Essential Conan Vol. 1

Essential Conan Vol. 1

Essential Conan Vol. 1

First Published: July 2000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 2

Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 2

Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 2

First Published: August 2008

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

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

Key First Appearances: Lion-Mane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

First Published: July 2008

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

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

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

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essential Defenders Vol. 4

Essential Defenders Vol. 4

Essential Defenders Vol. 4

First Published: July 2008

Contents: The Defenders #61 (July 1978) to #91 (January 1981)

Key Creator Credits: David Kraft, Sal Buscema, Ed Hannigan, Don Perlin, Herb Trimpe, Steven Grant, and others

Key First Appearances: Milton Rosenblum, Dolly Donahue

Story Continues From: Essential Defenders Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Defenders Vol. 5

Overview: Imagine if you were a leader of a team of super-heroes, and you need to add new members. How do you do that? Check online reviews, or get recommendations from the current team. What if you were a non-team, with no official rules or charter or even a leader. In that case, you air a television commercial inviting would be members out to the Long Island home of one of your members, a member who is trying to keep his identity a secret. This is what makes the Defenders such a quirky book!

As I mentioned above, the “Defenders for a Day” story kicks off this volume. Dollar Bill, a sidekick of sorts to the team, puts out a TV commercial inviting hero try-outs at the estate of Kyle (Nighthawk) Richmond. Who should show up is a B-List of Marvel heroes from the late 1970s – Ms. Marvel, Iron Fist, Hercules, Nova, Jack of Hearts, Marvel Boy, the Falcon, Captain Marvel, Havok, Black Goliath, and many, many more. Anyone who has read comics for any period of time can anticipate what happens next. Various heroes all vying for a spot on the team, a misunderstanding, and the next thing you know everyone is fighting. The story gets even better, when Iron Man shows up to share the news that a lot of villains are running rampant in New York City, claiming to be a member of the Defenders. Everyone finds a way to get back to the city and get things straightened out. Net result of all of this “Defenders for a Day”? No new members.

One highlight I found in this book was the development of the characters. We dive into the back stories for Valkryie, Nighthawk, and in particular Hellcat. Be honest, who remembers Patsy Walker being friends with Millie the Model? It is during the late run of the book that the team “changes” headquarters and sets up shop at Patsy’s house.

What makes this Essential?: Writing a review for the Defenders keeps getting harder and harder. It’s not a traditional book where there seems to be a reason for these characters to be together. If you like one of these characters, or can appreciate the humor in this quirky book, then please give this a read. But my gut feeling tells me that even if I was to loan this book to someone to read, I would feel very guilty about wasting their time reading these issues.

If you like this volume, try: the I Am An Avenger trade paperbacks from 2010. Yes, this is a review of the Defenders and not the Avengers, but the Defenders have not been collected as often. Maybe if the Defenders were a “real” team… but I digress. These two trade paperbacks collect many of the Avengers issues where new members were asked to join the team. Specifically, in the first collection, Avengers #221 is reprinted, which is one of the first issues of Avengers that I bought off of the spinner rack. In that issue, the Avengers roster is down to just four members: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Wasp. They each go out to seek out new recruits to join the team. Numerous heroes are asked, and most politely decline. Spider-Man turns them down, but then has second thoughts when he finds out that active members on the team receive a weekly stipend. In the end, the Avengers add Hawkeye and She-Hulk to their active roster. The cover to this issue stood out, as it featured a mug-shot line-up of the various potential recruits featured in the story. This is definitely a step-up from the “Defender for a Day” story that started this collection. With any team book – Defenders, Avengers, X-Men, Justice League, etc. – the books thrive on the rotating line-ups, and the “Old Order Changeth!” issues are some of the most memorable moments.

