initially encased within a rock-like cocoon, He burst free and enacted a brutal revenge upon his creators, sparing Alicia but exhibiting a cold disinterest in the destruction of the beehive laboratory that birthed Him as He fled to the stars until the world was ready for His power.

Prior to creating his own world, the High Evolutionary finds and forms a bond with Him out in space.

“And Men Shall Call Him… Warlock!” opens in the vastness of space to find the High Evolutionary’s massive asteroid space station drifting through our galaxy; aboard, the High Evolutionary himself muses on the long and difficult journey he has taken in the quest to produce his half-human, half-animal “New-Men”. His highly advanced technology saw him transform an ordinary wolf into a man-sized beast that was savage enough to battle Thor Odinson in combat; the failure of this project exposed the High Evolutionary to the threat his creations pose to his former homeworld, so he transported the Man-Beast and a contingent of “evil” New-Men to a faraway world, where they only further regressed, forcing him to turn to Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk to quell their aggression. In the fracas, the High Evolutionary was mortally wounded, forcing him to abandon his armour and subject himself to an experimental process that saw him ascend to the pinnacle of human evolution. Immortal and God-like, he merged with the greater cosmos but was driven to the brink of madness from isolation, thus returning to his armour to fulfil some mysterious purpose. His ruminations are interrupted by Sir Raam, the most loyal of his Knights of Wundagore, who alerts him of His mysterious cocoon floating in space; curious, the High Evolutionary has it brought onboard his planetoid so he can investigate further. Unfettered by His visage, the High Evolutionary is instead captivated by His unblemished perfection and urges the divine man to share his story. After fleeing Earth, He also came into conflict with Thor before retreating to the stars to await the day when He could exist in a universe free from hatred and oppression. Impressed, the High Evolutionary agrees to expediate His journey through the stars but He is intrigued by the immortal’s “Project Alpha”, an ambitious plan to create a mirror version of Earth whose evolution he can directly influence.

With his world tainted, the High Evolutionary reluctantly agrees to send Him to tack down the Man-Beast.

The two agree that humanity is too volatile and too quick to descend into misery and bloodshed, so the High Evolutionary creates a Counter-Earth as a haven for his own creations. Although the process places an intense strain on the High Evolutionary, he pushes through his discomfort to bombard a rock sample with “rays” and accelerate the formation of this new world, one safely hidden from ours by being placed on the opposite side of the Sun and, within the space of a few panels, has created a prehistoric world whose development he’s able to speed up beyond the limits of creation, evolution, and even the divine. This Counter-Earth is thus ripe for the coming of the High Evolutionary’s superior race of men, one purged of their killer instinct, but the effort of creating it is so intense that it causes the High Evolutionary to pass out from exhaustion. This is the moment that the Man-Beast and his followers, who had been observing their creator, choose to strike, gunning down Sir Raam and perverting this new world, introducing violence and aggression and causing the Counter-Earth to descend into generations of war at the simple twist of a dial. The High Evolutionary recovers and surprises the Man-Beast with his newfound superior physical strength; however, a ”bestial mind-blast” and the sheer numbers and savagery of his rebellious creations threaten to overwhelm the would-be deity and, seeing this, He decides to break free from his cocoon to intervene. Emerging garbed in a “resplendent […] armour and ornaments” created by his cocoon, He causes the beasts to flee in terror to the Counter-Earth. Dismayed by the Man-Beast’s actions, the High Evolutionary sees no other choice but to destroy his new world but He beseeches him to spare the world. Retracting his condemnation of humanity and wishing to nurture their better nature, He requests to be sent to the Counter-Earth to track down the Man-Beast. Touched by His words, the High Evolutionary reluctantly agrees; he gifts Him with a mysterious jewel to protect Him from the Man-Beast’s snares and transports Him to the surface of the fledgling world with a heavy heart and bestowing upon Him that which He has never had: a name, “Warlock”.

The Summary:
Previously, I only really knew Adam Warlock from The Infinity Gauntlet; I’ve literally never read another story with Him in in all my years of reading comics, so He’s always been a very elusive and mysterious figure for me. It’s actually refreshing that He’s not been wheeled out every time there’s a big cosmic event as it makes Him more alluring and significant, at least to me, so I was intrigued to see some of His background in this story. There was clearly a conscious effort to build a sense of mystery and divine beauty to this character, who is touted over and over as the pinnacle of human scientific acumen and seen as the next step in our evolution, a golden creation so astounding that to look upon Him is to suffer greatly. Yet, He is a deeply sensitive man-god; capable of sensing the intentions of men and fully capable of judging them accordingly, He has no interest in mindless combat and wishes only to isolate Himself until the time is right for Him to walk amongst men. Despite having battled the likes of Thor, He hasn’t ever encountered anyone worthy of his presence until He’s discovered by the High Evolutionary, a mind with whom He can relate to so strongly that He openly shares His assessment of our tumultuous species and His chaotic origins.

Him and the High Evolutionary share many of the same views about our volatile society.

I’m equally unfamiliar with the High Evolutionary, a highly advanced individual who I’ve always seen as a combination of Doctor Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom and Dr. Moreau from H. G. Wells’ titular 1896 science-fiction story. The parallels are pretty explicit, given both characters like to create monstrous human/animal hybrids but the High Evolutionary isn’t just some sadistic mad scientist. Disillusioned with humanity and our warring wars, he seeks to “improve” upon our aggressive nature and faults not by destroying humankind but by creating his own world and actively directing the course of the counter-humanity’s evolution. However, comic books generally cast anyone who seeks to create life through scientific or magical means, effectively defying the natural order, as a villainous character and, to be sure, the High Evolutionary’s methods are highly questionable, yet he expresses genuine regret over the savagery of the Man-Beast. His plot isn’t to create a race of superpowered or animalistic abominations to dominate the world, or to wage war against the Earth from his asteroid laboratory; he simply wishes to create a utopia on the other side of the Sun to manipulate humanity to be the very best of themselves. In Him, the High Evolutionary sees his dreams take physical form; just seeing His visage is enough to captivate the High Evolutionary, who refers to Him as the son he never had on more than once occasion.

Having championed humanity’s potential for good, He gains a name and a purpose for the first time.

The two share a unique bond, agreeing that humankind is far too quick to resort to warfare than strive towards peace and prosperity, and both are impressed by each other’s abilities. However, He recognises humanity’s inherent potential for “goodness” and, thanks to his divine nature, is perhaps the only one capable of staying the High Evolutionary’s hand when he prepares to destroy the Counter-Earth he created with such ease. The High Evolutionary expresses regret in His decision to be a champion on Counter-Earth but respects Him enough to allow Him the chance to try; he doesn’t rate His chances for success but prepares Him as best as he is able, even bestowing Him with His first true name. Thus, the stage is set for the newly-christened Warlock to be not a destroyer or an impassive observer but an active participant in the formation of this Counter-Earth’s development. Those who read comics looking for some cosmic action and to see what Warlock is truly capable of may be left disappointed; as is often the case, much of the story is taken up with recaps of each character’s backgrounds but, at its core, it’s a rumination on the nature of humanity and the conflict these powerful, God-like beings feel in regards to our volatile ways. Warlock and the High Evolutionary share some engaging and introspective exchanges, there’s an interesting dialogue on offer here concerning their morally grey and ambiguous natures, and I think the story does a decent job of leaving you wanting to know where Warlock’s story goes from here on out and how he goes from desiring to inspire Counter-Earth’s residents to almost literally playing cosmic chess with Marvel’s greatest heroes and characters in The Infinity Gauntlet.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to the return and naming on the God-like “Him”? Were you intrigued by Adam Warlock’s presence and eager to know more about Him or did you find Him a rather bland character? What do you think to the High Evolutionary, his opinions on humanity, and his plan to create his own Earth? Did you read Adam Warlock’s subsequent stories and, if so, what are some of your favourite moments of His? What did you think to this MCU debut? Whatever you think about Adam Warlock and Marvel’s cosmic shenanigans, please share your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media.

Back Issues [HulkaMAYnia]: Tales to Astonish #90/91

Since his explosive debut in May 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. The Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers and undergoing numerous changes that have made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters, so what better way to celebrate all things Big Green than by dedicating every Sunday in May to the Green Goliath?

Writer: Stan Lee – Artist: Bill Everett

Story Titles: “The Abomination!”
Published: 10 January 1967 (cover-dated April 1967)

Story Titles: “Whosoever Harms the Hulk…!”
Published: 14 February 1967 (cover-dated May 1967)

The Background:
Created by Marvel legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Doctor Robert Bruce Banner’s monstrous alter ego, the Incredible Hulk, was inspired by the story of a hysterical mother using superhuman strength to rescue her child and classic screen monsters Frankenstein’s Monster and Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. Initially debuting as a stone-grey figure, the character soon gained his trademark green hue and became a fixture of Marvel Comics thanks to expansions of his lore and character and the popularity of the live-action television series. Stan Lee also had a hand in creating some of the Hulk’s most memorable enemies; having birthed the Hulk’s intellectual superior, Samuel Sterns/The Leader, alongside Steve Ditko about three years prior, Lee and artist Gil Kane introduced Marvel readers to one of the Hulk’s most persistent physical rivals, Emil Blonsky/The Abomination, in this two-part tale. Lee came up with monster’s unique name and reportedly instructed Kane to make the Abomination bigger and stronger than the Hulk to make for some fun conflicts. Over the years, the Abomination has been through almost as many changes as his lifelong rival, being a savage brute, a schemer, and a figure of redemption. His impact on the Hulk’s life has been so influential that he’s featured in numerous Marvel cartoons; although he made his live-action debut in the unfairly overlooked The Incredible Hulk (Leterrier, 2008), it would be some thirteen years before he would return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Review:
Our story begins with the Green Goliath embarking on an unstoppable rampage thanks to the manipulations of a cosmic being I’m personally unfamiliar with but who calls himself “The Stranger”; believing that humanity is a blight that needs to be eradicated, the Stranger has set the Hulk to work wiping the planet clean of humankind’s influence, and the Hulk is only too happy to give in to his anger. Already harbouring a resentment and animosity towards the “puny humans” who hate and fear him, the Hulk wrecks a suspension bridge and prepares to lay waste to a missile base when he’s suddenly hit with an intense pain in his head that not only causes him to fall, but also triggers his transformation back into cursed Gamma scientist Bruce Banner. This has the knock-on effect of severing the Stranger’s mind control, but Banner is terrified at the prospect of the Hulk resurfacing and continuing the Stranger’s work and resolve to destroy the Hulk (and himself, if necessary) once and for all using the “Gamma Ray Machine” he created and which just so happens to be at the very base he’s found himself at.

While Banner broods and Ross blusters, a foreign agent undergoes an incredible transformation!

