Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2

Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2

Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2

First Published: May 2006

Contents: The X-Men #25 (October 1966) to #53 (February 1969); and Avengers #53 (June 1968)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, Gary Friedrich, Arnold Drake, Don Heck, George Tuska, Jim Steranko, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Sean Cassidy/Banshee, Cobalt Man, Candy Southern, Changeling, Frankenstein’s Monster, Grotesk, William Drake, Madeline Drake, Mesmero, Norton McCoy, Edna McCoy, Lorna Dane/Polaris

Story Continues From: Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. With a small enrollment, headmaster Charles Xavier is able to focus and help each student develop to the fullest extent of their abilities. Mutant abilities, that is! As all of the students are members of the X-Men, mutants working to build a world that homo-sapiens and homo-superior can live side-by-side.

In this volume, we get the first new member to join the team, as Mimic comes on board. However, he left quickly after fighting with Cyclops, and losing his ability to mimic others’ abilities during a fight with the Super-Adaptoid. At this same time, future X-Man Banshee is introduced as a foe, but soon becomes a loyal friend to the X-Men. At the end of this volume, we do meet Lorna Dane, but more of her story will unfold in Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3.

Now, over the years, many people have claimed that Charles Xavier can be an ass. A story arc in this volume would be Example #1. During a battle with Grotesk, the X-Men believe that Xavier has been killed. The students bury their mentor, and figure out how they will function going forward. Out of nowhere, Xavier returns alive and well. Turns out he had been hiding in a secret basement at the mansion, so he could mentally prepare to stop an alien attack. Xavier hired the reformed criminal known as Changeling to impersonate him, giving him some of his mental powers. So it was the Xavier-impersonator that died in battle with Grotesk. Trust me, this is just the first of a long list of Xavier’s foibles.

Towards the end of these issues collected, a new format was introduced into the books. The stories would run around 15 pages, and then there would be a 5 page back-up which slowly revealed the origins of the original X-Men. In this volume, we get the origins for Cyclops, Iceman, and Beast.

What makes this Essential?: I actually feel that these stories are better than those found in Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1. While I do not want to besmirch the work of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, I don’t believe the X-Men were ever their top priority. I think when writer Roy Thomas comes onboard, he is able to put his full effort into the stories, and we see the characters start to develop, becoming individuals with unique costumes and not just chess pieces controlled by Xavier. I almost think the casual X-Men fan would be better off starting with this volume first before ever reading Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1.

Footnotes: X-Men #45 and Avengers #53 are also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: Marvel Visionaries: Roy Thomas, which collects assorted issues from Thomas’ legendary career at Marvel. In the early 1960s, Stan Lee realized he needed help and hired Thomas to come in as an assistant. He was quickly promoted to writer, and one-by-one, Thomas would scribe the adventures of nearly every significant Marvel title at some point in the 1960s and 1970s. By my count, he has stories reprinted in over 35 Marvel Essentials (plus 2 DC Showcase Presents). The stories collected here give the reader some of the many highlights from Thomas’ resume – The Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, the Invaders, Dr. Strange, and Dracula.

Essential X-Men Vol. 7

Essential X-Men Vol. 7

Essential X-Men Vol. 7

First Published: April 2006

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #214 (February 1987) to #228 (April 1988); Uncanny X-Men Annual #10 (1986) and #11 (1987); and Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men #1 (February 1987) to #4 (June 1987)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Barry Windsor-Smith, Alan Davis, Arthur Adams, Jackson Guice, Marc Silvestri, and others

Key First Appearances: Crimson Commando, Stonewall, Super Sabre, Mr. Sinister

Story Continues from: Essential X-Men Vol. 6

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 8

Overview: After the events contained in the last Essential X-Men, you have to wonder where the X-Men can go from here. The Mutant Massacre have left the X-Men at half-strength, with Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Shadowcat severely injured. Magneto is overseeing the New Mutants, and the X-Men team is down to the still-powerless Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, and Psylocke.

First up is to build up the ranks of the team. During a battle in the Mojo Universe that involved the X-Babies, Longshot returned with the team to Earth and became a member of the team. On a chance encounter, the X-Men extend an offer to Dazzler, the mutant with light powers that was first introduced prior to the Dark Phoenix Saga. Next up is Havok, the younger brother of Cyclops that once did time with the X-Men in the 1960s. He rejoins the team, as the world has become dangerous to all mutants with the Marauders on the loose. During this time, Havok’s former sister-in-law, Madeline Pryor, starts hanging out with the X-Men, leading to some awkward interactions when they cross paths with X-Factor.

