Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 2

Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 2

Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 2

First Published: February 2008

Contents: Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #23 (September 1957) to #34 (January 1959), Showcase #10 (September-October 1957), and Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #1 (March-April 1958) to #7 (February 1959)

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

Key First Appearances: Elastic Lad

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 3

Overview: In the 1950s, Superman-related comics helped fill the newsstands. Titles such as Superman; Action Comics; Adventure Comics; Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen; Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane; and World’s Finest all featured characters from the Superman Family.

This volume collects Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane stories from their respective titles. Each issue contained three 8-page stories that followed predictable formulas from one story to the next. Jimmy is working on a story, gets in trouble, but finds some way to save the day before calling in Superman. Lois Lane frets over her unreturned love for Superman, and looks for ways to discover his secret identity.

The one item added to the Superman Family mythos in this volume is Jimmy Olsen becoming Elastic Lad for the first time. He would use this identity on and off for the next 20 years, helping out Superman, Lois Lane, and even the Legion of Super-Heroes with his stretching abilities.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: You have to be a die-hard fan of the Silver-Age of comics to appreciate the stories told in here. Most Silver-Age stories do not hold up in comparison to current stories. These stories were truly written for and generally sold to kids. The stories are fun to read, provided you keep them in the context of the era in which they were first published.

Footnotes: Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 2 was released in February 2008. That book featured the Superman Family logo on the front of the book in red and yellow. After the release of the book, DC realized that several pages were accidentally swapped in Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #2. DC corrected the mistake and released a new volume in April of that same year. To differentiate between the two volumes, the Superman Family logo on the corrected version was changed to red and white (pictured at the top of this post).

If you like this volume, try: the 2012 series Superman Family Adventures by Franco and Art Baltazar. The title was released under the Johnny DC banner, aimed at younger kids, and takes all of the members of the Superman family into one big ongoing storyline that runs through all 12 issues. This is the most fun I have had reading a comic in the last five years. Highly recommend this series to get your Superman Family fix. DC has collected the entire series in two digest-size editions.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

First Published: May 2007

Contents: Fantastic Four #111 (June 1971) to #137 (August 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, John Buscema, Ross Andru, Joe Sinnott, and others

Key First Appearances: Walter Collins, Overmind, Air-Walker, Thundra,

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Overview: Let’s set the scene here. Jack Kirby has just recently left the Fantastic Four (and Marvel). If this had happened in the last 10 years, more than likely Marvel would have cancelled the book and relaunched it the next month with a new #1. But in the 1970s, the book must go on month after month, so welcome aboard to Archie and Roy and Gerry and John. You have big shoes to fill, so let’s see how you do in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6.

To ease the transition, let’s bring in a lot of familiar faces. With Sue still caring for Franklin, Crystal and Medusa take turns as members of the Fantastic Four. Of course, if those two are around, then the Inhumans cannot be far behind. (But why is Quicksilver hanging out with Inhumans, and seems to be quite close to Crystal…)

Let’s bring in some familiar foes. Doctor Doom? Check! Galactus and his new herald Air-Walker? Check! The Frightful Four? Check! Dragon Man? Check! Diablo? Sigh, check. But we also get some new challengers, such as the Overmind. But the most treacherous foe is finally shown in Walter Collins, the constantly irate landlord of the Baxter Building. (“Johnny, what did you do with the rent check?”) Thankfully, John Byrne was finally able to have Reed write off Collins years later during his fantastic run of the 1980s.

The most interesting introduction in this volume is Thundra, who comes from the 23rd century when Earth is ruled by Femizons. She travels back to the 20th century to fight the strongest man, who happens to be Ben Grimm. Thundra will become a familiar face in the pages of Fantastic Four, working as an ally of our heroes and as an enemy as a member of the Frightful Four. She eventually develops a romantic interest in Ben, much to his chagrin.

What makes this Essential?: I want to like this more, I really do. But this volume just feels like a let down after the Lee-Kirby run. Maybe it’s not fair to compare these issues against that run, but this is the situation. The stories are decent but not dynamic. The art is very good but never breathtaking. There are some moments that rise up close to greatness, but then I wonder how Lee & Kirby would have done it. Case in point, in Fantastic Four #116, Doctor Doom leads the Fantastic Four against Overmind and Mr. Fantastic, I loved the issue, but I wanted to see Kirby draw that issue. A Fantastic Four completist should own this volume, but it is not essential for a casual Marvel fan.