Nearby, the cantankerous General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross is determined to root out the man behind a recent assassination attempt on his daughter (and Banner’s flame), Betty Ross; also Major Glen Talbot assures Ross that it’s just a matter of time before the foreign agent is discovered, Ross explodes in anger and demands that they find the perpetrator before they can endanger the missile, giving his men orders to shoot to kill if necessary. Betty is distraught that there’s been no word from Banner for some days and fears for his life as long as he shares a body with the Hulk; she’s so devastated at the idea of losing him that she pays no mind to Talbot’s attempts to insert himself in Banner’s place. Meanwhile, in Banner’s lab, Ross’s spy (whom we know as Emil Blonsky but who isn’t named in this story), is snooping around in the guise of a soldier and trying to snap pictures of Banner’s vaulted Gamma Ray Machine. Although Banner returns at that very same moment, intending to use the machine on himself, he’s spotted and arrested by military police and the smug Talbot, who refuses to listen to his pleas. Amused by the turn of events, Blonsky comes out of hiding and investigates the machine, activating it out of sheer curiosity and bathing himself in an intense dose of Gamma radiation. The result is his instantaneous transformation into a hulking, green-skinned, lizard-like monstrosity; thanks to stepping out of the Gamma rays early, this Abomination is able to retain his intellect and revels in his newfound super strength, which he believes will make him “master of the world–of the whole universe!!” and promptly destroys the machine so that none will challenge his invincibility.

The Hulk is overwhelmed by the superior strength and intellect of his newest foe.

The Abomination’s subsequent rampage through the base catches the eye of the imprisoned Banner, who willingly transforms into the Hulk as only his alter ego has a chance of opposing this new Gamma monster. Ripping open his cell, the Hulk leaps into the fray but quickly finds that the Abomination is not only smarter thanks to not being a mindless brute, but also more powerful as he was conveniently subjected to a more powerful dose of Gamma radiation. Consequently, Ross, Talbot, and Betty can only watch on in horror as the Abomination asserts his dominance and brutally beats the Hulk into unconsciousness, clearly establishing himself as a formidable threat, and that Blonsky is oddly concerned that he wouldn’t survive the military’s counterattack so he kidnaps Betty and flees from the base. Driven to desperation by the events he’s witnessed, Ross has no choice but to order his physicians to try and save the Hulk’s life; while the surgeon is initially baffled by the half-dead creature’s physiology, perennial sidekick Rick Jones bursts into the facility to suggest using Gamma electrodes to revive the beast and, in panels that owe more than a debt to Frankenstein (Whale, 1931), the Hulk lives again! Believing the soldiers are trying to contain him, the Hulk refuses to listen to reason and even swats Rick aside, vehemently denying his tearful pleas for help, until the mention of Betty’s name causes him to calm down and revert back to Bruce Banner.

Although Banner devises a workable plan, the monster’s rematch is abruptly interrupted.

Cutting through Ross’s bluster and inconsolable babble and prejudice, Banner comes up with a plan to lure the Abomination back to them, rather than confront his great power directly, and reconfigure his “Infinite Weapon” to nullify Blonsky’s strength with “Infra-Gamma Beams”. Begrudgingly, Ross orders his technicians and soldiers to follow Banner’s every command as they race to perform the necessary adjustments, and the Abomination willingly returns to the site, drawn by the allure of the Gamma radiation, though everyone, even Rick, is unsure as to how Banner plans to oppose such a fearsome monstrosity. The Abomination bursts into the laboratory, setting down Betty and preparing to finish off Banner, but is surprised when the machine causes him incredible pain and saps his mighty strength. It’s at this key moment that Banner uncontrollable turns into the Hulk and the two Gamma Giants set about having a rematch. Although they bash each other through walls and promise to really go at each other, the Stranger chooses this moment to return to the story; watching from “a thousand galaxies away”, he begins to consider that humanity might not be beyond all hope if a brute such as the Hulk can be so valorous and chooses to take the Abomination for his own needs. He also completely removes the influence he had over the Hulk’s mind but, while he’s met with congratulations and a semblance of gratitude from even General Ross, the Hulk chooses to head back out into the world alone once more.

The Summary:
The Abomination’s debut is much more the type of Hulk story I’m used to; by this point, Bruce Banner’s dual identity is well known and his adventures follow a very simple formula of him wandering around the country, desperately trying to avoid conflict, all while the Hulk threatens anyone and everyone around him and lashes out at those he deems to be a threat. Unfortunately, I didn’t think much to Gil Kane’s artwork, especially on the Abomination and the Hulk’s face, both of which look to little too simplistic and goofy for my tastes. I did enjoy the twist of the normally unreasonably antagonistic General Ross absolutely snapping when the Abomination kidnaps Betty; he’s so traumatised by this that he’s forced to not only rely on the Hulk and Banner for help, but even revive the Green Goliath and order his men to follow Banner’s every instruction. It’s an interesting twist on his usually staunchly anti-Hulk/Banner mindset, kind of like whenever J. Jonah Jameson is forced to eat crow, though I was interested to see that Major Talbot was actually arguing in favour of Ross’s hated enemy on more than one occasion. Similarly, I liked that Banner got to do a little more than just wallow in despair and self-pity; he puts his genius mind to work creating a trap to lure in the Abomination and sap his strength, though it was a little too contrived that all of Banner’s machinery and work just happened to be at this military base. The Hulk is pretty much exactly as he’s always presented, with the added wrinkle that he’s suffering from the influence of the Stranger; this doesn’t really seem to change his character all that much, however, as it’s hardly an uncommon occurrence to see the Hulk going on an all-out rampage for the smallest of reasons.

The Abomination’s strength is so great that it takes brains, not brawn, to challenge him.

This is potentially the first time that the Hulk has ever faced a foe as physically imposing as him, however; he fought Groot (no, not that one) a few years earlier but as far as I can tell most of his more monstrous foes made their first appearances after this story. Consequently, the Abomination makes quite the impact; not only does he retain his intelligence, allowing him to out-think the Hulk, but he’s portrayed as being significantly more powerful, knocking the Hulk out and beating him almost to the point of death in their first encounter. However, the praise kind of stops there; the explanations behind Blonsky’s retained intelligence and greater strength and paper thin and it’s really weird that he would choose to flee after besting the Hulk as he would surely have even less reason to fear the military’s weapons than the Green Goliath. The Abomination’s greater intelligence also doesn’t really translate into any kind of impressive strategy either; immediately drunk on his newfound power, Blonsky sets his goals as lofty as conquering the entire universe, than smashes the place up a bit, and then resorts to kidnapping Betty. He doesn’t even use her as a means to give the Hulk pause to attack and abandons her the moment he arrives back at the base, but worst of all is the fact that this Stranger’s intervention cuts short his rematch with the Hulk simply to keep the Abomination’s threat unchallenged. Overall, this wasn’t a bad two-part story but it definitely wasted its potential; there was so much that could’ve been done with the duality of these monsters, the twist of Ross having to rely on his enemy, and seeing the Hulk and the Abomination tera up the base of the countryside but the story instead plays it very safe and simply hands the Hulk a decisive loss and has his newest (and presumable most powerful) villain left out in the world (well, cosmos) to no doubt hound him again at some point.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy the Abomination’s debut? Did you read it when it was first published and, if so, how did you think the Abomination compared to other Hulk villains? What did you think to the idea that the Abomination was not only smarter but stronger than the Hulk? Would you have liked to see a proper rematch between the two in the second part? What are some of your favourite fights or moments between the Hulk and the Abomination? Who is your favourite Hulk villain? Whatever you thoughts on the Abomination (and the Hulk), feel free to share them below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check in again next Sunday for more Hulk action!

Back Issues [Robin Month]: The Brave and the Bold #54

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 Thursday of April to celebrating the character?

Story Title: “The Thousand-and-One Dooms of Mr. Twister”
Published: July 1964
Writer: Bob Haney
Artist: Bruno Premiani

The Background:
All Star Comics (1940/1941) brought together the Justice Society of America (JSA) for the first time, birthing the first ever superhero team in comics. While the JSA’s roster expanded and changed over the years, they were rebranded entirely in the late 1950s when editor Julius Schwartz tasked writer Gardner Fox with breathing new life into the team as the Justice League of America (JLA). The JLA brought together eight of DC’s heavy-hitters and their origin issue became one of DC Comic’s best-selling titles; a mere four years later, DC would assemble a new team, one that specifically targeted their younger readers by bringing together the sidekicks of three DC Comics’ most powerful superheroes. Under the leadership of Dick Grayson/Robin, the trio would later be expanded considerable and come to be known as the Teen Titans, with runs by the likes of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez being notably influential, and the team has seen success in both animated and live-action ventures.

The Review:
Our story begins in the town hall of Hatton Corners, where an “unusual” public meeting is taking place; specifically, Mayor Corliss is leading the charge against the disruptive and workshy youth of the day by calling for a curfew to help solve the town’s teenage problem. At the same time, in a dilapidated barn across town, the Mayor’s son, Eddie, is rallying the town’s teenagers, threatening that they’ll go “on strike” if they don’t get their new clubhouse, and both mobs are vehemently against the other. Robin, colourful partner and ward to Bruce Wayne/Batman, is on the side of Hatton Corners’ youths; while the Batman believes that the kids are acting like spoiled brats, Robin believes the kids’ voices need to be heard and accepts their invitation to join the Hatton Corners Teen Club (with Batman’s permission, in an amusing bit of irony). Barry Allen/The Flash is equally disturbed by the teenagers’ unruly attitude but his young partner, Wally West/Kid Flash, believes that adults have forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager and also agrees to join the club (again, with his mentor’s permission). The Hatton Corners Teen Club is so adamant about recruiting teenage heroes to their cause that they’re even able to extend an invitation (via an eel carrying a note in a bottle…) to Gar/Aqualad at the bottom of the ocean! Although Arthur Curry/Aquaman believes that kids shouldn’t dispute with their elders and warns Aqualad that he can’t survive out of the water for longer than an hour, he also allows his youthful companion to attend, and the three arrive at the club astonished not only to see each other there but also to find the barn demolished and deserted.

Mr. Twister kidnaps the rebellious youths of Hatton Corners and delivers a bizarre threat.

The trio go to Mayor Corliss for answers and he shows them a note form Eddie that reveals he and his fellow “cats” decided to “skip” until the adults “get hip” and build them a new clubhouse. While the Mayor and the town’s other adults believe it’s a ruse to get attention, Robin believes the note is phony since it didn’t use a more appropriate word for “music” (like “jive”); realising that the town’s elders won’t be of any help, the Boy Wonder takes charge and tasks Kid Flash with scouting around the area and Aqualand with checking out the surrounding waters for any sign of a clue. Robin stays in town and is thus on hand to help get the townsfolk to safety when a twister suddenly comes barrelling into Hatton Corners; despite his best efforts to resist the wind, Robin is tossed into the tornado and faces certain death courtesy of Bromwell Stikk/Mister Twister. Thankfully, Kid Flash is able to use his incredible speed to brave the winds and bring Robin to safety, but the young speedster is knocked for a loop when he tries to confront Mr. Twister and gets a blast from his odd staff. Mr. Twister takes credit for the missing children and threatens Mayor Corliss that the youths won’t be returned unless he bows to his demands; in the unspecified amount of time that follows, the townsfolk express regret at how quiet and lifeless it is without the kids, much to the trio’s disgust (though we never see the reactions from any parents except for the Mayor, who seems more bothered about Mr. Twister’s return than the loss of his son).

Mr. Twister’s threat to the kids is all-too-real, necessitating the intervention of Kid Flash.

