Essential Thor Vol. 4

Essential Thor Vol. 4

Essential Thor Vol. 4

First Published: June 2009

Contents: Thor #167 (August 1969) to #195 (January 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, John Buscema, and Gerry Conway

Key First Appearances: Hildegarde

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 5

Overview: Welcome back to the world of Asgard, home of the Norse gods. Led by all-seeing Odin and served by his dutiful son, Thor, god of thunder and protector of Midgard (Earth).

These comics expand the adventures of the thunder god to cosmic proportions. Odin sends Thor on a journey into mystery to track down the world-devourer Galactus. Later on, Odin and the Silent One travel into the universe to face Infinity, and they must call on Thor to rescue them from oblivion. As always, we see the ambitious Loki looking to take the throne of Asgard for himself, leading multiple attacks by giants and trolls.

As cosmic as this volume gets, Thor remains true to Earth as well. Deadly encounters with the Wrecker and Doctor Doom challenge Thor to his very limits. Thankfully, with his loyal friends like Balder, the Warriors Three, the Lady Sif, and even the Silver Surfer, Thor finds himself to be worthy of any task or challenge laid before him.

What makes this Essential?: For the artwork alone, this volume should be in any collection. With art by Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, and John Buscema, there is not a badly drawn issue to be found in this book. You can see the majesty of Asgard jumping off of the page; the thunderous rage of Thor; the evil manipulations of Loki. This is just a beautifully drawn book. However, this is not Stan Lee’s best writing. For all of the talk about comics of today being written for the trade paperback, Stan Lee was doing it 40+ years ago. The stories in this volume stretch out across multiple issues; ten years earlier, Stan and Jack would have the stories done in one issue, or two tops. If you can find the book, pick it up for the art.

Footnotes: This is a hard Essential to track down. Marvel published this in June of 2009, but no re-issues or second editions have been released since then. Given the character’s popularity with the movie franchise, it’s surprising that this has not been kept in print, especially given the talents who worked on these issues. If this is not currently in your collection, you may need to turn to eBay in order to find this volume.

Kirby left Thor (and Marvel) in 1970 due to contract issues, and took his services over to DC Comics. One of Kirby’s first projects at DC is what would become to be known as the Fourth World saga, with the introduction of Darkseid and the New Gods. There is enough examples to note that the New Gods’ origins came with Kirby’s work on Thor over the previous eight years. Check out Comic Book Legends Revealed #444 over at Comic Book Resources for a complete recounting of how Kirby was building the New Gods concept.

If you like this volume, try:  the incredible run on Thor by Walt Simonson. This is the ultimate run by any single creator on this title, elevating Thor and Asgard to new heights. Simonson introduced Beta Ray Bill, an alien who was just as worthy as Thor to hold Mjolnir. We witnessed Ragnarok as the great winter storms took over the world. And the mischievousness of Loki reached new lows as he turned his step-brother into a frog. This has been collected numerous times, as trade paperbacks and most recently as an oversized omnibus. However you choose to read this, the Simonson Thor should be part of every comic library.

Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 4

Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 4

Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 4

First Published: July 2009

Contents: Justice League of America #61 (March 1968) to #83 (September 1970)

Key Creator Credits: Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin, Denny O’Neil, and others

Key First Appearances: Red Tornado (II), Black Canary (II) (see I Hope I Die Before I Get Old)

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 5

Overview: Meet the new Justice League — same as the old Justice League. With this volume, we finally see a change in leadership on the team. Not from heroes assembled but in the creative team. Longtime writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky bring their run on the title (which actually started in The Brave and the Bold #28) to an end, handing off the duties to young writer Denny O’Neil and veteran artist Dick Dillin. As a result, the type of stories that were told in Justice League of America shifted to match the changing world in which it was published in.

Lets get the givens out of the way. We get three JLA-JSA team-ups in this collection. We do have some changes to the line-up, as Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter take leaves from the team, and Black Canary joins the team. Green Arrow takes on a new costume, and the stories tend to start using a smaller set of characters instead of all ten members per issue.

