Essential Hulk Vol. 5

Essential Hulk Vol. 5

Essential Hulk Vol. 5

First Published: December 20086

Contents: Incredible Hulk #171 (January 1974) to #200 (June 1976); and Incredible Hulk Annual #5 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Tony Isabella, Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Logan/Wolverine, Hammer & Anvil, Gremlin

Story Continues From: Essential Hulk Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Hulk Vol. 6

Overview: (With apologies to Universal TV) Dr. Bruce Banner, scientist, searching for a way to tap into the hidden potentials of gamma energy. Then an accidental overdose of gamma radiation interacts with his unique body chemistry. And now, when Bruce Banner grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs. With that, I welcome you to the fifth volume in the Essential Hulk line. 

This is an interesting volume which can be divided up into three sections. Section 1 would be Incredible Hulk #171 to #179. These are your typical Hulk stories like we saw in the last Essential. There is an interesting story that ran over multiple issues involving the Hulk ending up on the High Evolutionary’s counter-Earth where he meets Adam Warlock. In fact, Warlock dies for the first time in issue #177, and is promptly resurrected in issue #178. It’s hard to keep a good Warlock down, I guess. The final issue of this section features the start of Len Wein’s run as writer on the title, which would last for 3 1/2 years.

Now, Section 2 is just two issues long, #180 and #181. Why just two issues? Well, the Hulk finds himself in Canada, where he goes up against the Wendigo. As if that was not enough for the Hulk to handle, we are introduced to Canada’s Weapon X, also known as the Wolverine! Yep, everyone’s favorite mutant makes his first humble appearance in these pages. Mind you, the Wolverine portrayed here is not as refined as the one we came to know in the pages of Uncanny X-Men and later his self-titled book. But he’s still short and hairy and feisty, and willing to cut anyone or anything with his adamantium claws. Eventually, the Wendigo is defeated, and the two heroes go their separate ways.

Section 3 picks up with issue #182 and runs until the end of the book. The stories here feel much like the stories in Section 1. We do see the end of one era and the start of the next era, both related to the art duties. Herb Trimpe ends his six year run on the title, and is followed by Sal Buscema, who begins what will be a nearly 10 year run on the title. One highlight from this run is the Incredible Hulk Annual #5, which features the Hulk battling six monsters from Marvel’s 1950s Atlas books. In fact, one of the monsters makes his second ever appearance in this book. Some guy named Groot. Wonder what Marvel ever did with that walking tree creature?

What makes this Essential?: I am amazed that Incredible Hulk #180 and #181 (first appearance of Wolverine) did not get reprinted in any other Essentials, such as in Wolverine, Classic X-Men, or X-Men. So for these two issues alone, this volume is ESSENTIAL. Outside of those two issues, the Hulk stories are decent, but not incredible (no pun intended) or memorable. Trimpe’s run on art duties comes to an end, and Sal Buscema takes over for a run that would last nearly ten years. I think a Hulk fan should definitely have this collection on their bookshelf.

Footnotes: Incredible Hulk #176 to #178 are also reprinted in Essential Warlock Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Planet Hulk collection, which collects Greg Pak’s story from 2006 & 2007. The Illuminati (Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Professor Xavier, Black Bolt, and Namor) vote to exile the Hulk to another planet rather than allow him to roam (and damage) the Earth. (This is a very similar approach to the events of Incredible Hulk #300, when Dr. Strange exiled the mindless Hulk to an alternate dimension.) However, the rocket carrying the Hulk goes off track, and lands on a different planet, Sakaar, where gladiators battle in arenas for the amusement of the emperor. The Hulk unites with a band of gladiators, who look out for each other during the fights. The Hulk and his friends eventually escape and then overthrows the Emperor. The Hulk is named the new emperor, and he takes a wife and settles down into his role. However, the rocket that brought him to Sakaar explodes, destroying the capital city and killing the Hulk’s wife. Hulk vows revenge on the Illuminati, and takes his fellow gladiators back to Earth. The only way to fully describe this book is “epic”. This is one of the all-time great Hulk stories, and should be a must-read for all fans.

Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 4

Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 4

Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 4

First Published: September 2008

Contents: Superman stories from Action Comics #293 (October 1962) to #309 (February 1964); and Superman #157 (November 1962) to #166 (January 1964)

Key Creator Credits: Edmond Hamilton, Al Pastino, Curt Swan, George Klein, Jerry Siegel, Leo Dorfman, and others

Key First Appearances: Nightwing, Flamebird

Story Continues from: Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 3

Overview: Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman! Welcome back to the fourth Showcase Presents volume of Superman tales from Superman and Action Comics. The story formulas remain basically the same from previous volumes, but the quality of the stories continues to improve with each collection. 

What stands out in this volume is the innocent story points that are introduced in these issues, but then have ripple effects over the next 50 years of Superman story telling. For example, in Superman #158, our hero and Jimmy Olsen travel to the bottled city of Kandor. The two adopt new costumed identities inside the city, Nightwing and Flamebird. They would adopt those identities, before handing the roles off to two of Superman’s cousins in the pages of Superman Family in the 1970s. (And in the 1980s, as Dick Grayson was growing out of the Robin identity, he would adopt the new costumed identity of Nightwing as a tribute to the role that Superman had in his life growing up. Grayson would use Nightwing as his code name for nearly 30 years.) Likewise, the adventures of Superman Red and Superman Blue, from Superman #162, was revised in the 1990s by Karl Kessel and friends when Superman was split into two separate electrical beings.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: One of my biggest gripes about the Silver Age Superman stories is that there is no order or continuity to the stories. Most of these stories can be read in any order. Sure, you may have characters introduced from time to time, such as Supergirl, but it’s not a distraction if a story does not include the ENTIRE supporting cast. But we finally get a moment in this volume, Superman #161, where things change forever. We experience the death of Ma and Pa Kent, as Clark Kent is once again orphaned. (Yes, although not reprinted here, but the Kents remained quite alive and active in the pages of Superboy, which recounted his teenage adventures.) The death of his adoptive parents forced the creative teams to start changing up the stories. Suddenly, Clark no longer had the excuse of going back to Smallville to see his parents. The orphan angle gets played up on two different levels. Removing these two characters (which lasted until the John Byrne reboot of the Superman franchise following Crisis on Multiple Earths) changed the dynamics for the creators, forcing them to tell NEW stories rather than just rehashing previous stories.

Footnotes: The “Monster From Krypton!” story from Action Comics #303 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: Superman: Secret Identity, which has been collected in multiple formats. Written by Kurt Busiek with art by Stuart Immonen, this four-issue series follows the life of a young man from Kansas, Clark Kent, growing up in a world where the only super-heroes exist in comic books. And yes, he happens to share the name of everyone’s favorite comic book character; his parents thought it would be funny. So all of his life, Clark has to endure every Superman joke ever told. Each year on his birthday, he receives numerous gifts all emblazoned with the Superman logo. Clark just wants to lead a normal, quiet life. Until one day when Clark actually starts developing powers. He finds that he can fly, and that he is now super-strong. Realizing that this may be destiny calling, Clark dons a Superman uniform, and becomes the hero that everyone always expected he would be. This is hands-down one of my all-time favorite Superman stories, and it should be part of every collection. Kurt Busiek has proven multiple times that he is a master storyteller, whether it be his own characters in Astro City, or managing the corporate characters from Marvels to Avengers to Superman: Secret Identity. Please pick up this book – you’ll thank me later!

