Make mine Marvel! Why not use the lockdown to catch up on the latest graphic novels?

Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Black Widow

Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Black Widow - Credit: Archant

As the coronavirus lockdown continues dragging on, why not use the time to check out some of Panini Books’ latest graphic novel releases?

Black Widow: No Restraints Play

Black Widow: No Restraints Play - Credit: Archant

Marvel Comics: 1000

31st August 1939. A day unlike any other. The release of Marvel Comics #1 by Timely Publishing not only saw the debut of the original Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner, but it also set in motion the creation of a fictional universe which has lasted more than 80 years...

To mark this milestone anniversary, writer Al Ewing takes readers on a journey from the 1930s to the present day in the company of the greatest Marvel artists ever assembled.

Beginning in the laboratory of Professor Phineas T Horton, as a cabal of scientists are introduced to his android creation, each page marks a year in Marvel’s history, illustrated by a different artist, while also revealing secrets about the mysterious Eternity Mask...

Black Cat: Grand Theft Marvel

Black Cat: Grand Theft Marvel - Credit: Archant

This is an actual artefact formed from the very substance of the cosmic being Eternity during the days of King Arthur, passed down between various holders and said to influence the major events in human history over this time. It’s a perfect way of focusing on different aspects of the Marvel age of heroes, while also setting up new storylines which will unfold over the months to come.

Some of the chronological links are very tenuous – the end of series, the release of movies, particular plot developments - but on the whole what could have been a very disparate narrative fits together exceptionally well.

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Not just a history of 80 years of Marvel Comics, this is also a reminder of everything that makes the company so great. Here’s to the next eight decades!

Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her

Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her - Credit: Archant

Spider-Man: Life Story

In the early days of Marvel Comics, stories played out in something approximating real time. So Peter Parker went from high school student to college freshman, the Vietnam War impacted on the lives of his friends, and he grew as a person and a super-hero. But as the company came to the end of its second decade of publishing it soon became obvious that before too long their cast of characters would be heading towards middle age, detracting from what made them so relevant to their readership.

The result of this was the creation of “Marvel Time”, a sliding timescale in which characters do not noticeably age, and it is always around ten years since the Fantastic Four took their fateful test flight (no longer to the Moon, but now to another galaxy). But what if a 15-year-old Peter Parker became Spider-Man in 1962, and lived out his career over the following six decades?

Spider-Man: Life Story

Spider-Man: Life Story - Credit: Archant

That is the premise of Life Story, which tells how the web-slinger’s career and relationships unfolded over the course of 57 years, set against key events on both the world stage and in comics history during this period, including Secret Wars and Civil War.

So as we see Peter marry, raise a family, become a successful businessman and bury his beloved Aunt May, we also witness him in bitter conflict with the Green Goblin, adopt his alien black costume, and welcome a successor in the form of Miles Morales.

Writer Chip Zdarsky is joined by artist Mark Bagley to present the story of one hero’s life, his triumphs and sacrifices, his loves and losses, but also a social commentary on the evolution of the modern super-hero and the comics industry over this time. From the carefree early sixties through the grim and gritty eighties, into the challenges of the new century, it all unfolds here with subtlety and style...

Perhaps one of the most remarkable Spider-Man stories ever told.

Marvel Comics 1,000

Marvel Comics 1,000 - Credit: Archant

Black Widow: No Restraints Play, Marvel Platinum: The Essential Black Widow, The Things They Say About Her; Black Cat: Grand Theft Marvel

Two of Marvel’s femme fatales are unleashed in their own series, and on the strength of these various books, you have to wonder why it’s taken so long.

Death's Head: Clone Drive

Death's Head: Clone Drive - Credit: Archant

A mainstay of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Iron Man 2, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) was due to appear in her own solo movie next month (set between the events of Civil War and Infinity War), but its release has been delayed until November because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But because the world of publishing has deadlines of its own, Panini have unleashed a trio of tie-in graphic novels ahead of the original release date, which in a way offers the perfect time for newbies to familiarise themselves with the character before the film finally reaches our screens.

First up we have one of the Marvel Platinum greatest hits collections, featuring seminal stories from six decades of the Black Widow, starting off with her debut as a Soviet super-spy in Tales of Suspense #52 (1964), through her partnership with Daredevil, her work as an Agent of SHIELD and Avenger (No Champions?!), and right up to her contemporary missions and rivalry with replacement Widow Yelena Belova.

As always, the list of creative talent working on these stories reads like a who’s who of comics legends, including Stan Lee, George Perez, Steve Englehart, John Romita Sr and Ralph Macchio.

Mission briefing complete, it’s now time to head out into the field for two fast-paced Widow actioners, kicking off with Richard Morgan’s spy thriller The Things They Say About Her, which follows up on his previous series Homecoming, in which Nat killed a powerful drug boss and went on the run...

Then in No Restraints Play we pick up on the death and subsequent resurrection of the Widow after the Secret Empire saga. With the world believing her dead, she heads to the criminal nation of Madripoor to investigate an underground child abuse ring...

Long since relegated to the status of supporting character and team-member, the Widow’s movie career has catapulted her into the big leagues.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man’s ex-girlfriend Felicia Hardy (aka the Black Cat), has reassembled her original crew, and is back doing what she does best: stealing the finer things in life from wherever and whomever she fancies.

Unfortunately not only do her exploits leave her and her team on the run from the New York Thieves Guild and their boss Odessa Drake, but force them to take even more risks to reap rewards, including breaking into the Sanctum Sanctorum of Doctor Strange, and the Fantastic Four’s Yancy Street headquarters.

In the tradition of heist movies like Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job and The Thomas Crown Affair, albeit very much immersed in the madness of the Marvel Universe, this is a fun, sassy and kinetic thrill-ride, which hopefully marks the start of a long run for Felicia and pals.

Death’s Head: Clone Drive

A 1980s spin-off character from Marvel UK’s weekly Transformers comic, the freelance peacekeeping agent Death’s Head (don’t call him a bounty hunter!) has enjoyed fleeting periods of mass popularity over the years, but has also been relegated to little more than cult status at times. His current renaissance follows a recent appearance in Kieron Gillen’s Iron Man run, prompting the powers-that-be to take a gamble with this new mini-series.

After yet another job goes wrong, Death’s Head wakes up from a protracted period off-line to find his body being used as equipment by a punk band at their latest gig. Busting free, he soon becomes involved with Young Avengers Hulking and Wiccan, who are stashing a younger and upgraded version of DH beneath the bed in their New York apartment.

But just to add to the confusion, futuristic AIM cyborg scientist Dr Evelyn Necker is back, and she’s tracking down parts to create a perfect Death’s Head...

Sadly no longer penned by creator Simon Furman, new writer Tini Howard strives to capture the wit and style of the character’s previous series, supported by the stylish artwork of Kei Zama. It’s a noble effort, but at times reads more like a Young Avengers storyline than one focused on Death’s Head.

That said, let’s hope this series results in a permanent run for our cyborg anti-hero, rather than seeing him reduced to cameo appearances and guest-slots once again.