In a surprise twist, we see the Justice Society admit a new member, in what would be Fox’s final issue of this run. The Red Tornado was created by T.O. Morrow, with the intention of inserting him into the team and then destroying them. Despite stopping the JSA, the combined might of the JLA proves too much for the Red Tornado to overcome. Realizing that their foe has been manipulated, the Justice Society nominates Red Tornado for membership. As we will see in the next collection, Red Tornado’s time as a JSA member is short-lived, as he soon relocates to Earth-1 and is eventually offered membership with the Justice League.

The JLA does have some minor changes to the membership in this volume. Founding member Martian Manhunter takes an official leave from the team to return with his people to the New Mars colony. Truth be told, he hadn’t been used much in the last several years as Superman and Batman became more featured members in the League. The Martian Manhunter would make the occasional appearance during the Bronze Age, but would not return to the League full-time until the JLA-Detroit era. Around that same time, Diana was stripped of her Wonder Woman title, abilities, and costume, leading to her white jumpsuit era. The League put her on leave, and eventually allowed her to re-join once she had proven her capabilities. (Seriously, she was a founding member; she served as their secretary and house-keeper; the only female willing to hang out in a cave with these guys; and they want her to “re-apply” for membership?)

One of the most important changes in the history of the Justice League came with issues #77 and #78. Batman’s long-time foe, the Joker, tricks long-time friend Snapper Carr into revealing the secret location of the JLA’s Secret Sanctuary, otherwise known as the cave. Faced with trying to find a new place to meet and store their trophies, the League looks to the skies – specifically 22,300 miles above the Earth. The JLA Satellite is introduced as the new, more secure headquarters for the team. Members can access the satellite via transportation tubes set up in major cities around the world, or via a trip through space to reach the satellite. The satellite would serve as the Bronze Age headquarters for the JLA, until being destroyed during the events of the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This book marks the first major transition in the JLA’s history. To date, the adventures of the JLA had all been done by Fox and Sekowsky. But early in this volume, we see Dillin take over the art duties, followed by O’Neil taking over the writing duties. While Fox wrote stories following the traditional comic book story-methods that had worked well for 30 years, O’Neil brought a new approach to the story-telling. He was also writing Wonder Woman at this same time. O’Neil took Wonder Woman out of the League (and the book), and quickly replaced her with Black Canary. Following that, he quickly developed a relationship between Black Canary and Green Arrow, one which has lasted for decades (on and off). He took the Justice League from the cave in Happy Harbor to a satellite circling the Earth; they also lost their mascot, Snapper Carr, at the same time. And his stories started dealing with world issues such as food shortages and pollution, and not just the villain-of-the-month. I think more credit needs to be given to O’Neil for forcing the Justice League title to make the jump from the Silver Age into the Bronze Age.

I Hope I Die Before I Get Old: At the end of Justice League of America #74 (September 1969), Black Canary decides to relocate from Earth-2 to Earth-1, following the death of her husband Larry Lance. She was quickly accepted into the JLA as a member. However, flash forward to 1983, in issues #219 and #220 during the 20th team-up of the JLA-JSA, it was revealed that the Black Canary that came from Earth-2 to Earth-1 (Dinah Laurel Lance) is actually the daughter of the original Black Canary (Dinah Drake-Lance). This was done as a retcon to explain how the Black Canary could have been active in both World War II with the Justice Society and in the 1980s with the Justice League. As a result, many sources now cite Justice League of America #75 as the first appearance of the second Black Canary. (Issue #75 is also the first JLA issue where Green Arrow is sporting his new costume and goatee, perhaps another indication that the title has moved into the Bronze Age.)

Footnotes: Justice League of America #67 and #76 are 80-Page Giant reprint issues. collecting three previously published stories. The covers for these two issues are in this volume.

Justice League of America #64 did not feature any members of the Justice League. While this was the first of a two-part JLA-JSA team-up, the story focused on just the Justice Society portion of the story.

Beginning with issue #68 (August 1968), artist Dick Dillin drew part of or all of every non-reprint issue of Justice League of America, with one exception (#153), until his death following issue #183 (October 1980).

