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Underrated: X-O Manowar: Birth

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: X-O Manowar: Birth


The Vine are replaced with the Spider-Aliens, although aside from the name there is little that distinguishes them from the first few comics in the 2012 run. Where as the Vine become one of the more interesting and complex plot points in the VEI stories, the Spider-Aliens show little of the same qualities at this point (yes, there are signs that there is more to the Vine within the first three issues of the VEI run), but then that really just makes it easier to enjoy the battle carnage as Aric tears his way through the soldiers and corporate representatives of the Spider-Aliens.

Although you can enjoy the book without any prior knowledge, for a Valiant fan of the old or new school (or both) this beautifully presented book is a must read. And most of us will seek the story out if we can, but for those not entrenched in Valiant lore, this standalone story here represents an Underrated gem from comics history.


Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

Preview: Barbaric #1

Barbaric #1

(W) Michael Moreci (A/CA) Nathan Gooden
In Shops: Jun 30, 2021
SRP: $3.99

Owen the Barbarian has been cursed to do good with what remains of his life. His bloodthirsty weapon, Axe, has become his moral compass with a drinking problem. Together they wander the realm, foredoomed to help any who seek assistance. But there is one thing Owen hates more than a life with rules: Witches.
Welcome to the skull-cracking, blood-splattering, mayhem-loving comic brave enough to ask: How can a man sworn to do good do so much violence? Hah! F***ing with you. It’s just…BARBARIC.

Barbaric #1

Get a Look at Barbaric #1 Before its June 30 Release

Vault Comics has revealed an extended preview of Barbaric #1, the wild, blood-thirsty fantasy series from writer Michael Moreci, artist Nathan Gooden, colorist Addison Duke, letterer Jim Campbell, and designer Tim Daniel

Barbaric follows Owen the Barbarian who has been cursed to do good with what remains of his life. His bloodthirsty weapon, Axe, has become his moral compass with a drinking problem. Together they wander the realm, foredoomed to help any who seek assistance. But there is one thing Owen hates more than a life with rules: Witches. Welcome to the skull-cracking, blood-splattering, mayhem-loving comic brave enough to ask: How can a man sworn to do good do so much violence? Hah! F***ing with you. It’s just…BARBARIC.

Barbaric #1 will hit store shelves in June 30th, 2021. The first issue will launch with a Vault Vintage variant from Nathan Gooden and Tim Daniel that pays homage to Barry Windsor-Smith’s legendary cover to Conan The Barbarian #1 (1970), and an epic battle variant from Vault Cover Artist In-Residence, Joshua Hixson.

Hannah John-Kamen will Star in Red Sonja

Red Sonja

Hannah John-Kamen will wield the sword of Red Sonja in the upcoming film from Millennium. John-Kamen is no stranger to blockbusters having played Ava/Ghost in Ant-Man and the Wasp, Sophie in Tomb Raider, and been on shows such as Game of Thrones, Black Mirror, and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. This is a potential breakout moment for the actress with her first major headlining role.

Joey Soloway is directing the project and co-wrote the script with Tasha Huo.

Red Sonja was created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith for Marvel ComicsConan the Barbarian comic in 1973. She debuted in Conan the Barbarian #23. Based on several characters from Robert E. Howard‘s world she has headlined her own stories and films. The Millennium film is based on the comics published by Dynamite Entertainment. Nick Barrucci of Dynamite Entertainment is one of the producers.

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: An Avengers Retrospective Part 7: With a Bang and a Whimper

Guest contributor Gene Selassie is back with his latest retrospective of Marvel‘s The Avengers. The Kree-Skrull War is over and creator Roy Thomas departs the series after six years worth of tales.


Avengers #98

Fellow followers of those who fight the foes that no single hero could withstand, it’s that time once again. As I continue my review of every single issue of the Avengers from the beginning, the next leg of this journey deals with the fallout from the Kree-Skrull War. We see some characters coming to terms with their feelings for each other, others reverting back to their old ways and some finding themselves either completely preoccupied or in one case, obsolete. The coolness factor of seeing an adventure so grand that it requires every character who had ever been an Avenger increased exponentially as the very first instance of this occurred here. We also take a look at the more experimental storytelling by the creators during this stretch. Finally, we bid farewell to the steward of the last six years worth of Avengers tales and see what condition Roy Thomas left the toys in the toy box.

Avengers #98 opens up with Thor trying to pierce realms to return to Asgard, in the hopes that magicks there would be able to reveal the whereabouts of the missing Hawkeye. However, some unseen force prevents him from leaving Earth. Cap, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch confront an angry mob named the War Hawks. They seek to attack a visiting Asian dignitary. The Vietnam War seems to play quite a role in stories during the Silver AND Bronze ages of Avengers comics. A mohawked figure has his henchman play music that whips the crowd into a frenzy. Before long, it affects the Avengers on the scene. Thor and Vision investigate separately, with Vision being attacked by Iron Man, now under the same thrall that the other War Hawks were. Iron Man blasted Vision into the “Piper”, who somehow died upon impact. Thor uncovered the culprit behind the plot, Ares, the Greek god of war. Before the Thunder God could strike, Ares had the mind-controlled Scarlet Witch neutralize Thor’s hammer. The hammer is freed, from a blast arrow. Yet, no one saw which direction it came from. Hawkeye returns at the end of the issue…wearing a costume that garnered much derision back then. He doesn’t give an explanation for how he returned to Earth. However, he’s accompanied by a returning Hercules, who has no memory of who he is.