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

First Published: September 2008

Contents: Man-Thing #15 (March 1975) to #22 (October 1975); Giant-Size Man-Thing #3 (February 1975) to #5 (August 1975); Man-Thing story from Rampaging Hulk #7 (February 1978); Marvel Team-Up #68 (April 1978); Marvel Two-in-One #43 (September 1978); Man-Thing #1 (November 1979) to #11 (July 1981); and Doctor Strange #41 (June 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Jim Mooney, Ed Hannigan, John Byrne, Don Perlin, Michael Fleisher, and others

Key First Appearances: Scavenger, D’Spayre, Sheriff John Daltry

Story Continues From: Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1

Overview: The Man-Thing is back! Still based out his swamp in the Florida Everglades, the spirit of Ted Sallis still propels the monster forward, as he seeks out human emotion. But make sure to feel some happy thoughts. That last thing you want to do is show fear, because whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!

The first half of this book finishes the Steve Gerber run of the character. Picking up where things left off in Volume 1, the Man-Thing trudges from one adventure to the next, befriended along the way by Richard Rory, Jennifer Kale, and Howard the Duck, among others. As with any other of his other work, the reader feels like Gerber is using the comics as a social commentary on the events of the era. (I realize Gerber passed away in 2008, but I do wonder what it would have been like to have seen and interacted with Gerber in today’s social media world. Like it or love it, it would be entertaining regardless!)

Following the end of the Gerber run, the Man-Thing spent some time in character limbo. He made various guest appearances in other Marvel Comics of the time, some of which are collected in this volume. In late 1979, the Man-Thing once again moved back into his own monthly title. It was initially written by Michael Fleisher, but then Chris Claremont took over during a cross-over with Doctor Strange. This volume of Man-Thing feels more like a “super-hero” comic book, and not a social diatribe. A new supporting character is introduced, John Daltry, who is the local sheriff outside the swamp in Florida. Despite the more traditional approach, the title came to an end with issue #11.

And here is an interesting twist to close the book. Man-Thing has had two different series with his name on the masthead, and the final issues for both series are contained in this Essential. In Man-Thing #22 (October 1975), writer Steve Gerber writes himself into the story, going on an adventure with Man-Thing to wrap up as many story threads as possible from the last four years. If you have read other works by Gerber, you know that Gerber has no qualms about including himself in the stories – in particular, see my review for Essential Howard the Duck Vol. 1. Now, let’s jump ahead six years. In Man-Thing #11 (July 1981), writer Chris Claremont writes himself into the story, going on an adventure with Man-Thing to wrap up the story threads from the last two years. While Claremont has “appeared” in comics in the past, this is the only time when he was an active participant in the story. If I’m wrong, I trust one of you out there to correct me!

What makes this Essential?: This may be an unpopular stance, but I don’t believe these issues are essential. In fact, I would suggest that Man-Thing should never be a title character. He’s great in a back-up or supporting role, but he should not be the star of the book. Now hear me out before you get the rope and look for a tall tree branch. He’s a speechless, mindless character. For writers, you need some kind of supporting characters around him in order to advance the story. Richard Rory and John Daltry just did not work for me in that role. For artists, this is a love/hate character. Sure, you don’t have a detailed costume to replicate panel after panel, but you still have to detail the bulky character with his key facial features. So bottom line, I really believe Man-Thing is best used as a supporting character. His appearances in Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-in-One are the highlights of this book for me. 

Footnotes: Marvel Team-Up #68 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3.

Marvel Two-in-One #43 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2.

Man-Thing #4 and Doctor Strange #41 are also reprinted in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: diving into the back issue bins to find the first 12 issues of Marvel Comics Presents. This was a new anthology title that launched in 1988 as a bi-weekly book. Story arcs would carry over from one issue to the next, and when a story finished, a new character would start a different story in the next issue. Over the first 12 issues, Steve Gerber and Tom Sutton did a Man-Thing story titled Elements of Terror. This has never been collected, so you need to find the back issues. Gerber is back with another Gerber-esque story arc, which touches on the Iran-Contra affair (with the government trying to arm rebels in Doctor Doom’s Latvia), Satanism, and whatever other thoughts happened to be dominating Steve’s mind at the time. Gerber is definitely a unique voice in the world of comics, one that you either get & appreciate, or one that you avoid. It’s taken awhile, but I have grown to enjoy the Gerber stories through readings of his work on Man-Thing, Defenders, and Howard the Duck.

Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Vol. 1

Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Vol. 1

Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Vol. 1

First Published: August 2008

Contents: The House of Secrets #81 (August-September 1969) to #98 (June-July 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Sergio Aragonés, Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Alex Toth, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Dick Dillin, Michael William Kaluta, Gray Morrow, and others

Key First Appearances: Swamp Thing

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Vol. 2

Overview: Do you dare enter the House of Secrets? It’s a strange house, filled with locked rooms, dusty corridors, a musty basement, and a mysterious attic. It also inspires a lot of stories of ghosts, demons, and witches.

Not to sound like I am repeating myself here, but the origins of this title are the same as The House of Mystery. In 1968, industry veteran Joe Orlando was brought in from EC Comics to take over the editor duties of numerous books at DC, including the horror line. The content took a darker tone, as Orlando introduced the EC-story style which was pushing the boundaries of the Comics Code Authority. The House of Secrets was revived as a title to serve alongside of The House of Mystery.

The comic is hosted by Abel, the caretaker of the house, who introduces a lot of the stories and talks to his imaginary friend Goldie. (Abel’s brother Cain was the host for The House of Mystery.) The stories range from 4-12 pages, so each issue has 4-5 features each month. There is no continuity between the stories, so these can be read in any order.

The highlight of this book is issue #92 (July 1971), in which the Swamp Thing makes his first appearance in comics. This Swamp Thing is Alex Olsen; the more recognizable Alec Holland Swamp Thing would debut in 1972  in Swamp Thing #1.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: For these anthology titles, it’s hard to strongly recommend or strongly downplay this collection. Given the wide variety of stories, there is probably something in this volume that a reader will really enjoy, and something in this volume that will bore a reader. It’s worth a look given the incredible talents working on this book. I don’t know that this is a must-own volume, but I don’t think you will be disappointed if you do own it.

Cover Girl: The cover to The House of Secrets #92 is used for the cover of this Showcase Presents. The cover by Bernie Wrightson shows the Swamp Thing approaching a young woman. That young woman was modeled by Louise Jones, who would later become the popular Marvel writer and editor Louise Simonson.

Footnotes: The House of Secrets was not always a home just for horror tales. In the issues prior to those collected in this Showcase Presents edition, The House of Secrets was an anthology title, including a long run of Eclipso stories from issue #61 to #80 (reprinted in Showcase Presents Eclipso Vol. 1). The House of Secrets was cancelled with issue #80 in 1966, but was revived three years later, keeping the same issue numbering, as a horror title.

“The Day After Doomsday…” stories from The House of Secrets #86, #95, and #97 were also reprinted in Showcase Presents The Great Disaster Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: researching the career of artist Alex Toth, who has some stories collected in this Showcase Presents. Toth is a legendary artist from the Golden and Silver Age of comics, but is perhaps more recognized for his work done with tv animation. Toth was involved in the creation of Space Ghost, the Herculoids, Birdman, and even Super Friends. His comic career spanned multiple decades, which included stops at DC, Marvel, Dell, Gold Key, Standard, and Warren Publishing. While Toth did do some super hero stories, the bulk of his comic book resume was spent working on horror, romance, war and other genres which interested him. Although Toth passed away in 2006, his art still lives on. IDW has been publishing a series of books (Genius, Isolated in 2011; Genius, Illustrated in 2013; and Genius, Animated in 2014) showcasing the legacy of Alex Toth. 