Mayor Corliss sheds some light on what Mr. twister’s beef is; back in colonial days, Bromwell’s ancestor, Jacob, allowed settlers to build Hatton Corners on his land in return for him and his descendants being paid one passenger feather a year or forfeit one of their youths. Since the demand was so ludicrous, the town’s founders never honoured the agreement and, when Bromwell showed up looking claim on the unpaid debt, he was laughed out of the Mayor’s office and vowed revenge. With passenger pigeons having gone extinct in the intervening years, Robin decides to do a little detective work to find the missing kids and discovers records of “unidentified flying objects” heading southwest to…Goat Island…the same night the teenagers vanished. Aqualad arranges them some transport to the island on the back of a manta ray; along the way, he and Kid Flash get into a bit of a dispute over the appeals of the sea and super speed and Kid Flash even questions Robin’s tendency to bark orders considering his lack of superpowers. Still, they arrive at the island and find the missing teens being put to work by Mr. Twister to build a massive stone tower in his honour. Although Eddie tries to fight back by…throwing a rope at their captor…his efforts are easily subdued thanks to Mr. Twister’s staff and he (as in Eddie) and his fellow teens are suddenly longing for the safety and security of their town and its adults. Mr. Twister leaves to run an errand and threatens them with punishment if his tower isn’t completed by the time he gets back; while Robin goes to uncover the source of the villain’s powers, Kid Flash uses his superspeed to build the tower in no time at all, thereby sparing the youths the wrath of their kidnapper.

Despite being touted as invincible, Mr. Twister is defeated with a ridiculous amount of ease.

Back on the mainland, Robin discovers Mr. Twister using “long lost Indian medicine” to empower his staff; when he’s discovered, Robin leaps into action, tossing sand in the villain’s face and landing an uppercut to his jaw. However, his eagerness backfires; as long as Mr. Twister is in possession of his staff, his body automatically repels any force used against it. Mr. Twister uses a tornado to dump Robin back into town with a further threat to destroy the town unless his debt is paid, but the Boy Wonder is clueless how they can meet the villain’s demands or oppose the power of his staff. Jealous of the adulation Kid Flash receives from the town’s kids, Aqualand returns to the ocean to revitalise his strength and discovers that Goat Island is…somehow…held aloft by an extremely narrow piece of earth under the sea. Using his command over marine life, Aqualad has a bunch of whales literally transport the island out of Mr. Twister’s grasp, bamboozling the villain and earning him the admiration of the kids. Although the teenagers are safely returned to town, Mr. Twister makes good on his threat by conjuring a cloud of dust to bury the town; however, Kid Flash is easily able to disperse it with his superspeed. When Mr. Twister tries to flood the town in torrential rain, Aqualad is able to drain the water by commanding a narwhal to bore a hole into the ground but, when the villain rains literal fire upon the town, Kid Flash and Aqualad are incapacitated by bolts from his staff and the town is slowly consumed by fire (…despite the fact it was just half-submerged under water). Robin pulls his friends to safety and hops into a fire engine; he climbs up the fire ladder and is able to disarm the villain with a ridiculous amount of ease simply by tossing his Bat-Rope and because Mr. Twister was apparently unable to get a clean shot…even though he hit Kid Flash mere moments earlier! Anyway, Mr. Twister is depowered and apprehended, the trio put out the fire, the adults agree to build the teenagers their clubhouse, and everyone celebrates their newfound appreciation of each other.

The Summary:
Holy God! I was expecting this to be pretty bad but, somehow, the first team-up of the proto-Teen Titans managed to exceed my wildest dreams. I’ve said many times how much I dislike the dialogue and characterisations of teenagers and women of this era of comics, so it’s no surprise that I wasn’t best impressed by all the lame attempts to be “cool” by shoehorning in language and anti-adult attitudes all over the story. I liked that the story kind of acknowledged this when Robin noticed the note was clearly written by an adult; it’s ironic as this story, and all other teenage characters, was written by adults trying to capture the speech and beliefs of the younger generation and it just comes across as awkward and out of touch. The whole “teenagers against adults” thing is pretty overplayed throughout comics, especially in the pages of Teen Titans and its successors, but it’s paper thin here; we’re never seen what the Hatton Corners teenagers do that’s deserving of a curfew and the kids only rally against the adults because they won’t build them a clubhouse. There’s no discussion about the relationship between Mayor Corliss and Eddie, no reaction from any parents, and the kids immediately start praising the ground the adults walk on when they’re forced into slavery by Mr. Twister.

Although portrayed as a threat, Mr. Twister’s motives are paper thin and he’s easily defeated.

Speaking of whom…what the fuck is this villain? He’s the descendant of some landowner who made a bonkers agreement that was immediately welched on and yet he somehow stumbled upon some poorly defined “Indian” magic to empower his staff and gain control of the elements. I mean, I’ve seen some pretty wacky villains in comics in my time, but Mr. Twister takes the cake! He’s literally willing to kidnap a whole bunch of kids, force them to build him a monument, and destroy the entire town, killing all of its inhabitants, unless he’s given a bunch of feathers! He makes the pompous Mayor Corliss look reasonable by that measurement, but the worst part is that he’s portrayed as a credible threat! And that’s a really weird thing for me to complain about as I’m normally bemoaning the fact that the villains of these team-ups aren’t enough of a threat, but Mr. Twister makes mincemeat of both Kid Flash and Aqualad with his staff’s power and could’ve easily killed Robin when he had him unconscious but chose not to for no bloody reason! And yet, despite his vast power, the heroes have to triumph so the story pulls some of the most ludicrous explanations out of its ass to facilitate that; Goat Island is held aloft by a thin perch of earth? A goddamn narwhal? And the fact that Mr. Twister can “kayo” the two superpowered teens but can’t hit Robin because he’s climbing a ladder?!

Thanks to Kid Flash and Aqualad’s bickering, it’s easy for Robin to stand out and take charge.

The whole story is just a complete mess of a fever dream. The three teenage heroes are brought together in the most contrived way possible and, for all their high and mighty talk of the troubles of the youth moment, only go to Hatton Corners when their mentors give them the go-ahead! The dynamic between the three isn’t very developed, but there’s definitely potential here; the rivalry between Kid Flash and Aqualad doesn’t get a lot of play but it was kind of fun seeing them out-doing each other to impress the girls and bickering about their respective powers. If there’s a standout of this story, it’s Robin; he takes command of the three easily and naturally and they listen to him without question (save for one inconsequential remark from Kid Flash). As the far more logical and level-headed of the three, it’s fitting that Robin discovers where the kids have been taken and the source of Mr. Twisters power, and the remarks about his lack of superpowers mean he was obviously going to be the one to topple the villain…I just wish it had been in a more impressive fashion. In the end, “The Thousand-and-One Dooms of Mr. Twister” is indicative of the storytelling of its era; it might seem unfair to hold that against it, but I’m going to. There are certainly far better Teen Titans origin tales out there and you’re really not missing all that much if you skip this one unless you’re a big fan of outdated slang, outmoded opinions on both age groups, and nonsensical storytelling.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.


Have you ever read “The Thousand-and-One Dooms of Mr. Twister”? 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? What did you think to the first team-up of Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad? Were you also put off by the outdated slang and attitudes or did you enjoy these aspects? What did you think to Mr. Twister, his motivations and powers, and the way he was defeated? What are some of your favourite Teen Titans stories? Whatever your thoughts on the Teen Titans, and Robin, drop a comment down below and check back next Thursday for more Robin content.

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: Spider-Man and Batman

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 Tuesday in April in an event I call “Crossover Crisis”.

Story Title: “Disordered Minds”
Published: September 1995
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Mark Bagley

The Background:
You might be surprised to learn, considering they’re in direct competition with each other, that DC Comics and Marvel Comics have had a reasonably collaborative and amicable relationship over the years. Obviously, there’s been lawsuits and underhanded tactics from both, but not only were legendary Stan Lee and disreputable sham Bob Kane close friends but both comic giants borrowed from and inspired each other and they’ve even collaborated on many joint publications in the past. Having already had Clark Kent/Superman and Peter Parker/Spider-Man come to blows in Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century (Conway, et al, 1976) and Bruce Wayne/Batman test his mettle against Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk in Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk (Wein, et al, 1981), DC and Marvel brought together their two most popular characters for the first time in this 1995 one-shot adventure. As is the case with many of these DC/Marvel crossovers, Spider-Man and Batman can fetch a pretty high price for collectors, and it also wouldn’t be the last time that the web-slinger and the Dark Knight crossed in one form or another.

The Review:
Our story begins with Peter Parker wrestling with the guilt and shame of being partially responsible for the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. In a nightmarish revisitation of the fateful night when Dennis Carradine broke into the Parker home and gunned down Ben, Peter (as Spider-Man) is on hand to strike with a furious vengeance, viewing the gunman as some maniacal monster who simply laughs at his murderous actions so hard that he eventually turns into the Joker! Peter awakens in horror, eased through the aftermath of this oft-recurring nightmare by his beautiful and busty wife, Mary Jane Watson-Parker. As ever in times of emotional crisis, Peter takes to web-slinging to help clear his head and ventures out into the night reaffirming his commitment to using his powers responsibility in order to live up to the examples set by his doting aunt and uncle. Coincidentally enough, that very same night, Bruce Wayne is also reliving the night that his parents died, gunned down in an alley in a senseless act of violence. Similar to Peter, Bruce’s dream sees him (as Batman) leaping into action, hatred for the inhumane monster boiling in his veins, and awakens to find himself, as ever, alone in his vast mansion with only his heartache and faithful butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth. However, while he appreciates Alfred’s concern and loyalty, he heads out into the night as Batman without a word, determined to ensure that none should suffer as he did from random acts of violence. With our characters and their motivations firmly established, the story jumps over to the Ravencroft Institute, where Spider-Man is accompanying Doctor Ashley Kafka for a visit to the imprisoned Cletus Kasady/Carnage, who’s being held in a specially-constructed cell that keeps his violent symbiote at bay presumably using heat. The purpose of this is similar to the opening panels as Kasady simply taunts Dr. Kafka with a summary of his abusive and disturbing childhood, some of which may be true and some of which may just be another aspect of his twisted personality since Kasady is obsessed with murder, mayhem, and (quite fittingly) carnage.

Batman is less than thrilled when Spidey swings in to help after Carnage breaks free.

Carnage surprises both of them by breaking out of his cage, claiming himself to be a “walking impossibility” beyond logic and reason, but luckily Spider-Man and a security force led by Colonel John Jameson are on hand to subdue the serial killer with their fists and microwave guns, respectively, though newcomer Cassandra Briar proposes a far more permanent (if radical) solution to Kasady’s frequent maniacal outbursts. Utilising a “bio-technic cure” for Kasady’s insanity, Briar has a computer chip installed in his cerebral cortex, which promises to render him for more docile and stable, though Dr. Kafka likens it to the equivalent of a modern-day lobotomy and Spidey remains doubtful that it’ll stick since he’s more than familiar with Kasady’s volatile nature. Similarly, over in Gotham City, Batman puts a stop to the Joker’s latest scheme to infect millions of people with a deadly virus transmitted through bats and returns the Harlequin of Hate to Arkham Asylum (though he’s disgusted when the Joker lands a bite on him during their scuffle). There, Briar proudly shows off how meek and timid Kasady has become from her controversial treatment and uses this success as all the justification she needs to implant a similar chip into the Joker’s head, thus becoming a media sensation for rendering two of the country’s most violent and sadistic supervillains “as harmless as a puppy”. Determined to ride these successes to a wider rollout of her “miracle cure” and receive Presidential approval to eradicate psychopaths everywhere, Briar receives the shock of her life when the Carnage symbiote suddenly bursts out of Kasady’s body after shorting out her chip, taking both her and the terrified and submissive Joker hostage. Thankfully, the Batman is on hand (having disguised himself as a guard) to confront the demented killer, but his usual tactic of goading a villain into discarding their hostages in favour of him fails to work since Carnage has no interest in prioritising Batman over anyone else. Luckily, Spider-Man makes a surprise appearance to whisk Briar out of the maniac’s clawed grip and the two masked heroes take the fight to Carnage, despite Batman’s assertion that he doesn’t need the help.