Footnotes: The front and back covers to Marvel Treasury Edition #21 (1979) are included in this volume. The treasury edition reprints Fantastic Four #120 to #123, which are collected in this Essential. In addition, early versions of the covers to Fantastic Four #130 and #131 are also included in this book.

If you like this volume, try: the Inhumans mini-series from 1998. Written by Paul Jenkins with art by Jae Lee, the 12-issue series was part of the Marvel Knights launch. Several story arcs are at work in this collection: Attilan is under attack from external and internal forces. The next generation of Inhumans debate their future before entering the Terrigan Mists. And the royal family shows that they are just as dysfunctional as any other family. The tale fills in the gaps in the Inhumans history, fleshing it out into an epic story. This is one of the best Marvel stories ever, and probably needs to be read multiple times to catch everything. This has been collected repeatedly in trade paperback and hardcover editions, so it should be easy to find.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 8

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 8

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 8

First Published: April 2007

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #161 (October 1976) to #185 (October 1978); Amazing Spider-Man Annual #11 (1977); Giant Size Spider-Man #6 (1975); and Nova #12 (August 1977)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, Ross Andru, Marv Wolfman, and others

Key First Appearances:  Jigsaw, Dr. Marla Madison, Dr. Bart Hamilton/Green Goblin (III), Will-O’-The-Wisp, Rocket Racer, Big Wheel, Phillip Chang

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 7

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 9

Overview: Stop me if you heard this before. Bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker gains the abilities and powers to mimic said spider. Learning the hard way that with great powers comes great responsibilities, Peter dons a red-and-blue costume to fight crime, stop villains, and raise J. Jonah Jameson’s blood pressure as the amazing Spider-Man. So, let’s find out what’s going on in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 8.

As one of Marvel’s most popular comics, it was a natural place for characters to make a cameo appearance. Maybe you are a new character gaining popularity, but not quite popular enough yet to support your own book – Punisher, we’re watching you! Sometimes you need a crossover to help boost the sales of another book, as we see with a crossover with Nova. Sometimes you just want to introduce a new character, thinking that they will be the next big Marvel star, but they fall far short of glory. Let’s just say I will never be reviewing Essential Rocket Racer Vol. 1 for multiple reasons.

The core story from this volume is the return of Green Goblin. But this Goblin is not an Osborn! We find out that Harry Osborn had been undergoing counseling with Dr. Bart Hamilton. As secrets come to light during the sessions, Hamilton learns of the dark Osborn legacy, and uses his new-found knowledge to become the next Green Goblin, albeit without the strength-enhancing drug. The new Green Goblin starts a war against Silvermane, which leads Harry Osborn to put back on his Goblin costume. As for our hero, Spider-Man is caught in the middle of all of this!

The volume concludes with Peter finally graduating college, or so we think. Does a villain show up to disrupt the ceremony? Is Aunt May confined to a hospital bed fighting off death? What could possibly keep Peter from graduating? Read this volume and find out!

What makes this Essential?: This is a solid collection of Spider-Man stories, but I don’t know that I would say this is truly essential to read to understand Spider-Man. Len Wein finishes up his long run on the title with the introduction of a new Green Goblin, before handing over the reigns to Marv Wolfman. Ross Andru completes a five-year stretch on the title (see below). While this may have been Marvel’s flagship title of this era, I don’t think that this was the best that Marvel was putting out on the newsstand at that time. If you are a Spider-Man fan, then pick this up. For the casual Marvel fan, this may be one to pass on.

Footnotes: Amazing Spider-Man #161, #162, #174, and #175 were also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

Nova #12 and Amazing Spider-Man #171 were also reprinted in Essential Nova Vol. 1.

Giant Size Spider-Man #6 is a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4, which was reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 3 or Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4 (depending on which edition you read). The cover to Giant Size Spider-Man #6 is included in this volume.

