Essential Spider-Man Vol. 9

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 9

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 9

First Published: May 2009

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #186 (November 1978) to #210 (November 1980); Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13 (1979) and #14 (1980); and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 (1979)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, Denny O’Neil, Keith Pollard, John Byrne, Sal Buscema, John Romita Jr., and others

Key First Appearances:  Felecia Hardy/Black Cat, Deb Whitman, Calypso, Cassandra Webb/Madame Web

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 8

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 10

Overview: With this publishing of this post, this will be the 14th Essential that features Peter Parker as Spider-Man. I think we all know the “Great Power, Great Responsibility” origin that got Peter into the costume business. Let’s skip the recap and get right into learning about Essential Spider-Man Vol. 9.

We all know that Peter Parker is a free-lance photographer for one of New York City’s most distinguished newspapers, the Daily Globe. Wait, what’s that? What happened to the Daily Bugle? Well, once again, J. Jonah Jameson fired Peter Parker due to a missed assignment. But before he could be hired back, Peter took his services and photos over to the Daily Globe. Setting Peter up in a new newsroom gave Peter a whole new set of characters to interact with.

Speaking of new characters, Peter gets a pair of new women in his life that are stretching him in all directions. First, there is Deb Whitman, a fellow student at Empire State that has the dreamy eyes for Peter Parker. She makes a great lab partner, but she just can’t take the hint when Peter’s spider-sense starts tingling. On the opposite side, we meet Felicia Hardy, a.k.a. the Black Cat. Is she a villain? Is she a mis-understood hero at heart? What makes this romance interesting is that the Black Cat has the dreamy eyes for Spider-Man, and only Spider-Man. In fact, she finds Peter Parker to be very boring. She just wants her Spider in costume, and has a hard time respecting the secret identity that Peter does his best to maintain.

The last volume ended with a large complex Green Goblin story, so that villain goes into limbo for awhile. So we get some good appearances from Doctor Octopus, Electro, Mysterio, Mesmero, and more. And with Amazing Spider-Man still being the core title of the Marvel Universe, you can count on numerous guest appearances, such as Dazzler, the Human Fly, and the Punisher.

What makes this Essential?: Change is good, right? EMBRACE CHANGE, PEOPLE! OK, these are some of the most creative issues of Amazing Spider-Man since some guy named Stan Lee wrote the book. Not a knock on anyone that has written the book between then and now, but writer Marv Wolfman was not afraid to try new things with Peter Parker and his costumed alter-ego. New employer, new love interests, both in and out of costume. And while we are boldly moving forward in new directions, Wolfman takes us back to the very beginning, questioning why the burglar would even be wanting to invade Ben and May Parker’s home all those years ago in Amazing Fantasy #15. When Wolfman ends his two-year run on the title, he hands over the duties to Denny O’Neil, who knows a thing or two about telling a good comic story. And if you need yet another reason to pick this up, we get the start of the John Romita, Jr. run with Spider-Man, that would run through-out the early 1980s and be picked back up again in the late 1990s. You would be hard pressed to find a bad Spider-Man book that has a Romita (Sr. or Jr.) attached to it.

Footnotes: Amazing Spider-Man #201 and #202 were also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

Amazing Spider-Man #203 was also reprinted in Essential Dazzler Vol. 1.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13 and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 were also reprinted in Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #12 (1978) was not reprinted in this Essential or the previous volume. Annual #12 featured reprints of Amazing Spider-Man #119 and #120, which can be found in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6.

If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man: Brand New Day storyline from 2008. OK, I know that a lot of fans were not happy with how Marvel was handling the Spider-Man books in this era. The previous storyline, One More Day, magically ended the Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage, which proved to be a jumping off point for a lot of readers. Following that event, Marvel retooled the Spider-Man line of books. Sensational Spider-Man and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man were cancelled, and Amazing Spider-Man started coming out three times per month. Marvel formed a creative team (Dan Slott, Marc Guggenheim, Bob Gale, & Zeb Wells) to provide the direction for Peter Parker. In this new reality, Peter Parker’s identity is a secret to the world once again; he’s single, and living with his Aunt May. The Daily Bugle is struggling financially, and a new investor buys out J. Jonah Jameson and turns the paper into a tabloid. Spider-Man fights a mix of new and returning villains in these issues. Reading the Brand New Day story-arc really reminded me of the Spider-Man era reprinted in this Essential — a lot of energy in the title, mix of old and new, and willingness to take chances by changing the status quo. The Brand New Day story has been reprinted in numerous collections, so it should not be hard to track down.