Avengers #99

Avengers #99 begins with Thor, using the power of his enchanted hammer (along with a device invented by Tony Stark) to jog Hercules’ memory. The device doesn’t work. Hawkeye recounts his encounter on the Skrull craft at the end of the Kree-Skrull War. Surrounded by shock troopers and no Pym Particles left in his system, Clint had to create a makeshift bow and arrows, to become Hawkeye once again. One of his errant arrows hit a main control circuit and caused an explosion. He got out in an escape pod before the entire ship blew up. Clint’s ship crash-landed in the former Yugoslavia. A traveling circus passed by and Clint hitched a ride with them until a torrential storm took Clint’s wagon nearly off the edge of a ravine. A strongman with the circus named “Hercules”, with blonde hair and clothing like a sideshow attraction, pulled the wagon out of harm’s way with his bare hands. Turns out, the blonde hair was a wig and the man was the real deal Prince of Power himself. They contact Tony Stark’s office to get a flight booked back stateside. Both Black Panther and Ant-Man, away on other matters, have been spending time working on a way to help Hercules, but to no avail. From out of nowhere, Clint makes a pass at Wanda, which ticks off Vision. At this point, Clint still is oblivious to the feelings Vision and Wanda has for one another. One who doesn’t let the obvious fly right over his head is Quicksilver. He asks Wanda for the truth and she admits her feelings about Vision to her brother. Vision also departs to the kitchen, where Jarvis offers his ear, as he’s done for so many throughout the years. He also can tell that there’s tension between Vizh and Wanda. Vision doesn’t know if she feels the same. Before any of the drama can play out, two Olympian warriors, Kratos and Bia, show up at Avengers mansion to retrieve the amnesiac Hercules. The Avengers put up one hell of a fight though. During the altercation, Wanda is injured (yes, again) and Vision attends to her a bit too long instead of helping during the fight, which Clint rudely points out. During the distraction, the Olympians, with Hercules in tow, vanish. Clint accuses Vision of blatantly ignoring the rest of the team in the middle of the fight. Wanda, angry at Vision for putting her above the rest of the team, just walks out. The rest of the team knows what they have to do to rescue the abducted Hercules, plan an assault on Olympus itself.

Avengers #100

Avengers #100 is a celebration featuring what has now become a classic and welcome trope of gathering every single person who had ever been an Avenger up to that point. Seeing Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, the Wasp, the Hulk, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, Black Panther and the Black Knight all gathered (illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith and inked by the legendary Joe Sinnott no less) alluded to a tremendous adventure ahead. Black Knight summoned the entire team to Garrett Castle in England to discuss the vision he saw via the spirit of his ancestor, the original Black Knight. The Ebony Blade, which Dane tried to have destroyed on Polemachus, somehow made its way to the outskirts of Olympus, where Ares laid claim to it. The Enchantress, following the sword there, forged an alliance with the Greek god of war, promising to conquer Olympus, Asgard, and Earth. Ares used the sword to kill the Titan guarding the Prometheum flame. He then destroyed the flame and every Olympian turned to crystal, except for the half-blood Prince of Power. While in a sparring session, Hercules accidentally kills Phoebus, who was just turned to crystal. Ares makes his presence known and his minions toss Hercules off of Olympus. As he slowly falls through space down towards Earth, his memories begin to fade. The War Hawks debacle, Thor being unable to return to Asgard, the attack by Bia and Kratos, all a complex plot by Ares. Another former Avenger happens to make their presence known, the Swordsman. He stole one of the Avengers’ craft and used their surveillance equipment to ascertain what the meeting was about. He stated that he was an Avenger as well, even for a short time, and wishes to help. I had to laugh when they hinted at Swordsman having escaped prison, but no one bats an eye. Thor, Iron Man, Vision, Black Knight, and the Hulk head to Olympus to gather intel and mount a rescue of Hercules. Of course, it is a trap. The Enchantress lets them know that their assault on Asgard is next and their true target, the Odinsword, a weapon which could bring about Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse. Meanwhile, Captain America, Hawkeye, Swordsman, Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, Ant-Man, the Wasp, and Quicksilver fight off Ares’ forces in London. One would think that the Hulk would have smashed to his heart’s content. However, he was lulled, by the music of Satyrs, away from the battlefield. He just sat, chilled, and enjoyed the music like he was at Woodstock…until the forces that attacked Earth came back through the portal and rained on Hulk’s happy day. With Black Knight and Thor dispatching Ares, Hercules rescued and the Olympians returning to normal, the Avengers went through the portal back to Earth. Somehow, the portal was sealed by Thor and Hercules, whose fists collided at the same time.