If you like this volume, try: JLA by Morrison and Porter from 1997. Following Legends in the mid-1980s, a new Justice League was introduced, affectionately known as the “Bwah-ha-ha-ha” era. In the earlier years, it was a great run on the series. As it developed, it spun out into many other titles such as Justice League Europe, Justice League Task Force, and Extreme Justice. Truth be told, they became a lot of mediocre titles, so DC made the move to re-invigorate the franchise. Superstar writer Grant Morrison and upcoming artist Porter were given the keys to the castle, and begun what is an epic run on the title. The threats were greater, more global in nature. The heroes were stronger and smarter, much bigger than their counterparts. The team once again took their headquarters into space, establishing the Watchtower on the moon. This book was highly influential within the comic book community. While others might not agree with me, I can see the threads and concepts and larger-than-life approach of JLA taking us to The Authority, which that led us to The Ultimates, and so on. DC has been collecting these of late in hardcover collections, and numerous trades have been released over the years, keeping these stories easily accessible.

Essential X-Men Vol. 9

Essential X-Men Vol. 9

Essential X-Men Vol. 9

First Published: June 2009

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #244 (May 1989) to #264 (Late July 1990); and Uncanny X-Men Annual #13 (1989)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Marc Silvestri, Jim Lee, and others

Key First Appearances: Jubilation Lee/Jubilee, Matsuo Tsurayaba, Cylla Markham/Skullbuster

Story Continues from: Essential X-Men Vol. 8 

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 10

Overview: Wow, where to start? This book goes all over the place and back, in the short time frame of 14 months in publishing time.

The book starts out with a key issue, as a new character is introduced that would become a staple of the 1990s team, both in comics and in the animated series. The women of the X-Men plan a girls night out, and have Gateway transport them to the ritzy Hollywood Mall. There they encounter a young teenage girl who goes by the nickname of Jubilee. She can create energy plasmoids with her hands, and uses them to her advantage to avoid the mall cops. When the X-Ladies return to their secret headquarters in Australia, Jubilee tags along in secret, and hides out in the basement headquarters until Wolverine tracks her down. From that point, Jubilee becomes an unofficial sidekick to Logan, and eventually a full member of the team.

After that, the story just seems to fall apart. The characters start going their separate ways. Storm is killed – don’t worry, she gets better later. Many of the X-Men are sent through the Siege Perilous, which is like a cosmic reset button for each of the characters. Dazzler returns to Hollywood to become a movie star; Colossus becomes a successful artist; Rogue is transported to the Savage Land to become the consort of Magneto.

The most dramatic of resets comes for Psylocke, who ended up in Japan in control of the Hand. Spiral uses Betsy to save the brain-dead lover of the Hand’s leader, Matsuo Tsurayaba. Betsy’s mind is placed in Kwannon’s body, and utilizes the new body’s physical skills to become a new assassin for the Hand, known as the Lady Mandarin. Her first assignment is to kill Wolverine. However, during their battle, Betsy regains control of herself and returns to her Psylocke identity, albeit in a different body.

The volume lumbers to a conclusion, as one-time members Banshee, Forge, and Polaris work to track down the missing X-Men. Unfortunately, you will need to wait until Volumes 10 and 11 to see the full team back together. And when I say the FULL TEAM, I mean there is enough X-Men hanging around to create at least two teams of X-Men!

What makes this Essential?: Two words describe why this should be collected: Jim. Lee. Like many of the “young gun” artists that came up together, Jim Lee took the X-Men by storm (no pun intended). His early issues still command large prices on the secondary market. This is also an era where things get really busy for the X-Men. The monthly book became a bi-weekly book, putting out two issues a month for several stretches at a time.

Personally, the stories in this volume just never appealed to me. The team felt very fragmented, with characters running off on their own adventures. These issues are the first time that I felt you also needed to be reading the Wolverine title in order to understand everything that was going on with him. At this point, Claremont had been scripting the team for over 15 years. Maybe his story well had run dry, or maybe he needed to tear everything apart to rebuild the team in a new direction. These may not be the highlight stories of Claremont’s X-Men career.

