Thursday, 28 November 2013

Essential Captain America volume 1

It's Thanksgiving Day in the United States so it's time for a look at the most American of heroes...

Essential Captain America volume 1 contains the Captain America strips from Tales of Suspense (the anthology series which also featured Iron Man) #59-99 and then, following the 1968 expansion of the Marvel line, the series became a solo Captain America, with issues #100-102 included here. All but thirteen issues are drawn by Cap's co-creator Jack Kirby who provides layouts on another three, with finishes by George Tuska, Dick Ayers and John Romita. Tuska and Romita also draw a few issues as do Jack Sparling and Gil Kane. As a bonus is a story from the 1940s Captain America Comics drawn by Joe Simon, Cap's other co-creator. Everything is written by Stan Lee, bar one issue by Roy Thomas.

Looking back it's astonishing how long it took to revive Captain America in the Silver Age. A new version of the Human Torch was present from Fantastic Four #1 and the original Namor the Sub-Mariner was revived as early as Fantastic Four #4, but Captain America took longer to appear and was first given a try-out via an impostor in the Human Torch's strip in Strange Tales. Eventually he was resurrected in Avengers #4 but as a team member and it took several more months before he finally got a solo strip. By this point all the big name early Silver Age Marvel titles and characters had appeared, and so the Captain America strip comes from Marvel's second phase of the Age when the main burst of creation had now passed and the focus was upon consolidation and giving deserving existing characters their own strips. Captain America's came just a few months after the Hulk's strip had been restored, whilst some months later the Sub-Mariner would also swim forth in solo tales.

The early stories in this volume suggest part of the reason for this hesitation was down to Kirby and Lee simply not knowing what to do with the character. We get an initial four strips in which little is developed and instead there are three tales of Captain America simply fighting large numbers of foes and one where he goes to Vietnam (long before the US's presence there became controversial back home) and confronts an ex-Sumo wrestler turned general. The whole thing is still heavily tied into the Avengers with the first story starting at Avengers Mansion whilst the already established Jarvis and Rick Jones are the only supporting characters and Baron Zemo the only significant foe appearing.

Issue #63 sees a serious change of pace by retelling Captain America's origin, followed by further adventures from his war years. At the time war comics were still part of the landscape and as well as tapping into that vein this approach also allowed readers to see Cap's early years at a time when the originals would have been hard to access. Issue #65 even declares "we wrote it in the style of the 1940's because so many of you have wondered how these stories were written years ago". I'm not convinced the tale printed actually answers such curiosity and anyway at this point (early 1965) most of the glimpses of the Marvel Bullpen given in other comics had focused upon writers and artists brainstorming ideas rather than the nuts and bolts of whether the dialogue was written at the same time as the plot or after the pictures had been drawn. However it helps reinforce the nostalgic approach to this part of the series.

The sequence itself establishes some details, most obviously restating Cap's origin albeit in a condensed form, and then showing the importance of Bucky. Also revived in these strips is Sergeant Duffy, who routinely puts Private Steve Rogers through his paces at the army camp, little realising he's ordering Captain America around. There are a few other appearances of Golden Age characters, most notably both of the 1940s Red Skulls, with the precise relationship between the two restated, perhaps to see off any confusion if some of the original stories were to be reprinted. Issue #64 features an American female spy identified only as "Agent 13", but it's not clear if this was meant to be a deliberately unnamed Betsy Ross (to prevent confusion with the character in the Incredible Hulk strips), later the Golden Girl, from the Golden Age stories, or instead to be a new character, later expanded a little as Cap's wartime romance and the sister of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s modern day Agent 13, or if she's a completely one-off character and it's just a coincidence the code name was reused. I suspect she was most likely intended to be a new character to take the place of Betsy Ross in the modern telling of Captain America's war years - at this stage Marvel wasn't following exact continuity with its pre-1960s superhero titles (Captain America having been out of action since the end of the war being the most obvious example) and in as far as the point was actually considered this was a soft reboot of the character rather than retellings and new tales slotted around two decades-old comics that next to none of the 1960s readership were likely to have seen. However she isn't seen again in this run of war stories.

Otherwise the stories are broadly true to the spirit of the earlier tales, with Captain America and Bucky taking on a mixture of saboteurs at home, including a new take on the first ever appearance of the Red Skull, attempts to steal weapons and assassinate key officers, and taking on a scientist who has developed special weapons. This last one is probably the least likely to have appeared at the time as it focuses upon Nazi spies and traitors in the United Kingdom seeking to use rockets to destroy London, technology that came late in the war and probably wouldn't have been the focus of fiction at the time. The stories also give us the origin of the true Red Skull, setting him up for the future. Overall these tales are okay but beyond establishing some key points about Cap's past - something that later issues will do even better whilst staying in the present day - they don't really add much. It just reinforces the idea that Kirby and Lee just didn't know what to do with the hero. He served a strong role in the Avengers, to the point he was fast being recognised as the definitive member, but on his own he seemed an anachronism. Perhaps this is why in the strip itself in the present day we would often see Steve Rogers feeling the weight of the years and the curse of being a man out of his time. The gap between 1945 and the mid-1960s may not seem much from today's perspective, but a lot can change in twenty years. On the same scale, today is about the same distance from the end of the Cold War, the first Gulf War and major leaps in technology. There may have been a connected network of computers and portable telephones then, but nothing like the modern internet and the mass use of mobiles and smartphones of today. The number of channels available on the average television set has exploded. Global terrorism has soared as the great concern in world affairs. Fashions have changed a lot. Political ideas have risen and fallen. A person from the early 1990s who awakened today would find many things different and strange.

One thing that doesn't change so much is the concept of patriotism and loyalty to the flag. In many subsequent eras writers on Captain America would delve into the nature of this, at times exploring just what the flag and "America" actually symbolise, how Captain America could be loyal to the country yet opposed to the actions of the government of the day, just what his own vision of the American Dream is and how it squares with alternative visions, and the darker side of America. But here there's very little of that. One issue sees Captain America on a mission in Vietnam but it's the only time he goes there and there's not much overt propagandising in the story. Nor is there in another issue when Cap goes to a Far East Communist country to rescue an agent working under cover - it could be any hostile power for all the difference it makes. The retelling of the origin does state that Cap is "A new defender, born in an hour of need -- destined to be a living symbol of the glory that is America!" but that's about the fullest extent of it. Captain America may have a patriotic name and a costume based on the flag but here there's no actual development beyond this and he's just a big name superhero from the Second World War revived in the present day.