While a lot of these stories are are one or two-parters, the overarching storyline is building to a confrontation in Dallas, known as the Fall of the Mutants. This event also crossed over with X-Factor (see Essential X-Factor Vol. 2) and New Mutants, but each title had it’s own story thread under the Fall of the Mutants banner. Storm has travelled to Dallas to find Forge, and force him to find a way to return her powers to her. The X-Men follow, and encounter Freedom Force, led by Mystique and comprised of the former members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Storm and Forge are battling the Adversary, a foe that has been tormenting Forge for years. The only way to stop the Adversary is by the X-Men sacrificing themselves, which they reluctantly do if it will save the Earth.

However, the sorceress Roma, who had been saved by the X-Men during this battle, saves the souls of the X-Men and gives them the chance to live again. They are still considered dead, because they could put their loved ones in danger if it was known that the X-Men were still alive. As a side effect from saving them, the X-Men find out that their images cannot be recorded by electronic devices, keeping them hidden from most of the world. The volume ends as the world mourns the loss of the X-Men, and the X-Men prepare for a new direction for the team.

What makes this Essential?: I find it a challenge to review some of these volumes that collect issues that I originally collected off of the newsstand spinner rack. Truth be told, I think I actually had a mail subscription to Uncanny X-Men in this era. When I was reading this month-to-month, in a world without the Internet and spoilers, we were on the edge each month wondering where Chris Claremont and friends would take the mutants in the next issue. Twenty-five years later, reading them all in a row in a short-time period, I really start to appreciate the grand vision that Claremont was laying out for us. This is a good volume for the X-Men fan. However, if you want to read the full Fall of the Mutants storyline, you need to pick up the Omnibus that collected all of that storyline.

If you like this volume, try: the The X-Men vs. The Avengers mini-series from 1987, 25 years before the AvX nonsense of 2012. Released around the same time as the Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men mini-series, it was not included in this volume. The story takes place shortly after the events of Uncanny X-Men #200, when Magneto is brought to the World Court to be held accountable for his actions in Uncanny X-Men #150. The Russians are still upset with Magneto for his actions, and send the Soviet Super-Soldiers after him. At the same time, the Avengers are called on to stop a pair of asteroids falling towards Earth. They discover that one of the asteroids is Magneto’s former headquarters, so it is time to pay a visit to the X-Men. As with any of these meet-ups, a confrontation ensues pitting the teams against each other. The original plot by Roger Stern called for Magneto to resume his evil ways in the final issue, but Marvel editorial stepped in, wanting to let the Magneto story play out in the pages of Uncanny X-Men under Chris Claremont. That may help explain why Jim Shooter gets a writing credit for #4. This has been collected a couple of times, most recently as a premiere edition in 2010.

Showcase Presents Metamorpho Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Metamorpho Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Metamorpho Vol. 1

First Published: October 2005

Contents: The Brave and the Bold #57 (December 1964-January 1965), #58 (February-March 1965), #66 (June-July 1966), and #68 (October-November 1966); Metamorpho #1 (July-August 1965) to #17 (March-April 1968); and Justice League of America #42 (February1966)

Key Creator Credits: Bob Haney, Ramona Fradon, Charles Paris, Joe Orlando, Sal Trapani, and others

Key First Appearances: Rex Mason/Metamorpho, Sapphire Stagg, Simon Stagg, Java, Urania Blackwell/Element Girl

Overview: Soldier of fortune Rex Mason will go anywhere and risk his life for the right price. Millionaire Simon Stagg has not only the money to hire Mason, but he also has the beautiful daughter Sapphire, who is deeply in love with Rex. Add in Simon’s aide Java, an unearthed caveman whose origin is never explored, and we have the makings of a cast for a new book.

Rex Mason and Java have been sent to find the Orb of Ra in a hidden pyramid along the upper Nile. Mason finds the Orb, but is exposed to a deadly dose of radiation. Rex survives, but finds that his body has been changed. Initially, Rex can change his body into any element found in the human body. (Over time, that rule has been relaxed, allowing Rex to change into any element.) With near invulnerability, Rex Mason becomes the reluctant hero known as Metamorpho, the Element Man.

While waiting for Simon Stagg to find a way to change Rex back into a normal man, Metamorpho serves the world as a super-hero, fighting the oddball menace of the month. At one point, he encounters Urania Blackwell, who has been similarly affected by the Orb of Ra, turning her into Element Girl. She starts out as a foe, becomes a sidekick of sorts, and then fades away into the comic book character limbo until she receives her final story in the pages of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.