If you like this volume, try: the original Excalibur series, which ran from 1988 to 1998. Way back when the Mutant Massacre came to an end, several of the X-Men were severely wounded or damaged. To oversee their care and rehab, Kitty (& Lockheed), Nightcrawler, and Rachel were sent to Muir Island, missing out on many adventures of the X-Men, including their perceived death during the Fall of the Mutants story. The abandoned former X-Men soon joined up with Captain Britain (a Chris Claremont co-created character and the brother of Psylocke) and his girlfriend Meggan (a shapeshifter) came together to form a new team to protect Great Britain. The initial team of Claremont and artist Alan Davis took a fun inventive approach with the characters, working together on the first 24 issues. Davis left the title for awhile, but later returned as writer/artist when Claremont stepped away from the book. Over the years, numerous creators would come onboard with their own approaches to the team, but nothing quite matches up to the first two years of books from Claremont/Davis. Also, they flew under the radar of a lot of readers during this era. Excalibur didn’t get caught up in the other ongoing X-Men events (unlike New Mutants and X-Factor), they were left alone to do their own stories. There have been multiple trade paperbacks issued to collect these issues, so they should be somewhat easy to track down.

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug Vol. 1

First Published: March 2009

Contents: DC Comics Presents #52 (December 1982), #59 (July 1983), and #81 (May 1985); Supergirl #16 (February 1984); Ambush Bug stories from Action Comics #560 (October 1984), #563 (January 1985), and #565 (March 1985); Ambush Bug #1 (June 1985) to #4 (September 1985); Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer #1 (1986); Son of Ambush Bug #1 (July 1986) to #6 (December 1986); Ambush Bug story from Secret Origins #48 (April 1990); and Ambush Bug Nothing Special #1 (September 1992)

Key Creator Credits: Keith Giffen, Paul Kupperberg, Robert Loren Fleming, Bob Oksner, and others

Key First Appearances: Irwin Schwab/Ambush Bug, Cheeks, Argh!Yle!

Overview: Sometimes a character is introduced in the background of a story, used to help advance the plot. But sometimes, those background characters become the most interesting part of the book. Case in point, we start by looking at DC Comics Presents #52, which is listed as a team-up of Superman and the Doom Patrol. Those are the stars of the book, but the story is stolen by an odd villain character – a guy in a green bug suit that has the ability to teleport and cause some mayhem. That is how we are introduced to Ambush Bug.

Ambush Bug caught on with readers, and started become a foil for the various Kryptonians located on Earth. By the time DC Comics Presents #81 came out, he had garnered enough recognition to warrant the co-star status along with Superman. From there, it’s time to move on into your own mini-series and specials.

However, with those mini-series and specials, the approach takes a 90 degree turn, towards the fourth wall. Within the stories, Ambush Bug is now considered a hero of sorts, trying to find his place in the DC Universe. But at the same time, Ambush Bug starts interacting with the reader, as well as the comic book creators themselves. Conversations are had with Keith Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming, and Bob Oksner via word balloons. Even longtime DC editor Julie Schwartz gets into the action, and the stories as a disembodied head inserted into tales.

Along the way, we find out parts of his origin – we think! We meet Ambush Bug’s sidekick/best friend, Cheeks. We meet the personification of Johnny DC in the stories. and we come across the most nefarious of villains ever conceived, Argh!Yle!, who happens to be a sentient sock. Yes, a sock. Trust me, this book is just one pun after another. You should expect nothing less when dealing with one of the most offbeat characters in the DC Universe.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Giffen has been a mainstay at DC for years, and has contributed greatly to the history of the DC Universe with his work on Legion of Super-Heroes, Justice League, and, yes, even Ambush Bug. (And yes, he’s had his share of issues over that time as well.) Depending how long the Showcase Presents line runs, we may eventually see his work in LSH. I could also see DC skipping ahead and starting a Showcase Presents Justice League line, to go along with their other collections from the 1980s. Until either of those happen, this will serve as Giffen’s contribution to the Showcase Presents line. At his peak, Ambush Bug was a very popular character in the 1980s, so yes it should be showcased like this.

