Showcase Presents Blue Beetle Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Blue Beetle Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Blue Beetle Vol. 1

First Published: January 2015

Contents: Blue Beetle #1 (June 1986) to #24 (May 1988); and Secret Origins #2 (May 1986)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, Paris Cullins, Ross Andru, Don Heck, Gil Kane, and others

Key First Appearances: Melody Case, Carapax, Jeremiah Duncan, Lt. Max Fisher, Angela Revere, Dr. Murray Takamoto, Catalyst, Overthrow

Overview: Stop me if you read this story before. Wealthy playboy oversees a large scientific company, but has a hidden life, where he dresses up in a costume, flies around in a vehicle that matches his motiff, and stops super-villains and other forms of crime. You’re thinking of Blue Beetle, right? Yes, one of the stars of the Charlton Comics’ Action Hero line jumps into the pages of DC Comics. Following his successful appearance in Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Blue Beetle becomes the first Charlton hero to get his own monthly title.

So lets meet Ted Kord. He’s rebuilt KORD (Kord Omniversal Research & Development), Inc., after his father left it in ruins. He’s rich, good-looking, and mostly single — he’s been dating his girl Friday, Melody Case. Ted also has a secret identity – the Blue Beetle. With a hidden base located under the company headquarters in Chicago, Blue Beetle battles a mix of foes from the Charlton days (Madmen) as well as long-time DC foes (Doctor Alchemy, Chronos), and crosses paths with many DC heroes, such as the Teen Titans, the Justice League, and the Question.

We also learn that Ted Kord is not the first person to wear the mantle of the Blue Beetle. The original Blue Beetle was Dan Garrett, a university professor and archeologist. Well before Professor Henry Jones, Garrett was exploring the Egyptian dig of Kha-Ef-Re where he discovers a mystical blue scarab. The token grants Garrett super-strength, turning him into the first Blue Beetle. Dan Garrett had many adventures, before finally meeting his fate on mysterious Pago Island. While on his death bed, he got Kord, a former student of his, to promise to carry on his secret calling. Unable to use the blue scarab, Kord develops gadgets, weapons, and a flying ship (“the Bug”) to allow him to carry on the mantle of the Blue Beetle.

As the story develops, Ted Kord finds himself spending more and more time as the Blue Beetle, and less time managing the work of KORD, Inc. This leads to Case reaching out to Ted’s missing father, Thomas Kord, to return and take over the reigns of the company, just as it all comes crashing down (literally and figuratively). The series ends with Ted Kord walking off into the sunset, content with becoming Blue Beetle full-time and leaving the corporate life behind.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Much like the situation I found myself in when reading Showcase Presents Booster Gold, I was prepared to overlook this collection, having loosely followed the Blue Beetle run 28 years ago. With the re-read of this title, I’m a little more impressed with the stories. Len Wein did a noble job in integrating Blue Beetle and his cast into the DC Universe, with nods to his Charlton roots. But as with Booster Gold, it’s not the solo book that fans came to know these title characters – it’s the Justice League of the late 1980s that gave us the defining view of Blue Beetle, which right or wrong, is that of comedy relief. I find myself reconsidering my position on this. I really want Blue Beetle to be a more serious hero, along the lines (but not as dark) as Batman. But as I read this title, I found myself wishing that DC would publish a Showcase Presents Justice League Vol. 1 sometime soon.

Meet the Action Heroes: From 1946 to 1986, Charlton Comics published comics in a variety of genres, from war to romance to licensed books to super-heroes. In fact, in the mid-1960s, then Charlton editor Dick Giordano developed a line of characters dubbed the “Action Hero”, which included Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, the Question, the Peacemaker, the Judomaster, and Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. These characters had varying degrees of success, but most of the titles were cancelled by the end of that decade. Jump ahead to 1983, and Charlton was struggling to survive. Then DC Managing Editor Dick Giordano worked out a deal to buy the rights for the Action Heroes from Charlton. DC incorporated these characters into the Crisis on Infinite Earths mega-event, and then put Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and the Question into their own monthly books. In addition, Alan Moore used archetypes of these characters when he created Watchmen with Dave Gibbons. 

Footnotes: In terms of reading order, jump to the back of the book and read Secret Origins #2 first. Look at the publishing dates – the Secret Origins issue came out the month BEFORE Blue Beetle #1. In addition, the early issues of Blue Beetle make reference to his origin story which is detailed in the Secret Origins issue.

If you like this volume, try: reading the Legends mini-series from 1986 by Len Wein, John Ostrander, and John Byrne. Following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Darkseid plots to undermine humanity, sending Glorious Godfrey to Earth to incite riots and turn people against super-heroes. Blue Beetle had a featured role in this series, and the odd collection of heroes at the end of the series come together to become the new Justice League. DC also had other titles spinning out of the events of Legends, including Suicide Squad, The Flash, and a Shazam mini-series. Legends has only been collected one time in a trade paperback, back in 1993, so you might have better luck finding the original issues in a back-issue bin.

Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2

Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2

Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2

First Published: November 2008

Contents: Supernatural Thrillers #5 (August 1973), and #7 (June 1974) to #15 (October 1975); Brother Voodoo introduction from Tales of the Zombie #2 (October 1973), #6 (July 1974), and #10 (March 1975); Strange Tales #169 (September 1973) to #174 (June 1974), #176 (October 1974) and #177 (December 1974); Marvel Team-Up #24 (August 1974); Haunt of Horror #2 (July 1974) to #5 (January 1975); Monsters Unleashed #11 (April 1975); Marvel Two-In-One #11 (September 1975), #18 (August 1976), and #33 (November 1977); Marvel Chillers #1 (October 1975) and #2 (December 1975); Dead of Night #11 (August 1975); and Marvel Spotlight #26 (February 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Tony Isabella, Len Wein, Doug Moench, Mike Friedrich, Bill Mantlo, John Warner, Scott Edelman, Val Mayerik, Gene Colan, Tony Dezuniga, Sonny Trinidad, Billy Graham, and others

Key First Appearances: Living Mummy, Elementals (Hellfire, Hydron, Magnum, Zephyr), Asp, Jericho Drumm/Brother Voodoo, Daniel Drumm, Damballah, Black Talon, Gabriel/Devil-Hunter, Modred the Mystic, Chthon, Scarecrow (Straw Man)

Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1

Overview: Welcome back to more marvelous debuts of characters from the horror-themed titles of the 1970s. This volume features the first appearances of six characters of varying degrees of success.

  • First up is the Living Mummy. Awakened after 3,000 years, the Living Mummy finds himself adapting to the world of 1973, whether in the streets of New York City, or in the deserts of Egypt.
  • Next up is Brother Voodoo, perhaps the most successful of the characters featured in this collection. Jericho Drumm returns to his home in Haiti. Caught up in a spiritual war, Drumm learns the secrets of the Loa, and becomes Brother Voodoo. With the spirit of his deceased brother Daniel living in him, Brother Voodoo challenges zombies, ghosts, vampires, and villains.
  • Gabriel, Devil Hunter comes to us from the pages of the horror magazines. With one good eye, the former priests conducts exorcisms to draw out the demons inhabiting innocent souls.
  • Golem hearkens back to Jewish folklore, as a clay figure comes to life powered by love. The Marvel Comics’ Golem has very few appearances. (If you are interested in reading a great story about a Golem, check out Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001.)
  • Modred the Mystic comes to us from King Arthur’s court. Modred was to become an apprentice to Merlin, but that tended to be red-shirt situation, if you catch my drift. He embarks on a path to explore the Darkhold, which casts him into suspended animation until he is revived in the 1970s.
  • Finally, the Scarecrow jumps out of a portrait to battle demons. (When he appeared later, he was renamed as Straw Man, to differentiate himself from the Silver Age villain known as Scarecrow.) I really want to write more about him, but there is not a lot to work with here.

What makes this Essential?: This is a book that can go either way — it’s a must-own book or it’s a do not own book. It’s all dependent on your personal tastes. I found that the Living Mummy and the Brother Voodoo stories worked the best, as we were given multiple issues to really dive into the characters. The other four characters each get 3-5 issues, which in most cases is not enough to really get a solid or favorable position on the character.

Personally, I might have preferred seeing more established Marvel Universe characters in this volume. For example, Greer Nelson debuted in the pages of The Cat in 1972. In 1974, she became Tigra in Giant-Size Creatures #1, followed up by a run in Marvel Chillers. She would later have stints in Fantastic Four and The Avengers (see the later Essential volumes of those titles), and has remained a fairly active character in the Marvel Universe since her introduction. This would have been a perfect showcase (pardon the use) for a female character, in a volume that is very male-centric to begin with. 

If any of the six featured characters interest you, then pick it up. If these characters do not interest you, stay far away from this book.

Footnotes: Marvel Two-in-One #11 and #18 were also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1.

Marvel Two-in-One #33 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2 and Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1.

