Essential Defenders Vol. 1

Essential Defenders Vol. 1

Essential Defenders Vol. 1

First Published: September 2004

Contents: Doctor Strange #183 (November 1969); The Sub-Mariner #22 (February 1970), #34 (February 1971) and #35 (March 1971); The Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970); Marvel Feature #1 (December 1971) to #3 (June 1972); The Defenders #1 (August 1972) to #14 (July 1974); and The Avengers #115 (September 1973) to #118 (December 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Ross Andru, Steve Englehart, Bob Brown, Len Wein, and others

Key First Appearances: Valkyrie, Nebulon

Story Continues In: Essential Defenders Vol. 2

Overview: Doctor Strange! The Hulk! The Sub-Mariner! More than men, these beings border on being forces of nature. Brought together against their wishes, these heroes unite as one to form the first non-team in comics history, the Defenders!

A loose story line drifted across the three titles of the featured characters, all written by Roy Thomas, over a two year period before the trio of characters came together under the Defenders banner in Marvel Feature #1. Following three appearances in Marvel Feature, the Defenders graduated to their bi-monthly title. What made the team unique is that they didn’t necessarily consider themselves as an organized team. The Defenders did not have an organized charter and rules like the Avengers. They did not have matching uniforms like the Fantastic Four. Rather, they happened to be characters who hung our at Doctor Strange’s home and were pulled together at different times to fight foes (mainly magical characters) that threatened the Earth.

The Silver Surfer joined the “team” in issue #2, and is now considered to be one of the core members of the team. Longtime members Valkryie and Nighthawk soon appear, and the regular cast of characters is set for the next few years.

The highlight of this volume is the Avengers/Defenders War, which ran for four months across both titles. This was one of the first major crossovers between two Marvel titles that last more than two or three issues. Hawkeye was hanging out with the Defenders at this time, so it made for a lot of interesting match-ups between the two teams (Captain America vs. Sub-Mariner, Swordsman vs. Valkryie, Iron Man vs. Hawkeye, Vision & Scarlet Witch vs. Silver Surfer, etc.). The format for this storyline became the template for future crossover events for years to come.

What makes this Essential?: For a team that was not officially a team, the Defenders have a long history in the Marvel Universe. Primarily composed of characters best described as “anti-social” or “loners”, the members fought each other as much as they did their foes. There are a lot of times where this title feels more like an extension of the Doctor Strange book, as his villains are the team’s primary foes.

I think if you are a fan of the team or the main characters (especially Doctor Strange), than give this volume a read. If you are coming to this for the Avengers/Defenders crossover, then pick up Essential Avengers Vol. 5 or the Avengers/Defenders War collection.

Footnotes: Doctor Strange #183, The Sub-Mariner #22, The Incredible Hulk #126, and Marvel Feature #1 are also reprinted in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 2.

The Incredible Hulk #126 is also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 3.

The Avengers #115-#118 and The Defenders #8-#11 are also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 5.

Tom Hagen and the Rutland, Vermont, Halloween parade make an appearance in Marvel Feature #2. For more information on Tom Fagan, see Essential Avengers Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: the Defenders series from 2001. Created by Kurt Busiek and Eric Larsen, this series once again reunited the core members of the team under a spell — Yandroth manipulated a spell so that Doctor Strange, the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner, and the Silver Surfer must reunite any time the world is in danger. This volume ran for 12 issues, when it was then renamed The Order, which ran for six issues. These were numbered #1-#6, but they also continued the numbering from The Defenders with #13-#18. This story mixed a lot of humor into the action. Sadly, this volume has not been collected into any trade collections, so you may need to dive into the back-issue bins to track this down.

Showcase Presents The Flash Vol. 1

Showcase Presents The Flash Vol. 1

Showcase Presents The Flash Vol. 1

First Published: March 2007

Contents: Flash Comics #104 (February 1949); Showcase #4 (October 1956), #8 (June 1957), #13 (April 1958), and #14 (June 1958); and The Flash #105 (February-March 1959) to #119 (March 1961)

Key Creator Credits: Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino, Joe Kubert, John Broome, Joe Giella, Frank Giacoia, and Murphy Anderson