Essential Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 2

Essential Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 2

Essential Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 2

First Published: April 2009

Contents: Power Man and Iron Fist #76 (December 1981) to #100 (December 1983); and Daredevil #178 (January 1982)

Key Creator Credits: Jo Duffy, Kerry Gammill, Dennis Cowan, Denny O’Neil, Kurt Busiek, Ernie Chan, and others

Key First Appearances: Eel, Chemistro

Story Continues From: Essential Power Man & Iron Fist Vol. 1

Overview: With apologies to Tony Kornheiser, the Heroes for Hire are back for more cash. The bills don’t pay themselves, so Luke Cage and Danny Rand make their services available to clients of all types. Unfortunately, a lot of the times, they end up doing pro bono work, as is the nature of most superheroes.

One client that can afford to pay the Heroes for Hire is the law firm of Nelson & Murdock. This collection kicks off with a crossover with Daredevil during the Frank Miller era. Matt Murdock has a client with papers connecting a mayoral candidate with the Kingpin. So Murdock arranges to have Daredevil protect the client. But Matt’s partner, Foggy Nelson, is worried about Matt’s safety. So Foggy retains the Heroes for Hire to protect his law partner. You can probably imagine what happens next? A lot of confusion, the heroes fight, and the Kingpin gets away.

The rest of the book remains a self-contained story line. The issues are generally one-and-done tales, but there is an underlying story that slowly builds up to a climax with issue #100. While some references are made to other events in the Marvel Universe, the world of Luke Cage and Danny Rand does not cross over with a lot of other heroes. Fortunately, the cast of supporting characters help round out the stories, so you don’t need a lot of other heroes to keep the story moving.

What makes this Essential?: Is this truly essential? Probably not. But it is a solid read focusing on a core group of characters. With the exception of the Daredevil crossover at the start of the book, this collection does not cross over with other titles in the Marvel Universe. You don’t need to read a dozen other titles to understand what is going on with the characters.

One highlight to take away from this book is that it features the Marvel debut of Kurt Busiek as a writer. Busiek has become one of the best comic book storytellers of our generation. With titles like Marvels, Kingdom Come, and Astro City on his resume, he is a master of the superhero story. And it all started in the pages of Power Man & Iron Fist. Let’s be honest, it’s not his best work. But to his credit, Busiek did his research and knew these heroes. He brought back characters from Power Man and Iron Fist’s past, when they were solo features in their own books.

Footnotes: Sadly, Marvel cancelled the Essential line before a third volume could be released for this line. Power Man and Iron Fist finished with issue #125, which means that a volume 3 could have contained the final 25 issues, plus any crossovers.

If you like this volume, try: the Thunderbolts from Marvel Comics. Launched following the events of Onslaught, which saw the Fantastic Four and the Avengers disappear from Earth, there was a need for a new superhero team to protect the people. Enter the Thunderbolts, a new team of heroes led by Citizen V. But the Thunderbolts have a secret – they are actually the Masters of Evil posing as heroes: Citizen V is Baron Zemo; Meteorite is Moonstone; Atlas is Goliath, Mach-1 is Beetle; Techno is Fixer; and Songbird is Screaming Mimi. Their secret was revealed at the end of issue #1, and it came as a complete shock to everyone at the time. The series was created by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley, and the two worked on the title for the first three years of its run. The early issues have been collected in three Thunderbolts Classic trade paperbacks, which were released in 2011 and 2012.

Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 3

Showcase Presents The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 3

Showcase Presents The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 3

First Published: December 2008

Contents: The Brave and The Bold #109 (October-November 1973) to #134 (May 1977)

Key Creator Credits: Bob Haney, Jim Aparo, and others

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 2

Overview: Before it became common place to have Batman appear in the early issues of a new title, the guests came to Batman to team up with the Caped Crusader. Welcome back to the Batman team-ups from The Brave and the Bold, as writer Bob Haney and artist Jim Aparo find incredible ways to have Batman cross paths with the likes of Wildcat, Mister Miracle, and the Metal Men.

The highlight of this volume is the introduction of the Joker as a team-up partner and not just the opposing foe. The Joker stories really stand out, creating a new dynamic that broke the mold for the typical TBATB team-up. The Joker of this era was more of a comedic threat, and not a homicidal maniac. Based on his success here, the Joker would become a frequent guest-star as well in DC Comics Presents, teaming up with Superman.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Yes, yes, yes – these stories deserve to be showcased like this. The Brave and the Bold served as a solid way to introduce all aspects of the DC Universe to any reader, be it your first time or your five hundredth time. Nothing is in continuity, so you don’t have to worry about what is going on in Batman, Detective Comics, or any other title of the era. My only gripe – if this can be considered a gripe – is that Volume 3 came out over seven years ago, with no Volume 4 anywhere in sight. The Brave and the Bold ran to issue #200. DC Comics, if you are reading this, PLEASE get the next volume out for this title!

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
#109 – Batman & The Demon
#110 – Batman & Wildcat
#111 – Batman & The Joker
#112 – Batman & Mister Miracle
#113 – Batman & Metal Men
#114 – Batman & Aquaman
#115 – Batman & The Atom
#116 – Batman & The Spectre / Showcase Presents The Spectre Vol. 1
#117 – Batman & Sgt. Rock
#118 – Batman & Wildcat, co-starring the Joker
#119 – Batman & Man-Bat
#120 – Batman & Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth!
#121 – Batman & Metal Men
#122 – Batman & Swamp Thing
#123 – Batman & Plastic Man and Metamorpho
#124 – Batman & Sgt. Rock
#125 – Batman & The Flash
#126 – Batman & Aquaman
#127 – Batman & Wildcat
#128 – Batman & Mister Miracle
#129 – Batman & Green Arrow, co-starring the Atom, the Joker, and Two-Face
#130 – Batman & Green Arrow, co-starring the Atom, the Joker, and Two-Face
#131 – Batman & Wonder Woman
#132 – Batman & Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter
#133 – Batman & Deadman
#134 – Batman & Green Lantern

If you like this volume, try: the 2007 The Brave and the Bold series, specifically the first 12 issues, from Mark Waid, George Pérez, and Jerry Ordway. This was a fun re-boot of the classic series, with a new spin on the team-ups. Waid created an ongoing story where one guest would carry over into the next issue, teaming up with a different guest. And that different guest would then host the following issue, and so on. Waid has proven many times over that he is a master storyteller with the DC characters, and Pérez & Ordway are two legendary artists, each deserving of a hardcover collection showcasing their careers at DC. This run of The Brave and the Bold series has been reprinted in both hardcover and trade paperback collections, and the individual issues are readily available in the back-issue bins. Track down this run and enjoy the read!

Essential Punisher Vol. 3

Essential Punisher Vol. 3

Essential Punisher Vol. 3

First Published: February 2009

Contents: The Punisher #21 (July 1989) to #40 (Early October 1990); The Punisher Annual #2 (1989) and #3 (1990)

Key Creator Credits: Mike Baron, Erik Larsen, Bill Reinhold, Mark Texeira, Russ Heath, Mark Farmer, and others

Key First Appearances: Saracen, Shadowmasters (Shigeru Ezaki, Yuriko Ezaki, Sojin Ezaki, Philip Richards, Katherine Yakamoto)

Story Continues From: Essential Punisher Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Punisher Vol. 4

Overview: When mobsters slew his family, Frank Castle vowed to spend the rest of his life avenging them. Trained as a soldier, and equipped with a state-of-the-art arsenal, he now wages a one-man war on crime! This is Essential Punisher Vol. 3 – get comfortable, as this is going to be a wild ride!