Essential Conan Vol. 1

Essential Conan Vol. 1

Essential Conan Vol. 1

First Published: July 2000

Contents: Conan the Barbarian #1 (October 1970) to #25 (April 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Robert E. Howard, Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith, and others

Key First Appearances: Conan the Barbarian, Fafnir Hellhand, Thoth-Amon, Kulan Gath, Elric, Red Sonja

Overview: Meet Conan, a sword-for-hire from the land of Cimmeria. He wanders the southern lands looking for the next job or quest, which will pay him gold, which he uses to pay for alcohol and women. When times are tough, Conan is not against resorting to thievery to survive. But given his skills with a sword, he vary rarely is looking for work – the work comes to him.

Most of these stories are based off of Conan-creator Robert E. Howard’s original tales from the 1930s, and are adapted by Roy Thomas. The art duties were given to a relatively young artist, Barry Smith, who shot to fame based on this work. After two years on the title, Smith left the book, with the art being handed off to John Buscema. Smith would take a break from comics, trying to put himself into the fine art world. (It was at this point that he added Windsor to his name.) Windsor-Smith would eventually return to comics in the 1980s.

In the issues collected in this volume, there are two additional characters that stand out to me from their initial debut:

  • Kulan Gath was a magician who crossed paths with Conan. Because he was created by Marvel, and did not come from the work of Robert E. Howard, Kulan Gath was incorporated into the Marvel Universe. I first encountered Kulan Gath when he battled Spider-Man and the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men #189 to #191, which can be found in Essential X-Men Vol. 5.
  • Red Sonja was created based off of a Howard character, Red Sonya. Red Sonja quickly became the female counterpart to Conan, one who could stand on her own against the Barbarian. Red Sonja would later move into her own title, and eventually even be featured in a movie. While the Conan rights are currently held by Dark Horse Comics, the Red Sonja rights are held by Dynamite Entertainment. (And to make things even more confusing, a version of Kulan Gath has appeared in the current Red Sonja title.)

What makes this Essential?: OK, full disclosure, I am not a big fan of the sword & sorcery stories. Never. I remember a next door neighbor of mine growing up was a huge fan of the Conan comics and the Elric novels by Michael Moorcock. Steve was always trying to get me to read them, but I would politely decline and ask if I could read some more of his Iron Man and Avengers issues. Maybe I should have tried them back then, or maybe I was better off sticking to what I knew and liked then. Reading through this very-hard-to-find Essential (check out the Dark Horse Comics Chronicles of Conan reprint books if you can’t track down this Marvel book!), I enjoyed the art from Barry Smith, as he went by in those days. I know that a lot of these stories came over from the Marvel black & white magazines of the time (edited to hide the nudity, naturally), so their inclusion in the Essential series makes them look spectacular. I haven’t read the original stories from Robert E. Howard which Roy Thomas used quite faithfully to develop this book, but it’s my understanding he did well with the adaption. I think what makes this “Essential” is that the comic book look of Conan came to be the definitive look of the character going forward. Prior to the comics, the cover images from Howard’s Conan collection show a more fully clothed man holding a sword with short hair. The comic book look of Conan helped inspire the movie franchise of the 1980s. Anyway, this is worth reading for a Conan fan, and from a historical perspective. But for me, I would rather get back to reading about heroes in capes.

Footnotes: Conan the Barbarian #22 is a reprint of Conan the Barbarian #1. The cover to issue #22 is included in this volume.

If you like this volume, try: the 2013 Red Sonja series from Dynamite Entertainment. I recommend this solely on the basis that Gail Simone is writing it. A lot of people will say that Simone is the best female writer in comics. Other people will say that Simone is the best writer of female characters in comics. Personally, I say Simone is one of the best writers period. Do not define her by her gender. No one cites Kurt Busiek as one of the best male writers in comics, or recognizes Chris Claremont as one of the best writers of male characters in comics. Anyway, back to Red Sonja. This is a fun, adventurous romp featuring the early adventures of the She-Devil with a Sword. If you are a fan of good comics, you need to be reading this title.

Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 2

Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 2

Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 2

First Published: August 2008

Contents: Hawkman #12 (February-March 1966) to #27 (August-September 1968); The Brave and the Bold #70 (February-March 1967); The Atom #31 (June-July 1967); and The Atom and Hawkman #39 (October-November 1968) to #45 (October-November 1969)

Key Creator Credits: Gardner Fox, Murphy Anderson, Dick Dillin, Bob Haney, Joe Kubert, Robert Kanigher, and others

Key First Appearances: Lion-Mane

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 1 and Showcase Presents The Atom Vol. 2

Overview: Welcome back to the ongoing adventures of Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Police officers Katar and Shayera Hol have travelled from Thanagar to make Earth their adoptive home. Posing as Carter and Shiera Hall, archeologists and curators at the Midway City Museum, our feathered heroes work to catch criminals and solve mysteries using a mix of extraterrestrial science and ancient Earth weapons.

Hawkman remains an interesting nexus point within the DC universe. As a Thanagarian, he is the ideal character to interact with Adam Strange, a man of two worlds (Earth and Rann). As a character written by Gardner Fox, it was natural for Hawkman to team up with the Atom, another Fox creation. As a member of the Justice League, there was no question that Hawkman would be crossing paths with Batman in the pages of The Brave and the Bold.

The foes of Hawkman remain somewhat weak in this collection. Seriously, how many people have even heard of Lion-Mane before? A highlight of this collection is Hawkman coming face-to-face with the Gentleman Ghost, a one-time foe of the Earth-2 Hawkman. Robert Kanigher, with Joe Kubert, created the Gentlemen Ghost for the Hawkman story in Flash Comics #88 (October 1947). Twenty-two years later, Kanigher once again found himself writing a Hawkman story and brought back the Ghost.

In 1968, the Hawkman title came to an end with issue #27, but his stories were not done yet. Hawkman took his adventures to the Atom’s book the following issue, as The Atom was renamed The Atom and Hawkman with issue #39. This combined title ran for seven issues (on a bi-monthly publishing schedule). Three of the issues featured the two characters teaming up together in one story, while four of the issues featured each character in his own solo story.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Well, on the plus side, I believe this is a better read than Volume 1. With that said, I still found this volume disappointing. The highlights of this collection are the issues where he teams up with other heroes, such as Batman, Atom, and Adam Strange. The problem is this is still a book featuring a solo character (no disrespect meant to Hawkgirl). If the solo stories are not entertaining, it’s hard to get through some of these issues. A lot of these tales feel very repetitive, such as an alien on the run from law enforcement and hiding on Earth, or an archeological dig uncovering a dormant creature. I want this to be so much better than it is! Read this is you are a Hawkman fan, or if you like Murphy Anderson’s art.

Footnotes: The Brave and the Bold #70 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 1.

The Atom #31 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents The Atom Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: the Geoff Johns Hawkman omnibus, which collects the writer’s two-year run with the character from 2002-2004. In 2001, Johns brought back Hawkman from character limbo in the pages of JSA, doing his best to untangle the complicated history of the character over the last 20 years. That immediately prompted DC to green-light a new ongoing book. In this new series, Hawkman and Hawkgirl are reincarnated spirits dating back to ancient Egypt. The new Hawkman returns, and immediately proclaims his undying love for Hawkgirl. However, this Hawkgirl is Kendra Saunders, a great niece to Sheira Hall, the original Hawkgirl. Kendra has the memories from Sheira, but she does not have the feelings for Carter Hall. Hawkman and Hawkgirl develop a working partnership, which presents a different dynamic than what we have seen previously between these characters. The omnibus contains all of the Geoff Johns’ stories, which ran through issue #25. This volume of the Hawkman series ran for 49 issues, then changed direction and was renamed Hawkgirl with issue #50. The Hawkgirl title ran for another year, before ending with issue #66.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