In the present day Cap frequently can't escape the shadow of the war. The return to the present kicks off with a multi-part story in which a giant robot built by the Red Skull and stored in three parts, called "Sleepers", emerges from hibernation after twenty years and tries to destroy the world. Later on the Red Skull is revived in the present day in issue #79 and over the next twenty-four issues he appears in no less than three multi-part stories. It's even more noticeable when bearing in mind that the half-length format of the strip until #99 means that this is the equivalent of just thirteen and a half full-length issues. Other foes include Batroc the Leaper, a French fighter with zees outrageous accent. Maybe he was a rare example of the influence of world politics at a time when the Americans (and many, many others) found de Gaulle to be a right pain. Cap also takes on a number of shadowy organisations, most of them already seen in the Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. strip over in Strange Tales. Amongst them are new group "Them", the nucleus of the existing A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics), who develop the Super Adaptoid. Meanwhile the wider A.I.M. creates the Cosmic Cube, which the Red Skull steals to gain incredible power, though he doesn't use much of it before he is defeated and the Cube lost. Later on A.I.M. appear again, led by their own creation, the genetically advanced Modok. Then there's the terrorist group Hydra. A trip to Wakanda and team-up with the Black Panther sees Cap at first think he's up against a resurrected Baron Zemo, but it turns out to be Zemo's ex-pilot taking on the mantle. Other one-off foes include the Swordsman and Power Man, both from the Avengers, who are both briefly used by the Skull, plus various assorted thugs or the Sniper, a top marksman.

At times the series seems to forget that Cap has spent most of the time since the war trapped in an iceberg, as we find him looking over old items such as the Red Skull's list of locations of the Sleepers, or old photographs including the mysterious woman who worked with the French Resistance who he fell for during the war. He wonders why she never tracked him down afterwards, as though he was around all the time to be found. He eventually finds a woman who resembles her, but she's too young to be the same woman. In fact, although Cap doesn't discover this on panel, she is his wartime sweetheart's younger sister (a point that has had to be retconned in recent years as the war grows ever further distant in time). "Agent 13" is never actually given a name in the series even though she already knows Cap's real one. The two find themselves drawn to each other without realising it and at one point Steve actually proposes to her, but she declines because of her duty to S.H.I.E.L.D. This leads to Steve briefly retiring as Cap, and actually admitting his identity to the world in the process, but he comes back after a succession of copycats come to grief. He and Agent 13 continue together and it's clear her skills make her a good partner for him.

On two occasions Cap faces foes who want to steal his shield to make use of the transistors Iron Man installed in it back in the pages of Avengers. The first time is in issue #62, not long after Cap has realised what a mistake this is and removed them, but issue #87 sees a similar plot years later, albeit from a fill-in writer, Roy Thomas. Perhaps this is a early example of a fill-in story being held in reserve for so long that by the time it was needed it was out of date?

Overall I felt this volume shows a series that's really treading water more than anything else. There's very little attempt to develop much, whether a civilian life for Steve Rogers or a substantial Rogues' Gallery. At times his connections to either the Avengers or Nick Fury provide him with some support and directions towards adventures, but there's not much that really gives the series its unique flavour. Nearly a fifth of the volume is taken up with wartime adventures, and many other issues also draw on those days, most obviously the encounters with the Red Skull and both the real and fake Baron Zemo. This limits somewhat the effect of showing the effects upon Cap of being a man out of time and adapting to life in this strange new world. Instead we have the "Living Legend of World War II" all too often trapped by other legends of World War II. Only Agent 13 represents any real sign of development for the future. Other strips in the anthology titles had managed to develop a lot within the confines of just ten to twelve pages a month so it's not as if the available length is an excuse. There just seems to be a lack of bold imagination and too great a willingness to wallow in the memory of the Golden Age.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Essential Moon Knight volume 1

Essential Moon Knight volume 1 collects a mixture of the character's earliest appearances, tryout spots, backup strips in other titles and then the start of his first series. Included here are Werewolf by Night #32-33, Marvel Spotlight #28-29, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #22-23, Marvel Two-in-One #52, The Hulk! magazine #11-15, #17-18 & #20, Marvel Preview #21 and Moon Knight #1-10, plus Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe entries for Moon Knight, his helicopter and his mansion, plus also the covers of the reprint series Moon Knight Special Edition #1-3. (Contrary to some early reports and many online listings, Marvel Team-Up Annual #4 is not included.) That's a lot of material but amazingly almost all of it is written by Doug Moench except for the Spectacular Spider-Man issues by Bill Mantlo and the Marvel Two-in-One issue by Steven Grant. The main artist is Bill Sienkiewicz, who draws everything on the above list from The Hulk! magazine #13 onwards. Don Perlin draws the Werewolf by Night and Marvel Spotlight issues, Mike Zeck and Jim Mooney the Spectacular Spider-Man issues, Jim Craig the Marvel Two-in-One issue, and Gene Colan and Keith Pollard the first two The Hulk! magazine issues. With a lot of titles and many creators I've once again had to resort to a separate labels post.

The concept of the back-up strip featuring a different character or genre altogether is familiar to many but rare in Marvel US comics with title characters save for occasions when storylines are formally split in two or supporting characters and/or background events are given a special focus. But the idea of featuring a totally different character in a different genre is more unusual there, so to see Moon Knight get his first ongoing feature in the back of The Hulk! magazine must have been quite a surprise to readers. The two characters' paths cross just once when twin stories are set during a lunar eclipse but the Hulk and Moon Knight only literally bump into each other in the darkness without realising who each is, and otherwise they separately handle thieves who came to steal from an astronomer's lonely country house.

