Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 1

Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 1

Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 1

First Published: May 2008

Contents: The Rampaging Hulk #1 (January 1977) to #9 (June 1978); Hulk! #10 (August 1978) to #15 (June 1979); and part of a story from Incredible Hulk #269 (March 1982)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Walt Simonson, Keith Pollard, Ron Wilson, and others

Key First Appearances: Bereet, Krylorians

Story Continues In: Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 2

Overview: Throughout the 1970s, Marvel Comics had been releasing black & white magazines through their parent company, Curtis Magazines. Most magazines featured more adult topics than what could be printed in a comic (and approved by the Comics Code Authority). The magazines tended to feature characters that were not currently featured in the Marvel Comics, although there were some exceptions along the way. In 1976, Marvel changed that up with the launch of the Rampaging Hulk magazine.

The magazine can be broken up into two eras, as clearly defined by the title change of the magazine. When the magazine launched, the stories were set in the 1960s, picking up on the Hulk’s adventures following the cancellation of his title in Incredible Hulk #6. The Hulk and Rick Jones are on the run from the Army, and travel to Europe to escape their pursuers. There they encounter the alien Bereet, who is also being pursued by her race, the Krylorians. While they claim that Bereet is an escaped fugitive, the Krylorians actually intend to take over the Earth.

During the course of these adventures, the Hulk, Rick Jones, and Bereet encounter numerous familiar faces from the Silver Age of Marvel Comics. The original X-Men and the Sub-Mariner cross paths with the rampaging Hulk. To stop the final phase of the Krylorians invasion, our heroes return to the New York City, where the Hulk encounters Iron Man, Thor, Ant Man, and the Wasp well before they team up to form the Avengers. The Krylorians realize that their plans are useless, and flee the Earth.

Beginning with issue #10, the magazine goes in a new direction. The title changes to the Hulk!, and the stories are now told in “Marvelcolor”. The stories now take place in current Marvel time, and take an approach similar to the popular Incredible Hulk TV show of this same time. Bruce Banner is on the road in search of a cure for his condition. Each issue, Banner stumbles into some odd job (miner, circus carny, etc.) and some incident occurs that leads to his change into the Hulk.

A Bobby Ewing Shower situation!: In Incredible Hulk #269 (March 1982), it was revealed that the stories in Rampaging Hulk #1-9 were not “in continuity” but rather a fictionalized film created by the artist Bereet to entertain her fellow Krylorians. Bereet then traveled to Earth, where she became a companion of sorts for the Hulk during the time that he maintained his intelligence while he was the Hulk. She appeared in stories throughout 1982 and 1983, before disappearing into the character limbo.

What makes this Essential?: While I wouldn’t say that any of these stories are truly essential, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this volume. Sure, most of these stories fall outside of any continuity, but sometimes those make for better stories. The writing, done almost all by Doug Moench, is good for the era and the intended audience. The art is great, but there are times when the pages look awkward due to the smaller size of the Essential page compared to that of the original magazine. If you are a fan of the Hulk or interested in the Marvel magazines, then give this a look.

Footnotes: The Hulk & Moon Knight stories from Hulk! #15 are also reprinted in Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: watching (or re-watching for my older readers) the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk series from the 1970s. The series is available on DVD, and can be found on both Netflix and Hulu Plus. As familiar as we (the comic book readers) are with the Hulk and his origins, for many people this television series was their introduction to the green-skinned giant. Dr. David Bruce Banner is exposed to a deadly dose of gamma radiation, which leads to a startling transformation when he becomes emotional. Hounded by a news reporter chasing a story, David Banner goes on the run around the country in search of a cure to his green issues. The success of this show helped inspire the change of direction with the Hulk! magazine. Any Hulk fan should watch this. If I find out that you haven’t watched this, I will be so angry. To quote an often used line from the show, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 1

Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 1

Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 1

First Published: May 2008

Contents: Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967) and #13 (March 1968); Captain Marvel #1 (May 1968) to #21 (August 1970); and the Captain Marvin story from Not Brand Echh #9 (March 1981)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Don Heck, Gil Kane, Gary Friedrich, Dick Ayers, and others

Key First Appearances: Mar-Vell/Captain Marvel, Una, Yon-Rogg, Carol Danvers, Mordecai Boggs

Story Continues In: Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 2

Overview: Unbeknownst to most of the people of Earth, alien races have been keeping an eye on our home planet. One of those races, the Kree, have parked a spaceship in orbit to do further observation of the Earthlings. Captain Mar-Vell is sent to the surface for further investigation, finding himself near a military base in Florida. Mar-Vell’s commander, Col. Yon-Rogg, despises his assignment and wants nothing more than to blast our planet to bits and return to the Kree home world. Finding himself at odds with his commander, Mar-Vell breaks ranks with the Kree and vows to protect the Earth as Captain Marvel!

Captain Marvel finds that the Kree are not happy with his decision, as he is forced to face off against Yon-Rogg and Ronan the Accuser. And given that the Kree are the mortal enemies of the Skrulls, of course the Super-Skrull has to cross paths with Captain Marvel.

In issue #17, Roy Thomas returned to script the book, and brought along with Gil Kane for the art chores. Captain Marvel was given his more-familiar red and blue costume, and the story starting progressing in new directions. Rick Jones, the official sidekick of the Marvel Universe, joins up with Captain Marvel, and the two find themselves bonded via the Nega-Bands. Because of that, when one is on Earth, the other is transported to the Negative Zone. (And if you know your Marvel history, if Rick Jones is around, than the Hulk will soon follow!)

One of the supporting characters created for this series was Carol Danvers, a security officer at the military base during the origin issues of our hero. However, in issue #18 (November 1969), Carol is caught up in an explosion with Captain Marvel. After she has fully recovered, she later finds out that her DNA has been fused with Kree DNA, and it has given her many of the same powers as Captain Marvel. Carol’s story will continue in the pages of her own comic, which have been reviewed in Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1.

What makes this Essential?: OK, full disclosure and SPOILER warning time. I never really got into the Captain Marvel character. Want to know why? Because the first time I ever saw the character was in Marvel Graphic Novel #1: The Death of Captain Marvel. He was killed off the first time I read him! And it was a shocking move by Marvel, having a heroic character die not in battle but in a bed from cancer. So given the dramatic finale to his career, I had not desire to go back and read his adventures. In all fairness, the early 1980s still was part of the era where characters that were deceased stayed deceased. Of course, Marvel would reuse the name Captain Marvel (to protect the trademark) with later characters. But in today’s era, sometimes the best characters to use are the dead ones, and a good writer finds a way to resurrect the dead.

So I read this volume only knowing the character’s end. This is a mixed introduction to Captain Marvel. I fully believe this is a book that got much better as the story progressed, so I am looking forward to reading Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 2 sometime soon. (You can read into that if the book got better as the story progressed, then the early issues must have been a rough ride to get through.) The Gil Kane issues in the end of the book were my favorites, as the artist finds away to make Captain Marvel feel more alive. (I’m still a big fan of Gene Colan, but these issues just didn’t do it for me. Thankfully I have plenty of Colan Daredevil and Dracula issues to enjoy!) Bottom line – I think this is worth reading, but I don’t know that this is worth owning.

Footnotes: Captain Marvel #20 and #21 are also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 3.

Read my review of Showcase Presents SHAZAM! Vol. 1 to learn about the name battle between Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel.