Along the way, Metamorpho crosses paths with other heroes in the DC Universe, such as the Metal Men and Batman. He is offered membership in the Justice League, but turns them down. becoming the league’s first standby member.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Following his success with the Metal Men and the Doom Patrol, Bob Haney was tasked with developing another hero for DC. Borrowing pieces from each of those teams, Haney and Ramona Fradon created Metamorpho. While the stories remain firmly rooted in the 1960s, the character and, more importantly, the possibilities of the character are very intriguing. In many ways, Metamorpho feels like a Marvel character stuck in the DC Universe. Rex is an interesting character, and you should give this collection a look.

Footnotes: The Brave and the Bold #66 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Metal Men Vol. 2.

The Brave and the Bold #68 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 1.

Justice League of America #42 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 3.

Metamorpho #17 promises a next issue, but the series was cancelled there midway through a four-part story. Bob Haney had the chance to finish the story in a back-up feature in Action Comics #413 (June 1972) and #414 (July 1972).

If you like this volume, try: Metamorpho: Year One from 2007. Created by Dan Jurgens, Mike Norton, and Jesse Delperdang, this six-issue mini-series (and available as a trade paperback) gave a modern spin on everyone’s favorite element man. Serving as host of a TV reality show, “Treasure Hunt”, Rex Mason travels the world for fame and fortune, and to hopefully one day win the heart of Sapphire Stagg. But digging through a hidden pyramid, Rex stumbles upon the Orb of Ra, and is once again transformed into Metamorpho. Can he find a cure to turn him back into a normal man? Jurgens has been an unsung hero at DC for over 20 years now, and does not get enough credit for his stories. This is a fun modern-day look at a classic DC superhero.

Essential Wolverine Vol. 3

Essential Wolverine Vol. 3

Essential Wolverine Vol. 3

First Published: June 1998

Contents: Wolverine #48 (November 1991) to #69 (May 1993)

Key Creator Credits: Larry Hama, Marc Silvestri, Mark Texeira, and others

Key First Appearances: Team X, Mastodon, John Wraith, Psi-Borg

Story Continues From: Essential Wolverine Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Wolverine Vol. 4

Overview: Pop open a cold brewski, light a cigar, and sit back to enjoy the latest collection of Wolverine stories from the early 1990s. But drink and smoke in moderation, because I’m willing to bet you do not have a mutant healing factor to offset the vices.

Kicking off this volume, Wolverine enlists the X-Men’s help as he struggles to put the pieces together of his mysterious past. Following the events of Weapon X, Wolverine encounters former members of Team X, as he realized that he was not the only person who was experimented on.

Next up is a time-traveling adventure that brings Logan and Mystique together to stop Mojo. Parts of this story will remain a mystery until it is revisited by Larry Hama later on in his run, which will be collected in Essential Wolverine Vol. 4.

Wolverine finds himself going to Japan to bail out Jubilee. This leads to an encounter with his beloved Mariko, whose life comes to a tragic end during a battle with the Hand. The loss of Mariko sends Wolverine spiraling downward in a depression trying to deal with her death.

Strangely, this volume ends with issue #69, which started a three-issue story involving Rogue and Sauron in the Savage Land. If you were only reading Wolverine by Essential volumes, you were forced to wait eight years to read the conclusion of that story (see Footnotes).

What makes this Essential?: This is an interesting collection, as the comics cover all the variations of the typical Wolverine tale - stories involving the X-Men; time-travel stories; Wolverine in Japan; fights with Sabertooth; and the occasional filler issue featuring the rising star character, such as Shatterstar. So this is a good example of a lot of the different stories that can be told with Logan. My concern with this volume, as with the previous Essential, is that most of these stories are not memorable. I struggle to write a review for this, as I am not recalling these stories. This is a case where the character justifies the volume, but not necessarily the stories contained within the Essential. 

Footnotes: Once again, the cover spells Silvestri’s first name with a K (Mark), but it should be spelled with a C (Marc).

Because of the number of double-page spreads, the covers to some stories appear at the end of the story to minimize the number of blank pages in the book. Unfortunately, this meant some issues ended and the next started up without the reader noticing until the next set of issue credits comes up. For example, with the final four issues in this volume, it runs: Cover to #66, Issue #66; Issue #67; Cover to #67; Issue #68; Cover to #68; Cover to #69; and Issue #69.

Essential Wolverine Vol. 3 was released in June of 1998, but Essential Wolverine Vol. 4 was not released until May of 2006. During the long gap, Marvel reprinted Volumes 1-3 multiple times, as the cover format was updated in the early 2000s.