Avengers #221

Avengers #221

Showcase Presents The Atom Vol. 2

Showcase Presents The Atom Vol. 2

Showcase Presents The Atom Vol. 2

First Published: August 2008

Contents: The Atom #18 (April-May 1965) to #38 (August-September 1968)

Key Creator Credits: Gardner Fox, Gil Kane, and Murphy Anderson

Key First Appearances: Bug-Eyed Bandit

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents The Atom Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 2

Overview: The Mighty Mite of Ivy Town returns in second volume of Showcase Presents The Atom. Scientist Ray Palmer discovered a way to miniaturize himself using a white dwarf star and ultra-violet rays. Donning a costume, Ray Palmer adopts the identity of the Atom, who can shrink and enlarge himself, as well as adjusting his weight for emphasis when needed. In addition to fighting the various costumed foes that threaten Ivy Town, the Atom also takes a dive into the time pool, when he is able to travel to events in the past.

The stories follow the same formula from the previous volume, where we either get one full-length story or two shorter stories per issue. The highlights of this volume is Ray Palmer meeting his Golden Age counter-part in Al Pratt, the Earth-2 Atom. The two Atoms actually had their first meetings in the first and second meetings of the Justice League and the Justice Society. But this volume features two issues, #29 and #36, that brings the two pint-size heroes together.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: As we move further and further away from the Golden Age and Silver Age of comics, we start to overlook some of the great people that worked on those books. Case in point, I would like to speak on editor Julie Schwartz. He came of age in the 1930s as a science fiction editor, helping writers to place stories in magazines. In 1944, he joined All-American Comics (one of the companies that would become DC Comics) as an editor. During his tenure, he brought in numerous science fiction authors to write comics. Schwartz oversaw the “Silver Age” debut of new versions of the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Atom. In the mid-1960s, he took over the editor reigns for the Batman books, overseeing that revitalization of that franchise. In the early 1970s, he did that again with the Superman family of books. What makes the Schwartz books stand out, particularly on titles like The Flash or The Atom, is that the stories were based in science, not just in fiction. The characters were scientists in their civilian lives. I know as a kid, I learned actual knowledge reading some of these comics. So yes, all Julie Schwartz edited books should be showcased, and The Atom is a great place to start!

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

The Atom #38 was the final issue with Ray Palmer as the solo feature of the title. Beginning with issue #39, the title was renamed The Atom and Hawkman, as Hawkman’s title had just been cancelled. The Atom and Hawkman ran for seven issues before it was cancelled as well. Parts of those seven issues can be found in Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 2. Excuse me for a moment while I get very angry with DC Comics. See, for The Atom and Hawkman #40, #41, #43, and #44, the two title characters have separate stories. However, Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 2 only reprints the Hawkman stories from those issues. That means that the Atom stories from issues #40, #41, #43, and #44 have not been reprinted! These were 10-12 page stories, so that would have meant 40-50 to include those four Atom stories, either in the Hawkman Showcase or this Atom Showcase.

If you like this volume, try: the All-New Atom series that debuted in 2006 from Gail Simone and John Byrne. In this series, we meet Ryan Choi, an Asian-American protege of Ray Palmer. Choi has recently moved to Ivy Town in hopes of taking Ray Palmer’s position at the university. Discovering some of Palmer’s notes, Choi tracks down one of the old size-changing belts used by the Atom. Developing a new costume, Choi takes on the name of the Atom, to further fill the void of Ray Palmer’s absence from Ivy Town. This series ran for 25 issues, and almost all of the series has been collected into four trade paperbacks. Choi was a fresh character that truly paid homage to the Atom of the 1960s, where the science was just as important as the fiction. Sadly, Choi was not brought into the “New 52″ universe, so tracking down this series is your best bet to discover the character.

Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 1

Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 1

Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 1

First Published: May 2008

Contents: The Rampaging Hulk #1 (January 1977) to #9 (June 1978); Hulk! #10 (August 1978) to #15 (June 1979); and part of a story from Incredible Hulk #269 (March 1982)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Walt Simonson, Keith Pollard, Ron Wilson, and others

Key First Appearances: Bereet, Krylorians

Story Continues In: Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 2

Overview: Throughout the 1970s, Marvel Comics had been releasing black & white magazines through their parent company, Curtis Magazines. Most magazines featured more adult topics than what could be printed in a comic (and approved by the Comics Code Authority). The magazines tended to feature characters that were not currently featured in the Marvel Comics, although there were some exceptions along the way. In 1976, Marvel changed that up with the launch of the Rampaging Hulk magazine.