If you like this volume, try: looking at some of Ross Andru’s other books. Andru worked for nearly 50 years in comics, primarily for DC and Marvel. In the 1950s, he was one of DC’s go-to artists for the many war comics on the racks. In the 1960s, he had lengthy runs on Wonder Woman, Metal Men, The Flash, and others. The 1970s saw Andru move over to Marvel, where he helped bring about the Defenders and the early issues of Marvel Team-Up. That led to a five-year run on the Amazing Spider-Man, which that run concludes in this Essential. My personal opinion is that Andru does not get the recognition that he deserves, It’s is Andru’s version of Spider-Man that comes to mind when someone mentions the character to me.

Showcase Presents Robin Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Robin Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Robin Vol. 1

First Published: January 2008

Contents: Robin stories from Batman #184 (September 1966), #192 (June 1967), #202 (June 1968), #213 (July-August 1969), #217 (December 1969), #227 (December 1970), #229 (February 1971) to #231 (May 1971), #234 (August 1971) to #236 (November 1971), #239 (February 1972) to #242 (June 1972), #244 (September 1972) to #246 (December 1972), #248 (April 1973) to #250 (July 1973), #252 (October 1973), and #254 (January-February 1974); World’s Finest Comics #141 (May 1964) #147 (February 1965), #195 (August 1970), and #200 (February 1971); Robin stories from 
Detective Comics #342 (August 1965), #386 (April 1969), #390 (August 1969), #391 (September 1969), #394 (December 1969), #395 (January 1970), #398 (April 1970) to #403 (September 1970), #445 (February-March 1975), #447 (May 1975), #450 (August 1975) and #451 (September 1975); Robin stories from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #91 (March 1966), #111 (June 1968), and #130 (July 1970); and 
Justice League of America #91 (August 1971) and #92 (September 1971)

Key Creator Credits: Gardner Fox, Frank Robbins, Gil Kane, Mike Friedrich, Irv Novick, Dick Dillin, Elliot S. Maggin, Bob Rozakis, and others

Key First Appearances: Frank McDonald, Lori Elton

Overview: For being a teenage sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder is looking pretty good for 74 years old. Sit back and enjoy the solo tales of the most recognizable sidekick of all time.

The early stories have the sweet innocence of the 1960s. We get a retelling of Robin’s origin: A young Dick Grayson is the youngest member of the Flying Graysons, the star attraction of Haley’s Circus. When the circus refuses to pay off mobsters, the Graysons suffer a fatal accident, leaving Dick Grayson as a mourning orphan. Attending the circus that night is millionaire Bruce Wayne, who knows first hand the pain that Grayson is feeling. He brings the young lad into his home as a ward, and makes him a partner in his war on crime as Robin.

As we enter the 1970s, Dick Grayson finally completes high school and is ready to head to college. Once he leaves Wayne Manor to attend college at Hudson University, Robin starts to shine as an independent character. He finds a steady girlfriend in Lori Elton, and gets to know the Hudson Security Chief Frank McDonald both in and out of the Robin outfit. Robin’s maturation becomes a decade long process, but we finally get to see Robin completely break free of Batman’s shadow much later in the pages of New Teen Titans.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: As one of DC’s oldest characters, Robin definitely needs to have his solo stories collected like this. The stories collected here generally fall into two categories – either a filler story to complete an issue of Batman or Detective Comics, or a genuine attempt to tell a stand-alone story and advance the character of Dick Grayson. However, Dick Grayson’s story is not complete here. It’s been 7+ years since DC released this volume and Showcase Presents Batgirl Vol. 1. My hope is that some day, DC will continue to collect Dick Grayson’s (and Barbara Gordon’s) adventures in a Showcase Presents Batman Family Vol. 1, which would ideally collect the original stories of Robin, Batgirl, Man-Bat and others from Batman Family #1 to #20.

Footnotes: The Robin story from Detective Comics #342  was also reprinted in Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 1.

The Robin story from Batman #184 was also reprinted in Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 2.

The Robin story from Batman #192 was also reprinted in Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 3.

The Robin stories from Batman #202 and #213 were also reprinted in Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 4.

The Robin story from Batman #217 was also reprinted in Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 5.

Detective Comics #400 & #401 were also reprinted in Showcase Presents Batgirl Vol. 1.

World’s Finest Comics #141 was also reprinted in Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 2.

World’s Finest Comics #147 was also reprinted in Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 3.

World’s Finest Comics #195 and #200 were also reprinted in Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 4.

Justice League of America #91 and #92 were also reprinted in Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 5.