If you like this volume, try: the Captain Marvel series from 2000 by Peter David and ChrisCross. This is a new Captain Marvel, Genis-Vell, who is gentically-engineered son of the late Mar-Vell. Introduced in a 1996 Captain Marvel mini-series, the character went by the code name of Legacy. He rose in popularity when he was included in Avengers Forever maxi-series, as a future Avenger plucked from time to fight in the Destiny War. At the climax of that story, Captain Marvel finds that he must use the Nega-Band connection to save Rick Jones. Following that series, Genis-Vell moved into his own monthly book, still bonded to his father’s former side-kick. The series ran for 35 issues, before being rebooted in a Marvel promotion in 2002. The reboot, still written by Peter David, ran for another 25 issues. David is one of the best comic book writers, so any of these issues are a treat. Sadly, this is not a series that has been reprinted beyond one trade paperback, so you may need to dive into some back-issue bins to track this one down.

Showcase Presents The Flash Vol. 2

Showcase Presents The Flash Vol. 2

Showcase Presents The Flash Vol. 2

First Published: June 2008

Contents: The Flash #120 (May 1961) to #140 (November 1963)

Key Creator Credits: John Broome, Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson, and others

Key First Appearances: the Top, Henry Allen, Nora Allen, Abra Kadabra, Professor Ira West, Dexter Myles, Professor Zoom/Reverse Flash, Heat Wave

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents The Flash Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents The Flash Vol. 3

Overview: Moving like a bolt of lightning, Barry Allen protects Central City as the fastest man alive, the Flash! With one of the most intriguing rogues gallery of any hero, the Flash fights colorful foes on his Earth as well as other Earths! What, other Earths you ask? Yes, sit back and enjoy this read, as we will be crossing dimensions to other earths. Welcome to Showcase Presents The Flash Vol. 2.

Picking up where we left things off with the last collection, the Flash still has to face off each month against the likes of Captain Boomerang, Gorilla Grodd, and the Mirror Master. But lets add some more names to his growing list of foes. The Top gives the Flash someone that can fight him with similar speeds; Heat Wave serves as a counterpart (and partner) to Captain Cold; and Abra Kadabra uses future science to become a modern day magician and thief. But the Flash’s greatest threat zooms into the picture as the Reverse Flash (a.k.a. Professor Zoom), an evil doppelganger to Barry Allen. Thankfully, Barry still gets some help from the Elongated Man and Kid Flash, who is sporting a new yellow costume which is totally lost on those of us reading these in the black & white Showcase Presents editions.

But the most important comic in this volume (and perhaps the most important comic published by DC Comics since Showcase #4) is The Flash #123. Barry Allen finds out that if he vibrates his body at a certain frequency, he can cross over to a parallel earth. Instead of being in Central City, the Flash finds himself in Keystone City, home to his favorite comic book hero, the Jay Garrick Flash. Locating his idol up in a phone book, Barry arrives on the Garrick doorstep and comes face to face with the Golden Age Flash. Barry appearance encourages Jay to dust off his helmet and get back into his fighting togs, and we now have Flashs on two Earths. Jay Garrick would appear in multiple issues, including a team-up with Barry where they rescue Jay’s teammates from the Justice Society of America. Though it is not named until Justice League of America #21, this is Earth-Two, and a new continuity is born in DC Comics.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This is a must own volume, in my humble opinion. As entertaining as the Flash stories are during this period, the historical importance of Gardner Fox re-introducing Jay Garrick and subsequently the Justice Society had a huge impact on DC Comics. Fox started developing a continuity to the stories that had been superficial at best with the publisher in years past. The work started here became the framework for uniting the various DC comics into one shared universe.

Footnotes: The Elongated Man stories from The Flash #124, #130, #134, and #138 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents Elongated Man Vol. 1.

While Joan Williams had been the steady girlfriend of Jay Garrick in the 1940s and 1950s, it was their appearance in The Flash #123 where we learned that the two had finally gotten married and settled down into a nice house in the suburbs.