The magazine can be broken up into two eras, as clearly defined by the title change of the magazine. When the magazine launched, the stories were set in the 1960s, picking up on the Hulk’s adventures following the cancellation of his title in Incredible Hulk #6. The Hulk and Rick Jones are on the run from the Army, and travel to Europe to escape their pursuers. There they encounter the alien Bereet, who is also being pursued by her race, the Krylorians. While they claim that Bereet is an escaped fugitive, the Krylorians actually intend to take over the Earth.

During the course of these adventures, the Hulk, Rick Jones, and Bereet encounter numerous familiar faces from the Silver Age of Marvel Comics. The original X-Men and the Sub-Mariner cross paths with the rampaging Hulk. To stop the final phase of the Krylorians invasion, our heroes return to the New York City, where the Hulk encounters Iron Man, Thor, Ant Man, and the Wasp well before they team up to form the Avengers. The Krylorians realize that their plans are useless, and flee the Earth.

Beginning with issue #10, the magazine goes in a new direction. The title changes to the Hulk!, and the stories are now told in “Marvelcolor”. The stories now take place in current Marvel time, and take an approach similar to the popular Incredible Hulk TV show of this same time. Bruce Banner is on the road in search of a cure for his condition. Each issue, Banner stumbles into some odd job (miner, circus carny, etc.) and some incident occurs that leads to his change into the Hulk.

A Bobby Ewing Shower situation!: In Incredible Hulk #269 (March 1982), it was revealed that the stories in Rampaging Hulk #1-9 were not “in continuity” but rather a fictionalized film created by the artist Bereet to entertain her fellow Krylorians. Bereet then traveled to Earth, where she became a companion of sorts for the Hulk during the time that he maintained his intelligence while he was the Hulk. She appeared in stories throughout 1982 and 1983, before disappearing into the character limbo.

What makes this Essential?: While I wouldn’t say that any of these stories are truly essential, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this volume. Sure, most of these stories fall outside of any continuity, but sometimes those make for better stories. The writing, done almost all by Doug Moench, is good for the era and the intended audience. The art is great, but there are times when the pages look awkward due to the smaller size of the Essential page compared to that of the original magazine. If you are a fan of the Hulk or interested in the Marvel magazines, then give this a look.

Footnotes: The Hulk & Moon Knight stories from Hulk! #15 are also reprinted in Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: watching (or re-watching for my older readers) the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk series from the 1970s. The series is available on DVD, and can be found on both Netflix and Hulu Plus. As familiar as we (the comic book readers) are with the Hulk and his origins, for many people this television series was their introduction to the green-skinned giant. Dr. David Bruce Banner is exposed to a deadly dose of gamma radiation, which leads to a startling transformation when he becomes emotional. Hounded by a news reporter chasing a story, David Banner goes on the run around the country in search of a cure to his green issues. The success of this show helped inspire the change of direction with the Hulk! magazine. Any Hulk fan should watch this. If I find out that you haven’t watched this, I will be so angry. To quote an often used line from the show, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 1

Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 1

Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 1

First Published: May 2008

Contents: Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967) and #13 (March 1968); Captain Marvel #1 (May 1968) to #21 (August 1970); and the Captain Marvin story from Not Brand Echh #9 (March 1981)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Don Heck, Gil Kane, Gary Friedrich, Dick Ayers, and others

Key First Appearances: Mar-Vell/Captain Marvel, Una, Yon-Rogg, Carol Danvers, Mordecai Boggs

Story Continues In: Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 2

Overview: Unbeknownst to most of the people of Earth, alien races have been keeping an eye on our home planet. One of those races, the Kree, have parked a spaceship in orbit to do further observation of the Earthlings. Captain Mar-Vell is sent to the surface for further investigation, finding himself near a military base in Florida. Mar-Vell’s commander, Col. Yon-Rogg, despises his assignment and wants nothing more than to blast our planet to bits and return to the Kree home world. Finding himself at odds with his commander, Mar-Vell breaks ranks with the Kree and vows to protect the Earth as Captain Marvel!