Key First Appearances: Barry Allen/Flash, Iris West, Turtle Man, Captain Cold, Mr. Element/Doctor Alchemy, Mirror Master, Solovar, Gorilla Grodd, Gorilla City, Pied Piper, Weather Wizard, Wally West/Kid Flash, Ralph Dibny/Elongated Man, Trickster, Captain Boomerang, Sue Dibny

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents The Flash Vol. 2

Overview: Police scientist Barry Allen leads a pretty slow life. He has a girlfriend, reporter Iris West, but he constantly shows up to their dates late. When working late one night, a freak bolt of lightning strikes the police lab, and Barry Allen finds himself doused in a unique mix of chemicals. As a result, Barry finds that he can run and move at super speed. Barry develops a special suit and borrows the code name from his favorite comic book character, and a new Flash is born. So begins the Silver Age of comics!

In the 19 issues of Showcase and The Flash, we are treated to an incredible development of a character and his supporting cast. We are introduced to Iris’ nephew, Wally West, who happens to be the president of his local chapter of the Flash fan club. In a near duplication of the same unique accident, Wally finds himself covered in the same chemicals, making him the Kid Flash. Another hero is introduced when Julie Schwartz wanted a Plastic Man-type character, so John Broome and Carmine Infantino introduce the Elongated Man, who broke with tradition and embraced his celebrity by not having a secret identity.

More importantly, we meet the core group of villains which would torment Barry (and later Wally) for years to come. The Flash’s Rogues Gallery is just as great as those of Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man, with the majority of them introduced in this very volume.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This is a great volume, and these stories should absolutely be showcased. Barry Allen’s Flash is truly a science fiction hero disguised in a super-hero comic. With his super-speed, he can travel anywhere in the world in a blink of an eye. Heck, he finds he can travel in time and between worlds just by altering his internal vibrations. His scientific knowledge is just as key to solving some cases as is his speed ability.

In addition, from a historical perspective, the debut of the Flash is considered to be the start of the Silver Age of comics. Gardner Fox dipped into the archive by resurrecting a character name, and giving it a new story that would be appealing for the mid-1950s audience. Based on this success, DC would repeat this many times, with the new Silver Age debuts of Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom, and the Justice League of America. (Stan Lee would borrow this trick years later when he introduced a new Human Torch in Fantastic Four #1 in 1961.)

Flash Comics: This volume contains the Golden Age Flash story from Flash Comics #104. Even though the book was Flash Comics, it was an anthology title featuring stories featuring Hawkman, Black Canary, the Atom, Johnny Thunder, and other Golden Age heroes. Issue #104 was the final issue of Flash Comics. When DC decided to give Barry his own title in 1958, they named his book The Flash. The book took over the numbering from the defunct Flash Comics, so the first issue of the ongoing Barry Allen series is #105.

Footnotes: Showcase #4, #8, #13, and #14 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents Showcase Vol. 1.
The Flash #112, #115, and #119 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents Elongated Man Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: Tom Kater’s podcast series, Tom Vs. The Flash. Kater used to run a blog where he would write reviews of the original Justice League of America series. He switched formats midway through the JLA run, going away from the blog and doing the reviews as podcasts. When he finished Tom vs. the JLA podcasts, he then started the Tom vs The Flash podcasts. These podcasts reviewed the early Showcase issues, and then Flash #105 to #350. When he finished Flash, he moved over to Aquaman, and most recently Jimmy Olsen. His podcasts offer brilliantly witty reviews and observations on the comics, pointing out the plot holes and the absurdities of the comics. These podcasts can still be found as free downloads on the iTunes podcast store, so track them down and listen to the podcasts while reading this volume.

Essential Hulk Vol. 3

Essential Hulk Vol. 3

Essential Hulk Vol. 3

First Published: May 2005

Contents: Incredible Hulk #118 (August 1969) to #142 (August 1971); Captain Marvel #20 (June 1970) and #21 (August 1970); and Avengers #88 (May 1971)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe, Stan Lee, Gil Kane, and Harlan Ellison

Key First Appearances: Glob, Barbara Norriss, Jack Norriss, Jim Wilson, Golem, Jarella, Doc Samson

Story Continues From: Essential Hulk Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Hulk Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the smashing adventures of the Hulk. Our misunderstood monster has moved into the 1970s, still hounded by the army but now facing new challenges from friends and foes alike. 