While the villains’ alliance is short-lived, Batman is soon recruiting Spidey’s help in dealing with Carnage.

Regardless, the two briefly knock Carnage off balance, but he’s able to slip away by firing shards of his symbiote at the nearby cops and strangling the others with his bloody tendrils, creating an effective distraction to cover his escape. Naturally, Batman is less than thrilled to see Spider-Man encroaching on his turf, both out of a desire to keep the web-slinger from getting hurt due to his unfamiliarity with the city’s unique dangers and because he doesn’t need or want his help or him getting in the way, though Spidey naturally ignores this warning. In comparison, Carnage admits to an admiration for the Joker’s “homicidal genius [and] shameless depravity” and uses a small fragment of his suit to short out the chip and return the Clown Prince of Crime to what asses for normal. Although initially confused, frustrated, and angered at the Joker’s babbling and insolence, Carnage quickly gleefully rejoices in the Joker’s commitment to the absurd meaningless of anarchy. However, their partnership is short-lived. When the Joker takes Carnage to his secret, fairground-themed hideout to retrieve the remainder of his virus, joyfully expositing his plan to douse hundreds of Joker-themed jack-in-the-boxes with the toxin and distribute them to kids, Carnage is disgusted since it would take too long for the bodies to start piling up and he delights in getting his hands bloody from up-close-and-personal slaughter. The two come to blows over their differing methods and mentalities, with the Joker easily slipping away through a hidden trapdoor and even attempting to kill Carnage by blowing up his lair. In contrast after Batman contemplates Carnage’s unique brand of madness and sadistic nature in the Batcave and Spider-Man sees first-hand how different things are in Gotham when nobody bats an eyelid when a random civilian is screaming bloody murder in the streets, our heroes finally come together when Batman not only picks Spider-Man up in the Batmobile but even apologises for giving him the brush off.

Though pushed to their limits, Batman and Spider-Man are ultimately victorious and part as allies.

Though he has no time for Spider-Man’s quips and jokes, Batman recognises that he has unique insight into Carnage, and the two are able to track him to the wreckage of the Joker’s lair, where they find what appears to be his dead body but is, in fact, a decoy Carnage set up to trick the Joker. Delighted to have the Batman in his coils instead, Carnage plans to publicly execute Batman on top of Gotham Towers and, while comparing Carnage to Death itself, which passed him by back in Crime Alley, Batman orders Spider-Man to stop Carnage despite the threat to his life. However, it’s the Joker who actually intervenes in the tense showdown; claiming ownership over the Batman and determined to drop his virus on the four of them, killing all of them and everyone else in the city simply to spite Carnage, Kasady’s briefest flicker of fear is all the opening Batman needs to break free from his grip and leap into action. Spider-Man easily webs up the threat and, despite it taking the combined might of Spider-Man and Eddie Brock/Venom and many others in the past, the Batman is easily able to pummel Carnage into unconsciousness since, for all his powers and bloodlust, he’s simply another sloppy punk and a “scared little boy”. With Carnage subdued, Spider-Man chases down the Joker with an uncharacteristic rage; easily manhandling the Clown Prince of Crime, Spider-Man is barely able to stop himself from killing the Joker since he’s too great a threat, too dedicated to violence and chaos, to be left alive. While his better nature prevails and he ultimately spares the Joker, Spidey does deliver a knock-out punch to the cackling villain, finally bringing the story’s combined threat to an end. As if seeing Spider-Man pushed to the point of killing wasn’t surprising enough, Spidey is unusually quiet in his final confrontation with the Batman; weary from the night’s events, the two choose not to ruin the moment with words and instead part ways with a hearty handshake having found a common ground and a mutual respect through their conduct and escapades.

The Summary:
“Disordered Minds” is an interesting approach to take for an intercompany crossover. You might think with characters as wildly different as Spider-Man and Batman that the focus would be on their different methods; if Dick Grayson/Nightwing is an athletic chatterbox and the various Robins are brightly-coloured distractions to throw criminals off from Batman’s darker, more measured approach, then Spider-Man should drive the Dark Knight absolutely batty (heh!) with his constant chatter, quips, and annoying tendencies. Instead, there’s actually not much in the way of banter between the two; Spider-Man mouths off a little in the Batmobile, but that’s about it and the rest of their interactions basically boil down to Batman telling Spidey to fuck off and Spider-Man sticking around because of his innate sense of responsibility. This is a bit of a shame as I would’ve liked to see their contrasting personalities and methods more on show beyond “Gotham’s not what you’re used to sod off!” and “Boy, you’re grim” but the story does have to two united in their shared grief. Both carry a tremendous amount of survivor’s guilt, though for different reasons; Bruce was too young to do anything about his parents’ murder whereas Peter chose not to use his powers responsibly, so both are on the same path towards safeguarding others to ease their guilt and pain but have very different outlooks on the world. This comes up multiple times, with Spider-Man raging against the chaos and violence around him and Batman lashing out at “Death” and determined to rally against it however he can.

While the writing is a bit dodgy and there’s some wasted potential, the art work in phenomenal.

The art is where the story really shines; Mark Bagley is one of the top Spider-Man artists and, thanks to his work on the character and his various run-ins with symbiotes before, has more than proven himself capable of delivering a dynamic and visually exciting Spider-Man and menacing and dangerous Carnage. His Batman and Joker fare really well too, naturally, and the art is absolutely stunning all throughout even if the writing fails it somewhat. We spend no less than eleven pages recapping the origins of Spider-Man, Batman, and Carnage, which is probably great for newcomers but somewhat unnecessary for long-term readers when, normally, a simple text box sums it all up nicely. Thankfully, all of this is rendered in an interesting way through the use of nightmares and Carnage’s dramatic escape from custody, but the writing stumbles a bit mid-way through, too, since Cassandra Briar basically disappears after being rescued despite so much time being spent on her computer chip cure. I feel like a simple story about Kasady or the Joker being transferred across the country might’ve been a much simpler and faster way to get things moving since the chip is easily destroyed by Carnage and doesn’t factor into the plot beyond being a contrived way to get him and the Joker to cross paths. There’s also not a huge amount of interaction between Batman and Spider-Man; they don’t physically fight (which is unusual at the best of times but even more so for a crossover like this), join forces pretty quickly after Batman stops being irrationally stubborn, and it doesn’t really take much at all for them to defeat the villainous duo despite Carnage being so powerful that Spider-Man alone usually struggles to defeat him. there’s a promise of a twisted partnership between Carnage and the Joker but it’s almost immediately squandered simply because Carnage gets impatient, which is in keeping with his character but basically means the villains don’t actually do anything besides compliment each other, scuffle a bit, and then get taken out by the heroes. All in all, this was relatively entertaining and interesting first meeting between my two favourite comic book heroes but it didn’t quite deliver on its potential, despite the fantastic art work and some fun moments.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read Spider-Man and Batman? 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 there wasn’t more time spent on contrasting the different methods and personalities of the two heroes? What did you think to the brief team-up between the Joker and Carnage the ease that they were defeated? 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 Spider-Man and Batman, and comic book crossovers of this kind, sign up to share them below or comment on my social media and check back next Tuesday as Crossover Crisis continues!

Back Issues [Dare-DAY-vil]: Daredevil #181

Blind lawyer Matt Murdock first made his debut in Daredevil #1 in April of 1964 and was co-created by writer/editor Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett, with input from the legendary Jack Kirby. While perhaps not as mainstream as characters like Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Daredevil has become one of Marvel Comics’ greatest creations and has featured in a number of ancillary media and merchandise, included a questionably-received big-screen adaptation in 2003 and a critically-successful Netflix series. Still, he’s one of my favourite Marvel characters so today is a great excuse to pay homage to the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen”.

Story Title: “Last Hand”
Published: 29 December 1981 (cover-dated April 1982)
Writer: Frank Miller
Artists: Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

The Background:
The 1960s were a golden age for Marvel Comics as Stan Lee teamed with legendary names like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby to create some of comicdoms most iconic superheroes. Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett created their most challenging hero yet when Matt Murdock/Daredevil debuted on 1 April 1964, and the Man Without Fear would go on to be one of Marvel’s most popular and enduring characters thanks, in no small part, to the efforts of writer/artist Frank Miller. The then up-and-coming Miller joined the book in 1979 with issue 159 and soon took over writing duties as well as pencils; responsible not just for the creation of Elektra Natchios but penning some of Daredevil’s most influential stories. Easily one of his most memorable stories was told in this special, double-sized issue in which he made the shocking decision to kill off Elektra at the hands of Marv Wolfman and John Romita Sr’s Bullseye. Although Elektra would be resurrected (and killed again) in later years, this doesn’t change the impact of her first death and Miller’s storyline was so pivotal to Daredevil’s character that this storyline was adapted in both the live-action film and the Netflix series.

The Review:
“Last Hand” opens with Benjamin Pondexter, the assassin known as Bullseye, stewing in a prison sell on Ryker’s Island and fantasising about blowing Daredevil’s brains out; after being humiliated by the Man Without Fear time and again, Bullseye is no longer satisfied with a clean, simple kill and desires to make him suffer, to break him, to hear him scream in agony. Bullseye’s hatred is palpable and made only worse by the fact that Daredevil could have left him to die in a subway but actually saved his life, demeaning him even further in his own eyes and those of his fellow inmates. While training his body in anticipation for his eventually rematch with Daredevil, Bullseye is crippled by one of his agonising headaches; although the brain tumour he once suffered with has been fixed, he suffers from debilitating migraines and is dependent upon pills to stave off the pain, which is just one more thing he blames ol’ hornhead for. During one of his few moments of reprieve out in the yard, the shackled Bullseye has a tense confrontation with Frank Castle/The Punisher, who is currently locked up as well, who delights in taunting Bullseye with the knowledge that Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin has replaced him with a new assassin-for-hire.

Bullseye, driven by hatred for Daredevil, escapes from Ryker’s after learning he’s been replaced by Elektra!