Avengers #101

Avengers #101 is the famous Five Dooms to Save Tomorrow story that Thomas adapted from a Harlan Ellison story (one that was originally written for a Hawkman script but was rejected by DC). Rich Buckler filled in on art, doing a serviceable job on pencils. We open to a story where the Avengers are special guests at Stark Industries for a tournament between a world-renowned chess master (an arrogant Russian dignitary), and a supercomputer…a supercomputer called NIMROD. WHAT? I’m hoping this is just one of those wacky coincidences that happened in comics back in the old days. Just into the opening moves of the match, the dignitary crashes to the floor, with the Avengers thinking he’s having a heart attack. Once they get to the hospital, Thor buggers off, only to change to his alter ego of Doctor Don Blake. It’s apparent that Thor and Iron Man are still keeping their alter egos secret from their teammates. Cap had a hunch and kept the last chess piece that the dignitary touched before his malady. Iron Man scanned the residue, but even his computers couldn’t identify all of the elements. Doctor Blake was able to determine it was a poison from a remote section of Brazil. He lets them know that reverse engineering an antidote won’t be possible unless they find the person who poisoned him. If they don’t the dignitary will die and an international incident of the highest order would further stain America’s reputation. While the Stark Industries auditorium is empty, one man named Leonard Tippit was laying in wait until it was abandoned. Vision appears and startles the man. He knew that when the NIMROD made a certain move that was banned in Curacao in 1962 that it would force the Russian dignitary to make a specific move with a specific chess piece. Vision tries to stop him, but without warning, Tippit emits unusual energy, incapacitating even an intangible Vision. Yet Captain America appears and is able to knock out Tippit with just one punch. Tippit disappears, but as soon as the Avengers arrive, they all fall unconscious. Just after this, Tippit flashes back to two nights ago, when he woke up in his bed, thinking he had a dream. He is promptly contacted by no other than The Watcher. Uatu reveals to Tippit that he is a solid nexus point in all timelines and that a nuclear disaster will affect several timelines and only Tippit can prevent it. Uatu unlocks latent mental powers in Tippit. Uatu then tells him that he has to kill five key people…innocent people…who will give birth to key individuals that cause this holocaust. The Avengers share the vision as well and know of the plot that’s unfolding. They debate whether or not to intervene. The team finally splits up to intercept the other targets. However, Tippit seems to be able to be in all places, nearly simultaneously. He had only enough power to place the targets into a comatose state, not kill them, as the teleporting and battling the Avengers drained him. It was finally Pietro and Wanda who took him down and brought him into custody. The Watcher once again intervened. This time, it was to reveal that it wasn’t the five targets that would be responsible for the coming apocalypse, but Tippit himself. His power level was enough to possibly even kill Uatu. The Watcher sought to take Tippit outside of space and time, to be removed from the timeline forever. Uatu used the Avengers to defeat him. While they objected at first, Tippit himself saw how much of a threat he could become and willingly went with the Watcher in the end.

Avengers #102

Avengers #102 features the Vision being summoned to a closed frozen food locker to meet with the Grim Reaper. Eric still refers to Vision as his brother in a deranged manner. He remains hell-bent on killing the Avengers as payback for what happened to his real brother, Wonder Man. Eric reveals he has Wonder Man’s preserved body and wants Vision to not interfere with a future attack on the rest of the team, promising to put Vision’s brain in the body, making him human. Reaper also stated he booby-trapped the containment unit holding Simon. Vision is, of course, conflicted. Later, in the most clichéd TV soap opera moment ever, Wanda (on monitor duty at the mansion) is about to tell Clint she has feelings for Vision. But Clint forces himself on her and kisses her right when the Vision arrives. The Starcore deep space monitoring station picks up unusual blips flying out of the sun and heading towards Earth…it is a fleet of Sentinels. Quicksilver thinks back to their last encounter with the mutant-hunting robots in X-Men #57-59. He thought the robots were gone forever. Wanda gets dressed up and goes for an evening stroll. Pietro beckons Vision to go after her, finally understanding that both need to stop playing games and tell each other how they feel. Vision declines, only until he sees in the distance, something flying in Wanda’s direction. He jets out after it, with the other Avengers following. Wanda is attacked and captured by the Sentinel. I didn’t know these early models could adapt to mutant abilities, I thought that wasn’t until the NIMROD class. The one Sentinel holds off the entire team (Thor later stated he and Iron Man were holding back to ensure Wanda wasn’t hurt), then teleports away with Wanda. Pietro blows a gasket because the “so-called Mighty Avengers” couldn’t take one lone Sentinel. He vows to find his sister, alone.