If you like this volume, try: tracking down the Crisis on Multiple Earths: The Team-Ups trade paperbacks from 2005 and 2007. With the success of the Jay Garrick Flash appearing with Barry Allen, the DC Universe books from Gardner Fox started teaming up the Silver Age characters with their Golden Age counterparts. Alan Scott appeared with Hal Jordan in the pages of Green Lantern, and Al Pratt teamed with Ray Palmer in The Atom. Other books featured Justice Society characters, such as Doctor Fate & Hourman or Starman & Black Canary teaming up in the pages of The Brave and the Bold before it became a Batman team-up title. While some of these issues can be found in other Showcase Presents Volumes, these two trades are a handy resource to put all of the these issues in two collections.

Essential Iron Man Vol. 3

Essential Iron Man Vol. 3

Essential Iron Man Vol. 3

First Published: April 2008

Contents: Iron Man #12 (April 1969) to #38 (June 1971); and Daredevil #73 (February 1971)

Key Creator Credits: Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Gerry Conway, Don Heck, Allyn Brodsky, and others

Key First Appearances: Controller, Crimson Dynamo (III), Madame Masque, Eddie March, Firebrand, Kevin O’Brien, Spymaster, Marianne Rodgers

Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 4

Overview: Every hero has to have a weakness, right? Over at DC Comics, Superman must avoid Kryptonite; Green Lantern is useless against anything yellow; and Aquaman cannot be away from water for very long. At Marvel, Iron Man comes to mind, as Tony Stark has been living on borrowed time with his damaged heart. His armor has kept his heart beating for years. But for all of his money and genius, Stark has never been able to fully repair his heart – until NOW! So let’s dive into Essential Iron Man Vol. 3.

Tony Stark finally decides to scale back his Iron Man life, and to live more outside of the armor. He has met the (current) love of his life, Janice Cord, and wants to spend as much of his time with her as possible. That means he is finally ready for that heart transplant, so he doesn’t have to be tied down to the armor so much. The transplant is a success, but circumstances always force Stark back into the armor. Shortly after his surgery, Iron Man has to face off against the Titanium Man and the new Crimson Dynamo. During that battle, Janice Cord is fatally injured, once again throwing Tony’s life into chaos.

Some new faces come into Tony Stark’s life, some more important than others. Boxer Eddie March becomes the next man to wear the Iron Man armor. His run is short-lived, but he will return in later Essential volumes in a freaky appearance. Whitney Frost, whom we met in the last Essential, is injured and forces to hide her scars behind a face plate, becoming Madame Masque. The villain FIrebrand shows up for the first time, but he will have a longer (and more important) story arc in the next collection. And Kevin O’Brien is hired on at Stark Industries; in the next collection, he will don a green version of Stark’s armor and will be called Guardsman.

Perhaps the most significant addition would be Marianne Rodgers, who becomes the new romantic interest for Tony. While her first appearance is listed as Iron Man #36, some people believe that she is the “Marion” character from Tales of Suspense #40, who suggested that Iron Man paint his armor some other color besides battleship gray. When she appears in Iron Man #36, it’s implied in the story that they already know each other, Tony starts referring to her as “Honey” within three pages.

What makes this Essential?: I liked this volume, but I am struggling to give this a strong endorsement. Archie Goodwin and George Tuska dominate the first half of this book, and those are good stories. Allyn Brodsky and Gerry Conway take over the writing duties, with art by Don Heck, and I can’t really complain about that. But I keep looking through the book and I can’t imagine wanting to read this again. If I was more of an Iron Man fan, I could envision wanting to get back into these issues. So what to do, what to do….. Definitely read this if you are a fan of Iron Man. There are some key character introductions that will play important roles in the years to come. For the casual Marvel fan, maybe just flip through this on the side.