Reading through the stories all at once, rather than over a period of six years as at publication, it transpires that a lot about the character was developed on the hoof and the result is some pretty fundamental elements are only introduced midway through the volume. Just like the character, the Moon Knight series doesn't really know what it wants to be. It has a vague aim at being a hard edged crime-fighting series and it's hard to avoid assuming Moon Knight was moulded to allow Marvel creators to do Batman-esque stories. Initially Marc Spector is a mercenary for hire brought in by a criminal organisation known only as "the Committee" to capture the Werewolf and given the initial costume; however upon discovering the reasons for the capture are to use the man as a trained killing animal he turns and allies with the Werewolf instead. It's a short tale that establishes Moon Knight as an mercenary anti-hero with honour, but it also clashes with the way the character would subsequently be portrayed and the origin given in the first issue of his own series. Issue #4 explains how this was all a ruse to infiltrate and bring down the Committee, with Frenchie posing as a industrialist, but it's a very awkward retcon to explain away a tricky first appearance. We don't get the character's new origin until issue #1 of the series and it's convoluted by the need to explain his history with both Frenchie and Marlene, plus it adds a mystical element to the series by showing how Marc Spector apparently died in Egypt but came back to life in front of a statue of the moon god Khonshu and was apparently now filled with the spirit of Khonshu, something that feels totally at odds with the tone of the rest of the series.

Then there's the multiple identities adopted by Moon Knight. Marc Spector, a mercenary, appears to be the original but this isn't explicitly confirmed until an encounter with his brother. Steven Grant (named after the writer?) is a millionaire (using the money Spector secured in his activities) living outside of the city in a mansion that has secret passages leading to his helicopter launchpad. Jake Lockley is a New York cab driver who roams the streets and frequents diners in search of information. But rather than just maintaining permanent aliases to cover different aspects of information gathering, Moon Knight at times speaks and thinks as though the identities are separate individuals sharing a body. And just to add to the mess of it all, every one of his non-costumed identities has the same face, at least until Jake Lockley adds a false moustache towards the end of the volume, and he's not taking strong steps to hide the connections between the two, to the point that several in the underworld are aware of the connection between them all.

But adding to the problem is the limited attention given to some of the more mystical of Moon Knight's powers. Occasional mention is made of his enhanced strength under moonlight, and even less to his having obtained it as a consequence of his fight with the Werewolf. By the end of the volume it seems as though the power is fading away. It would be hard to miss such an obscure power but the last couple of issues in the volume seem to be tidying up some of the more awkward points about the character. The story also tackles the question of whether there ever was a possession by Khonshu or not, and whilst it's not decisively confirmed if this ever did happen, the strong impression is given that by the end Moon Knight certainly isn't possessed now. The statue of Khonshu is stolen and destroyed, contributing to a nervous breakdown as Moon Knight reflects upon his apparent failure and the chaos of his multiple identities, but Marlene stated the destroyed statue was just a public fake and unveils what she says is the real one. Moon Knight recovers his confidence and takes down the Bushman, but wonders at the end if the surviving statue is real or a copy made afterwards. Doubt is also cast upon whether Marc Spector ever did die in the desert and get resurrected, or if in fact he just imagined it. Whatever the state of affairs, Moon Knight is no longer dependent upon a supposed spirit of an Egyptian god within him, and some of the baggage has been cleared out, leaving the character more viable for future adventures.

However he retains his supporting cast and they're quite a mix. Most prominent is Marlene, the daughter of an Egyptologist killed by Bushman in the incident that made Marc turn on him. Marlene serves as secretary and girlfriend to the Steven Grant identity, and shows a strong willingness to help Moon Knight in tackling crime, whether by going into action with a gun or disguising herself as a nurse to walk the streets and serve as bait for a serial killer. She sticks by Moon Knight even when she gets seriously wounded on one occasion, and she finds his multiple identities highly confusing. The identities are less of a problem for Moon Knight's helicopter pilot and aide, "Frenchie". Just in case anyone has any doubts as to what nationality he is, he has zees outrageous accent. Frenchie has been with Moon Knight since their days as mercenaries in Egypt, and also debuts alongside him in Werewolf by Night, and is highly resourceful. Back at the mansion Moon Knight also has the support of Samuels the butler and Nedda the cook, both loyal and understanding servants but neither is particularly developed. Perhaps it's fortunate that Frenchie first appeared before the introduction of the manor and the Steven Grant identity, as it means the butler never ends up playing an "Alfred" role and reinforcing the Batman influence. The Jake Lockley identity works at street level and builds up various contacts for information, particularly at a diner where he befriends waitress Gena, and later her two sons, and the destitute Bertrand Crawley who sets new records for making an individual tea-bag last on endless rounds of free refills of hot water.

Throughout the stories Moon Knight takes on a variety of foes but invariably they're at the down to earth criminal end of things. In his debut he first works for and then fights "the Committee", a crime syndicate who appear again when they hire several hit-men who soon turn on both their contractors and each other. Later on Moon Knight runs up against the equally imaginatively named "the Company", who are seeking to produce a perfect super soldier dubbed the Cobra (no relation to the better known Marvel villain.) Elsewhere Moon Knight clashes with the Conquer-Lord, a crime lord trying to install his puppet as Mayor by discrediting the incumbent though setting up a Watergate style burglary. The theft of the statue of Khonshu leads to a chain of criminals from insane museum curator Fenton Crane to Alphonse Leroux, the ambassador from Chile (during the Pinochet era) to the United Nations, to the terrorist Lupinar. Then there's the Hatchet Man, a serial killer stalking the streets of New York murdering nurses as revenge for a facial wound, who turns out to be Marc's brother, Randall Spector. Another serial killer is the Skid-Row Slasher, hunting the down and outs for his father for revenge for the treatment of his mother. Eventually the killer is revealed to be Crawley's son in a complex tale of personal and family breakdown. There's a further tale of a serial killer when the son of one tries to recover his inheritance with two other criminals and Moon Knight following; only to discover things are not quite what they seem. The art thief Midnight Man offers some more conventional action against a foe similar to the hero, whilst a trip to the Caribbean brings an encounter with the "White Angel" and his walking skeletons and "zuvembies" (the Comics Code Authority then didn't allow the word "zombie" to be used). In fact it's a plantation owner with thugs in costumes using slave labour to farm drugs. There are also many more generic thieves and thugs and a gang who try to extort Chicago by poisoning the water supply. Moon Knight's team-up with Spider-Man brings a clash with the Maggia, led from the shadows by the Masked Marauder, whose ranks include the Cyclone. Meanwhile the team-up with the Thing sees the two take down Crossfire, an ex-CIA brainwasher who now seeks to wipe out the entire superhero community.