Hulk faces off against his familiar gamma-radiated foes in the Leader and the Abomination. But now he starts branching out to be threatened by the Rhino, the Absorbing Man, Maximus, and the Mole Man – all villains generally associated with other Marvel heroes. Speaking of which, the heroes themselves get matched up against the Hulk, as the Avengers and the Fantastic Four cross paths with the Hulk in an attempt to subdue him. Note the use of the word attempt, because no one stops the Hulk.

This volume shows us a different side of the Hulk as well. He picks up a new sidekick in Jim Wilson, who does his best to help his new jade friend. We also meet Jarella, the princess of a sub-atomic world that is a mix of high-tech and sorcery. Jarella becomes the love of the Hulk’s life, although Bruce Banner still remains true to Betty Ross.

What makes this Essential?: I really enjoyed this volume. Roy Thomas takes over as writer from Stan Lee, and moves the character away from being on the constant run from the army. Instead, we get more match-ups against foes who could test the Hulk’s strength, such as the Thing, Absorbing Man, the Rhino, and others. He is built up as the misunderstood monster who wants nothing more than to be left alone. We meet Jarella for the first time, and see the sensitive side of the Hulk, showing he has other emotions other than anger. This is a great volume to own if you are a fan of the Hulk. For the casual Marvel fan, it’s worth a read, but it may not be essential.

Footnotes: Incredible Hulk #126 is also reprinted in Essential Defenders Vol. 1 and Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 2.

Avengers #88 and Incredible Hulk #140 were also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 4.

Captain Marvel #20 and #21 were also reprinted in Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the 2008 Hulk series by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness.  Following the events of the World War Hulk storyline, the Incredible Hulk title was renamed to the Incredible Hercules and given to the Greek Avenger. The Hulk moved into a new adjective-less title and a new take was presented with the character. A mysterious Red Hulk was introduced, which led to months of speculation as to who that might be. McGuinness’ art is perfect for the Hulk and his supporting cast, and Loeb was having fun with the stories. This has been collected multiple ways, so it should be easy to find.

Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 2

Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 2

Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 2

First Published: March 2005

Contents: Doctor Strange #169 (June 1968) to #178 (March 1969) and #180 (May 1969) to #183 (November 1969), Avengers #61 (February 1969), Sub-Mariner #22 (February 1970), Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970), Marvel Feature #1 (December 1971), and Marvel Premiere #3 (July 1972) to #14 (March 1974).

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Gene Colon, Frank Brunner, Barry Windsor-Smith, Dan Adkins

Key First Appearances: Satannish, the Vishanti, Shuma-Gorath

Story Continues From: Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 3 and Essential Defenders Vol. 1

Overview: Doctor Strange moves into his own title with full-length stories with this second Essential volume. This book can be broken up into three distinct parts:
* Part 1 covers Doctor Strange #169-182 and Avengers #61, with the start of new writer Roy Thomas joined quickly by Gene Colan to tell some breath-taking stories of the Sorcerer Supreme. Colan’s art is incredible in this edition, and jumps off the page with pure energy.
* Part 2 covers Doctor Strange #183, Sub-Mariner #22, Incredible Hulk #126, and Marvel Feature #1, which gives us the origin story of the non-group of heroes known as the Defenders (Doctor Strange, Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Hulk, and the Silver Surfer). To get the full story arc for this, I suggest reading Essential Defenders Vol. 1, as not all parts of the complete origin are contained in this volume.
* Part 3 covers Marvel Premiere #3-14, where once again Doctor Strange is given the chance to be the lead in the book. His run would end in this title with issue #14, but picks up the next month with a new Doctor Strange #1, which can be found in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 3. The highlight of this run is the start of Steve Englehart’s association with Doctor Strange, which would continue on for many years.

What makes this Essential?: For me, the highlight of this book is the Gene Colan art in the first part of the book. I have never been a big fan of the character of Doctor Strange, but I found myself pulled into these stories by the artwork. I don’t know if this volume is truly essential, even if you are a fan of Doctor Strange.

Footnotes: Doctor Strange #169 was the “first” issue of the character’s own title. Prior to this issue, Doctor Strange shared the Strange Tales comic with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Strange Tales came to an end with issues #168. The title was renamed Doctor Strange for #169, keeping the previous numbering, which was the norm for this time.

Avengers #61 was also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 3.

Doctor Strange #179 was not collected in this volume. The issue reprinted Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2, which has been included in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 2.