First Published: July 2008

Contents: Fantastic Four #138 (September 1973) to #159 (June 1975); Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 (May 1974); Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2 (August 1974) to #4 (February 1975); and Avengers #127 (September 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Ross Andru, Joe Sinnott, and others

Key First Appearances: Darkoth, Mahkizmo,  Jamie Madrox/Multiple Man,

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8

Overview: We are moving into the mid-1970s with the Fantastic Four. Not that things are ever normal around the Baxter Building, but there seems to be a set formula for most of these comics. We have the famous foursome of Marvel, with Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Medusa. Wait, what, Medusa? Don’t you mean Sue? Yeah, this is the Fantastic Four of the mid-1970s. Sit back and enjoy the ride in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7.

For starters, Sue is still caring for the youngest member of the family, Franklin Richards. There are times during this run where Sue goes multiple issues between appearances. Thankfully, Medusa of the Inhumans has stepped in to help the group live up to their team name. And speaking of the Inhumans, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers are invited to Attilan for the marriage ceremony between Quicksilver (former Avenger) and Crystal (former FF member and sister of Medusa). Sadly, there are very few Marvel weddings that go off without a hitch, and this momentous event is crashed by Ultron.

The other issues feel like echoes of the past. John Buscema and Rich Buckler both seem to embrace the Kirby style for the book, in terms of layout and characters. The writers give us a healthy does of familiar foes, such as the Hulk, Doctor Doom and the Frightful Four. And Thundra still shows up trying to convince Ben Grimm that they would make beautiful children together.

The highlight of the volume comes toward the end, with the final Giant-Size Fantastic Four, #4, in this collection. In a story co-written by Len Wein and Chris Claremont, Jamie Madrox, a.k.a. the Multiple Man, makes his debut. Madrox is a mutant who is able to create duplicates of himself when he is hit. The Fantastic Four was finally able to stop Madrox with the help of Professor Xavier from the X-Men. This FF comic came out right at the end of the reprint run in the X-Men book, and just three months ahead of Giant-Size X-Men #1 hitting the shelves. Wein would handle the re-introduction of the X-Men, before handing off the reins to Claremont, who would oversee the mutants for more than 15 years.

What makes this Essential?: I don’t want this to read as a negative judgment on the Fantastic Four. I have been a big fan of Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben for many years. There are times when you have the right creators on the book (Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, or John Byrne comes to mind) and this is the greatest comic in the world. There are a lot of other times when you have creators on the book whose goal appears just to get a comic out each month. That’s exactly what I feel when reading most of these issues. The writers seem to have troubles scripting Sue, relegating her to motherhood and off of the main team, replaced by Medusa in most issues. There are very few new characters created during this run, as listed above, relying instead on retreading the same familiar characters from the Lee-Kirby years. Even as a die-hard FF fan, I don’t know that I would suggest other fans to grab this collection.

Footnotes: Avengers #127 and Fantastic Four #150 are also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 6.

Fantastic Four #154 is a reprint issue, with a new framing sequence. The story was originally published in Strange Tales #127, which was reprinted in Essential Human Torch Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the 2014 Fantastic Four series from James Robinson and Leonard Kirk. This series will be coming to an end in a few weeks, due more to senior editorial decisions than sales figures or story arcs. But there is still time to get caught up and finish the final story (for the foreseeable future) of Marvel’s first family. Robinson shakes things up, placing the team in red uniforms and breaking apart the group. (On a side note, if you were to read some of the actual comics collected in this Essential, you would see Johnny Storm sporting a red version of the classic Fantastic Four uniform. So take that everyone that complained about Robinson messing with the uniforms.) With the team splintered, the individual members find themselves slowly brought back together, as they find that their recent set-backs, as well as other moments from their past, have all been influenced by one person. Robinson is a master storyteller, and this has turned out to be a great run. This is one I look forward to re-reading in one sitting when the final issue comes out later this spring.