If you like this volume, try: the Weapon X story, if you have not read it already. And shame on you if you haven’t read this! The story originally ran in Marvel Comics Presents as a 13-part story. It has been collected multiple times in multiple formats, so it should not be hard to find. Written and exquisitely drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith, we finally learn how Logan received the adamantium in his skeleton. As many questions as this story answered, it also introduced even more questions into the back story of Wolverine. The initial story arc in this Essential serves as a sequel to the Weapon X story, as Wolverine meets up with other participants from the Weapon X complex.

Essential Nova Vol. 1

Essential Nova Vol. 1

Essential Nova Vol. 1

First Published: March 2006

Contents: Nova #1 (September 1976) to #25 (May 1979); Amazing Spider-Man #171 (August 1977); and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #3 (1978)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino, Gene Colan, Ross Andru, and others

Key First Appearances: Richard Rider/Nova, Charles Rider, Gloria Rider, Robert Rider, Ginger Jaye, Bernie Dillon, Caps Cooper, Condor, Powerhouse, Diamondhead, Corruptor, Sphinx, Blackout

Story Continues In: Sadly, Nova ended with issue #25 with plenty of plot threads unanswered. Many of those were resolved in the pages of Fantastic Four #206 to #214 and in ROM #24.

Overview:  Meet Rhomann Dey, a dying member of the Nova Corps, a police force from the planet Xander. Piloting his spaceship to Earth, Dey is pursued by the villainous Zorr the Conqueror. Knowing that he has little time left, Dey scans Earth to find a replacement to transfer his powers. So, meet Richard Rider, just your average teen-ager in the outskirts of New York City. Trying to enjoy an ice cream sundae with his girlfriend Ginger, Rider is struck by an energy beam from space. Rider wakes up later in the hospital to discover he can shoot energy beams from his eyes and now has incredible intelligence. When he concentrates, his outfit changes to the costume of the Nova Corps, complete with the bucket helmet. So what do you do when you’ve been given powers from an alien? You become Nova, America’s newest teenage super-hero.

Now, every good super-hero needs a rogue’s gallery, and Nova finds himself trading blows with the likes of Powerhouse, Condor, Diamondhead, the Corruptor, and the Sphinx. He even crossed paths with long-standing villains, such as the Sandman and the Yellow Claw. Throw in a crossover with everyone’s favorite web-slinging hero, and the newest member of the Marvel universe is set.

What makes this Essential?: Nova is an interesting character, first conceived by Wolfman and Wein in the mid-1960s. Finally seeing publication in the mid-1970s, the character of Nova was tweaked to be a new version of Spider-Man: a teenage super-hero in the suburbs of New York with an alliterative name (Peter Parker, meet Richard Rider). Given his own set of re-occurring villains, Nova had to juggle the demands on his time – completely homework, hiding his dual identity from his family, and saving the world at least once a week. And yes, his origin does owe a tip of the hat to the Silver Age Green Lantern.

Like many other titles that debuted in this era, Nova may not have been the commercial success out of the gate like Amazing Spider-Man was a decade earlier, but the character did connect with a fan base. As some of those members of the fan base entered the comic book industry, they brought back into focus the characters they grew up with, leading to the Nova revival in the 1990s and 2000s.

So, the stories in this volume are adequate. A lot of them do feel like a rehash of the Lee-Ditko Amazing Spider-Man issues of years past. What makes this Essential, and why it should be read, is the legacy it built for the next generation of comic book creators and readers.

Footnotes: Nova #12 and Amazing Spider-Man #171 were also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 8.

Marvel Two-in-One Annual #3 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: the new Nova series by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. Based on the Nova character introduced in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, Sam Alexander is a young teenager growing up in Carefree, Arizona. His father has been missing for years; maybe he was out on another drunken binge, or maybe he was serving in the galactic Nova Corps. Sam’s life is turned upside down when he receives a visit from Rocket and Gamora from the Guardians of the Galaxy, offering Sam his dad’s Nova Corps helmet. Suddenly, Sam is a teenage super=hero. This is a fun book that works for all ages. I have been reading this book to my kids each month, and my son is a big “Buckethead” fan. This has been collected in nardcover and trade paperback, making it easily accessible however you choose to read it.