But the most significant foe is Bushman. Once the head of the group of mercenaries Marc and Frenchie were part of, Bushman is fearsome to look at, with steel teeth and a death mask tattooed upon his face, and ruthless. Marc and Frenchie desert over Bushman's methods in ruthlessly killing innocents in Sudan. In revenge Bushman captures Marc and has him dumped in the desert to die of heat exhaustion, but Marc survives and becomes Moon Knight. In the present day Bushman resurfaces and clashes with Moon Knight twice in New York. Unlike several other foes, Bushman survives and so becomes the recurring arch nemesis.

Overall, Moon Knight is a rather confused strip. Breakout characters are far from unknown but usually they have some basics about their background and origin sketched from the start. Here we get a mess as a thug for hire in a fancy costume becomes a cross between Batman, as a millionaire fighting crime from a special mansion, and the Golden Age Hawkman, as a supposed reincarnation of an Egyptian deity. And we get awkward retcons to sort out the different elements (a good decade before Hawkman's continuity became near impossible to understand) with the result that the series is at times as confused as the lead character itself. Some of this would normally be down to a multitude of different writers and the lengthy time between appearances but here almost everything is written by Doug Moench who seems to have kept changing his mind on the character. This results in a confused, convoluted mess of a background to the series even if the individual stories are quite gripping and the magazine stories show more grittiness than could be done in the Code approved comics. There's strong potential here but it's not until the end of the volume that some of the problems are untangled to make the character more viable for the future.

Essential Moon Knight volume 1 - creator labels

Once again we have a volume with a lot of creators, so here's a separate post to carry the labels for some of them.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Essential Warlock volume 1

Essential Warlock volume 1 contains material from quite a number of series, namely Marvel Premiere #1-2, The Power of Warlock #1-8, Incredible Hulk #176-178, Strange Tales #178-181, Warlock #9-15, Marvel Team-Up #55, Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2. That's an awful lot of titles!

As previously noted, Marvel Premiere was yet another try-out series that launched and re-launched a whole variety of characters. Warlock was then given his own title but it only lasted eight issues. In those days Marvel had a policy to wrap up outstanding storylines wherever possible and so a conclusion appeared in the Incredible Hulk. Then a new Warlock storyline was begun in Strange Tales, which had originally been one of Marvel's anthology series that spawned variously the Human Torch solo tales, Doctor Strange and Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. This is one of the earlier cases where Marvel's numbering gets somewhat confusing. In 1968 Strange Tales was transformed into a solo Doctor Strange title which carried on the numbering from #169 onwards. However in 1973 Strange Tales was revived... numbered at #169 again. The revived title had carried a few horror strips such as Brother Voodoo and the Golem before Warlock appeared for four issues. Subsequently Strange Tales would once more become a home to Doctor Strange. Meanwhile Warlock got his own series again, now simply entitled Warlock, which carried on the old numbering and lasted another seven issues. With the second cancellation once again a storyline was concluded elsewhere in series more familiar here, through first a team-up with Spider-Man and then a two-part conclusion teaming up first with the Avengers and then adding both the Thing and Spider-Man to the mix.

The Marvel Premiere issues are written by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. Both carry onto The Power of Warlock where Kane is succeeded by Bob Brown and Thomas gives way to a mix of Mike Friedrich and Ron Goulart. The Incredible Hulk issues are then written by Gerry Conway and Tony Isabella and drawn by Herb Trimpe. The Strange Tales, Warlock, Avengers and Marvel Two-in-One issues are all written and drawn by Jim Starlin. The Marvel Team-Up is written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by John Byrne. Because of the large number of titles and creators, a separate post has been created for some of the labels.

Adam Warlock has been associated with Jim Starlin for so long that it's almost a surprise to be reminded of the character's long history before that. Originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for a story in Fantastic Four, the artificial being known only as "Him" then appeared in Thor but not too much more was done. Then came all the stories collected in this volume - but Starlin doesn't arrive on the character until about half-way through. This volume contains first the saga of Warlock's adventures on Counter Earth and then Starlin's cosmic saga of conflict with the Magus, Thanos and other foes in between. Both sagas followed a similar course of being launched in a try-out anthology then migrating to their own title early on, only for that title to be cancelled before the storyline could be completed and the wrap-up having to come in another series. Perhaps mindful of this, Starlin's saga does establish a looming end point in Warlock #11, but even then it wasn't enough to allow the series to last just long enough.

The two sagas have also had different track records when it comes to repeats and latter day exposure. The Starlin stories had an aborted reprint run in about 1980 in the second series of Fantasy Masterpieces but the title ended before it could get through them all. Then a few years later they were collected in a six issue series called Warlock Special Edition on higher quality "Baxter" paper, the prestige format of the day. This series was reprinted (minus the Editori-Al introductions) in the early 1990s under the name Warlock, and then there was a Masterworks edition in 2009. But from what I can see the earlier saga has had far fewer reprints. The Incredible Hulk stories were included in a Treasury Edition in 1979 but the whole saga had to wait until it was all collected in a Masterworks edition in 2007, and then came this Essential in 2012. Unintentionally this has had the effect of reinforcing the prominence of Starlin's work on the character at the expense of earlier creators.

The first story is a clear, self-contained saga of the type the American comics industry was experimenting with in the early 1970s. And this one had pretty strong ambitions as Warlock heads to the newly created world of Counter-Earth to rid it of the presence of the Man-Beast and other renegade New Men. It's impossible to ignore the religious themes that are present right from the first issue. The High Evolutionary became the ultimate being, immortal and one with the cosmos. He creates a world in a very short space of time - seven-score - and intends it as an ideal utopia but a dark force infects the world in the form of on of the creator's previous creations now fallen. This being influences the humans upon it, starting with the crime of murder. The Evolutionary contemplates destroying the world as beyond redemption, but Warlock argues it can be saved and so heads down from the heavens to cast out the darkness. He even rapidly becomes the son the Evolutionary never had. "I am only... what I am" says "Him" to the High Evolutionary upon their first encounter. There may be the odd individual piece altered of the parable but overall it's pretty clear who is who.

