A natural break point was reached by Mark Waid and Andy Kubert to end the first volume of their Ka-Zar run, allowing for a look back at his youth, and here, opening with some other explanations of what’s fed into the series. This is some early comics writing from Brian K. Vaughan on what was first published as an annual. Walter McDaniel really puts effort into creating some spectacular looking pages over the first third of the story, but this isn’t sustained until the end, although he never becomes poor, just unable to commit the original level of time to design and detail. As the cover shows, Thanos becomes involved in Ka-Zar’s world, and Vaughan explains how, while counterpointing it with the revival of another old menace in a manner that’s competent without being memorable. However, the dramatic touches that would become such a strength of his writing are already apparent.

By featuring planet-busting Thanos on the cover, Marvel effectively provide their own spoiler, as he’s on the back burner for much of the book while Waid continues Ka-Zar’s battle against his technocrat brother and transforms New York. It all comes across as very much a waiting game, a way of prolonging the tease until the finale. Yes, that’s the fashion of all superhero comics, but it transmits far more obviously here. That finale, however, has some zest to it. Ka-Zar vs Thanos might have begun life as a joke in a convention bar, but Waid makes the ridiculous mismatch work. He provides Thanos with all his regular arrogance and some gloriously pompous dialogue, and takes a long forgotten item from Ka-Zar’s past and gives it a purpose.

As in the previous book, Andy Kubert’s art is a mixed blessing. He’s working in the scratchy, grimacing 1990s style, although a cut above most artists whose pages employed similar techniques, but the close-up viewpoints, and the cramped panels aren’t a pretty sight. For all the down points, when Kubert opens up into a spread, by God it’s magnificent. Louis Small Jr. draws one chapter, and still had a fair way to go on the basis of it, but Aaron Lopresti’s a better fit.

Once Thanos is dealt with, the plot turns to the arrival of a Mother Earth figure in the Savage Land, a clever twist on Waid’s part. All-purpose Marvel genetic tinkerer the High Evolutionary turns up to witness land transformation on a massive scale, and delivers homilies on ecology, evolution and progress, which become tedious after a while. Waid has a good ending to his involvement, but this whole sequence is based on the unsound fracturing relationship and mistrust set up between Ka-Zar and his wife Shanna, and as that was unconvincing, so it this.

Christopher Priest and Kenny Martinez provide a coda of Ka-Zar on a New York subway train as a gun battle kicks off. The idea of such danger in an enclosed space is good, as is the extra limitation placed on Ka-Zar’s skills, but the art drags any thrill away from a script that also eventually goes nowhere.