Captain Marvel finds that the Kree are not happy with his decision, as he is forced to face off against Yon-Rogg and Ronan the Accuser. And given that the Kree are the mortal enemies of the Skrulls, of course the Super-Skrull has to cross paths with Captain Marvel.

In issue #17, Roy Thomas returned to script the book, and brought along with Gil Kane for the art chores. Captain Marvel was given his more-familiar red and blue costume, and the story starting progressing in new directions. Rick Jones, the official sidekick of the Marvel Universe, joins up with Captain Marvel, and the two find themselves bonded via the Nega-Bands. Because of that, when one is on Earth, the other is transported to the Negative Zone. (And if you know your Marvel history, if Rick Jones is around, than the Hulk will soon follow!)

One of the supporting characters created for this series was Carol Danvers, a security officer at the military base during the origin issues of our hero. However, in issue #18 (November 1969), Carol is caught up in an explosion with Captain Marvel. After she has fully recovered, she later finds out that her DNA has been fused with Kree DNA, and it has given her many of the same powers as Captain Marvel. Carol’s story will continue in the pages of her own comic, which have been reviewed in Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1.

What makes this Essential?: OK, full disclosure and SPOILER warning time. I never really got into the Captain Marvel character. Want to know why? Because the first time I ever saw the character was in Marvel Graphic Novel #1: The Death of Captain Marvel. He was killed off the first time I read him! And it was a shocking move by Marvel, having a heroic character die not in battle but in a bed from cancer. So given the dramatic finale to his career, I had not desire to go back and read his adventures. In all fairness, the early 1980s still was part of the era where characters that were deceased stayed deceased. Of course, Marvel would reuse the name Captain Marvel (to protect the trademark) with later characters. But in today’s era, sometimes the best characters to use are the dead ones, and a good writer finds a way to resurrect the dead.

So I read this volume only knowing the character’s end. This is a mixed introduction to Captain Marvel. I fully believe this is a book that got much better as the story progressed, so I am looking forward to reading Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 2 sometime soon. (You can read into that if the book got better as the story progressed, then the early issues must have been a rough ride to get through.) The Gil Kane issues in the end of the book were my favorites, as the artist finds away to make Captain Marvel feel more alive. (I’m still a big fan of Gene Colan, but these issues just didn’t do it for me. Thankfully I have plenty of Colan Daredevil and Dracula issues to enjoy!) Bottom line – I think this is worth reading, but I don’t know that this is worth owning.

Footnotes: Captain Marvel #20 and #21 are also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 3.

Read my review of Showcase Presents SHAZAM! Vol. 1 to learn about the name battle between Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel.

If you like this volume, try: the Captain Marvel series from 2000 by Peter David and ChrisCross. This is a new Captain Marvel, Genis-Vell, who is gentically-engineered son of the late Mar-Vell. Introduced in a 1996 Captain Marvel mini-series, the character went by the code name of Legacy. He rose in popularity when he was included in Avengers Forever maxi-series, as a future Avenger plucked from time to fight in the Destiny War. At the climax of that story, Captain Marvel finds that he must use the Nega-Band connection to save Rick Jones. Following that series, Genis-Vell moved into his own monthly book, still bonded to his father’s former side-kick. The series ran for 35 issues, before being rebooted in a Marvel promotion in 2002. The reboot, still written by Peter David, ran for another 25 issues. David is one of the best comic book writers, so any of these issues are a treat. Sadly, this is not a series that has been reprinted beyond one trade paperback, so you may need to dive into some back-issue bins to track this one down.