Avengers #103

To start off Avengers #103, the team exchanges intel with SHIELD to locate the Sentinels, while Pietro explores an old Sentinel bunker he was once held prisoner in with the X-men and the Brotherhood.  He chases a lead to Judge Chalmers, someone who took in Larry Trask, the now orphaned son of Bolivar Trask, creator of the Sentinels. Larry has amnesia and Chalmers was trying to keep it that way. Be that as it may, Pietro did abscond from the residence with Trask. While the team conferences with Nick Fury about the situation, Vision contemplates using the amulet that Grim Reaper gave Vision to contact him. Peter Corbeau, from Starcore, contacts the team to let them know something is causing massive solar flares in the sun that may soon reach Earth. The flare-inducing beam is tracked to the Australian Outback. Just as the team is about to take off, Rick Jones appears, intent on joining them on this mission. Cap, however, states that the mission is too dangerous and wants Rick to sit out this one. Rick is pissed, due to the fact that he saved the universe a few months earlier (Kree-Skrull War). The team flew off in an experimental jet that hit supersonic speeds, with an engine designed by Tony Stark and powered by lightning from Thor’s hammer, which was pretty damn awesome. Trask had an amulet around his neck that suppressed his memories (man, amulets were pretty popular this arc). Quicksilver ripped it off and Trask’s memories flooded back. Pietro felt guilty for exploiting a mental illness, but he felt justified because of trying to find his kidnapped sister. Trask revealed the location of the Australian Sentinel base. Pietro stated if they don’t make it in time, Trask will pay with his life. The team attacks the Sentinel base. I appreciate Thor discussing a battle plan. Sometime in the 90s-2000s, Thor went from strategist on par with Captain America to giant brute that gets trounced by the new villain du jour, just to prove how badass said villain is. Vision jumped the gun and they were all attacked by Sentinels. In a passenger jet en route to the battle, Trask discussed that Sentinels never had the ability to teleport. Suddenly, Trask concentrated enough and he teleported the plane. He remembered now that his father wanted to hide a dark secret. Larry is a mutant. In addition to teleporting, he can see into the future. He predicted not only the death of Pietro’s teammates but everyone on Earth due to a massive solar flare.

Avengers #104

Avengers #104 is the end of an era, marking the final issue of Roy Thomas’ six-year run on The Avengers. While the Avengers continued to do their best against the Sentinels (with Vision only feigning injury in the last issue to sucker punch a couple of their attackers) Pietro and Trask found an alternate entrance into the base. A captive Wanda discovers her captors’ horrific plan. They seek to use Wanda to boost the power of their flare generator to create enough radiation to make all organic life on Earth sterile, a loophole around the Sentinels’ primary programming; to not bring harm to any non-mutant humans. Once the human race eventually dies off, the Sentinels will genetically engineer humans, removing the possibility of mutation. It was The Matrix, by way of Josef Mengele, quite unsettling. Quicksilver outwits a Sentinel that can move nearly at his speed. He intentionally face plants into a wall, knowing the Sentinel was too large to change direction in time and the Sentinel smashes into a control panel, killing two birds with one stone. Yet, Pietro is injured, forcing Trask to push on alone to stop the plan of the murderous robots. Trask gets another vision. This time, he sees the complete annihilation of Earth and then…nothingness. The leader of this pack of Sentinels, Number Two, took command after the Master Mold, the gargantuan unit that manufactures the Sentinels, was destroyed in X-Men #16. Though it looks half-melted, it is the biggest threat, namely because it doesn’t have the “non-lethal against humans” protocol that the other Sentinels do. Before it can dispatch Cap, Iron Man, Thor and Hawkeye, they’re saved by Vision and a now freed Scarlet Witch. A crude Cerebro-like device is noticed by both Scarlet Witch and by Larry Trask. They both notice it’s turned off. On a hunch, Trask activates it. Suddenly, all sensors home in on Wanda, Pietro, Trask…and Sentinel Number Two. When they flew close to the sun, some of the components and organics in the Sentinel mutated, making him essentially a non-organic mutant. This also gave Number Two the ability to teleport. The other Sentinels promptly turned and engaged Number Two in battle. Once he is destroyed, the Sentinels deactivate, one of them collapsing on and killing Trask. That is why his last vision was total darkness. He willingly helped the Avengers stop the murder machines built by his father.

It was around this time that Barry Windsor-Smith started experimenting more with his art, to amazing results. I loved the thin line work and more odd “camera angles” and expressions that really made his work stand out from the pack at the time. Speaking of amazing, I have to give credit where credit is due. Despite Stan Lee’s first three years with of issues, pushing the team as Marvel’s all stars, it was Thomas who really did explore the meaty dramatic elements with the secondary characters like Vision, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Black Knight. He really gave Vision his voice and had the foresight to plant seeds leading to the first “event story” in Avengers lore (The Kree-Skrull War). On the one hand, reading tales penned by him will be missed. On the other hand, I cannot wait to dive into the upcoming writer’s run once again.

When next we meet, we celebrate the debut of Steve Englehart as the writer of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The Grim Reaper’s scheme unfolds, with guest appearances galore gracing the pages of the book. We also build up towards the next event story, The Avengers/Defenders War. Until next time, my friends…AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!!!

Preview: Monsters

Monsters

Written by Barry Windsor-Smith
Art by Barry Windsor-Smith
Purchase: AmazoncomiXology

In this pen-and-ink graphic novel, in 1964, Bobby Bailey is recruited for a U.S. military experimental genetics program that was discovered in Nazi Germany 20 years prior. His only ally, Sergeant McFarland, intervenes to try to protect him, which sets off a chain of events that spin out of everyone’s control. As the titular monsters multiply, becoming real and metaphorical, literal and ironic, the story reaches its emotional and moral reckoning. Windsor-Smith has been working on this passion project for more than 35 years, and Monsters is part intergenerational family drama, part espionage thriller, and part metaphysical journey. Trauma, fate, conscience, and redemption are just a few of the themes that intersect in the most ambitious (and intense) graphic novel of Windsor-Smith’s career.