Enraged by this, and driven to have his revenge against Daredevil, he accepts an effort to appear as a guest on Good Evening, New York; however, when he feigns a headache, he temporarily blinds an armed police officer by spitting the pill in his face and causes the cop to shoot his shackles with an errant shot, thus freeing him from his shackles. Bullseye wastes no time grabbing the downed officer’s gun, gunning down his guards, and taking host Thomas Snyde as a hostage. Bullseye shoots his way out into the yard and, incredibly, is able to throw off a sniper and commander their helicopter using little more than a pistol and a microphone cord! Although he’s eager to track down Daredevil and get his revenge, Bullseye first heads over the Eric Slaughter’s hideout for a lead on the assassin who replaced him; there, he learns that the old man’s freelance organisation is preferable to Bullseye’s more erratic and dangerous ways, and promptly beats the crap out of two of Slaughter’s men. Impressed, the old man willingly gives information the name he requires: former ninja Elektra, who has been instructed to assassinate Matt Murdock’s best friend, Franklin “Foggy” Nelson. Bullseye’s reputation is such that Slaughter fears him almost as much as, if not more than, the Kingpin and lends him the services of his men. They put together a file on Murdock and Nelson for Bullseye and he is amused to the point of hysterics at the similarities between Murdock’s pictures and Daredevil, finding the idea of a blind superhero to be hilarious.

Bullseye and Elektra’s brutal fight ends with her skewered on her own sai!

Bullseye begins following Murdock, watching him perform in court and being sickened by his good nature and humanitarianism; he literally slaps a bug on Nelson’s back so he can listen in on them and slices a taxi cab driver’s throat in order to obtain some wheels to follow Foggy’s cab. Quite conveniently, Foggy’s cab has been commandeered as well: by Elektra! Foggy just about pisses his pants when Elektra pulls over and prepares to execute him with her sai, but he saves himself when he realises that he recognises her as a girl Matt hooked up with when they were back in college. Although she falters in her duty because of her memories of her whirlwind romance with Matt, Elektra’s senses are attuned enough to hear Bullseye approach her with a pistol and she instantly springs into action: she disarms him with a leaping kick and catches him off-guard with her speed, strength, and skill. Their fight spills into a parking lot, and Bullseye uses his knowledge of ninja training to turn the tide against Elektra, matching her blow for blow but ultimately gaining the definitive upper hand when he tosses one of his razor sharp playing cards at Elektra’s throat, cutting her open and leaving her completely helpless as he grabs her and stabs her in the stomach with one of her own sais! Mortally wounded and bleeding out, Elektra staggers through the crowded streets to Matt’s flat, where she dies in his arms. Bullseye can’t help but be present when Matt and Foggy are called in to identify Elektra’s body and learn her cause of death; he heard Foggy mention that Elektra used to be “Matt’s girl” and is curious when Matt seems to stiffen up upon hearing his voice, as though he recognises him, and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that his suspicion that Matt is secretly Daredevil is true by throwing a scalpel at Murdock’s head only for the blind lawyer to block it with his walking stick.

Bullseye ends up crippled but no less determined to one day further torment his foe.

Armed with this knowledge, Bullseye brings this revelation to the Kingpin, supporting his hypothesis with medical evidence, but Fisk finds the very idea of a blind man being Daredevil preposterous. He does, however, assign Bullseye the task of killing Daredevil and bringing him his body, so the assassin heads to Murdock’s apartment to finally have his revenge…only to be blindsided by Daredevil! Unbeknownst to Bullseye, Matt has set up a decoy of himself, which is enough to throw off Bullseye’s confidence in his hypothesis, but he’s no less eager to get into it with his hated rival. Bullseye lures Daredevil to the rooftop and adds a psychological edge to their fight by wielding Elektra’s sais; their brutal clash sees them plummet through a skylight, battle across an elevated train track, and finally come to blows on a precarious wire over the city street. Since he doesn’t have Daredevil’s superhuman balance, Bullseye slips and falls and is enraged when his foe catches him; determined not to suffer another humiliation at Daredevil’s hands, Bullseye prepares to stab his enemy with a sai but, surprisingly, Daredevil drops the assassin to the street below with the intention of ending his murderous ways. However, given that Bullseye has narrated the entire issue, you may have guessed that the fall doesn’t actually kill Bullseye; although even the Kingpin believes him to be dead, Bullseye lies fully bandage in a hotel room with a shattered spine and unable to move his limbs. However, he takes solace in having hurt Daredevil, both by killing Elektra and breaking his friend Matt Murdock’s heart, and in his hatred. Though he cannot move or speak, his hatred is as strong as ever, if not stronger, and he vows to find his way back and continue hurt Daredevil until he’s finally dead.

The Summary:
“Last Hand” is certainly a unique Daredevil tale for a few reasons: first and foremost, it’s told entirely from Bullseye’s perspective. Right from the first panel, we’re let in on the twisted, hate-filled internal monologue of one of Daredevil’s most notorious foes and he’s portrayed as a sick, remorseless, calculating villain throughout. Taking a perverse pleasure in toying with and killing his victims, Bullseye is dangerous and lethal with even the most harmless of everyday objects; while his hatred towards Daredevil is great, this never clouds his judgement or ability; instead, he’s surprisingly observant and conniving, able to deduce that Matt and Daredevil are one and the same to the point where he absolutely nails everything about the Man Without Fear’s origin to the smallest detail, only to be met with scorn from the Kingpin and successfully duped into disregarding his theory thanks to Matt’s trick. Interestingly, though, Bullseye’s crippling headaches don’t factor into the story at all once he’s out of Ryker’s; you’d think that maybe this is what would cause his downfall in the end, but this plot point is completely forgotten once he’s garbed in his familiar outfit and back on the streets, as though finally returning to action cured his debilitating pains.

This is Bullseye’s story, and he not only changes Matt’s life forever but almost figures out his dual identity!

Another way this story stands out is just how little Daredevil actually appears in it; when we do seem him, it’s either through Bullseye’s memories or as a quick flash over to Murdock’s daily routine as a parallel to Bullseye’s time in prison. Thanks to Bullseye’s constant narration, Daredevil is seen as a stoic and grim vigilante, a far cy from his wise-cracking debut, one who is as focused and formidable at fighting as Bullseye. When we do see Matt and Foggy, they’re painted as “saps”; the kind of do-gooders who sicken Bullseye and he only takes an interest in them because they can lead him to his replacement and when he suspects that Matt is Daredevil. We learn very little explicit information about how Elektra’s death impacts Matt; since we are never privy to Matt’s thoughts beyond the few words he says in the story, the entirety of his emotions is told through the artwork. This is strikingly effective, as entire fight sequences and panels pass without any text, and Matt’s morose pain and rage are expertly conveyed in his no-nonsense approach to engaging with Bullseye. It’s also quite interesting seeing the Kingpin outright dismiss the idea of blind Matt Murdock being Daredevil; in time, Fisk would learn that this was actually true and set in motion an aggressive campaign to physically and mentally destroy his foe, but it’s amusing to see just how close he (and Bullseye) came to the truth only for it to be sacked off as being patently ridiculous. Sadly, we don’t really get much insight into Elektra here; like Daredevil, she’s a person of few words, and all of her emotion and turmoil is told through her facial expressions and her fight sequences, which paint her not just as a conflicted and formidable individual but, ultimately, as a victim of Bullseye’s sadistic lusts.

Bullseye pushes Matt to the limit, and sets him on motion towards a dark and destruction path.

Finally, the issue stands out by having a major character being so brutally killed off. There’s a case to be made that Elektra, a trained ninja assassin from birth, should have been able to best Bullseye in their fight but I think the story does a decent job of putting them on equal ground thanks to the emotional blow of suddenly being reminded of Matt and Bullseye’s trick cards. The panel of Bullseye skewering Elektra will forever be iconic, no matter how many times she returns from the dead, and seeing he stumble across town to be with Matt in her final moments was truly heart-breaking. It’s clear from Matt’s stoic expressions that he’s in great pain at her loss, and seeing him launch into an all-out assault when Bullseye brandishes his former lover’s weapons conveys just how personal this fight is for Daredevil. Indeed, it drives him to critically injuring Bullseye; Daredevil’s promise that Bullseye’ll “kill no one – ever again!” could be taken two ways, I believe: either Matt intended for the fall to kill the assassin, or he aimed to cripple him as the final panels show him to be. Either way, it’s a pretty dark place for Daredevil to go and shows just how sour and morally questionable his life as Daredevil can be at times. Overall, this is definitely a pivotal story in Daredevil’s long history and well worth a read for fans of the character, or those who want to explore him further, but maybe it suffers a little from not seeing things form Matt’s perspective; obviously, subsequent issues would delve into this in great detail but it might have been interesting to switch back and forth between Bullseye and Daredevil’s inner thoughts just to get a sense of what’s going though Daredevil’s mind.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read “Last Hand”? Were you a fan of Elektra and, if so, what did you think to her death in this issue? What did you think of the story being told entirely from Bullseye’s perspective? Did you enjoy the fights in the story or do you think Elektra was given the shaft? Would have liked to see Daredevil’s thoughts in more detail? What do you think of Daredevil as a character and which storyline of his do you think is the best, or the worst? How are you celebrating Daredevil’s debut this year? Whatever you think about Daredevil, sign up to drop your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media.

Back Issues [Deadpool Day]: The Circle Chase

In February 1991, readers of The New Mutants were introduced to Wade W. Wilson, AKA the wise-cracking, fourth-wall-breaking Merc With a Mouth himself, Deadpool. Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza’s sword-swinging immortal went on to become one of Marvel’s most popular anti-heroes thanks to his metatextual humour, violent nature, and massively successful live-action films. It’s perhaps no surprise that Sideshow rechristened April 1st as “Deadpool Day” to give fans of the chimichanga-chomping mercenary an excuse to celebrate all things Deadpool.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza – Artist: Joe Madureira

Story Title: “Ducks in a Row!”
Published: 15 June 1993 (cover-dated August 1993)

Story Title: “Rabbit Season, Duck Season”
Published: 20 July 1993 (cover-dated September 1993)

Story Title: “…And Quacks Like a Duck…”
Published: 17 August 1993 (cover-dated October 1993)

Story Title: “Duck Soup”
Published: 21 September 1993 (cover-dated November 1993)

The Background:
By the 1980s, the X-Men had established themselves as one of Marvel Comics’ most successful features, prompting then-chief editor Jim Shooter to commission a series of X-Men spin-off titles, resulting in Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod’s New Mutants. The Mutant youngsters eventually fell under the command of the time travelling Mutant Nathan Summers/Cable, who reformed them into X-Force, and famously came up against Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld’s Deadpool in The New Mutants #98 (ibid, 1991). The self-styled “Merc With a Mouth” was heavily inspired by the likes of James Howlett/Logan/Wolverine and Peter Parker/Spider-Man with more than a few similarities to DC Comics’ Slade Wilson/Deathstroke the Terminator and was initially introduced in an antagonistic role with ties to time-travelling villain Mister Tolliver. Deadpool proved popular enough to make guest appearances in other Marvel Comics before receiving this four-issue miniseries that was a precursor to his ongoing solo title and the greater popularity he achieved once he became self-aware and began breaking the fourth wall. Naturally, this eventually evolved into appearances in Marvel/X-Men-related videogames, a cameo appearance in the beloved X-Men animated series (1992 to 1997), and his live-action debut in the much-maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009), though it was his self-titled spin-off films that truly catapulted him to mainstream success.