Once he came to [Counter-]Earth from [the] heaven[s]... Warlock soon accumulates followers. His first four are teenagers Jason Grey, David Carter and twins Eddie and Ellie Roberts. They are the children of a businessman, a Senator and a Colonel. At one stage he sees them deny him to save their own skins [but it's an illusion created by the Man-Beast]. However Warlock can't save everyone and early on Eddie dies when thrown from the top of a tower by the monster Triax before Warlock can reach him. There's an early encounter with a prophet who identifies Warlock as the saviour of the world. The head of the dark forces takes Warlock away to tempt him, offering him power over men. Warlock's power is enhanced by the faith of his followers. Porcupinus, one of Warlock's later followers, is told he is the base upon which a house of good will be built. Later Warlock is captured whilst presiding at a grand supper. The ruling official asks the crowds to decide his fate and the punishment is death on a cross. Whilst on the cross Warlock asks his [adoptive] father "Why have you abandoned me?" but gets no answer. The body is wrapped and placed in a cave. On the third day Warlock rises, more powerful than before and proceeds to drive out the vile force in the world. He warns his followers of the danger from the evil still within man, then ascends into [the] heaven[s]. Could the series be less subtle?

However it's not until Incredible Hulk #177 that the point is made explicit when captions describe the Man-Beast as "the Satan of this Counter-Earth... the Lucifer of the fallen New-Men". Okay one of the curses of resolving a storyline in another character's title is that some narrative short-cuts have to be taken to bring readers of that title up to speed, but it still feels lazy to be so explicit about the parallels.

Still the story offers a strong adventure that takes the existing superhero concepts but pushes them with the twist of a world which has had no heroes until Warlock arrives, making the hero a scary prospect for some and an inspiration for others. Warlock is a powerful innocent who sees the good potential in Counter-Earth and quickly saves it from the High Evolutionary's intention to destroy the world. Once on Counter-Earth he soon acquires followers and faces the good and the bad of humanity. Counter-Earth's development has been interfered with such that no heroes have come forward. This has the odd result that Victor von Doom, his head encased in an iron mask after a lab accident, is now a noble friend and colleague of Reed Richards's. Doom is one of the few who never loses faith in Warlock and gives his life to save the world. Reed Richards also appears but he never received his powers and broken because Sue has been in a coma since that fatal trip to the stars. However the Man-Beast has manipulated him so that he turns into a Thing-like monster called the Brute.

Warlock himself is a complex character, wanting to do right but horrified at the consequences, especially the deaths of Eddie Roberts and later Victor von Doom. At one point he retreats into his cocoon to revitalise and escape but is coaxed back by his followers. He faces the mixed reactions of those around him with stoicism, especially when new US President Rex Carpenter goes from a supporter to ordering his arrest then backing down then stepping up - in part because of reacting to public opinion, but also because the Man-Beast is possessing him. However Warlock's powers aren't always clearly spelt out. He can fly and has a high endurance, but his main powers come from the "Soul Jewell" the High Evolutionary gave him, the first appearance of any of what were later called the "Soul Gems" and now the "Infinity Gems". The jewel here gives him the power to blast energy, rearrange molecules and even de-evolve the Man-Beast and other New-Men back into the animals from which the High Evolutionary evolved them.

It took two and a half years to tell the story, including an eight month gap between the cancellation of The Power of Warlock and the wrap-up in the Incredible Hulk. For an early 1970s comics readership that either made it a truly great epic or an annoying never-ending story. Unfortunately the cancellation of the series suggests the audience reaction was the latter. The trouble was that the extended storyline that could later be collected together in a single edition was a concept ill-suited to the American comics market at the time (although in Europe the album format was already strongly established) and many such attempts didn't last long enough to tell the full story. Fortunately the conclusion in the Incredible Hulk doesn't really disrupt the flow when read here, though multiple references are made to the Hulk making an earlier visit to Counter-Earth and it might have helped to see that, and there's a real feeling the conclusion is what was planned all along.

It can be risky to draw so explicitly from one religion, but here it's done in a way that's both respectful to the Gospels and doesn't actually make statements about the existence of God and the Devil. (And on top of everything else some other Marvel stories have been rather more explicit in that regard, particularly Ghost Rider.) However Warlock himself is not a pacifist like Jesus Christ; instead he's willing to take action and even has followers assembling weapons. Perhaps the superhero genre just doesn't allow for such a basic convention to be ditched. Still the saga works well and shows it's possible to do things differently.

Jim Starlin's run takes the character out into space and into a realm that is dark and surreal. Some of the scenes are very strange, particularly Strange Tales #181 where Warlock is strapped into an artificial reality helmet and subject to a bizarre realm of clowns. The reality contains many great starscapes and imagery as Warlock journeys through the heavens, including the bizarre scene in which he returns to the Solar System only to discover he has grown too large to interact with it. There's also some horrific concepts, such as the revelation that the Soul Gem (now named as such) on Warlock's forehead can steal souls and has locked Warlock's in so he cannot escape it, or the nature of some of the foes.

During this run we get the first appearance of a number of cosmic characters who would go on to prominence in either later Warlock stories and/or Marvel's cosmic stories more generally. The Inbetweener first appears in issue #10, and his comments suggest he's been brought into existence solely for the purpose of taking Warlock away to become the Magus. Nevertheless he's subsequently been opened out into a broader cosmic character and concept. His creators Master Order and Lord Chaos are mentioned at this stage but don't make their first appearances until Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 right at the end of the saga. The Gardener first appears in Marvel Team-Up #55 and would go on to become first one of the great cosmic entities who would turn out during special events such as Secret Wars II and later one of the Elders of the Universe. The saga also establishes that the Soul Gem is one of six, with the Gardener and Stranger each owning another, then in the final story Thanos combines the power of all six for the first time. At a lesser level we meet for the first time Pip the Troll, Warlock's sometimes comic sidekick, and Gamora, known as the deadliest woman in the whole galaxy. And completing the appearances of the future Infinity Watch, although she is a pre-existing character, we also get Warlock's first meeting with Moondragon when he unites with the Avengers, though the two don't get much time to discuss things individually.