Monsters

Michael Moreci, Nathan Gooden, Addison Duke, and Jim Campbell Get Barbaric at Vault

Vault Comics has announced Barbaric, a wild, blood-thirsty fantasy series from writer Michael Moreci, artist Nathan Gooden, colorist Addison Duke, letterer Jim Campbell, and designer Tim Daniel

Barbaric follows Owen the Barbarian who has been cursed to do good with what remains of his life. His bloodthirsty weapon, Axe, has become his moral compass with a drinking problem. Together they wander the realm, foredoomed to help any who seek assistance. But there is one thing Owen hates more than a life with rules: Witches. Welcome to the skull-cracking, blood-splattering, mayhem-loving comic brave enough to ask: How can a man sworn to do good do so much violence? Hah! F***ing with you. It’s just…BARBARIC.

Axe, co-star of Barbaric (Owen’s sentient, blood-drunk axe) slurred his way through a statement about his upcoming role in the book. “Look, maybe I am a bloodthirsty axe with a drinking problem, but I still know an epic, kick-ass story when I see one. Granted, I happen to be the star of this particular tale (never mind that barbarian oaf), but that doesn’t change the fact that Barbaric has got it all: action, a sweet f***ing axe, mystery, magic, an awesome AXE, and other non-axe related stuff. So come for the axe and stay for the axe. You don’t want to get me mad, do you?” 

Barbaric #1 will hit store shelves in June 2021, and will debut with a special Vault Vintage cover from Nathan Gooden and Tim Daniel that pays homage to Barry Windsor-Smith’s epic cover to Conan The Barbarian #1 (1970). 

Barbaric #1

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: An Avengers Retrospective Part 4: Behold…the Vision (Issues 57-71)

The Avengers #57

Guest contributor Gene Selassie is back with his latest retrospective of Marvel‘s The Avengers. He started at the beginning and he’s back discussing issues #57 to #71!


‘Tis that time once again. I continue to expound on my re-reading of every issue of The Avengers from the beginning. In these issues, we see drastic character shifts, bringing out deeper turmoil within several members of the team, new and old. Additionally, we step into the world of hard sci-fi, the occult, and the cosmic. Moreover, the presence of the big three and the other Avengers, weave in and out of the book depending on what’s going on elsewhere in the Marvel universe. Finally, several hands guided the look of the visuals in noteworthy ways during these issues. Let’s explore this leg of the journey.

Throughout these issues, we see that the Avengers are incredibly flawed individuals, who have to fight inner demons almost regularly.

  • Issue 57 marks the first appearance of the synthezoid Vision, who startles Jan in her apartment. Hank arrives back at the scene with Vision unconscious. He’s brought to Avengers mansion where he then attacks the team and states that he has to kill them. I’ve always loved Vision’s power set. His solar energy blasts and ability to change his density, from ghost-like intangibility to diamond hardness, is one of the more unique power sets within Marvel. Vision randomly stops attacking and states that he can’t remember why he went after them in the first place. It was all a ruse for Ultron to lure the team to his base for him to kill them all. Vision’s poignant line of “I have human thoughts…human memories! Why, Ultron-5? Who…or what…am I?” leads me to believe that the Wonder Man brain engrams concept was intended from inception and not an idea that came along much later. Hank Pym seems to have no memory of the robotic menace. He starts putting together the pieces of why he can’t remember his own android project that he was working on a few short months earlier. Hank uses a device to jog his memory. The flashbacks show his hair being red instead of blonde, possibly a coloring error. He remembers that he created a crude robotic life form. Its first words take this from sci-fi nearly into horror territory; “No need to plug me in, Daddy. I’m alive…just like you.” It then attacked Hank and, using a post-hypnotic suggestion, made Hank forget the entire thing.
  • Issue 59 heralds the debut of Yellowjacket; a very arrogant costumed hero, who can fly and fire electric stingers. He busts up a group of thieves and rubs the police the wrong way when they round up the thieves. Later in the story, to prove to the Avengers how badass he is, he sneaks into the mansion undetected and ties up Jarvis, right under their noses. He overhears them talk about Hank being late. He then says “I know he won’t show because I polished him off”. This makes Jan faint. The sooner that Jan is written by Roger Stern, the better. Yellowjacket tells the story of how he snuck into Hank’s lab and they fought (even though today, we know that Yellowjacket was another costumed identity of Hank’s). This happening so soon after Ultron tinkering with Hank’s memories, it’s hard to say the incidents are not related. Jan is…wait for it…abducted by Yellowjacket and they flee. At his hideout, Yellowjacket pretty much forces himself on Jan until something in him flips and he stops. Once the Avengers find them, Jan stops the team from attacking him. She lets them know that she intends to marry him. Jan really is an awful human being for keeping the Avengers in the dark about who Yellowjacket truly was until after the wedding. She lied about Hank AND took advantage of someone who was clearly having a mental breakdown. It served them right that the Circus of Crime attacked during the wedding.
  • Issue 62 is the official transitioning of the title to “The Mighty Avengers”. It also sees the team brought to the innermost sanctum of Wakanda for the first time by the Black Panther. Nonetheless, they stumble into an attempted coup by temporary chieftain and apparent friend of T’Challa’s, turned rival, M’Baku: the Man-Ape. I’ve never been fond of a Black character dressed up in a literal monkey suit. Thank goodness the Black Panther movie redeemed that character in my eyes. M’Baku used a weird elixir to render the team unconscious. I don’t know how that would even have worked on Vision. Panther is challenged by M’Baku for the throne and by ancient tribal law, T’Challa must answer the challenge. The fight was intense. Every time T’Challa gained the upper hand, M’Baku would combine his raw inhuman strength with dirty heel tactics that would make Ric Flair blush. The Avengers awaken from their slumber (Hawkeye sans pants thanks to a coloring error. Or was it?) and intercept them. In the end, M’Baku was crushed by his own death trap that he laid out for the Panther.
  • In issue 63, Nick Fury asks the Avengers to assist Black Widow, who was on an undercover assignment in the Caribbean but has gone dark. Hawkeye is becoming quite grating with the constant picking fights for no reason and non-stop “I wonder where Natasha is” pondering. Panther, who is the chairperson this month, feels with the incident earlier where Hawkeye’s bowstring snapped at the worst possible time, plus him being so distracted by Natasha’s welfare, that he may be a liability in the field so he’s asked to stay behind. Widow sends a message to Hawkeye that she’s really trapped somewhere in New York. Clint decides to abscond with Hank’s new and improved Pym Particle formula and an experimental new costume. He becomes the new Goliath. I had to chuckle at Hawkeye testing experimental drugs while he delivers the line “And this serum of his will never replace the Coke break.” On a more serious note, Clint never showed any self-esteem issues prior to Roy Thomas’ run. On the contrary, going back through Thomas’ issues, it was seeded ever so subtly throughout. Widow was abducted by one of Hank’s more annoying foes, the mad scientist known as Egghead (working in concert with the Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker). Egghead is the one who sent the false message from Fury, sending the Avengers off on a wild goose chase. When Hawkeye arrives, they are greeted by the newest creation of the three geniuses, a gargantuan android monster. Of course, in the creature’s hand is a captive Black Widow, screaming for help. It’s 1969 and this is still occurring. #FacePalm. The frustration of Natasha vacillating between dark character with a past that will cross lines that the Avengers won’t to get the job done and helpless damsel in distress is wearing thin. Hawkeye’s brawn kept the creature at bay long enough for his skill (and tactics learned from Captain America and from Hank) to prove enough to outwit and defeat the creature.