Writer Mike Baron continues the same basic formula that we saw in the previous volume. The stories run in small arcs, generally one or two issues at a time. We do see some characters re-occur from time to time. A villain introduced in the last collection, the Rev, resurfaces in Central America later in this volume. In that same story arc, we also get the return of Jigsaw, who still holds a grudge against Frank for the damage done to his face. As we saw last time, the Punisher is still partnered with his tech-whiz Microchip, but we see over the run that they may no longer be working towards the same goals.

During this era, the Punisher continued to grow in popularity, and we start to see that impacting his comic as he crosses over more and more into the Marvel Universe. Most obvious, as we see it on the cover, the Punisher gets caught up in the Acts of Vengeance storyline. That was the story where the villains unite under Loki, and swap the traditional heroes that they go up against. So to change things up, we see the Punisher traveling to Latvia to face off against Dr. Doom. Yeah, it is just as crazy as it sounds.

What makes this Essential?: Honestly, I am completely indifferent regarding my opinion on this book. I don’t think that I can recommend this, unless you are a true fan of the Punisher. Conversely, I didn’t hate this collection, or struggle with trying to finish the book due to the stories. (My only struggle was finding time to read the book, as life got a little busy while trying to finish it.)

We do start to see the Punisher’s growing popularity in comics, as Mike Baron was directed/forced to incorporate ongoing Marvel events into the Punisher book, like Acts of Vengeance. He also gets into a multi-issue skirmish with the Reavers, who have been a traditional foe of the X-Men.

For the final story arc in this collection, The Punisher was one of many titles that switched to twice-a-month shipping during the summer months, giving readers two books per month. So the six-issue story arc was published over a three-month window.

Footnotes: The Punisher Annual #2 was one of the 15 Marvel annuals from 1989 linked together in a story arc titled “Atlantis Attacks.” For this Essential, the Punisher stories are included from the annual, but the Atlantis Attacks story is not reprinted here.

The Punisher Annual #3 was Part One of the “Lifeform” story arc. The other parts were in Daredevil Annual #6, Incredible Hulk Annual #16, and Silver Surfer Annual #4.

If you like this volume, try: the Punisher books from Garth Ennis. Over the last 15 years, Ennis has become the definitive Punisher writer, scripting various runs under the Marvel Knights and Marvel MAX line of books. Often working with artist Steve Dillon, Ennis has kept the Punisher as a current and relevant character in a post 9/11 world. While there are numerous trades and hardbacks collecting these runs, I would suggest tracking down the Punisher by Garth Ennis Omnibus that Marvel released in 2008. This collects Ennis’ work between 2000 and 2004 with the Punisher.

Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 2

Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 2

Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 2

First Published: November 2008

Contents: Supergirl stories from Action Comics #283 (December 1961) to #321 (February 1965)

Key Creator Credits: Jim Mooney, Jerry Siegel, Leo Dorfman, and others

Key First Appearances: Jax-Ur, Comet the Super-Horse

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 1

Overview: Forget her status as a secret weapon, Supergirl is introduced to Earth as it’s newest protector from Krypton. Working with Superman, she helps patrol the planet during all of the numerous times that Superman is called off into space; called into the future to assist the Legion of Super-Heroes; or called back into the past for whatever reason. 1960s Superman comics – nothing else like it!

The books in this collection fall into some story groups. First up is the introduction of Comet the Super-Horse. Unlike everyone else with the “Super” in their name, Comet does not hail from Krypton. Instead, he was a centaur from ancient Greece. He petitioned the witch Circe to make him into a man, but another sorcerer interferes and tricks the witch into making him into a full blown horse. Unable to change him back, Circe grants Comet superpowers, including immortality. (Because when you are forced to be a horse, everyone wants to live for ever.) Arriving on Earth, he meets Supergirl and finds that he can communicate with her telepathically. (Seriously, don’t think too hard about this one….)