Footnotes: Several times in this book, scriptor Robert Loren Fleming makes reference to a previous DC Comics series of his, Thriller, which ran for 12 issues in 1983 and 1984. Thriller was a direct-market only book, meaning that it could only be found in comic book stores. This series has never been collected, so you will need to dive into some back issue bins to track this one down.  

If you like this volume, try: the issues of the The Tick from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Created by Ben Edlund to serve as a mascot for his local comic book store, the Tick soon moved into his own comic strip and then his own book. The Tick served as a spoof of the super-hero comic industry, mocking the latest trends with exaggerated caricatures. Like Ambush Bug, the Tick would often break the fourth wall to interact with the reader. His popularity earned him a Saturday morning cartoon series from 1994 to 1997, and later a live-action TV series from 2001. These issues have been collected multiple times in trade paperbacks and omnibus editions, so they should be easy to track down.

Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 3

Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 3

Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 3

First Published: February 2009

Contents: Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #35 (March 1959) to #44 (April 1960); and Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #8 (April 1959) to #16 (April 1960)

Key Creator Credits: Curt Swan, Otto Binder, Wayne Boring, Kurt Schaffenberger, and others

Key First Appearances: Lucy Lane, Sam Lane, Ella Lane, Van-Zee, Sylvia Van-Zee, Alice White

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the world of Superman, more specifically the friends and family of Superman, as the adventures of his pal, Jimmy Olsen, and his girlfriend, Lois Lane, continues in this third Showcase Presents.

As always, these issues contain three 8- to 10-page stories that followed predictable formulas from one story to the next. The sole exception would be Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #15, which featured a book length story featuring the wedding of Superman and Lois.

Several new characters make their first appearance in this volume. Lois Lane’s younger sister is introduced. Lucy Lane is a stewardess that captures the eye of Jimmy Olsen. Lucy will stay with Lois when she has layovers in Metropolis. Lois and Lucy’s parents, Sam and Ella Lane, make their appearance when Lois returns home to Pittsdale. And Perry White’s wife, Alice, shows up for the first time at a birthday party for the newspaper editor, chiding him about eating cake given the weight he has put on lately.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: OK, the quality of these stories is slightly better than the previous volumes. Just slightly! These are one and done stories with no concern about continuity to the franchise. The best stories are the ones that include other characters beyond Lois, Jimmy, Superman, and Perry. Supergirl makes two appearances, and Aquaman swims in for a story. Jimmy faces off against Mr. Mxyzptlk in another story. With any of these Superman Family volumes, you do not necessarily need to read the issues in order. You may be better off skipping around and picking the stories that most interest you.  

Footnotes: “The Mermaid From Metropolis” story from Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #12 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol. 1.

“Lois Lane’s Secret Romance” story from Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #14 and “Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl’s Pal” from Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #40 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 1.

In Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #9 (May 1959), the popular singer Pat Boone makes an appearance, and co-writes a song about Superman with Lois. Later that same year, Pat Boone would get his own DC Comics title, but it would only run five issues.

If you like this volume, try: taking a visit to the Super Museum in Metropolis, IL. Located in the southern tip of Illinois (across the river from Paducah, KY), the Super Museum is a private collection of Superman mementos, as well as a gift shop. On the town square is a large statue to Superman, which makes for a popular picture spot for visitors. Each June, the town hosts a Superman celebration, with a costume contest, parade, and celebrity guests related to the Superman comics, movies, or television shows. For more information, visit www.supermuseum.com.