For Marvel Premiere #11, the cover and the framing sequences are included in this volume. The issue contains reprinted stories from Strange Tales #115 and #117, which were included in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: Superman: The Phantom Zone TPB, which was recently re-released by DC Comics. The main story is written by Steve Gerber with art by Gene Colan (hence the recommendation). This was originally a mini-series from 1982. The paperback is printed on a bright white glossy paper, which accentuates Colan’s art beautifully. The story features the Phantom Zone villains (more famously featured in the Superman motion pictures) escaping to Earth and imprisoning Superman in the zone. He must travel through the different worlds of the Phantom Zone before he is able to escape and return the Kryptonian criminals to their rightful place.

Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 3

Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 3

Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 3

First Published: April 2007

Contents: Superman stories from Action Comics #276 (May 1961) to #292 (September 1962); Superman #146 (July 1961) to #156 (October 1962); original content from Superman Annual #3 (August 1961), #4 (January 1962), and #5 (July 1962)

Key Creator Credits: Otto Binder, Jerry Coleman, Al Pastino, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, Jerry Siegel, Robert Bernstein, Bill Finger, and others

Key First Appearances: Legion of Super-Villains (Cosmic King, Lightning Lord, Saturn Queen)

Story Continues from: Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the world of Superman! Rocketed to Earth as a baby as his home planet died, Kal-El grew to adulthood under the yellow sun, gaining powers and abilities beyond mortal man. Disguised as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, Superman fights for truth, justice, and the American way.

The scope of Superman starts to spread, across the world and across the years. Superman introduces the world to his cousin Kara, who will become Supergirl, a new protector for Earth. From the far future, we get visits from the Legion of Super-Heroes, teenagers with powers who have been inspired to greatness by Superman. The challenges get harder and harder, as Lex Luthor devises more elaborate plots, and Mr. Mxyzptlk builds more mischievous schemes.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Generally, my opinion of Silver Age Superman stories is negative – the tales don’t hold up, the stories are filled with plot holes, and there is no progression with the characters. But this volume goes against the norm. This is a fun Superman volume with a lot of classic stories, such as “The Last Days of Superman!” and “The World’s Greatest Heroine!”. We get a mix of everything in this volume – Superman, the Daily Planet staff, Supergirl, Lori Lemaris, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and more. This is the first time I feel that these Superman stories should be showcased like this, so get it in your library!

Footnotes: Action Comics #285 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 2.
The Legion story in Superman #147 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: All-Star Superman, which has been collected in multiple formats. Written by Grant Morrison with art by Frank Quitely, this 12-issue series is a wonderful homage to the Silver Age adventures of Superman, such as those collected in this volume. In this timeless story, Superman finds that his body is killing him after an over-exposure to the sun. Given a small window left to live, Superman vows to make the most of his remaining time. He grants Lois her greatest wish, he has one last adventure with his pal Jimmy Olsen, and he works with Lex to save the world. This is probably the best Superman story told in the last decade.

Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 1

Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 1

Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 1

First Published: March 2005

Contents: Hero For Hire #1 (June 1972) to #16 (December 1973); Power Man #17 (February 1974) to #27 (October 1975)

Key Creator Credits: Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Steve Englehart, Billy Graham, Len Wein, Tony Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Ron Wilson, and others

Key First Appearances: Luke Cage/Power Man, Noah Burnstein, David “D.W.” Griffith, Claire Temple, Stiletto, Discus, Black Goliath

Story Continues In: Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 2

Overview: Framed for a crime he did not commit, Carl Lucas is sent to Seagate Prison in the deep south. Lucas volunteers for an experiment conducted by the prison doctor, Noah Burnstein. Doused in a mixture of chemicals, Carl Lucas finds himself with steel-hard skin and solid muscles. Lucas makes a prison break and goes on the run to clear his name. Playing around with his name, he takes on the new identity of Luke Cage, and takes on the name to become Power Man, a hero for hire.

Over the course of these stories, Cage sets up shop in Times Square, above a move theater that only shows westerns and run by would-be-filmmaker D.W. Griffith. Dr. Burnstein returns to set up shop in New York City, aided by Dr. Claire Temple, who quickly becomes the girlfriend of Cage. Cage is eventually able to get his record cleared, and becomes a true hero for the people in downtown New York City, provided their money is green.