If you like this volume, try: The New Teen Titans: Judas Contract. This was one of the best Teen Titans stories ever, and definitely was among the greatest stories done by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. The main story here deals with the betrayal of the Titans by their newest member, Terra. Inserted into the team a year prior, we find out that she had been working as a mole for Deathstroke, the Terminator. Over the course of the story, we see Dick Grayson undergo his transformation into adulthood, which had it’s beginnings in this volume when Robin struck out on his own at Hudson University. By the end of the story, Dick Grayson has adopted a new identity (and costume) as Nightwing. This has been collected multiple times, as both a trade paperback and as part of The New Teen Titans Omnibus Vol. 2. I can’t recommend this story enough – this is one of the most essential stories for Dick Grayson, for the Teen Titans, and for DC Comics.

Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 2

Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 2

Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 2

First Published: February 2007

Contents: Ghost Rider #21 (December 1976) to #50 (November 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, Roger McKenzie, Michael Fleisher, Don Heck, Don Perlin, Carmine Infantino, and others

Key First Appearances: Enforcer, Water Wizard, Zarathos 

Story Continues In: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 1

Story Continues From: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 3

Overview: Driving like a bat out of hell, Johnny Blaze travels the roads of the American West, looking to find peace with his demonic alter-ego, the Ghost Rider. Month after month, Blaze encounters various threats from both man and demons. He crosses paths with Dr. Strange, Professor Xavier, Hawkeye, and the Two-Gun Kid, in addition to the occasional appearances of Ghost Rider’s teammates in the Champions. One of the highlights of the book (besides it being the final comic of the volume) is issue #50, where Ghost Rider is transported into the past, where he teams up with the Phantom Rider, who made his debut in The Ghost Rider #1 (February 1967).

What makes this Essential?: Even in the hardest of reads, I try to find SOMETHING positive about the Essentials and Showcase Presents that I review. But I need help with this volume, because I cannot find ANYTHING positive about this book. The writing and art is average at best – even with pencils from legendary talents such as Don Heck, Jim Starlin, and Carmine Infantino.  Sadly, very little is done to develop the character, either as Johnny Blaze or as the Ghost Rider. Many of his supporting cast seen in the first volume, such as Stunt Master and Roxanne Simpson, are quickly dropped. With volume 1, there was at least a purpose for the character, as he was trying to free his soul from the Devil. This book just wanders aimlessly. And don’t get me started on the over-abundance of motorcycle-riding foes in this volume. Just because Ghost Rider uses a motorcycle does not mean that everyone he fights has to be on a motorcycle. Would you want a Batman story where issue after issue, he chases after criminals in cars just because Batman uses a Batmobile?  So, if you know what was good from this book, please let me know, because I sure couldn’t find it. 

If you like this volume, try: Shade The Changing Man from DC Comics. Writer Michael Fleisher, who starts a long run with Ghost Rider in this volume, was very prolific for both DC and Marvel throughout the 1970s and 1980s. One of his early works was Shade, which was done with the legendary Steve Ditko. The Shade title ran for eight issues, before it was caught up in the DC implosion of 1978. The entire series was collected in The Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol. 1 from DC in 2011.

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 3

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 3

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 3

First Published: March 2007

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #54 (May 1981) to #74 (January 1983); and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #3 (1981)

Key Creator Credits: Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Roger Stern, Ed Hannigan, Al Milgrom, Luke McDonnell, and others

Key First Appearances: Cloak, Dagger

Story Continues From: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 4

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

Once again, this volume breaks out into two separate sections, much like the Volume 2. The difference is we start out with the Roger Stern stories first. These stories are serviceable, but are generally one-and-done issues. The various “villain of the month” shows up to make Peter don the blue-and-red costume, with the occasional check-in with life on the ESU campus. During this run, the highlights of these issues may be the covers, as Frank Miller does many of the cover images.

The second section picks up with issue #61, as Roger Stern hands over writing duties on the title back to Bill Mantlo. (Stern gave up this title to take over the writing duties of Amazing Spider-Man.) Mantlo, working with artists such as Ed Hannigan and Jim Mooney, introduces a new tone to the title. It no longer feels like a secondary book to Amazing, but as a top-level book in its own right. Obviously, the biggest event in this volume occurs in issue #64, as Cloak and Dagger are introduced, becoming one of Marvel’s biggest surprises of the 1980s. The volume concludes with the start of a gang war between Doctor Octopus and the Owl, and it leaves us hanging with the final page return of the Black Cat.