The next set of stories deal with Lena Thorul, resident of Midvale and the younger sister of super-criminal Lex Luthor. Lena has developed ESP, so it’s a challenge for Supergirl to keep her identity a secret from her friend. Lena wants to become an FBI agent, but is afraid that her brother’s history will keep her out. When her family connection is revealed, she buys a one-way ticket to Africa and becomes a Tarzan-like jungle girl. (I cannot make this stuff up, people!)

Another set of stories deal with Supergirl’s parents, Zor-El and Alura. We all thought they had perished in Argo when the kryptonite radiation killed off the residents of the floating city in space. Turns out, they managed to exile themselves into the Survival Zone, which is very similar to the Phantom Zone, just without the criminals. Supergirl finds a way to rescue her parents, but now faces a dilemma of having two sets of parents. What is a girl to do? The first thought is to have her birth parents move to the bottled city of Kandor, and live with their fellow Kryptonians. However, Alura’s health starts to fail, as she is suffering from heartbreak over her missing daughter. So, to heal her birth mom, Supergirl convinces her step-parents, Fred and Edna Danvers, to trade places with her real parents, and the three Kryptonians become a super-team family. But then Edna is exposed to an evil spore, and attacks Supergirl. Realizing that Kandor is not the best home for them, once again the Danvers exchange places with Supergirl’s parents. 

The volume concludes with Supergirl graduating high school and enrolling in Stanhope College. Unfortunately, some of Supergirl’s sorority sisters are a little catty, and Linda must find ways to outwit them to protect her identity.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Oh boy, where to start…. I gave Volume 1 a lot of praise for telling positive female stories, especially with it being a DC Silver Age collection. This volume falls short on all marks. The various story arcs might have worked better in a romance comic, but these stories are all from Action Comics, the home of Superman and his family. We finally see Supergirl revealed to the world, and then her storylines dive down into mediocrity. Ugh! I know this book is a product of it’s time, but it has a hard time holding up 50 years later.

Footnotes: Action Comics #285 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 3.

The “Superman’s Super-Courtship!” story from Action Comics #289 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1.

The “Monster From Krypton!” story from Action Comics #303 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: the 2009 Power Girl series, initially done by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Amanda Conner. 2009. Power Girl was introduced in All-Star Comics #58 as the Earth-2 version of Supergirl – see Showcase Presents All-Star Comics Vol. 1 for Power Girl’s debut. Over the years, she served as a member of the Justice Society, Infinity, Inc, and even Justice League Europe. It was probably easier to use her in a story rather than Supergirl, as the big red S shield on Supergirl’s costume carries a lot of baggage with it. The one downside to Power Girl is her longevity; her origin has been changed multiple times due to one crisis or another. She became a hard character to work with, given all of the changes to her back story. Flash forward to 2009, and Power Girl earned her own monthly comic. This is one of the best runs using the Power Girl character, focusing more on the present rather than reliving the past. Most of this series has been collected in trade paperbacks, so give this a look.

Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3

Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3

Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3

First Published: February 2009

Contents: The X-Men #54 (March 1969) to #66 (March 1970); Amazing Spider-Man #92 (January 1971); Incredible Hulk #150 (April 1972) and #161 (March 1973); the Beast stories from Amazing Adventures #11 (March 1972) to #17 (March 1973); and Marvel Team-Up #4 (September 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, Arnold Drake, Don Heck, Neal Adams, Tom Palmer, Steve Englehart, Tom Sutton, Herb Trimpe, and others

Key First Appearances: Living Monolith, Lawrence Trask, Karl Lykos/Sauron, Savage Land Mutates (Amphibius, Barbarus, Brainchild, Equilibrius, Gaza, Lorelei, Lupo, Piper), Shiro Y0shida/Sunfire

Story Continues From: Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 1

Overview: Here we go, readers! It’s the final adventures of the original X-Men as members of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Havok, and now Polaris go on a non-stop run of adventures that takes them from the sands of Egypt to the jungles of the Savage Land to the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip.