The stories also introduce one of Warlock's best known foes and see him first clash with another. The Magus is an interesting concept, the hero's future self turned villainous. I'm not sure just how original this was back in 1975 (this was around the time Avengers revealed that Immortus was Kang the Conqueror's future self and for a bonus added an intermediate self who had resumed the Rama-Tut identity, with Kang fighting the other two). But it certainly makes for a strong sense of despair as Warlock faces the darkness he will become, and also seems powerless to prevent his transformation into a foe who knows his every move, right down to the very words he is about to speak. Visually it's fortunate that Warlock changes his costume early on in the storyline as the Magus wears the original one albeit with different colours, a distinction lost in black & white. Otherwise the only physical difference between the two is the Magus's hairstyle. In a twist on the earlier saga, Warlock is now cast in the role of a heretic facing an all-powerful church, with his future self as the church's deity. There's little exploration of the actual faith of the church itself beyond the revelation that the judge Kray-tor genuinely believes in the faith and sees Warlock as a dangerous heretic. Instead the focus is on the structure of the church, with the church's head, the Matriarch, plotting for power for herself, and the hypocrisy in preaching peace whilst at the same time engaging in military expansion to spread the word to already peaceful worlds. It is a dark vision and it's odd that the ultimate saviour turns out to be Thanos. The Titan doesn't even hide that he has some greater scheme in the works, though he won't divulge the details even to his ward Gamora, and that both the Magus and Warlock may threaten that plan. He proves a highly resourceful and dependable ally when fighting the Magus, and an equally dangerous foe in the climax.

After the defeat of the Magus the series gets rather bitty for its last four issues. We get a tale of Pip going to free a beautiful woman and biting off more than he can chew, then a two-part tale in which Warlock faces the Star Thief, a human who lacks sensory input and has instead developed huge mental powers who now seeks to blot out the stars as revenge on Earth. The story is resolved when the Star Thief's nurse escapes his charge's power and shoots him dead. In the process we get the odd scene where Warlock returns to the Solar System to discover that, due to the uneven expanding universe theory, his body has expanded at a much faster rate and so he is no longer able to interact with his home planet which is now about the size of his fingernail. It adds to the sense of loneliness and frustration in his final issue, but it's rapidly done away with in the Marvel Team-Up issue with a comment that warping through space has partially undone the process and something unexplained during a teleportation cancels the effect completely. Oddly none of the other characters who interact with Earth in any way seem to have been affected. Perhaps the aim by Starlin was to keep the character under a degree of control by making him unable to interact with the regular Marvel universe, but it's an odd piece of pseudo-science and it's easy to see why it was scrapped at the first opportunity. I believe it was later explained away as an illusion but that issue isn't included here.

Warlock's defeat of the Magus involves the bizarre move of stepping into another plane where he sees his potential future paths and purges and destroys the one that leads to the Magus. Then he steps into his own future and uses the Soul Gem to take his life. This has the effect of wiping out the Magus's timeline (with the comment that only Warlock, Pip, Thanos and Gamora will remember it having been at the epicentre of the change) but also results in a hero who now knows he doesn't have long to live, predating Starlin's work on another terminal hero in The Death of Captain Marvel by several years. Warlock is even more contemplative in the last issues as he faces his oncoming end and learns that in the process he will become hated and everything and everyone he cares for will be destroyed in the process.

However the series ends and this isn't quite how the saga is wrapped up - for instance we never see Warlock kill the High Evolutionary despite this being predicted. Once again the storyline was concluded in other titles, with Marvel Team-Up restoring Warlock to human size and also establishing the existence of other Soul Gems. Then came the grand spectacle, spread across two annuals.

With seven Avengers plus a guest appearance by Captain Marvel plus (in the second annual) the Thing and Spider-Man there's not much room for individual character focus. We get a monstrous scheme of Thanos's to destroy the stars using the power of the Soul Gems combined, and the Avengers and Warlock race to stop him. In the process Gamora and Pip are killed by Thanos and Warlock suffers the same fate, going down after barely a page of battle. It is at this stage that his younger self arrives to take his soul, whilst Iron Man and Thor drive off Thanos and destroy his weapon, and the Avengers annual ends with Warlock being reunited with Pip, Gamora and many others in the world inside the Soul Gem. However all is not over as Thanos regroups his forces in the Marvel Two-in-One annual, and attempts to use the one remaining Soul Gem to destroy the Sun. Spider-Man and the Thing turn up, with Lord Chaos and Master Order manipulating things from behind the scene, and the climax sees Warlock's spirit briefly return to reality to turn Thanos to stone. The story ends with the funeral of Warlock and his friends as they experience peace and tranquillity within the Soul Gem, whilst Thanos is left in sorrow, forever denied his beloved Death. Invariably there are some short cuts taken and we're denied the promised spectacle of Warlock bringing about his own destruction, but we get a pretty solid action adventure that ties in with what had come before, wraps up all the characters and gives a real sense of closure to Warlock's saga.

Overall this was a series that tried to do things differently and it that it succeeded massively. Warlock is at heart a good man driven by the horrors all around him, and terrified when he realises what he has already become, let alone what he will one day be. He will help others but has no desire to be a leader or a worshipped hero and instead is ultimately searching for himself. The spiritual elements are more prominent in his first saga but it's appropriate that it ends with Warlock rewarded in the afterlife, showing he has achieved his purpose. The novel in comic form was a difficult thing to achieve at the time but the resulting stories both work well when read in this form, finally allowing Warlock's saga to achieve its purpose like its star.

Essential Warlock volume 1 - creator labels

Once again we have a volume with a lot of creators, so here's a separate post to carry the labels for some of them.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Essential Super-Villain Team-Up volume 1

Essential Super-Villain Team-Up volume 1 contains the Dr. Doom stories from Astonishing Tales #1-8, followed by Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up #1-2, Super-Villain Team-Up #1-14 & #16-17 (#15 reprinted Astonishing Tales #4-5), plus crossover storylines in Avengers #154-156 and Champions #16. Astonishing Tales was yet another anthology, this one from the early 1970s and its initial issues featured Dr. Doom and Ka-Zar. The Champions was a brief lived superhero team of the mid 1970s that teamed up the likes of the Angel, Ice-Man, the Black Widow, Hercules, Ghost Rider and Darkstar. Bonus material includes the cover of Marvel Super-Heroes #20 (an anthology series which combined try-out new material with reprints from the Golden Age) and a two-page spread omitted from that issue's story when it was reused in Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up #1.