My kids at the Superman statue, June 2011

My kids at the Superman statue, June 2011

Essential Dazzler Vol. 2

Essential Dazzler Vol. 2

Essential Dazzler Vol. 2

First Published: May 2009

Contents: Dazzler #22 (December 1982) to #42 (March 1986); Marvel Graphic Novel #12 (1984); Beauty and the Beast #1 (December 1984) to #4 (June 1985); and Secret Wars II #4 (October 1985)

Key Creator Credits: Frank Springer, Danny Fingeroth, Jim Shooter, Mike Carlin, Ann Nocenti, Don Perlin, Archie Goodwin, Paul Chadwick, Bill Sienkiewicz, and others

Story Continues From: Essential Dazzler Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 6

Overview: The Dazzler is back in action! (And a quick Google search confirms that those six words have never been used in that order before!) While still trying to make it as a singer, Dazzler finds herself constantly caught up in situations that require her to use her mutant powers. Whether battling the Sisterhood of Evil Mutants (Rogue, Mystique, and Destiny), fighting in an underground mutant gladiator arena in Los Angeles, or trashing the San Diego Comic Con, trouble just seems to find our title character.

This title suffers from a rotating creator team, as writers and artists shuffle in and out for a few issues at a time. That makes it a challenge for the next team to come in and pick up the story where it left off. So after a moderately successful run as a New York City singer, we find Allison moving to California, where the singing takes a back stage to gigs as a model and as an actress. She dates a variety of characters, like Roman Nekobah (a Frank Sinatra wannabe), for several issues, before the next writer introduces their own character.

While I wouldn’t call these standout moments, there are some familiar stories in here that may trigger some fuzzy memories:

  • First, Dazzler was one of the titles that participated in Assistant Editor’s Month. Dazzler took a side-trip to San Diego with Marvel editor Ralph Macchio, and fought a mutant lizard. Yes, that happened.
  • Dazzler was the feature star of a Marvel Graphic Novel. Dazzler: The Movie was to be Allison’s big break in the acting business. Instead, it just outed her to the world as a mutant.
  • Dazzler teamed up with the Beast (who was leading the New Defenders at the time) for Beauty and the Beast, a four-issue mini-series. Dazzler was recruited (and drugged) to participate in a mutant fight club, and it was up to Hank McCoy to help get her out.

Issue #38 gave us a new direction for our heroine. Sporting a new uniform, courtesy of the X-Men (and their cameo appearances), and featuring a new creative team of Archie Goodwin and Paul Chadwick, Dazzler finds herself being chased (pun intended) down by the bounty hunter, O.Z. Chase. Dazzler does her best to be cooperative with Chase to clear out what she believes is a misunderstanding, only to find out it’s a group wanting to use her powers to energize their againg bodies. As if that was not crazy enough, there is a side story where Allison finds herself the center of the Beyonder’s romantic interest. Right or wrong (but I’m leaning towards right), Dazzler was finally cancelled with issue #42.

What makes this Essential?: What a change! I was very skeptical heading into Vol. 1. Let’s be honest, “Essential Dazzler” is one of the best oxymorons of all time. I’m not saying Vol. 1 is a great collection, but it turned out to be not as bad as I expected. (I think that’s a compliment.) So heading into Vol. 2, I had slightly higher expectations than before. And then I started reading. Oh my gosh, this was just…. not good. The stories were just all over the place. Lots of one-and-done stories, new supporting characters introduced every few issues; the most absurd romances for Allison; and way-too-many villains that were never used again. (Seriously, if the Scourge of the Underworld doesn’t bother to kill you, you know you are lame villain.) Unless you are a completest like myself, I think you would be OK skipping this volume.

Life After Death: Dazzler’s title came to an end with issue #42 (March 1986). But she was not off the stage for very long. Later that summer, she joined up (finally!) with the X-Men, as the Mutant Massacre story came to an end. The X-Men found themselves short-handed, with injuries to Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde, and Colossus. So the team extends invites to Dazzler, Longshot, and Psylocke during this period. Dazzler would be a key member of the team for the remainder of the decade, before heading into the character limbo for most of the 1990s.

Footnotes: Beauty and the Beast #1-4 is also reprinted in Essential Defenders Vol. 7.