Footnotes: Iron Man #35 & #36 and Daredevil #73 are also collected in Essential Daredevil Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: reading Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle story by David Michelinie, Bob Layton, and John Romita, Jr. Collecting Iron Man #120 to #128 from 1979, Iron Man is besieged by numerous foes, with someone attempting to take over his armor. As the pressures increase, Tony Stark turns to alcohol. Unfortunately, Stark’s compulsive personality leads him further and further down a dark path. He is forced to turn over his armor to the police, and he must step down as leader of the Avengers. Stark finally bottoms out, and recognizes his problem. With the help of Bethany Cabe, Tony goes through a withdrawal and begins the long, slow climb to sobriety. At the time this was created, this wasn’t necessarily written as a long storyline; they were just attempting to tell a good story month after month. It was only after the fact that people began to refer to this story arc as “Demon in the Bottle” (which was the issue name for the final issue in Iron Man #128) In 1984, this was one of the first stories that Marvel ever collected in a trade paperback. It has been reprinted multiple times in multiple formats, and should be easy to find.

WCPE Best of 2014 Survey

Worst. Comic. Podcast. EVER!

Worst. Comic. Podcast. EVER!

OK, going to do some cross-promotion here. On the Worst. Comic. Podcast. EVER! that I co-host, we did a round table session this week picking our “Best of 2014″ nominations. Best publisher, best creator, best all ages book, and more. To drum up some listeners and interest, we have set up a survey to go along with our picks. I would love to get some feedback from anyone and everyone!

First, the podcast can be found here: http://worstcomicpodcastever.com/2014/12/31/wcpe-episode-025-for-december-31-2014/

Next, the survey can be found here: http://jerrymcmullen.polldaddy.com/s/wcpe-best-of-2014-survey

Now why should you take time from your busy schedule to participate? That’s a very good question and I’m glad I asked it. We are going to give away FREE MONEY, in the form of an Amazon Gift Card. I don’t have an exact amount, but I would guess it ends up in the $25-$50 range. All depends what the three of us can pull together. Regardless, that should be good enough to get you some new collected editions.

So please, take a couple of minutes to complete the survey. You could be done in less than two minutes. If you have an hour to spare, listen to the podcast as well. At the very least, share this with a friend or two! Thanks, and I will be back tomorrow with my next review!

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015!

Goodbye 2014: Once again, please forgive me while I indulge in some wrap-up for 2014. I did a lot of reading this year. Being out of work does tend to give a person some free time to catch up on some reading. All total, it looks like I finished 75 books for the year. For the subject of this blog, I read 18 Showcase Presents volumes* and 19 Essential volumes**.

In addition to the Essentials and Showcases, I read a mix of older reprints as well as new original graphic novels. Some of my favorite reads of the past year included:

  • The Guns of Shadow Valley by Dave Wachter and Jim Clark. This was a digital comic that used a Kickstarter campaign to fund a collected edition. The collected edition was later distributed by Dark Horse Comics. If you are a fan of The Sixth Gun, you should give this a read.
  • The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks. This is another digital comic that saw the collected edition distributed by Dark Horse. This book won the 2014 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids.
  • Velvet TPB Vol. 1 by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. Set in the 1970s, this spy thriller featured equal parts of James Bond and Modesty Blaise. I could not put this one down!

Please seek out each of these volumes – you won’t be disappointed!

* Showcase Presents volumes read in 2014: All-Star Comics 1; Wonder Woman 3 and 4; The Trial of the Flash 1; Superman Family 3 and 4; House of Mystery 1; The Unknown Soldier 1; Metamorpho 1; Eclipso 1; Super Friends 1; Challengers of the Unknown 2; Bat Lash 1; Blackhawk 1; Jonah Hex 1; Supergirl 2; Captain Carrot 1; and House of Secrets 1.
** Essential volumes read in 2014: Howard the Duck 1; Iron Man 4 and 5; Thor 4, 5, 6, and 7; Dazzler 1; Wolverine 1, 2, 3, and 4; Marvel Horror 1; Man-Thing 1; Ghost Rider 1 and 2; Punisher 2; Dr. Strange 3; and Rampaging Hulk 1.

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Hello 2015: OK, for many years I have been a loyal listener to the Collected Comics Library podcast produced by Chris Marshall. Each January, Chris announces his “Adopt a Character” for the year, in which he focuses on reading more about one character, a specific run of a book, or even just focus on a particular creator, over the next year.