The Review:
Deadpool’s first solo series begins in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia two years into an ongoing conflict that has made it a breeding ground for international black marketeers and mercenaries, including a heavily-armed group who have been given the unenviable task of searching out and eliminating Deadpool. Unfortunately for them, the Merc With a Mouth catches them completely off-guard, easily dispatching them while mocking them for being less effectual than G. I. Joe’s or Ken dolls. Despairing of the quality of mercs he’s encountered ever since Tolliver died, Deadpool is offended when his friend and contact, Jack Hammer/Weasel, pulls a gun on him. still, Deadpool is so scatter-brained that he quickly moves on from the misunderstanding to first complain that his suit’s teleportation function is “on the fritz” and the fact that he (and anyone who ever worked for Tolliver) now has a target on their back. Weasel tries to suggest that they (or, at least, Deadpool) should try and get their hands on Tolliver’s estate and weapons, but Deadpool’s more focused on getting intel on Vanessa Carlysle/Copycat, a shape-shifting Mutant and former flame of his who he’s looking to kill off, when they’re suddenly interrupted by one of the most nineties-looking characters I’ve ever seen (which is saying something considering Deadpool’s attire), Garrison Kane/Weapon X, a cybernetic mercenary who was both part of the same Weapon X program as Deadpool and a member of Cable’s Six Pack when he was working for Tolliver.

Deadpool is hounded by mercenaries and former allies who all want him dead.

Kane also wants to know where Vanessa is and attacks, easily shielding himself from Deadpool’s blade and bullets with his versatile cybernetic enhancements. Shrugging off Wade’s jokes and insults, Kane mocks him for betraying his mercenary code and allowing so any of his former enemies and allies to live, but it’s only when Weasel points out that neither of the two beefed-up idiots knows where Vanessa is and they’ve simply being fighting over nothing and as a result of their stupidity and machismo. Admitting to acting without thinking, Kane tries to leave, determined to make an offer to Vanessa before she’s killed (since she’s one of the prime targets in the whole will fiasco), and drops the bombshell that another of Wade’s former adversaries, Gregory Terraerton/Slayback, is not only still alive but is actively gunning for Deadpool, the man who left him for dead way back when. As if on cue, the cybernetic killer breaks into the headquarters of Department X (the government agency behind the Weapon X program) to steal Wade and Kane’s files in order to settle the score and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, the story also jumps over to New Delhi, India, where Wolverine knock-off Nyko Halfghanaghan guns down mercenaries looking for Tolliver’s will (his dead brother, Pico, was Tolliver’s right-hand man so they assume he must know something about it) before delivering a work order to Jacob Gavin Jr./Courier calling for Deadpool’s execution for his part in Pico’s death. Finally, there’s a third plot thread at work here as Cain Marko/The Juggernaut bursts into a genetic research facility outside of Angoulême, France in search of his friend, Thomas Cassidy/Black Tom Cassidy (a common occurrence during this time as the two had formed a strong friendship). Louis Banque, the director of the facility, manages to calm Juggernaut down enough to take him to Black Tom, who’s been enhanced through further mutations that allow him to form weapons, reshape his body into an organic wood substance, and focus and intensify his bioblasts through that same “wood gunk”. This storyline converges with Deadpool’s when issue two drops Wade into Cairo, Egypt where he executes another group of mercs to acquire a briefcase containing a disc that holds information on Tolliver’s will (if that sounds like some kind of mental scavenger hunt, it actually is as per Tolliver’s design, with the ultimate prize being “the most powerful weapon on the face of the planet!”) Anyway, just as Deadpool gets the case, Juggernaut and Black Tom show up, wreck the building he’s standing on, and then blast Deadpool in the back of the head to steal the case from him.

Deadpool is outraged when Commcast “violates” his mind while searching for Tolliver’s will.

Meanwhile, another former member of Weapon X, Bernard Hoyster/Sluggo, drops in on Vanessa’s mother in search for her and ends up garrotted around the neck by the blue-toned shape-shifter, who’s looking to avenge the death of her friend, Tina Valentino, at Sluggo’s hands. Vanessa settles for stealing Sluggo’s car and leaving him to be arrested after learning that she’s become a target in the search for the will and vows to head to Sarajevo to acquire it, and Tolliver’s fortune, for herself. However, when Courier procures the services of Garabed Bashur/Commcast and the Executive Elite, he offers not money, but Tolliver’s disc and thus a head start in the scavenger hunt. Unaware of this, Deadpool heads to Cairo International Airport using Weasel’s intel and a fight ensures between him and Juggernaut and Black Tom (in civilian guises) that sees Marko hand over the briefcase to save Tom from being sucked out of the plane, only for Wade to trick him and send both plummeting to the ground below while he returns to Sarajevo for issue three. There, he gets into it with Amie Zamborano/Makeshift and Anastasia Summit/Rive of the Executive Elite; disgusted by Deadpool’s sexist jeers, the two pin him to a wall and fry him into unconsciousness with a massive burst of electricity. This makes him easy pickings for Commcast to haul back to the Edsel and subject him to the torture of his “synaptic neural scanner”, a fancy high-tech headband that allows Commcast to scan the thoughts and memories of his victims. Though Deadpool attempts to resist, this sheds some light on his past with Vanessa, depicting them as lovers back before he was mutilated by the Weapon X program, and shows how Kane tried to emphasise the benefits of cybernetic prosthetics when Wade was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After revealing that there are actually two discs that act as a guide towards Tolliver’s will, Commcast rips off Deadpool’s mask, revealing his gruesome visage to everyone but the reader, distracting them enough for Weasel to make a dramatic entrance and break Deadpool free. Incensed at Commcast poking around in his head (which he unironically sees as a “violation” despite his mercenary ways), Deadpool goes on a rampage, destroying his facility and killing Makeshift and Rive (but it’s Weasel who delivers the fatal headshot to Commcast). Weasel then examines the two discs and learns of a monastery in Nepal, which he theorises is the location of Tolliver’s will, and of an “ambient-energy dampening” genetic monstrosity known as “Unit: Zero” that he assumes is guarding it.

After Slayback is atomised, Deadpool proves he’s more than just a killer…and makes out with Tolliver’s treasure!

Thanks to her shape-changing and mild mind control abilities, Vanessa is also able to learn of this monastery through alternative means but, when she makes the climb to the building, she’s surprised by Slayback and effectively taken hostage. Although Deadpool insists on heading in alone, Weasel makes the four-storey rope climb to offer his assistance in the arc’s final issue, and Kane also manages to make his way there so that all the loose ends can be nicely tied up. Thanks to Weasel, Deadpool discovers a locked vault packed full of weapons, gadgets, and other gizmos set aside by Tolliver, which leads to another scuffle with Kane when he comes looking to claim Tolliver’s secret, all-powerful weapon for himself. Although Deadpool is all mouth when it comes to Kane, he’s thrown into a panic when Slyback makes it a three-way dance since he didn’t just see Slayback die, he saw him reduced to little more than a bloody goop! Thanks to his cybernetic enhancements and burning desire to avenge himself, Slayback easily overwhelms Deadpool but, as he moves to deliver a fatal blow (despite this being impossible against Wade thanks to his superhuman healing factor…), Vanessa sacrifices herself to save her former love. During all of this kerfuffle, weasel realises that a seemingly innocuous mannequin is actually the Zero unit (or “Adam Unit-Zero”, to be precise) and Tolliver’s ultimate weapon, an energy-absorbing synthezoid built to eliminate all weapons of war. Consequently, it identifies Slayback as such and reduces him to cinders, atomising him in a blinding flash of light. While it settles for similarly destroying Weasel’s armaments and evaluates that Kane has a “strong inclination towards socially beneficial behaviour” [sic] despite his capability for lethal force, it classifies Deadpool as a weapon of war and moves to nullify him accordingly. However, in keeping with his reputation as the “Merc With a Mouth”, Deadpool is able to stall the machine by rationalising that he’s not just capable of killing but healing too. He then demonstrates this by having Vanessa touch his horrifically scarred body to absorb his healing factor and thus heal her mortal wounds, confusing Adam and causing it to teleport away to conduce further analysis. Although she’s grateful, and touched that he still loves her, Vanessa turns him down since she loves another and tearfully begs him to move past his cancer, his past, Tolliver, and even himself so he can find something worth fighting for again. Though heartbroken, Wade consoles himself with the knowledge (as amusingly expositing by Weasel) that he showed he can be more than just a brutal killing machine, and by swiping some of Tolliver’s gold for himself so the mission wasn’t a complete loss.

The Summary: 
In many ways, The Circle Chase suffers from a lot of the problems I often have with X-Men stories, particularly those from the team’s heyday in the nineties; stories were often crammed full of characters, lore, and interweaving plot threads that made single issues and even ongoing story arcs difficult for me to pick up and read since it was hard to keep track of everything going on. We’ve got Deadpool, Vanessa, the Juggernaut and Black Tom, Weasel, Garrison Kane, Slayback, Commcast, the Executive Elite, the complex search for Tolliver’s will and numerous references to him and his minions…it’s quite a bit to take in all at once. Thankfully, the art is pretty good; while much of the action takes place at night or in darkened interiors, all of the characters are very colourful and stand out thanks to that nineties excess of bulging muscles, ridiculously excessive guns and technology, and hyper sexualisation of female characters and bodies that was so rampant during this time.

Deadpool’s chatter mouth and questionable past are a highlight of the miniseries.

The writing is also really good, particularly in terms of dialogue and in characterisation Deadpool. Wade more than lives up to his loquacious reputation here and is constantly spouting nonsense, pop culture references, and getting distracted with tangents in the heat of battle. He taunts his opponents to the point of frustration, which is always amusing, and offers relentless amusing commentary throughout the miniseries. Deadpool’s skills are at their peak here and he’s easily able to take out the many run of the mill mercenaries he comes up against; the more prominent mercs from the Executive Elite manage to subdue him (mainly to advance the story, put some spotlight on Commcast, and subject Deadpool to his mind reading device so we can learn a little more about him) but even this is just a temporary setback and he immediately enacts a bloody revenge upon being freed by Weasel. Interestingly, the final issue delves a little into Wade’s complex mindset; while he hides behind his near-psychotic persona and smart mouth, he’s actually a very tortured individual, one suffering from hideous scars as a result of his healing factor constantly staving off the cancer that threatened his life. Wade is also rattled into an uncharacteristic panic by Slayback’s survival and appearance and a prominent plot point being Wade’s rejection of the notion that he actually enjoys killing and is a mindless sadist like Slayback. This is ultimately proven to be true in the finale, where he uses his healing factor to restore Vanessa and reject the notion that he’s nothing more than a weapon of wear, which allows him to neuter Adam-Zero’s threat which along with his heartbreak over having lost Vanessa’s love, goes a long way to injecting some humanity into this otherwise volatile and unstable mercenary. While The Circle Chase may be bulging with colourful characters, Mutants, and cybernetic antagonists, the core villains are actually surprisingly interesting. It seems as though everyone in the story has a connection to Deadpool, mostly through either Weapon X or the Six Pack (or both), and almost everyone has an axe to grind against him (even Weasel, the closest thing he has to an ally, is constantly exasperated by Wade’s instability and childish nature).

There’s quite a bit going on, but the characterisations and art work make it an entertaining read.