Showcase Presents Wonder Woman Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Wonder Woman Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Wonder Woman Vol. 1

First Published: August 2007

Contents: Wonder Woman #98 (May 1958) to #117 (October 1960)

Key Creator Credits: Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, and Mike Esposito

Key First Appearances: Wonder Woman/Diana Prince, Hippolyta, Steve Trevor (see Footnotes)

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Wonder Woman Vol. 2

Overview: Meet Wonder Woman - beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, as strong as Hercules, and as swift as Hermes. Sent to “Man’s World”, the Amazon princess disguises herself as Lt. Diana Prince of Military Intelligence, where she often finds out about global menaces needing her help. Add in Col. Steve Trevor, who is oblivious of Diana Prince’s dual identity. He proposes to Wonder Woman every chance he gets, only to be rejected every time. Wonder Woman cannot give her heart to one man while there is still a need for her services.

The stories in this volume are one-and-done stories, with little to no continuity between issues. She fights aliens from space; giant undersea creatures; and robot duplicates of herself. Some stories focus on Diana’s adventures when she was a child, conveniently known as Wonder Girl back then. Later stories will add in Wonder Tot as well, creating all kinds of headaches when Bob Haney decides to add Wonder Girl to the Teen Titans – see Showcase Presents Teen Titans Vol. 1 for the issues with Wonder Girl.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Along with Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman completes the DC Comics “Trinity” of characters. These are legacy characters that have been around since the birth of comic books. So, as a legacy character, the adventures of Wonder Woman deserve to be showcased. However, like other books from DC Comics in this era, the stories do not hold up well. The creators associated with this book are all comic legends in their own right, but this collection is not their best work. Get this book if you are a die-hard Wonder Woman fan only.

Footnotes: Wonder Woman #98 is considered the start of the Silver Age Wonder Woman. All stories that appeared up to Wonder Woman #97, primarily drawn by Harry G. Peter, is considered to be the Golden Age Wonder Woman. However, some villains (Angle Man) carried over from the Golden Age to the Silver Age without the “reboot.”

If you like this volume, try: the George Pérez relaunch of Wonder Woman in 1987. Following the events in Crisis on Infinite Earths, the DC Universe was collapsed into one universe with a new history. After working on Wonder Girl for so many years in the pages of New Teen Titans, Pérez stepped up to provide the new definitive origin to Wonder Woman and the Amazons. Sent as an ambassador from Themyscira, Diana brings a message of peace to a violent world. One could make the suggestion that everything that came in the Golden Age and Silver Age should be forgotten, as this is the perfect starting point for anyone interested in Wonder Woman. The first two years of this relaunch have been collected in trade paperbacks between 2004 and 2006, so they might still be available to track down.

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

First Published: February 2005

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #32 (July 1979) to #53 (April 1981); Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 (1979) and #2 (1980); Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13 (1979); and Fantastic Four #218 (May 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Roger Stern, John Romita, Jr., Mike Zeck, Marie Severin, and others

Key First Appearances: Marcy Kane, Dr. Morris Sloan, Steve Hopkins, Roderick Kingsley (Hobgoblin), Nathan Lubensky

Story Continues From: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS). This book remains a companion book to Amazing Spider-Man, but focuses primarily on Peter Parker and his collegiate life.

This volume breaks out into two separate sections – the first is written by Bill Mantlo, continuing the stories he started in Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1. Mantlo wraps up the Carrion storyline, but not before bringing in the Lizard, the Iquana, and the Swarm. Following another appearance by Morbius, Mantlo concludes this run of PPTSS with a crossover with Fantastic Four, another title he was writing at the time.

The second section picks up with issue #43, as Roger Stern takes over writing duties on the title. Stern brings back the Vulture and the White Tiger, and introduces two new characters into Peter Parker’s life – Nathan Lubensky would become a long-time tenant at Aunt May’s boarding house, and Roderick Kingsley, a background character in PPTSS, but will don the Hobgoblin costume when Stern moves over to Amazing Spider-Man.

What makes this Essential?: I really want to give this a strong recommendation. I do. I like to think of PPTSS as the little book that could. But, the simple fact remains that this title plays second fiddle to every other book that Spider-Man appears in each month. You need to be a hard-core Spider-Man fan to want this volume. The stories are not bad, per se. Some of them are quite good. But each issue just reminds the reader that there are other stories you should be reading, which can be found in the Essential Spider-Man and Essential Marvel Team-Up books.

Footnotes: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13 were also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man 9.

If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man newspaper comic strip, which started in January of 1977. Originally done by Stan Lee and John Romita, Sr., this was a syndicated comic strip that told stand-alone stories not set in the continuity of the Marvel Universe. Other comic notables, such as Larry Lieber, Paul Ryan, Alex Saviuk, Joe Sinnott, and Roy Thomas, have helped out on the strip over the years. There have been a few collections of the early years of the newspaper strip. If your local newspaper does not carry the strip, it can still be read online at several websites.