Fighting a mix of street thugs and one-appearance villains, Cage does get to tangle with Dr. Doom early on in issues #8 and #9, when he is hired to track down some robots. When Doom bails on the payment, Cage travels to Latveria to collect his $200. Sweet Christmas! Another notable event occurred in issue #24, when Dr. Henry Pym’s lab assistant, Dr. Bill Foster, takes a dose of Pym particles and becomes Black Goliath. He would later drop Black from his name, going by just Goliath, and he would appear in and out of costume up until the events of Marvel’s Civil War.

What makes this Essential?: Again, this is a border-line essential book. With an African-American leading his own title, this is an important change for the lily-white look of Marvel Comics to date. The problem I have is that this reads like a comic-book adaption of Shaft and the other blaxploitation features of the early-1970s. Cage is a better character, and I think we should be thankful that the character has grown well past his early origins. As an early study on the character, you could consider giving this a read. However, you might be better skipping ahead to Essential Power Man & Iron Fist Vol. 1, when his partnership with Danny Rand helps offset the over-exaggerated rage of Luke Cage.

Footnotes: Luke Cage is one of the first African American characters to have his own title. The first is attributed to Dell Comics, which published a two-issue western called Lobo in the mid-1960s.

If you like this volume, try: the Milestone Comics properties from the mid-1990s. Released by DC Comics, Milestone was created by African-American artists and writers that felt they were under-represented within the comics industry. Creating an entire new universe of characters based around the fictional city of Dakota, titles in the line included Hardware, Static, Icon, Blood Syndicate, and later Shadow Cabinet and Xombi. Several of the characters have moved into the DC Universe proper, and have been included in comics as well as the Young Justice cartoon series. There are various collections on some of the titles, but you may need to dive into the back issue bins to track down all issues of the various series.

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

First Published: February 2005

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #1 (December 1976) to #31 (June 1979)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Sal Buscema, Archie Goodwin, Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Frank Springer, Frank Miller, and others

Key First Appearances: Lightmaster, Razorback, Hypno-Hustler, Carrion

Story Continues In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

Overview: Following the long-established comic trend of duplicating success, Marvel introduced another Spider-Man title to the newsstands in 1976. Currently featured each month in Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel TalesMarvel Team-Up, and Spidey Super Stories, a new title was added to the list with Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS).

In a column in issue #1, writer Gerry Conway explained that this new title was added to help give more room to feature the supporting cast of characters in Spider-Man’s life. We got longer stories involving Glory Grant, Mary Jane Watson, the White Tiger, and others. This title gave us more access to Peter Parker’s life beyond the red-and-blue costume.

Familiar foes like the Tarantula, the Vulture, Morbius, and Kraven make appearances in this run. But the new foes introduced are a mix of intriguing challenges (such as Lightmaster and Carrion) to downright pop-culture bad guys anchored in the 1970s (such as Razorback and Hypno-Hustler). In addition, a long story arc involving White Tiger and the Sons of the Tiger tie in with the popularity of martial arts at that time.

What makes this Essential?: This is a border-line essential book. Spider-Man was the most popular character at Marvel in the mid 1970s, and would be soon making the jump to television with the live action series, so introducing another title featuring Peter Parker made sense. However, within the first year, there were two fill-in issues, so I wonder how much effort was ongoing to make sure the book shipped on time. Compared to the stories in Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Team-Up at this same time, I feel like these stories are a step below in quality. For the Spider-Man fan, this should be a must read. For the casual Marvel fan, you could skip over this and just concentrate on the Essential Spider-Man line of books.

Footnotes: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #22 and #23 were also reprinted in Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #6 is a reprint issue from Marvel Team-Up #3. A new introduction and final pages were included, and a few panels were reworded. This did lead into the Morbius storyline beginning in issue #7.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #11 appears to be a filler issue that was originally intended for Marvel Team-Up. The issue is written by Chris Claremont, the then current scribe on Marvel Team-Up, and this would be the only issue of PPTSS that Claremont would write. No reference is made in the story to the previous or following issues.

If you like this volume, try: the Complete Frank Miller Spider-Man released in 2002. This collects various issues that Frank Miller drew involving Spider-Man, including Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #27 and #28, which are found in this Essential. There is also a cover gallery of the numerous covers that Miller did involving Spider-Man over the years. This is a great volume to read some classic stories done by one of the modern masters of the comic industry.