Marvel Team-Up #24 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the 1980s Elementals series from Comico. The idea of characters with powers representing the basic elements is nothing new in comics. The argument could be made that the Fantastic Four is the best representation of this concept. In the Living Mummy stories in this collection, we see an actual team of adversaries called the Elementals. Over at DC Comics, a team of Elementals was introduced (but never used again) in the pages of Super Friends – see Showcase Presents Super Friends Vol. 1. But the greatest use of the concept came in 1984 at Comico, when Elementals #1 hit the comic book racks. The four characters that would comprise the Elementals (Vortex, Morningstar, Fathom, and Monolith) actually made their debut in the Justice Machine Annual #1 from 1983.  The basic set-up for Elementals is that the four element spirits find physical hosts (who have each recently died in that element) to help bring balance back to the universe due to the actions of the evil sorcerer Lord Saker. The book was written and drawn by Bill Willingham, many years before he became the grand storyteller of the Fables series. This is a really great series that sadly is not easily available today. Comico went through ownership changes and bankruptcy courts, and these characters have remained in limbo since the late 1990s. Comico released a trade paperback in 1988 collecting the initial story arc, but again, that is more than 25 years ago and its no longer in print. You might have to go to eBay or a really good back issue dealer to find these comics, but it’s well worth the hunt.

Showcase Presents Blackhawk Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Blackhawk Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Blackhawk Vol. 1

First Published: October 2008

Contents: Blackhawk #108 (January 1957) to #127 (August 1958)

Key Creator Credits: Dick Dillin, Charles Cuidera, Sheldon Moldoff, Dave Wood, and others

Who is Blackhawk?: Blackhawk, the leader of the team; Stanislaus, the team’s second-in-command; Chuck, the team’s communications specialist; Hendrickson, the team’s sharpshooter; André, the team’s demolitions expert; Olaf, a jack of all trades; and Chop-Chop, a sidekick of sorts for Blackhawk. 

Overview: Meet the Blackhawk military squad. Initially created during the early days of World War II, the men of Blackhawk continue their fight during the Cold War era. Working from their hidden Blackhawk Island in the middle of an unnamed ocean, the Blackhawks are called on to stop rogue armies, super criminals, and monsters from the underground.

Each issue featured three stories, each generally eight pages long. In most cases they follow familiar formulas to wrap things up by the fifth panel of page eight. While the various characters get the occasional feature, the star of the book is obviously Blackhawk himself, who seems to be smarter and braver than all of the other members.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I really had a hard time with this volume. There are very few known writing credits for these stories, and maybe that is for the better. There are many times where the character’s ethnic characteristics are overly exaggerated to be borderline racist. In particular, the handling of Chop Chop, the Chinese ex-patriot that speaks in broken English with stereotypical comments. I realize I am applying 2015 standards to comics created nearly 60 years ago. The book is important to show the historical origins of the group, but there are much better stories to read of the Blackhawks from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Footnotes: Blackhawk was originally published by Quality Comics, with it’s debut in Uncle Sam Quarterly #1 (Fall 1941). The title was renamed Blackhawk with issue #9 (Winter 1944), and ran until issue #107 (December 1956), when Quality Comics ceased operations. Immediately, four titles were licensed out to DC Comics to publish (Blackhawk, G.I. Combat, Heart Throbs, and Robin Hood Tales). DC kept the numbering as well as the creative team on Blackhawk, immediately releasing issue #108 (January 1957). This Showcase begins with the start of the DC run of the title. Eventually all of the Quality Comics properties were sold to DC, giving the publisher the opportunity to integrate characters such as Plastic Man, Uncle Sam, the Human Bomb, Phantom Lady, and others into the DC Universe.  

If you like this volume, try: tracking down the first few years of stories from G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. Bear with me on this one! Some of the more interesting aspects of this Showcase was the time spent on Blackhawk Island, with their collection of their own weapons – tanks and planes and boats. In the early 1980s, Hasbro was preparing a new line of G.I. Joe toys, and contracted Marvel Comics to produce a supporting comic book to coincide with the toy line launch. The G.I. Joe comic was a smash hit, and the first two issues remained wall books for many years in comic book stores. Working with Hasbro, writer Larry Hama helped to develop characters and vehicles which would be used in both the comics and the toy line. The original G.I. Joe comic ran for 12 years at Marvel, and the property has been revived twice in the last ten years, first at Devil’s Due Publishing and later at IDW Publishing. The early issues of the Marvel line have been reprinted multiple times in multiple formats, by Marvel and by IDW, so track them down. Yo Joe!

Essential Hulk Vol. 5

Essential Hulk Vol. 5

Essential Hulk Vol. 5

First Published: December 20086

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

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

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

Story Continues From: Essential Hulk Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Hulk Vol. 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 4

Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 4

Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 4

First Published: September 2008

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

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

Key First Appearances: Nightwing, Flamebird

Story Continues from: Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 3

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

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

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

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

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

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

First Published: September 2008

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

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

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

Story Continues From: Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Vol. 1

Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Vol. 1

Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Vol. 1

First Published: August 2008

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

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

Key First Appearances: Swamp Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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