While these dramatic elements played out on the small stage, the larger canvas used as backdrop shifted in fascinating ways.

The Mighty Avengers #66
  • Issue 61 features a guest appearance by the Master of the Mystic Arts, Doctor Strange. This was 1969 and during this period Stephen wore a mask, which I found peculiar. He and Black Knight were on an adventure in Dr. Strange issue 178, battling the Sons of Satannish. One of the villains attempted to blast Strange, but Dane jumped in front of the blast, putting him into a coma. Strange was forced to perform surgery on Dane, shaky hands at all. Luckily, it was a success. The team split up to stop the menace of the curse of fire and ice. T’Challa and Vision took off in an early model Quinjet, the first one to appear in the book. The curse actually turned out to be the frost Giant, Ymir, rampaging through the outskirts of Wakanda and the fire demon, Surtur, destroying Antarctica. While the Avengers kept their epic foes from causing too much collateral damage, Strange was finally able to concoct a spell, displacing them and forcing the two entities to strike each other, then they simply vanished.
  • Issue 66 is the first time we see adamantium in a Marvel comic book. The Avengers, including the returned Thor and Iron Man, are brought in by SHIELD to help test its durability. Iron Man’s secret identity is still unbeknownst to the team. Vision fell victim to a subroutine that was planted in his brain, a subroutine with orders to recreate Ultron. He steals the adamantium, then attacks his teammates. He creates Ultron-6, who is damn near invincible. Thor was quite the tactician and leader. He was great at this in solo or team settings back then. This runs contradictory to modern times, where Thor is nearly unmatched as a tactician and warrior in solo settings, but in team books he seems to get slammed around by the newest villain du jour, just to show how dangerous they are. Hank devises a plan, requiring some borrowed vibranium from the Black Panther, who was on leave to help repel an invasion in Wakanda. It also required going to the U.N., disguised as MacClain to bait their enemy. Ultron used a device tried to read “MacClain’s” mind, to learn the secrets of adamantium. However, Hank also had himself hypnotized to only have one phrase repeated in his mind, “Thou shalt not kill”. A convoluted plan, but one that worked and short-circuited Ultron. Nevertheless, a failsafe kicked in, activating a nuclear device within Ultron. The vibranium Hank asked for was formed into a dome to contain Ultron and the blast.
  • Issue 69 shows the team going to visit Tony Stark, who’s in a coma at the hospital due to the events of Iron Man issue 19. Thor and Captain America also return to check on him. Underneath Tony’s bed, Jan finds what she believes to be a doll. She tosses it in the trash, but the impact causes it to grow. This is Kang’s automaton known as the Growing Man, who grows larger and more powerful with each impact delivered to it. Once they figure out who it is, Thor stops the team from further attacking it. He knows what it is due to their confrontation back in Thor issue 140. Once again, Thor shows that he’s nearly Captain America’s equal from a strategic standpoint. Growing Man abducts the comatose Stark and flees with him. Tony and the other Avengers (even Black Panther who was in distant Wakanda) were whisked away to the future. Kang brought them there because his love, Princess Ravonna, was also comatose and on the brink of death. He bargained for a way to save her life with the newly debuting Grandmaster, one of the powerful cosmic Elders of the Universe. He offered Kang a deal, a game of sorts, where if the conqueror were victorious, Ravonna’s life would be spared. If he lost, Earth would be erased from existence. Kang brought the Avengers to help him against the Grandmaster. The Avengers agree to help, so Kang returns Stark back to his time and to the hospital. The number of times that Kang has fought with the Avengers, as much as against them, I don’t see how anyone could give any other opponent the top Avengers villain slot but Kang. Issues 70-71 show that Kang used the Avengers as his “chess pieces” in this game. The Grandmaster created duplicates of a super hero team from an alternate Earth and dubbed them the Squadron Sinister. They would predate the heroes they were based on by about a year or two. Iron Man returns to aid his fellow Avengers, somehow fully healed. During the battle, I kept hearing the character voices in my head, Phil Lamarr as Doctor Spectrum, Tim Daly as Hyperion, Kevin Conroy as Nighthawk, and Michael Rosenbaum as the Whizzer. It was my hope that, had there ever been a season three