For 2014, I had three “Adopt a Character” goals which I came very close to fulfilling!

  • I want to re-read the Mike Grell Green Arrow series from the late 1980s and early 1990s. OK, I read the first 60 issues, as well as the annuals that came out during that associated time frame. Grell was on the book until issue #80, so I feel this one is 75% accomplished. 
  • With the Essential line, I have accumulated a back log of titles featuring various Avengers characters. On my shelf to read, I have four Thor volumes, three Hulk volumes (including the Rampaging Hulk volumes) and two Iron Man volumes. I did read all four Thor books, I read the two Iron Man books, and I read one of the three Hulk books. So consider this 77% accomplished. 
  • With the Showcase line, I have accumulated a back log of two titles, Wonder Woman and Superman Family. I did finish off both lines, reading two Wonder Woman books and two Superman Family books. Consider this item 100% mission accomplished!

So for 2015, I am wanting to target a couple of titles for my Adopt a Character.

  • I do want to finish the Mike Grell Green Arrow series. I have tracked down most of the Oliver Queen issues of the title after Grell left, up to issue #100, so my plan is to read the last 40 issues plus annuals.
  • With the Essential and Showcase lines, I have two long-boxes of books to read. As much as I try to balance 1 DC to 1 Marvel read, I may need to focus more on Marvel this year, as those are the majority of the books due up for review in 2015. Keep reading for more on the blog going forward.
  • Finally, I am looking to find something new to jump into, so I am going to put it out there for my audience. Tell me a title I should be reading, either current or from the back issue bins. Please comment on this post with your suggestions, and the best one will be added to my to-read list for 2015.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!: So, as 2015 starts up, I do need to make some changes with this blog going forward. Beginning with this Saturday’s post, I will be posting just once a week. I published 104 reviews in 2014, and I’m quite proud of that fact. But a lot of that was as a result of being out of work for 10 months this year. I had lots of time to read and write. But I am also a big fan of earning a living and supporting the family. I’ve had a lot of job interviews lately, and I feel really good about two of them. So my hope is that I return to full-time work sometime this month. To allow time to read and write reviews, in addition to my other project (keep reading!), I think it is best to scale back my workload with the Essential Showcase blog.

In addition, I am also running into a material shortage. Looking at the numbers, I have just over 100 books (as of today) left to read and/or write reviews of in my collection. If I kept up the same pace of two reviews a week, this blog would come to stop in February of 2016. If I cut back to one review per week, this would take the blog into late spring of 2017. I am having fun with this blog and would like to keep it going.

As for my other project, my friends and I started our own podcast last summer, titled the Worst. Comic. Podcast. EVER! I hope all of my Essential Showcase readers are also giving the podcast a listen. In the upcoming year, we are challenging ourselves to do so much more with the podcast, in terms of interviews and conventions, as well as the blog that hosts the podcast. I want to free up some of my Essential Showcase time to work on the WCPE project. Thank you for your understanding, and please give us a look if you haven’t already.

All right, let’s have a great 2015! Let’s enjoy some books and stories along the way. And please be sure to leave me reading suggestions in the comments!

Essential Avengers Vol. 6

Essential Avengers Vol. 6

Essential Avengers Vol. 6

First Published: February 2008

Contents: Avengers #120 (April 1972) to #140 (October 1975); Giant-Size Avengers #1 (August 1974) to #4 (June 1975); Captain Marvel #33 (July 1974); and Fantastic Four #150 (September 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, John Buscema, Bob Brown, George Tuska, and others

Key First Appearances: Nuklo, Bova

Story Continues From: Essential Avengers Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Avengers Vol. 7

Overview: In preparation for this review, I consider some alternatives to make my point here. My first thought would be to increase the font size to a larger style, but I hate that when other sites do it. I CONSIDERED WRITING THIS ENTIRE REVIEW IN ALL CAPS, BUT I DON’T WANT TO COME ACROSS THAT I AM YELLING AT YOU, MY LOYAL READERS. Maybe I should attach a sound file with trumpets blaring, or I figure out a way to roll out a red carpet. See, the reason for these possible changes is to help convey just how EPIC is this collection of the Essential Avengers!