Having said that, the Executive Elite are basically a throwaway distraction that exist mostly to pad the story out with a bit more action, intrigue, and exposition, but Commcast almost makes an impression as a kind of dark mirror of Professor Charles Xavier by using his technology to violate Deadpool’s memories and he even has an “X-Men” team of his own in Makeshift and Rive. Garrison Kane is even more of a wild card than Deadpool himself; he’s something of a reluctant ally but doesn’t hesitate to throw down against his former teammate simply because he acts “like an idiot” when it comes to Wade due to their history together. With his glowing eye and bionic arms and armaments, he’s kind of like a poor man’s Cable, which is fitting given their history together, and ends the story on slightly better terms with Wade than they began due to their shared concern for Vanessa. Vanessa is also a significant factor in the miniseries, primarily as one of the main targets for Tolliver’s will and as Deadpool’s lost love, though she doesn’t get a huge amount of agency; she is able to string up Sluggo and find her way to the monastery without the discs but, once there, she’s held hostage by Slayback and then nonsensically throws herself in front of Deadpool despite him being able to heal from any wound. As for Slayback…I’ve never heard of this guy, but I actually really enjoyed him! His zombie-like appearance and malleable cybernetics (which give him an extensive reach and even a drill appendage) make him a fearsome foe and he’s written with this biting, British wit that adds a lot of character to him. the parallels between him and Deadpool kind of come out of nowhere in the last chapter but I liked that his appearance rattled wade so much that it put him on the back foot, and it was interesting seeing wade think (well, “talk”, really) his way out of being atomised by Adam-Zero like Slayback was. Overall, I really enjoyed this miniseries; it was a little bloated at times but bat-shit-crazy in all the ways I enjoy about a character like Deadpool. While Wade isn’t being as self-referential or meta as he is now known for, all the foundation for the characterisation is here and the miniseries went a long way to justifying his later mainstream success.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Have you ever read The Circle Chase? If so, what did you think of the story and the Deadpool’s first solo foray? Did you enjoy the bloated cast of colourful characters and their ties to Deadpool’s past or was it all a bit too crowded for you? What did you think to Deadpool’s characterisation here, the glimpses into his past and motivations, and his snarky with? Were you a fan of Slayback, Vanessa, and the likes of Garrison Kane or is there another of Deadpool’s villains you prefer? What are some of your favourite Deadpool stories and moments and how are you celebrating Deadpool Day today? Whatever your thoughts on Deadpool, feel free to sign up and share them below or drop a comment on my social media.

Back Issues [Mario Month]: Super Mario Bros. #1

So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties.

Published: April 1990

Story Title: “The Legend”
By: George Caragonne, Art Nichols, Jade, P. Zorito, and Janet Jackson

Story Title: “Piranha-Round Sue”
By: Bill Valley, Mark McClellan, George Wildman, Jade, P. Zorito, Janet Jackson

Story Title: “Koopa’s Believe It or Else!”
By: John Walker, Ken Lopez, and Barry Goldberg

Story Title: “Cloud Nine”
By: John Walker, George Wildman, Jade, P. Zorito, Andrea Brooks, and The Gradations

The Background:
By the early 1990s, Nintendo’s mushroom-stomping mascot had firmly established himself as an icon not just in the videogame industry but in mainstream pop culture as well; with more than sixty videogames already released, and with Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo EAD, 1993) being a blockbuster release for Nintendo (and a major player in the on-going “Console Wars” between Nintendo and SEGA), merchandising and licensing opportunities naturally increased as Nintendo sought to capitalise on the portly plumber’s popularity. Between 1990 and 1991, Nintendo partnered with Valiant Comics to published comic book adaptations of some of their biggest and most successful franchises, and Super Mario was naturally at the forefront of this. Mario’s Valiant adventures were based not just on his videogame adventures, but also his depiction in the animated Super Mario Bros. Super Show! (1989), and Mario featured in a number of Valiant’s comics, either as the main character or in cameo roles.

The Review:
Valiant’s Nintendo comics were basically like printed versions of their DiC cartoons and were short, slapstick, fun-filled adventures punctuated by advertisements both fake and real (mostly for videogames, other Valiant comics, and radical nineties toys and such). As a result, there are four stories contained in Mario’s debut issue, with two full length adventures and two interludes to pad out the comic, which was the style of many publications for younger kids as opposed to comics by DC and Marvel Comics, which generally had the one story contained in its page alongside ads and such. The first story is a two-page introduction to the general concept of the Super Mario Bros., their world, and their adventures; according to “The Interlude”, the magical Mushroom Kingdom was a peace-loving land of mushroom people until the evil King Bowser Koopa and his forces invaded the land and terrorised the kingdom’s patriarch, the Mushroom King, and his daughter, Princess Toadstool. Fortunately, their plight reached Mario and Luigi, two plumber brothers who “hungered for justice and thirsted for freedom” who heard the Princess’s cries for help through their pipes and…somehow (presumably by jumping in the pipes? It’s not made clear) journeyed to the Mushroom Kingdom with tools in hand to defeat Bowser, push back his troops, and rescue the Princess and then presumably stuck around for more adventures based on their experiences. The first story, “Piranha-Round Sue”, finds the Mushroom Kingdom being over-run by the titular piranha plants (leading to a somewhat amusing gag about the plants being “revolting”). The King doesn’t see this as nearly as much of a pressing issue as his current predicament; Koopa has randomly turned him into a chameleon and the King needs Mario and Toad to retrieve the Magic Wand to restore him. Quite how, where, and when this transformation took place isn’t established, but if you’re willing to overlook that then you’re probably willing to overlook the convenience of a Magic Wand only being located in the piranha’s headquarters in World One.

Despite Piranha-Sue’s best efforts, Mario and Toad manage to restore the King using the Magic Wand.

Although Mario’s exasperated by the King’s distracted nature, he is gifted a “Green Gecko Gem” that protects him (but not Toad…) from “only the strongest enemies” at the cost of them being unable to touch anyone else, and the two head out to get the wand. Almost immediately Toad gets left behind and Mario delights in being able to plough through Goombas without issue, allowing Piranha Sue to easily get into Toad’s ear and manipulate him into getting a hold of the Green Gecko Gem in the promise of a fleeting moment of power as King of the Mushroom Kingdom, but of course it’s a trap to get the gem into the hands of her fellow piranhas so they can be free of Koopa’s service. While Mario’s busy collecting Coins with reckless abandon, he stumbles upon the Magic Wand just randomly sitting under a rock and is startled to find Toad on the verge of going over a tumultuous waterfall and drowning in the water. However, Mario hesitates to act since he can’t touch Toad and doesn’t want to abandon the gem in case someone steals it, but finally drops both the gem and the wand when Piranha Sue drags the mushroom retainer under the water. Although Toad is saved, Piranha Sue swipes both items and instantly declares herself to be the new rule of the world; unfortunately for her, Koopa was just off panel and took offense to her declaration. Despite the gem covering her in a protective aura, Koopa is able to grab her in a strangle hold and reprimand her for her insolence and discards both items since he believes the gem is worthless and Mario swapped out the wand for a fake on Toad’s suggestion. Victorious, the two return to the castle and change the Mushroom King back to normal, though his subjects are dismayed to find he has developed a taste for flies.

The Mario brothers foil Koopa’s attempt to ruin the cranky King’s reputation.

The comic then shifts to a one-page fake infomercial, of sorts, “Koopa’s Believe It or Else!”, a series of random gags and panels that tell us such tall tales as “Koopa” meaning “Thing of beauty” in “lizard language”, stuffed plumber’s caps being a delicacy in the Mushroom Kingdom, the Mushroom King having over 2,000,000 crowns but only one pair of socks, and a gag about a plumber actually making a house call that’s lost on me since I’ve never experienced an issue with plumbers not coming when I call them out. Following this odd segue, the issue ends with another full-length story, “Cloud Nine”, which finds the Mushroom King aggravated to be woken up in a mood so foul that he chases his sentient alarm clock and dumps boiling hot water on Luigi’s crotch! The King complains that his bed is so lumpy and uncomfortable that he can’t sleep, so Mario and Luigi take him to a shop to purchase a new bed. The Marios are stunned to find the King unsatisfied with the shop’s selection as they’re too hard, too soft, too lumpy, and not lumpy enough, and so distracted by his erratic behaviour that they completely miss Koopa switching places with the shopkeeper. Any suspicions they might have about this shady new character are quickly forgotten when the shop (really Koopa’s minion, Pidget), announces a 100% off sale on all plumbing supplies, easily allowing Koopa to spirit the King up to the 2,927th floor to try out his “Cloud Nine” mattresses. Introduced to the “Cumulo-Nimbus Special”, the King instantly falls into a much-needed deep sleep and is unwittingly whisked away across the kingdom. In the middle of despairing over the King’s disappearance, Mario and Luigi spot the cloud bed flying overhead and give chase, though they’re unable to stop Koopa from framing the King for causing bed weather over the land. Eager to stop the King from tarnishing his reputation further, Mario and Luigi hop into a biplane and catch up to the slumbering King, with Mario using his plumbing tools to…fix the leak in the cloud…? and stop the rain. With the King well rested, his mood noticeably improves (though he still doesn’t have a new bed…) and he regales his subjects with a bizarre dream he had where the plumbers harpooned Koppa in the butt and had the biplane carry him out into the faraway Fungus Forest while the repaired cloud blasted him with lightning, bringing the story and the issue to a close.

The Summary:
Super Mario Bros. #1 is a fun enough comic; it’s a pretty juvenile and slapstick series of adventures and gag strips that definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously and leans very heavily into puns, sight jokes, and kid-friendly cartoony situations. If you’ve ever watched an episode of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show! then you’ll be more than familiar with this sense of humour and presentation, which is a great way to capture the fantastical whimsy of the source material. When you think about it, Super Mario Bros. has always had a weird premise and an oddball sense of humour; fire-breathing turtle-dragons, sentient mushrooms, subjects being turned into blocks, and all kinds of weird power-ups and collectibles make this a light-hearted and fanciful world that’s clearly separate from ours. Like the cartoons, Valiant’s comics run with the idea that Mario and Luigi hail from Brooklyn and what we know was the “real world” and bring their plumbing expertise to the fantastical Mushroom Kingdom, making them hardworking, everyday heroes thrust into the roles of heroes in a magical world, which was also reflected in the anime and live-action movie and is a plot point that’s largely been ignored these days.

A fun, whimsical comic book adventure with some amusing gags and references to the videogames.

One thing I enjoyed about the comic was its juxtaposition of the surreal cartoon version of Mario with more traditional elements from the source material; Mario and Toad’s search for the Magic Wand is framed to resemble gameplay from the videogames, with cameos from Goombas, musical blocks, and even showing Mario grabbing a whole bunch of Coins and stuffing them into a bag so he can buy a new adjustable socket wrench set. Indeed, “Piranha-Round Sue” is the best story in the comic in terms of fidelity to the source material, with Mario utilising a power-up (one not seen in the game, but still…), his incredibly jumping prowess to hop over pipes and piranhas in his search for the Magic Wand, and he’s teamed up with Toad to evoke Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo R&D4, 1988). “The Interlude” is a similarly faithful recreation of the popular canon at the time and a summation of the first videogame, with Mario and Luigi trumping Koopa’s forces and even using the Fire Flower power-up (though without changing colours), and even “Cloud Nine” feature some call-backs to the videogames, such as the cloud-based stages, even though the story’s much more in line with the cartoons. Overall, I have a soft spot for Valiant’s Nintendo comics, especially their Super Mario Bros. publications as they reflect a different, far more whimsical time when adaptations just kind of did whatever they wanted as long as it was fun and entertaining for kids. The artwork, while a little sloppy and rushed at times (character dimensions and spatial awareness suffer a bit), perfectly reflects the Mario cartoons from the time and there were some fun moments that made me chuckle, so this was an enjoyable debut issue for the world’s most famous plumber brothers.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read Valiant’s Nintendo comics, specifically their Super Mario Bros. publications? What did you think to them? Were you a fan of the comic continuing the slapstick nature of the cartoon and splicing in some references to the videogames? Are you glad that the franchise has slightly moved away from these depictions or do you miss when the Mario’s were plumbers from the real world? Did you read and collect Valiant’s Nintendo comics? If so, what were some of your favourite stories and moments in their publications? Did you enjoy Mario’s other comic book adaptations as well and would you like to see another produced some time? Feel free to leave your thoughts on Valiants Super Mario and Nintendo comics down below by signing up or on my social media, and thanks for being a part of Mario Month this year.