of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, that the Squadron Supreme would’ve been voiced by the animated Justice League cast. Cap’s battle with the cunning Nighthawk was interesting, as was Iron Man’s outsmarting of Doctor Spectrum. I eagerly awaited the smackdown that Thor versus Hyperion would provide, until the weird ending. Once again, Mjolnir has a new power every issue. This time, Thor had his hammer spin around Hyperion at lightning speed and Mjolnir reversed the atomic process that birthed Hyperion and gave him his powers. Goliath and Whizzer’s fight was in London, where the Black Knight took notice and interfered, causing both combatants to be whisked away to the future, leaving Black Knight befuddled and without his Ebony Sword that Goliath swiped from him to stop him from interfering.
  • In issue 71, Black Knight uses a mystic cauldron to speak to his ancestor, the first Black Knight, who relays the info about Kang and the Grandmaster. Somehow when he concentrates, Dane is pulled across time and space to reunite with his missing blade. WTF? While the first Avengers squad fought the analogues for the top heroes of the Distinguished Competition, Yellowjacket, Black Panther and Vision were taken back in time to World War II where they faced the Allied heroes of WWII, The Invaders (The android Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and a younger Captain America). I wasn’t aware that the concept of The Invaders was a retcon until now. The only importance of Jan in all of this was to be rescued by Black Knight…Ugggh. The team outsmarted the Invaders. Yet Grandmaster said the first battle was a stalemate, even though the Avengers won 3 of the 4 battles? I didn’t get that. Dane freed the rest of the team and they all converged on Kang, willing to call a truce if Kang just sends them back to their time. Kang double crosses them and asks for the power over life and death to kill the Avengers AND resurrect Ravonna. Grandmaster tells him that wasn’t the deal. It’s either power of life to revive Ravonna, or the power of death to eliminate the Avengers. From Kang’s own mouth, “Then Ravonna must wait…wait until my own genius can resurrect her. For I choose the power of DEATH TO THE AVENGERS!” What. A. Dick. When Kang attacks them with awesome cosmic power, Black Knight remains unaffected because he’s not an Avenger. He strikes Kang, as he does all opponents, with the flat of his blade…which gets very tiresome. I understand these are kids books, but for Pete’s sake. I now see why he was given his energy sword in the 90s. Grandmaster returns the Avengers to their own time. The team all agrees unanimously that the Black Knight should be added to their ranks. He agrees to join, but on a reserve basis, as he’s needed in London.

This is not a team of soulless automatons, not even the Vision. Many of them have lives and responsibilities outside of the Avengers. I appreciate the big three of Captain America, Iron Man and Thor not being in the book all the time, as it seemed there was more care put into making sure events in the books lined up back then. Nowadays, it doesn’t seem like that’s done and post-2012 Avengers film, some permutation of the big three must be in the book at all times. It is very refreshing to take a look back at this era.

There were only a few instances of artistic adjustments this go round. Issues 66-67 feature pencils from the iconic Barry Windsor-Smith. While he was obviously channeling Kirby here, his layouts and unique design choices made him stand out like very few artists of the time did. Page 13 of issue 66 had the most inventive splash page and interspersed panels I’ve seen since starting this re-read. Conversely, issue 68 featured the great Sal Buscema on art duties. The acting and facial expressions were as detailed and emotive as his older brother, John’s, if not, more so.

When next we meet, we shall discuss old rivals that return, new relationships that develop and dramatic seeds planted earlier that bloom in the final stretch before the first major event story for Earth’s mightiest heroes, the Kree-Skrull War. Until next time, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!

Valiant Classic Collections X-O Manowar: Retribution is Out Now

Experience the epic adventure that started it all for Valiant Entertainment’s flagship character in Valiant Classic Collections X-O Manowar: Retribution.

Witness the epic origin story of Aric of Dacia, aka X-O Manowar, originally published back in the ’90s in this digital mega-sized collection featuring 284 action-packed pages from the earliest days of the Valiant Universe. X-O Manowar: Retribution is out now and available to purchase on ComiXologyAmazon Kindle, and Google Play.