The Astonishing Tales stories are written by Roy Thomas, Larry Lieber and Gerry Conway, and drawn by Wally Wood, George Tuska and Gene Colan. Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up is written by Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber, and drawn by John Buscema, Larry Lieber, Frank Giacoia and Mike Sekowsky. The regular size Super-Villain Team-Up is written by Tony Isabella, Jim Shooter, Bill Mantlo, Steve Englehart and Peter Gillis, and drawn by George Tuska, Bill Everett, George Evans, Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, Keith Giffen, Jim Shooter, Bob Hall, Carmine Infantino, and Arvell Jones. The Avengers issues are written by Conway and Shooter, and drawn by George Pérez and Sal Buscema. The Champions issue is written by Mantlo and drawn by Hall. That's an awful lot of creators, not helped by the first issue of the regular size series having three pencillers on a single issue. The first issue of the Giant-Size is also complicated by incorporating amended reprints of Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner #20 and Marvel Super-Heroes #20 into the actual narrative. Because of this long list some of the labels have been placed in a separate post.

The Astonishing Tales stories come from an attempted revival of the double feature book in the early 1970s, but I don't know if there were any other series of the type at the time. Within these eight issues we get a number of stories with the oddity of the lead character being a villain, yet we don't get many defeats. Instead we see Doom first face off an attempted overthrowal by the pretender to the throne of Latveria with the aid of an alien, whilst also facing an experiment going wrong and releasing an android with his own mind patterns on the country. Subsequent issues see Doom facing off an invasion of Latveria by the Red Skull and his allies the Exiles, a group of ex-soldiers from all the Axis powers seeking to establish the Fourth Reich, or trying to raid vibranium from Wakanda only to be seen off by the Black Panther. But even this latter story leaves open the question of which ruler has won - Doom who escapes unharmed or T'Challa whose kingdom is devastated by an earthquake caused by Doom's mining. The final issue sees Doom attempt to rescue his mother's soul from the clutches of the Devil but fails to defeat her captor's champion. (At this stage Marvel tended to portray various demons, most obviously Mephisto, as being the actual Devil/Satan without always depicting him consistently across series. In later years they'd back away from this idea but at the cost of sowing chaos across some characters' continuity - Ghost Rider can be particularly tricky.)

The series is brief but manages to fill out most of the details about Doom such as why he wears the mask, his past relationship with Valeria, his seizure of the throne of Latveria and the fate of his mother. We don't get an actual flashback to the infamous accident that scarred his face or a reminder of his quest for power but this is probably to the advantage as the details we are given come woven into ongoing stories, rather than taking up the first issue with loads of details a good chunk of the readership would already know. With only eight issues and each instalment just ten pages long there isn't much time to explore things in too much dept, but Doom emerges with his dignity and power intact. That said it's hard to deny that this strip's appearance here is largely filler material to make up the page count as Doom doesn't actually team up with any other super-villains in these stories. Issues #4-5 may have been reprinted in Super-Villain Team-Up #15 but the issues show a confrontation not an alliance between Doom and the Red Skull. Still without their appearance here we probably wouldn't have got to see these stories at all.

Onto Super-Villain Team-Up itself. As ever with a team-up title here's a list of the banner stars in each issue, though formally naming them on the cover doesn't start until issue #3 and the earlier issues have the stars at the top of the intro pages.

Giant-Size 1. Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner
Giant-Size 2. Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner
1. Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner
2. Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner
3. Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner
4. Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner
5. Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner
6. Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner
7. Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner
8. Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner
9. Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner
10. Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner
11. Doctor Doom and the Red Skull
12. Doctor Doom and the Red Skull
13. Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner
14. Doctor Doom and Magneto
(15. Doctor Doom and the Red Skull - reprinting Astonishing Tales #4-5)
16. The Red Skull and the Hate-Monger
17. The Red Skull and the Hate-Monger

As can be seen from this list the overall approach to the series was rather different from the format of Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-in-One where the guest stars rotated virtually every issue. Instead the first half or so of the run is about the only time in the Bronze Age that I'm aware of when Marvel successfully launched a "buddy book" title of two pre-existing characters. (Marvel Team-Up was initially going to be a regular Spider-Man and the Human Torch series but rapidly switched to the rotating format, which was then adopted from the outset for Marvel Two-in-One. The Champions was originally going to be a duo of the Angel and Ice-Man, but during conception it morphed into a more general team title, albeit one that selected characters to fill various boxes.)

However it's quickly clear that this series wasn't exactly a conventional teaming. Neither the Red Skull nor Magneto actually team-up with Doom in the issues in question but instead battle with him, and much of the rest of the first sixteen issues (including the Giant-Size) are devoted to the strained relations between Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner as the former tries to recruit the latter to his scheme to conquer the world, rather than actually showing the two engaged in this plan. Part of the problem, as Doom eventually realises, is that the Sub-Mariner is primarily an anti-hero seeking the advancement of his undersea kingdom and only attacks the surface world in anger for perceived actions against Atlantis. Back in the early issues of Fantastic Four the Sub-Mariner was a wandering loner whose kingdom had disappeared and he did take on a more villainous role, even teaming up with Doctor Doom to take on the Fantastic Four. But the character had come a long way since then and a series that tries to recapture the spirit of Fantastic Four #6 just isn't going to work without major alterations to at least one of the characters. That's probably why new directions are announced for both issues #4 & #10, and then issue #14 brings another, though the end of the issue announces it's the end of the series. I'll come back to that claim in a bit. In the meantime the main bond forced between Doom and the Sub-Mariner are the-then recent alterations to the latter's body chemistry making it impossible for him to last out of water, especially when the life support suit he's wearing in the early issues begins to fail. Doom's supply of a cure results in Namor being honourbound but it's an uneasy process.

In the course of the alliance Doom and Namor face a number of both heroes and other villains, most of whom have previously clashed with at least one of them before. Early on they clash with Andro, the android from Astonishing Tales, and later on the Latverian legitimist pretender and the Red Skull. Namor's past conflicts soon bring Attuma, Tiger Shark and Dr. Dorcas, then later Krang. We also get a brief visit to Latveria by the Circus of Crime. The Fantastic Four also come into conflict with Doom over attempts to save the Sub-Mariner from being honourbound into the alliance. The Avengers crossover involves further conflict with Attuma but also brings a couple of encounters for what I think are the first time in the modern era - Namor and the Whizzer, and a fight between Doom and Iron Man. Finally in the original run we get a clash with both Magneto and the Champions. This brief team has often been mocked in hindsight for its unlikely combination and being located in Los Angeles - a famous line by the Angel in later years was "Do you know how hard it is to find supervillains in Los Angeles?" - but here they come across as reasonably competent, if beset by personality disputes. The more surprising portrayal is Magneto who initially seeks an alliance with Doom, proclaiming them to both be "homo superior". It's a reminder that Magneto hasn't always been the militant mutant superiority fighter he's best known as, and for many years was a more generic would-be world conqueror.