What makes this Essential?: This may be the first volume in the series that is truly worth picking up. While there are teases to events ongoing in Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Team-Up, this book can be read as a self-contained series of issues. The writing is solid, as Bill Mantlo and Roger Stern have mastered the Spider-Man story formula. The art is decent, but not spectacular, if you will pardon the pun. My biggest complaint is that this volume ends with issue #74, which is right in the middle of the Doctor Octopus vs. Owl storyline. That story finally wrapped up in issue #79, so it might have pushed the limits to include it in here.

If you like this volume, try: the Cloak and Dagger mini-series from 1983. Written by Bill Mantlo with art by Rick Leonardi, the break-out stars from this volume of PPTSS jump over into their own four-issue series. We find our duo hiding in a church, where Father Delgado befriends the two. We get their origin – two runaways from different backgrounds arrive in New York City, They were taken into a shelter along with other runaways, and are given an experimental drug designed by the Maggia to be a replacement for heroin. The drug reacts with latent mutant genes in their bodies, mutating the two characters into the light and darkness personified. As a result, Cloak and Dagger make it their personal mission to take on the drug trade every chance they can. This series was released as a hardcover in 2009, so it should be easy to find.

Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol. 2

Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol. 2

Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol. 2

First Published: January 2008

Contents: Aquaman #7 (January-February 1963) to #23 (September-October 1965); Aquaman stories from World’s Finest Comics #130 (December 1962) to #133 (May 1963), #135 (August 1963), #137 (November 1963), and #139 (February 1964); and The Brave and the Bold #51 (December 1963 – January 1964)

Key Creator Credits: Ramona Fradon, Jack Miller, Nick Cardy, and others

Key First Appearances: Mera, Fisherman, Aquababy

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to the underwater adventures of Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas. With his sidekick, Aqualad, they do their best to protect the oceans (and the Earth) from alien invasions, mad Greek gods, and magical imps. The early stories continue to be one-and-done tales.

The book takes a big turn with issue #11, as we are introduced to Mera, an exiled queen from another dimension. She has the ability to manipulate hard water in both defensive and offensive attacks. Aquaman is instantly smitten by this red-haired beauty, and the two are inseparable, often to the detriment of Aqualad.

This volume introduces the first of Aquaman’s Rogues Gallery. (And yes, it is hard to even type that without snickering just a little bit.) While his list of familiar foes pales in comparison to that of Batman, Superman, or Flash, Aquaman finally gets into the bad-guy business with the introduction of the Fisherman. (Please stay tuned for Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol. 3, as we finally get to see the likes of Ocean Master and Black Manta appear.)

This volume concludes with the birth of Arthur Curry, Jr., otherwise known as Aquababy. With a wife and son at home, that leaves very little time for Aquaman to be hanging out with Aqualad. Hopefully we can resolve that issue in the next volume, too.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Let’s start with a positive – this is a much easier collection to read compared to Volume 1. It’s still not a great read, especially early on in this volume. What makes this volume interesting is that this is the first character where DC actively started moving a character forward into an ongoing storyline. Mera is introduced in issue #11. Aquaman and Mera are married in issue #18, with his JLA teammates in attendance. Aquababy is born in issue #23. (Remember, Aquaman was a bi-monthly book, so everything is on the up-and-up.) We also see a similar progression with Barry Allen in the pages of The Flash, but Aquaman was the first.

Footnotes: The Brave and the Bold #51 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Aquaman series by Peter David from the 1990s. David wrote the 4-issue Aquaman: Time and Tide mini-series in 1993, which explored Aquaman’s origins in relation to David’s previous work, The Atlantis Chronicles. Based on the success of the mini-series, DC launched a new ongoing Aquaman series in 1994. David would write this title for nearly 4 years. This is the notable storyline where Aquaman lost his hand to a piranha attack, and replaced it with a harpoon. The Aquaman presented here is the angry ruler of Atlantis that should be respected and feared, which helped distance the character from the Super Friends version that could only talk to fish. As good as this series is, DC has failed us (to date) with no trades collecting this run. The Time and Tide story can be found in trade, but you will need to dive into the back issue bins to find the ongoing series issues.