Writer Steve Englehart and friends put together a series of memorable runs over multiple issues. This really felt like a heavy hitters lineup for the team, led by Thor, Iron Man, and the Vision. In this collection, the Avengers have their first encounter with Thanos; in a crossover with the Fantastic Four, we see Quicksilver and Crystal tie the knot in a ceremony delayed by Ultron; and we discover the secret origin of the Vision, in a story that goes back to the very first issue of Marvel Comics in 1939.

The highlight of this volume is the story of Mantis. In the lead-off story where the Avengers battle Zodiac, Mantis discovers that Libra is her father. She learns that she was raised by the Priests of Pama, which takes the Avengers to Viet-Nam where they encounter the Star-Stalker. From there, long-time Avengers foe Kang kidnaps Mantis and Moondragon, as both have been identified as potential candidates to become the Celestial Madonna. That leads the Avengers to travel through time and space after their teammate. During the battle with Kang, the Swordsman is killed, and Mantis realizes that he was the love of her life and not the Vision. Mantis discovers more of her origins, and finally embraces her role as the Celestial Madonna. In a ceremony overseen by Immortus, Mantis marries a Cotati reanimating the body of Swordsman, and the couple merge and depart to space. (It should be noted that the wedding was a double ceremony, as the Vision and the Scarlet Witch finally say their “I Do’s”.)

The volume concludes as some new faces become probationary members of the team in Avengers #137. Having graduated from the X-Men and moved on to a solo career, the blue-haired Beast shows up for a series of adventures, but it won’t be until the next Essential before he earns his Avengers identification card. Also, Moondragon joins the team, making for a good consolation prize for losing out on the Celestial Madonna sweepstakes.

What makes this Essential?: This volume can best be summed up with one name – Steve Englehart. The writer had taken over writing duties on the Avengers in the previous Essential volume, and this collection sees Englehart work in all of the stories that he was really wanting to tell. He uses a core line-up of Iron Man, Thor, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Mantis. (It should be noted that long-time Avenger Captain America was knee-deep in his own book at that time, and could only make the occasional appearance in the Avengers. By the way, Captain America and Falcon was being written by Englehart.) Mantis, a creation of Englehart and Don Heck, becomes the focus of the Celestial Madonna story in this volume. Towards the end of the run, Hank McCoy (a.k.a the Beast of the X-Men) Joins up, but this is the blue-furred Beast. Hank McCoy had undergone a further mutation in the pages of Amazing Adventures, written by — wait for it! — yes that’s right, it was Steve Englehart. So long story short, you need to be a big fan of Englehart and his epic vision for the Avengers to really appreciate this volume. I first read these stories out of order, as I picked up the back issues to fill out my Avengers collection over the years. Being able to re-read this story in order via the Essential allows me to better appreciate what Englehart did here.

Footnotes: Captain Marvel #33 is also reprinted in Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 2.

Avengers #127 and Fantastic Four #150 are also reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7.

If you like this volume, try: the first series of The Ultimates. Hot on the heels of the successful Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men, Marvel turned to Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch to develop an Ultimate version of the Avengers. Trimming the team down to it’s 1963 roster of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Giant Man, the Wasp, and Captain America, Millar and Hitch created an EPIC spin on the historic narrative. Yes, changes were made to make the group more contemporary – most notable is Nick Fury portrayed as an African-American that happens to look a lot like Samuel L. Jackson, long before that actor was cast in any Marvel Studios role. Conversely, The Ultimates became a template that Marvel Studios could use as they began to shape the Phase One series of movies. This initial series ran for 13 issues, albeit over two years time, and has been collected in numerous trades and hardcover collections. There have been various sequels to spin out of this, but the original story remains the best by far.