We get a few new creations such as the Symbionic Man, but the most significant is the Shroud. A mysterious figure in a dark costume with an origin that combines elements of Batman's (young boy sees his parents shot by a street criminal, vows vengeance on all crime and trains himself accordingly) and Doom's (makes his way to a Himalayan cult where he learns more but has his face burned in the process). It seems Steve Englehart wanted to write Batman but at this point he was at the wrong company, though all that would change the following year. Apparently he was actually drawing on the Shadow rather than Doom, but then again rather a lot of fictional characters have acquired special skills and magic from near mythical places in the Himalayas.

Issue #3 has a particularly dramatic moment when Betty Dean, Namor's original romantic interest, sacrifices herself to save Namor from being shot by Dr. Dorcas. Given the character's long term significance, she's dispatched rather suddenly even if she had only made a dozen or so new appearances since the 1960s revival of the Sub-Mariner. There are some other odd moments relating to women. We're occasionally reminded of Doom's loss of Valeria, but a really odd moment comes in issue #7 when he goes to a peasant's house and asserts droit de seigneur ("right of the lord") - which isn't fully spelt out here (Doom merely states he has "absolute right to the company of any woman in the land") but it was the purported feudal right of lords to bed virgins on the estate. There's no historical evidence that such a custom existed in medieval Europe but that wouldn't necessarily stop Doom. However it seems completely out of character for him to be pursuing such lust with any random woman and feels like a clumsy attempt to reinforce the character's wickedness. But Doom doesn't need to be shown asserting such rights to achieve that.

More curious is a moment in issue #6 where it's revealed that Doom has conducted a peace treaty with the United States that gives him greater protection from US based heroes who are now at risk of causing international incidents. The treaty is personally concluded with none other than Henry Kissinger. I presume that in the mid 1970s there weren't Republican watch groups who would pounce on portrayals in media and publicly attack companies for "misrepresenting" their side. But the whole incident feels a little clumsy again as it leads to rants by the Fantastic Four about appeasement and Kissinger's realpolitik. It's hard to escape the conclusion that these issues (#6-7), published in early 1976, was being used by Englehart for naked political soapboxing. It's also amazing that he could get away with it, but 1976 was the Year of The Three Editor-in-Chiefs at Marvel and amidst such turbulance oversight standards were presumably not the best.

Overall the initial run of the title takes a rather bizarre concept and does its best to try and make it work. Some of the issues have ambiguous endings and Doom sometimes triumphs over other foes. But in general it's very hard to base a series around villains and even harder to do so when one of them doesn't easily slot into the role the title implies. The series came out in a period when the length of regular sized Marvel comics shrank from nineteen to eighteen and then seventeen pages per issue so the stories fly pretty fast. But it's hard to escape the idea this series never really had a clear idea of what it was for or where it was going, hence the two new directions and the eventual shift away from the Doom/Sub-Mariner relationship to a more general Doom and a rotating guest star title. However it was too little too late and it's easy to see why issue #14 ends with "This is the last issue of Super-Villain Team-Up".

Yet somehow despite the series announcing its ending in 1977, three more issues came out, one per each of the following years. I'm not sure why this was but as issue #15 is a reprint, it's probable it was a rush job. Maybe it was a fill-in to take the place of a delayed title at the printers at a time when publishers were fined if the presses went empty. Alternatively the issue was on sale in August 1978 which seems to be the exact month the effect of the "DC Implosion" hit the newsstands with a dramatic cutback of the number of DC titles - was Marvel rushing some extra books into print to capitalise on the released marketshare? Presumably the issue sold well enough for someone to give the title another chance, but this time going for a more general team-up of villains. So six months later issue #16 appeared in early 1979... and then nothing for over a year before the story was concluded with the publication of issue #17. Was this a monumental production delay, was the revived series never properly scheduled or was it just being printed as and when gaps in printing were looming?

The final two issues tell a brief story that seems to be motivated more by tying up an obscure part of Marvel continuity than with actually doing anything major with the Red Skull. We get the tale of how the Skull and the Hate Monger are running a Nazi island in the Caribbean - it makes a difference from the Latin American jungle I guess - where they're using technology to create a new Cosmic Cube whilst fending off the interference by agents of Mossad and SHIELD. However there's a twist as the Hate Monger is none other than Adolf Hitler.

Part of the story's purpose is to tidy up Marvel continuity with the revelation that Hitler is occupying a clone of his original body with his mind having been projected out when he was "killed" in the Berlin bunker at the end of the Second World War by the original Human Torch. In the 1950s Marvel had created this alternate take on Hitler's death and it may have seemed a great idea at the time but it now seems rather crass. They then made an alternative version of this crassness in 1963 when a Fantastic Four issue ended with the revelation the defeated and dead Hate Monger had been... Adolf Hitler. At the time the idea of Hitler having survived the war was a fairly popular idea in fiction (and Marvel was ignoring its 1950s stories altogether) but again it can seem to trivialise one of the most evil men real history has thrown up. It would probably have best to have just dismissed the original Hate Monger as one of Hitler's doubles. But instead we now get a tale teaming up Marvel's most prominent Nazi with the real world's greatest Nazi. The story itself is tame, show how the Skull fends off the attack but also out double-crosses the Hate Monger, trapping the latter inside the new Cosmic Cube which is in fact merely a prison.

The story allows the Red Skull to put Hitler the man behind him whilst still pursuing Hitler's goals and philosophy. But the Skull didn't need such a moment - Hitler could have been left dead and the Hate Monger dismissed as an old double of Hitler. If a confrontation and continuity tidy was needed, this would have allowed the Skull to establish himself as the supreme heir to Nazidom without the crass treatment of the founder. Overall this story is rather dissatisfying and a pretty low ending for the series. It had never really found a direction and by this point it was just Super-Villain Team-Up in name only.

Essential Super-Villain Team-Up volume 1 - creator labels

Once again we have a volume with a lot of creators, so here's a separate post to carry the labels for some of them.
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