The highlight of this collection is the Roy Thomas and Neal Adams all-to-brief run on the title. Adams had been doing work for DC for about two years when he came over to do some work at Marvel. (At that time, creators generally worked for just one company at a time. If someone did work for more than one publisher, one of their jobs would be done under a pseudonym.) At the time that he came onboard with X-Men #56, the book was floundering in the sales column. Adams came in and helped plot a wild adventure ride, introducing new threats to the mutants.

While this is the most creative peak in the title’s seven-year run, it could not stop the cancellation axe. The final issue with original content was X-Men #66. Beginning with issue #67, the title ran reprints of old X-Men stories. Let this sink in for a minute. There was a time when X-Men was strictly a reprint book. It was more profitable for Marvel to re-run old stories versus commissioning new stories. Unbelievable!

Now, the title may have been in reprint mode, but the characters still existed, and became free game to use in other books. So Iceman makes an appearance in Amazing Spider-Man, and Havok & Polaris show up in the pages of the Incredible Hulk.

The volume concludes with the solo adventures of Hank McCoy, who finally graduated Xavier’s school and landed a job in a Brand Corporation research lab. McCoy works on isolating the chemical cause of mutation into a liquid solution. Trying to keep his work from falling into the hands of corporate spies, McCoy swallows the formula, and his body is mutated into a furry gray Beast. (In later issues, the fur would change permanently to blue, but that’s not important for this black & white collection.) The Beast finds that he is trapped in this further-mutated body. Despite attempts to hide his mutation, Hank finally embraces his blue-furred identity. These stories are written by Steve Englehart, and he would continue the Beast’s story in the pages of The Avengers.

What makes this Essential?: In my humble opinion, this really is an essential volume to own. First, the Thomas-Adams run on this title is the first “great” story-arc in the history of the X-Men. The Sentinels are more menacing; the Savage Land is more savage; and the introduction of Sunfire opens the door for the international approach to the X-Men in the mid-1970s. In addition, by collecting the X-Men adventures in the other Marvel titles of the 1970s, it highlights how a proper Essential should be put together. The books should be reprinting the character stories, and not necessarily just within a specific title. The solo adventures of the Beast would never have been reprinted in any other Essential volume, so including them here was perfect. While some of the characters’ appearances can be found in other Essentials (see Footnotes), having these stories in one book reads so much better for the X-Men fan.

Footnotes: Amazing Spider-Man #92 is also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5.

Incredible Hulk #150 and #161 are also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 4.

Marvel Team-Up #4 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1.

Amazing Adventures #17 reprinted the origin of the Beast, originally told in back-up stories from X-Men #49 to #53 (see Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2). The cover to issue #17 and new framing pages are included in this Essential.

X-Men #67 to #93 and X-Men Annual #1 & #2 reprinted classic X-Men stories from the 1960s. New covers were created for those issues, and the covers are included in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: the X-Men: Hidden Years series by John Byrne from 1999 to 2001. This series was designed to pick up the story of the original team following X-Men #66, the last original issue of the series. Byrne begins his story with what should be issue #67, but numbered as #1, and continues the adventures. Over the next two years, Byrne told new stories set in the Marvel Universe of the early 1970s, so the mutants encounter a Fantastic Four with Crystal subbing for Invisible Girl. We meet a young Ororo, before she has her official first appearance as Storm in Giant-Size X-Men #1. The problem with this book is that it was written and drawn by John Byrne. Not that he necessarily did a bad job with either, but more that Byrne became a very polarizing figure in comics by the early 2000s. A new leadership team took over the reigns as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, and opted to cancel the book as the X-Men universe was too convoluted and needed to be streamlined. (Note that streamlining of the X-Men books lasted for about one month.) You can read into that the cancellation was due more to personality conflicts between Byrne and management, and not due to poor sales, poor stories, or a convoluted X-Men universe. This entire series was collected in two trade paperbacks in 2012, so it should be relatively easy to track down. If you are a Byrne fan, by all means check this series out.

Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 2

Showcase Presents World's Finest Vol. 2

Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 2

First Published: October 2008

Contents: Superman, Batman, and Robin stories from World’s Finest Comics #112 (September 1960) to #145 (November 1964)

Key Creator Credits: Curt Swan, Dick Sprang, Edmond Hamilton, Bill Finger, Jerry Coleman, Jim Mooney, Dave Wood, and others

Key First Appearances: Composite Superman

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 3

Overview: Sometimes the smartest creations in life is simply combining two great things together. For example, milk chocolate is awesome all on its own. So is peanut butter. Those two by themselves are some of the tastiest sweets in the world. But in 1928, Harry Reese had the brilliant idea to combine the two together. Now, some 80 years later, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is the most popular candy bar in United States. <Excuse me for a moment, I think I need to run to the store to pick up a Reese’s!>

So peanut butter and chocolate, two great tastes that go great together. We all get that. But you are here to read about comics, right? So let’s take two great heroes (Batman and Superman), merge them together into one title, and we get the Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 2.

The stories here follow the same pattern as the previous volume. Something happens that brings the two heroes together. Between Superman’s strength and Batman’s smarts, the heroes find themselves on the winning end of things at the end of each 15-page story. There is no continuity with these stories, so you can read them in any order. The supporting casts for both characters make numerous appearances along the way, as well as their rogues galleries.

It’s funny that I used the word ‘merge’ in the first paragraph. (Truthfully, not funny, but rather deliberate on my part!) The highlight of this volume involves the introduction in World’s Finest #142 of the Composite Superman, who might be just the greatest DC Silver Age character of all time. Joe Meach was a down-in-his-luck diver (don’t most divers head down eventually?), and Superman helps him out by getting him a custodian job at the Superman Museum. One night while Meach was cleaning up in front of a Legion of Super-Heroes exhibit, lightning hits the Legion figurines, and the electrical energy passes on to Meach. Suddenly, Meach finds that he has all of the powers of the Legionaires. Using Chameleon Boy’s shape-changing ability, Meach creates a hybrid costume that is half Superman, half Batman. Dubbing himself the Composite Superman, he appears to befriend Superman and Batman, but his long term goal is to destroy Superman’s life. Fortunately, our heroes see though his scheme, and stop Meach until he exhausts his powers. The Composite Superman, be it Meach or other characters, will return time and time again to face off against Superman and Batman.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I can think of two good reasons why these stories should be showcased. The first is Batman, and the second is Superman. Seriously, this is a no-brainer. Of course these should be collected. Sure, they are Silver Age stories, but I would contend that the best Batman or Superman Silver Age stories from this time period are in this collection, and not in the Showcase Presents Batman or Showcase Presents Superman volumes. This is a perfect volume to skip around and read the stories that most interest you. I was always fond of the Joker-Lex Luthor team-ups. (DC tried to duplicate that team-up magic with a Clayface-Brainiac collaboration. Yeah, not quite as interesting as Joker-Luthor!)

Footnotes: The story from World’s Finest Comics #141 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Robin Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Batman & Superman: World’s Finest maxi-series from 1999. Written by Karl Kessel, with art by Dave Taylor, Peter Doherty, and Robert Campanella, the series looks that the Batman/Superman team-ups over a 10-year period. Issue #1 takes place ten years before present day, issue #2 takes place nine years before present day, and so on. This is set in the Post-Crisis universe and reflects events that happened in their comics between 1986 and 1998. In the first issue, the two heroes team-up for the first time, but fail to save a doctor. With each issue, the two heroes re-unite on the anniversary of the doctor’s death. This collection is a solid story, with glimpses into the expanded families of both characters. We get a funny Bat-Mite/Mr. Mxyzptlk team-up in issue #6 that brings along Robin and Lois Lane. The standout issue in this story is #7. Taking place sometime after the death of Jason Todd and after Superman’s return from his space exile, Superman takes Batman to his hometown of Smallville, Kansas. The two actually spend time talking through their issues and emotions. No super villains interrupt the discussion. In fact, the heroic actions by the two stars are actions that anyone could do in their daily life; Superman assists a woman delivering a baby, while Batman performs CPR on a doctor. A trade paperback collecting all ten issues was released in 2003. I can’t recommend this title, and in particular issue #7, strongly enough – PICK THIS UP!