THE MOST PRIMITIVE MAN, THE MOST POWERFUL WEAPON

Abducted from his own time by the predatory Spider Aliens and displaced to the present day, Aric of Dacia will make war on his one-time captors and any who stand with them. Armed with a sentient suit of battle armor and savagery born in an age of war, he will become the hero this new age demands. Tyrants from beyond time and space, superpowered corporate raiders, and corrupt government power brokers… all will quake in fear where X-O Manowar dares to tread.

Featuring groundbreaking work from comic-book legends Jim Shooter (Secret Wars), Bob Layton (Iron Man), Barry Windsor-Smith (Weapon X), Joe Quesada (Daredevil), Steve Englehart (Detective Comics) and many more, the complete adventures of Valiant’s original armored hero begin here in the first Valiant Classic Collection of the series Graphic Policy calls “a must read“!

Collecting X-O MANOWAR (1992) #0–9, and X-O DATABASE #1.

X-O MANOWAR: RETRIBUTION

ComiXology Features 7 New Digital Comics from Marvel, Harlequin, and Yen Press including Classic Marvel Comics Presents!

If you’re itching to check out some classic and new comics comiXology has you covered with today’s new digital releases. New releases from Marvel, Harlequin, and Yen Press await you right now at the ease of a download. Check out the full list of releases here or the individual issues below.

Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler – #80

Written by Homura Kawamoto
Art by Toru Naomura
Purchase

In this gamble against Terano, Yumeko seems to have endless tricks up her sleeve – or at least a bottomless source of moxie! As the Flower game continues, the ranks of players dwindle… Read the next chapter of Kakegurui the same day as Japan!

Kakegurui - Compulsive Gambler - #80

Marvel Comics Presents Wolverine Vol. 1

Written by Chris Claremont
Art by John Buscema
Cover by Walt Simonson
Purchase

Collects material from Marvel Comics Presents #1-10.

Ever wonder what Wolverine gets up to when he’s not out saving the world with the X-Men? More mayhem than you can shake a SNIKT at! Here, Logan makes his first foray into Madripoor – an island nation where anything goes, and everything is for sale.

Marvel Comics Presents Wolverine Vol. 1

Sentinel Vol. 3: Past Imperfect

Written by Sean McKeever
Art by Udon Studios
Cover by Udon Studios
Purchase

Collects Sentinel (2005) #1-5.

The globally praised tale of a boy and his ‘bot returns! After using his refurbished government weapon of mutant destruction to make himself popular, you’d think Juston Seyfert would be on top of the world. Instead, he’s run away from home, torn up inside by the guilt brought on by his selfish acts. Now in search of his mother, who left his family at an early age, Juston must figure out what to do with his life. And if he doesn’t figure it out soon, there are a couple government types who would be more than happy to figure it out for him

Sentinel Vol. 3: Past Imperfect

Skrull Kill Krew

Written by Mark Millar, Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Ivy, Steve Yeowell
Cover by Steve Yeowell
Purchase

Collects Skrull Kill Krew #1-5.

See where two of Marvel’s masters of mutantdom first made their mark! Grant Morrison and Mark Millar co-wrote this chilling story of murderous shape-changing criminals…and the menace they’ve sworn to cleanse from the Earth! Guest-starring Captain America and Nick Fury.

Skrull Kill Krew

Ultimate X-Men/Fantastic Four

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Pasqual Ferry
Cover by Pasqual Ferry
Purchase

Collects Ultimate X-Men/Fantastic Four #1, Ultimate Fantastic Four/X-Men #1 And The Official Handbook Of The Ultimate Marvel Universe 2005 #1-2.

Cerebro has been stolen – and the trail points directly at the government’s premier think tank, the Baxter Building! The X-Men aren’t happy about it – and the Baxter Building’s most famous residents, the Fantastic Four, aren’t happy about an angry team of mutants showing up on their doorstep! It’s FF versus X-Men in an all-star blowout as ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR’s Mike Cary is joined by superstar artist Pasqual Ferry for this tour de force of Ultimate action! Plus: in-depth bios on the Ultimate X-Men, the Ultimate Fantastic Four, the Ultimates and Ultimate Spider-Man!

Ultimate X-Men/Fantastic Four

White Lies

Written by Sara Wood
Art by Karan Dan
Purchase

Perusing a newspaper, Mandy sees a want ad that makes her catch her breath. Someone has been looking for her—maybe it’s her parents, whom she has never seen or known. When she arrives at a Caribbean island in response to the ad, she is surprised to meet Pascal, an extraordinarily attractive man. He warns her to leave immediately, but Mandy’s heart is set on meeting her parents and she chooses to stay. She has no idea, however, of exactly how badly Pascal has misunderstood her…

White Lies

X-Men: Firestar

Written by Tom DeFalco
Art by Mary Wilshire
Cover by Barry Windsor-Smith
Purchase

Collects Firestar #1-4.

Before the Avengers, before the New Warriors, mutandom’s fiery favorite almost had a vocation in villainy thanks to the teacher from Hellfire, the White Queen! Can she find her way to heroism before things get too hot? Guest-starring the New Mutants!

X-Men: Firestar

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