If you like this volume, try: Elektra: Assassin by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz from 1986-87. OK, I’ve laid out that this is not a collection of good stories. I don’t need to bang this drum any more. But if there was one glimmer of light in this book, it would be the cover work by Bill Sienkiewicz. (And for those of you struggling with his name, it’s pronounced “sin-KEV-itch”.) Sienkiewicz rose in popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s with work on Moon Knight and New Mutants. In the mid 1980s, the artist collaborated with artist-turned-writer Miller to create a direct-market mini-series released under Marvel’s Epic line. At this time, both men were at their creative peaks, and the collaboration produced an elegant and powerful story in the vein of the “Manchurian Candidate”,which takes place…. sometime. It’s been a debate whether this takes place chronologically before her first appearance in the pages of Daredevil, or sometime after her encounter with Bullseye. Regardless when it takes place, this is a must own series for any fan of Miller, Sienkiewicz, and/or Elektra. Sienkiewicz’s career has been filled with outstanding projects, but this title always ranks at the top of his comic book accomplishments.

Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol. 3

Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol. 3

Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol. 3

First Published: January 2008

Contents: Aquaman #24 (November-December 1965) to #39 (May-June 1968); The Brave and the Bold #73 (August-September 1967); and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #115 (October 1968)

Key Creator Credits: Nick Cardy, Bob Haney, and others

Key First Appearances: Ocean Master, Tula/Aquagirl, Black Manta, Vulko, Scavenger

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol. 2

Overview: Here we are with Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol. 3, or as I like to think of it, Showcase Presents Aquaman Family Vol. 1. In the same ways that characters like Superman and Batman developed a supporting cast, many of whom had identities starting with the words “super” or “bat”, Aquaman finds himself in a similar situation with his supporting cast. We’ve had Aqualad for years, and last volume gave us Aquababy. Now with this collection, we get Aquagirl to give Aqualad someone to hang out with. And much like some of the Superman Family- or Batman Family-type issues of the era, we are treated to some ho-hum issues of the Aquaman Family working together to solve some undersea calamity.

In addition to Aquagirl, we are finally introduced to Vulko, an Atlantean who would become Aquaman’s trusted advisor. Vulko has become a mainstay in Aquaman comics for many years – whether bringing Arthur up to speed after a long absence from Atlantis, or sitting on the throne as king when Aquaman finds himself ousted from his home.

But the highlight of this collection is the completion of Aquaman’s Rogues Gallery. The two villains most associated with Aquaman make their first appearance in these issues. We find out that Ocean Master is Arthur’s half brother, which creates a new set of struggles for Aquaman, who has very little blood relatives in his life. It’s hard to love your family when they are trying to kill you every other issue! We also meet Black Manta, an angry man that wants nothing more than to take down Aquaman. Both of these foes have become mainstays not only in Aquaman’s universe, but in the DC Universe proper. Another minor villain is introduced in the Scavenger. Truthfully, you probably have read stories featuring Scavenger. He’s just not that memorable of a character.

This majority of this collection is written by Bob Haney and art by Nick Cardy, two names that are very synonymous with 1960s DC Comics. We do get a rare non-Batman issue of The Brave and the Bold, as Aquaman teams up with his fellow Justice League member, the Atom.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This is a hit-and-miss collection for me. When the stories are good, they are great! Some of these issues make me believe that Aquaman could be a top-tier character. But then you get a not-so-good story, and those sink to the bottom faster than the Titanic. It’s almost like they found an unused script from a few years prior and decided to run with it. I’m not trying to bash those issues. I’m sure someone out there really enjoyed them.

If you like this volume, try: the Aquaman: Death of the Prince trade paperback from 2011. OK, as of the writing of this post, DC has not released a Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol. 4, which is a huge shame! Beginning with issue #40, Jim Aparo took over as the series artist, providing a new definitive look to Aquaman and his family. The series ran until #56 in the early 1970s. In the mid-1970s, the series resumed with issue #57, and kicked things up a notch, as evidenced by this trade paperback title. The Aquaman title ran until #63 (thanks DC Implosion!), but Aquaman’s story continued in the pages of Adventure Comics. As I noted in my review for Volume 2, Aquaman was one of the first characters that DC actively developed and pushed forward story lines featuring major life events (marriage, birth of a son, and now death in the family). This is a great volume to track down to read Aquaman’s tumultuous adventures from the 1970s.