Back Issues: Whiz Comics #25

Story Title: “The Origin of Captain Marvel, Jr.”
December 1941
Writer: Ed Herron
Artists: C.C. Beck and Mac Raboy

The Background:
After National Comics (the precursor to DC Comics) saw incredible success with their flagship superheroes, Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman, Fawcett Publications desired to get in on the fad with their own colourful superheroes. While the initial plan was for a team of heroes, each with the powers of Greco-Roman Gods, Ralph Daigh made the executive decision to combine them into one superpowered entity to directly oppose Superman. This magical superhero originally went by “Captain Thunder” and debuted in a comic published as both Flash Comics and Thrill Comics, however trademark issues saw Pete Costanza rechristening him as “Captain Marvelous”, which soon became Captain Marvel, and the character was a big success for the publisher. It wouldn’t be long before the initial concept of a team of magically-empowered heroes soon came to pass with the creation of the the Lieutenant Marvels; soon, though, Captain Marvel was sharing his powers with a colourful extended family, including his bungling uncle and a talking tiger, of all things, butit all began with a young boy named Freddy Freeman. It was editor Ed Herron who wanted Captain Marvel to have a teenage sidekick, and Freddy was purposefully written to shout his idol’s name every time he transformed to remind kids to buy Fawcett’s comics. Unlike Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr. remained a teenager even when transformed and is rendered a cripple in his mortal form, making him slightly more reliant on his superpowers. Captain Marvel Jr. has forged a pretty decent legacy for himself, serving on teams such as the Outsiders and the Teen Titans. He even once graduated (albeit all-too-briefly) into the role of Captain Marvel, was one of many inspirations for Elvis Presley, made a handful of appearances in DC’s animated ventures, and was portrayed by Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody in the critical and financial success that was Shazam! (Sandberg, 2019)

The Review:
The big story of “The Origin of Captain Marvel, Jr.” is the reign of terror being perpetrated by Master Comics’ Albrecht Krieger/Captain Nazi, a supercriminal whose powers are apparently comparable to those of Bill Batson/Captain Marvel and who has been “cutting a path of sabotage and destruction” ever since he “[smashed] his way in” from Master Comics. Plucky boy reporter Billy is in the middle of informing the audience (both inter- and metatextual) of Captain Marvel’s previous entanglements with the superpowered Nazi when his broadcast is interrupted by Sterling Morris, the head of Whiz radio station, who dashes in in a panic because Captain Nazi is at their sending station! In the time between Captain Marvel’s debut appearance and this story, it appears that Morris has been clued in on Billy’s dual identity as Billy transforms into Captain Marvel with his magic word (“Shazam!”) right in front of his boss. That’s not the only think that’s changed, though, as Captain Marvel can now fly at supersonic speeds, which means he’s able to dash over to the sending station in a flash and, once there, he finds that Captain Nazi is delivering an ominous threat over the airwaves to every superpowered do-gooder out there.

Captain Marvel struggles to get his hands on the sadistic Captain Nazi.

In a bid to disrupt Captain Nazi’s hate-mongering message, Billy’s fearless co-worker, Whitey Murphy, climbs up the broadcast tower, only to, of course, immediately be victimised by the garishly-clad and unnecessarily theatrical villain. As Captain Marvel flies up to rescue Whitey, Captain Nazi hurls his hostage right at the Big Red Cheese like a projectile, but luckily the white-haired newshound is only stunned (even though, realistically, he should’ve been mushed to paste as it’s not like Captain Marvel actually caught him…) Despite Whitey’s conviction and Captain Marvel’s resolve to make his rival pay, Captain Navi is long gone by the time our hero gets his ass back up there and, after a brief search, decides to simply wait for the villain to show himself again. After a couple of days without any sight or sound of the “One-Man-Blitz”, Billy can only speculate about when or where Captain Nazi will strike next, which just so happens to be at the activation ceremony of a new hydroelectric dam, an event that Billy (oddly dressed in blue for one panel…) just happens to be covering. Captain Nazi sabotages the turbines, causing them to rage out of control, and Captain Marvel finally manages to confront the maniac, who shows no fear and is unimpressed with his rival’s threats because he knows that Captain Marvel won’t waste time fighting him when hundreds of lives and millions of dollars are at stake. With the speed of Mercury, Captain Marvel bursts into dam and uses the mighty strength of Zeus to grind the out of control turbines to a halt; he even apologises for the damage he caused in the process, though the Major is more than grateful for the lives the Big Red Cheese saved. Although Captain Nazi managed to escape again, he strikes once more during a test flight for a new secret fighter plane and, wouldn’t you know it, Billy’s on scene again when Captain Nazi starts throttling the pilot and putting the plane in a death dive!

Captain Nazi’s heinous actions give birth to another member of the Marvel Family.

This time, Captain Marvel is able to correct the plane’s descent, levelling it out and causing Captain Nazi to black out from the sudden force. Finally getting his hands on the One-Man-Blitz, Captain Marvel sends his unconscious foe flying with a powerful uppercut. Unfortunately, Captain Nazi lands in the nearby bay and is hauled out by a kindly old man who’s out fishing with his grandson, Frederick “Freddy” Freeman. The old man’s kindness is repaid with a superpowered bitch slap that sends him tumbling into the water, fatally it turns out; when Freddy tries to attack Captain Nazi in a fight of rage, he too is smacked aside like a gnat. Thankfully, Freddy’s unconscious body is found by Captain Marvel, who spirits him to a hospital, barging right through the wall when a doctor denies him entry! After an indeterminate amount of time waiting to hear about Freddy’s condition, Billy is horrified to learn that the lad’s back is broken and that he’s expected to either be a cripple for the rest of his life or to pass away during the night. Perhaps feeling responsible for Freddy’s gruesome fate (and rightfully so), Billy steals him away in the middle of the night (despite the fact that his manhandling of Freddy would probably exacerbate the boy’s condition…) and takes him, via the strange subway train, to the ancient cavern of the wizard Shazam. Conjuring the spirit of the ages-old sorcerer, Billy begs the wizard to intervene and help save Freddy’s life and, while he can’t undo what Captain Nazi has done, the old sage bids Billy to speak his magic word and, when Freddy sets his eyes on the Mightiest Man in the World and speaks his name, he’s transformed into a similarly-clad teenage superhero. Restored to full health and gifted with the same powers as Captain Marvel (the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury), Freddy is dubbed Captain Marvel, Jr and (between panels) made privy to Billy’s secret identity. Although Freddy’s human form is still stunted by a crippled leg, Captain Marvel charges his young ward with joining him in the battle against evil and offers to send him over to Master Comics to confront and defeat Captain Nazi once and for all.

The Summary:
“The Origin of Captain Marvel, Jr.” was part of a crossover event that depicted the efforts of Captain Nazi to cause chaos and destruction all across Fawcett’s publications. As a result, the story really doesn’t delve too deeply into Captain Nazi’s name, origin, or even his powers; he’s apparently able to fly and is definitely depicted as having superhuman strength and resilience, but the limits of his abilities or how he came to be are not answered in this story. I feel that’s a moot point, though, as a supervillain carrying the name “Captain Nazi” really doesn’t need much clarifying. He’s the superpowered arm of the Third Reich, vehemently opposed to good and justice in all its forms and intent on proving the superiority of the Axis Powers using his superior strength. However, this does fall apart a little bit throughout this particular story; Captain Nazi takes control of the airwaves (something that seems to be a running theme in Captain Marvel’s comics….) to deliver empty threats and his plan to destroy the dam is easily thwarted. It might’ve been better if he’d destroyed the radio tower, killing some innocents, and then burst open the dam himself, rather than sending the turbines out of control; his attempt to down the test plane also lacked some agency to me, but there’s no doubt that he’s a violent and unhinged psychopath. Captain Nazi killed at least two people in this story, almost killed a third, and threatened countless lives at the dam, but then again he did also black out after a shift in gravity so…

The garish Captain Nazi tests Captain Marvel’s mettle and sees him joined by a teenaged partner.

Once again, the artwork is pretty stellar in this story. There’s a simplicity to C.C. Beck and Mac Raboy’s style that, again, falters with backgrounds (especially Shazam’s cave) but shines in characters and their Max Fleischer-esque facial expressions. Captain Nazi might not be blessed with the most intimidating outfit (a pitch-black Schutzstaffel uniform with blood-red accents would’ve been far better in my opinion) but Captain Marvel has improved a lot from his debut; now showcasing his mighty speed and strength, he’s a well-known and beloved superhero. The “wisdom of Solomon” appears to extend to him sounding more like an adult when transformed, referring to Freddy as a “youngster” and echoing the trustworthiness of Superman, though he’s still a bit impulsive and reckless. This is best reflected in him just punting Captain Nazi away without thought to the damage he could cause, which directly impacts poor Freddy. It’s bad enough that Freddy doesn’t actually get a name in this story, but he has to watch his grandfather be murdered before his eyes and is then left at death’s door or facing a life as an invalid. Thankfully, he’s renewed by Shazam’s magic, transforming into a blue facsimile of Captain Marvel and ready to get a measure of revenge against Captain Nazi. Captain Marvel, Jr has always been a bit of an oddity to me; it’s not explained why he remains a teenager when transformed (I’d assume it’s because he only has a portion of Shazam’s powers, or received them second-hand, but the story explicitly states that he has “all the powers [Captain Marvel] has”) and this kind of flies in the face of the wish fulfilment that’s central to Captain Marvel (say a magic word and a small child, the target audience, becomes an all-powerful, adult superman). I guess it speaks to a different kind of wish fulfilment, though; the youngers reading the comics want to emulate their heroes so it makes sense to have teenaged superheroes, and Freddy’s lame leg adds a level of representation that’s rare for comics from this era. Overall, this is an enjoyable enough story; it’s more like a series of madcap vignettes as Captain Marvel tries to defeat the sadistic Captain Nazi and the appearance of Captain Marvel, Jr comes far too late for it to properly have as much impact as it could but it’s very colourful and we get to see a Nazi scumbag get punched in the face!

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to Captain Marvel, Jr’s debut story? Did you like the idea of boy/man superhero Captain Marvel having a teen sidekick? What did you think to Captain Nazi as a villain and the evil acts he perpetrated in this story, and the crossover? Which of the Captain Marvel family is your favourite? What are some of your favourite Captain Marvel, Jr stories and moments? Whatever your thoughts Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family, feel free to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.