Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 2

Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 2

Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 2

First Published: March 2005

Contents: Doctor Strange #169 (June 1968) to #178 (March 1969) and #180 (May 1969) to #183 (November 1969), Avengers #61 (February 1969), Sub-Mariner #22 (February 1970), Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970), Marvel Feature #1 (December 1971), and Marvel Premiere #3 (July 1972) to #14 (March 1974).

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Gene Colon, Frank Brunner, Barry Windsor-Smith, Dan Adkins

Key First Appearances: Satannish, the Vishanti, Shuma-Gorath

Story Continues From: Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 3 and Essential Defenders Vol. 1

Overview: Doctor Strange moves into his own title with full-length stories with this second Essential volume. This book can be broken up into three distinct parts:
* Part 1 covers Doctor Strange #169-182 and Avengers #61, with the start of new writer Roy Thomas joined quickly by Gene Colan to tell some breath-taking stories of the Sorcerer Supreme. Colan’s art is incredible in this edition, and jumps off the page with pure energy.
* Part 2 covers Doctor Strange #183, Sub-Mariner #22, Incredible Hulk #126, and Marvel Feature #1, which gives us the origin story of the non-group of heroes known as the Defenders (Doctor Strange, Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Hulk, and the Silver Surfer). To get the full story arc for this, I suggest reading Essential Defenders Vol. 1, as not all parts of the complete origin are contained in this volume.
* Part 3 covers Marvel Premiere #3-14, where once again Doctor Strange is given the chance to be the lead in the book. His run would end in this title with issue #14, but picks up the next month with a new Doctor Strange #1, which can be found in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 3. The highlight of this run is the start of Steve Englehart’s association with Doctor Strange, which would continue on for many years.

What makes this Essential?: For me, the highlight of this book is the Gene Colan art in the first part of the book. I have never been a big fan of the character of Doctor Strange, but I found myself pulled into these stories by the artwork. I don’t know if this volume is truly essential, even if you are a fan of Doctor Strange.

Footnotes: Doctor Strange #169 was the “first” issue of the character’s own title. Prior to this issue, Doctor Strange shared the Strange Tales comic with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Strange Tales came to an end with issues #168. The title was renamed Doctor Strange for #169, keeping the previous numbering, which was the norm for this time.

Avengers #61 was also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 3.

Doctor Strange #179 was not collected in this volume. The issue reprinted Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2, which has been included in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 2.

For Marvel Premiere #11, the cover and the framing sequences are included in this volume. The issue contains reprinted stories from Strange Tales #115 and #117, which were included in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: Superman: The Phantom Zone TPB, which was recently re-released by DC Comics. The main story is written by Steve Gerber with art by Gene Colan (hence the recommendation). This was originally a mini-series from 1982. The paperback is printed on a bright white glossy paper, which accentuates Colan’s art beautifully. The story features the Phantom Zone villains (more famously featured in the Superman motion pictures) escaping to Earth and imprisoning Superman in the zone. He must travel through the different worlds of the Phantom Zone before he is able to escape and return the Kryptonian criminals to their rightful place.

Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 3

Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 3

Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 3

First Published: April 2007

Contents: Superman stories from Action Comics #276 (May 1961) to #292 (September 1962); Superman #146 (July 1961) to #156 (October 1962); original content from Superman Annual #3 (August 1961), #4 (January 1962), and #5 (July 1962)

Key Creator Credits: Otto Binder, Jerry Coleman, Al Pastino, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, Jerry Siegel, Robert Bernstein, Bill Finger, and others

Key First Appearances: Legion of Super-Villains (Cosmic King, Lightning Lord, Saturn Queen)

Story Continues from: Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the world of Superman! Rocketed to Earth as a baby as his home planet died, Kal-El grew to adulthood under the yellow sun, gaining powers and abilities beyond mortal man. Disguised as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, Superman fights for truth, justice, and the American way.

The scope of Superman starts to spread, across the world and across the years. Superman introduces the world to his cousin Kara, who will become Supergirl, a new protector for Earth. From the far future, we get visits from the Legion of Super-Heroes, teenagers with powers who have been inspired to greatness by Superman. The challenges get harder and harder, as Lex Luthor devises more elaborate plots, and Mr. Mxyzptlk builds more mischievous schemes.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Generally, my opinion of Silver Age Superman stories is negative – the tales don’t hold up, the stories are filled with plot holes, and there is no progression with the characters. But this volume goes against the norm. This is a fun Superman volume with a lot of classic stories, such as “The Last Days of Superman!” and “The World’s Greatest Heroine!”. We get a mix of everything in this volume – Superman, the Daily Planet staff, Supergirl, Lori Lemaris, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and more. This is the first time I feel that these Superman stories should be showcased like this, so get it in your library!

Footnotes: Action Comics #285 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 2.
The Legion story in Superman #147 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: All-Star Superman, which has been collected in multiple formats. Written by Grant Morrison with art by Frank Quitely, this 12-issue series is a wonderful homage to the Silver Age adventures of Superman, such as those collected in this volume. In this timeless story, Superman finds that his body is killing him after an over-exposure to the sun. Given a small window left to live, Superman vows to make the most of his remaining time. He grants Lois her greatest wish, he has one last adventure with his pal Jimmy Olsen, and he works with Lex to save the world. This is probably the best Superman story told in the last decade.

Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 1

Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 1

Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 1

First Published: March 2005

Contents: Hero For Hire #1 (June 1972) to #16 (December 1973); Power Man #17 (February 1974) to #27 (October 1975)

Key Creator Credits: Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Steve Englehart, Billy Graham, Len Wein, Tony Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Ron Wilson, and others

Key First Appearances: Luke Cage/Power Man, Noah Burnstein, David “D.W.” Griffith, Claire Temple, Stiletto, Discus, Black Goliath

Story Continues In: Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 2

Overview: Framed for a crime he did not commit, Carl Lucas is sent to Seagate Prison in the deep south. Lucas volunteers for an experiment conducted by the prison doctor, Noah Burnstein. Doused in a mixture of chemicals, Carl Lucas finds himself with steel-hard skin and solid muscles. Lucas makes a prison break and goes on the run to clear his name. Playing around with his name, he takes on the new identity of Luke Cage, and takes on the name to become Power Man, a hero for hire.

Over the course of these stories, Cage sets up shop in Times Square, above a move theater that only shows westerns and run by would-be-filmmaker D.W. Griffith. Dr. Burnstein returns to set up shop in New York City, aided by Dr. Claire Temple, who quickly becomes the girlfriend of Cage. Cage is eventually able to get his record cleared, and becomes a true hero for the people in downtown New York City, provided their money is green.

Fighting a mix of street thugs and one-appearance villains, Cage does get to tangle with Dr. Doom early on in issues #8 and #9, when he is hired to track down some robots. When Doom bails on the payment, Cage travels to Latveria to collect his $200. Sweet Christmas! Another notable event occurred in issue #24, when Dr. Henry Pym’s lab assistant, Dr. Bill Foster, takes a dose of Pym particles and becomes Black Goliath. He would later drop Black from his name, going by just Goliath, and he would appear in and out of costume up until the events of Marvel’s Civil War.

What makes this Essential?: Again, this is a border-line essential book. With an African-American leading his own title, this is an important change for the lily-white look of Marvel Comics to date. The problem I have is that this reads like a comic-book adaption of Shaft and the other blaxploitation features of the early-1970s. Cage is a better character, and I think we should be thankful that the character has grown well past his early origins. As an early study on the character, you could consider giving this a read. However, you might be better skipping ahead to Essential Power Man & Iron Fist Vol. 1, when his partnership with Danny Rand helps offset the over-exaggerated rage of Luke Cage.

Footnotes: Luke Cage is one of the first African American characters to have his own title. The first is attributed to Dell Comics, which published a two-issue western called Lobo in the mid-1960s.

If you like this volume, try: the Milestone Comics properties from the mid-1990s. Released by DC Comics, Milestone was created by African-American artists and writers that felt they were under-represented within the comics industry. Creating an entire new universe of characters based around the fictional city of Dakota, titles in the line included Hardware, Static, Icon, Blood Syndicate, and later Shadow Cabinet and Xombi. Several of the characters have moved into the DC Universe proper, and have been included in comics as well as the Young Justice cartoon series. There are various collections on some of the titles, but you may need to dive into the back issue bins to track down all issues of the various series.

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

First Published: February 2005

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #1 (December 1976) to #31 (June 1979)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Sal Buscema, Archie Goodwin, Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Frank Springer, Frank Miller, and others

Key First Appearances: Lightmaster, Razorback, Hypno-Hustler, Carrion

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

Overview: Following the long-established comic trend of duplicating success, Marvel introduced another Spider-Man title to the newsstands in 1976. Currently featured each month in Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel TalesMarvel Team-Up, and Spidey Super Stories, a new title was added to the list with Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS).

In a column in issue #1, writer Gerry Conway explained that this new title was added to help give more room to feature the supporting cast of characters in Spider-Man’s life. We got longer stories involving Glory Grant, Mary Jane Watson, the White Tiger, and others. This title gave us more access to Peter Parker’s life beyond the red-and-blue costume.

Familiar foes like the Tarantula, the Vulture, Morbius, and Kraven make appearances in this run. But the new foes introduced are a mix of intriguing challenges (such as Lightmaster and Carrion) to downright pop-culture bad guys anchored in the 1970s (such as Razorback and Hypno-Hustler). In addition, a long story arc involving White Tiger and the Sons of the Tiger tie in with the popularity of martial arts at that time.

What makes this Essential?: This is a border-line essential book. Spider-Man was the most popular character at Marvel in the mid 1970s, and would be soon making the jump to television with the live action series, so introducing another title featuring Peter Parker made sense. However, within the first year, there were two fill-in issues, so I wonder how much effort was ongoing to make sure the book shipped on time. Compared to the stories in Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Team-Up at this same time, I feel like these stories are a step below in quality. For the Spider-Man fan, this should be a must read. For the casual Marvel fan, you could skip over this and just concentrate on the Essential Spider-Man line of books.

Footnotes: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #22 and #23 were also reprinted in Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #6 is a reprint issue from Marvel Team-Up #3. A new introduction and final pages were included, and a few panels were reworded. This did lead into the Morbius storyline beginning in issue #7.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #11 appears to be a filler issue that was originally intended for Marvel Team-Up. The issue is written by Chris Claremont, the then current scribe on Marvel Team-Up, and this would be the only issue of PPTSS that Claremont would write. No reference is made in the story to the previous or following issues.

If you like this volume, try: the Complete Frank Miller Spider-Man released in 2002. This collects various issues that Frank Miller drew involving Spider-Man, including Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #27 and #28, which are found in this Essential. There is also a cover gallery of the numerous covers that Miller did involving Spider-Man over the years. This is a great volume to read some classic stories done by one of the modern masters of the comic industry.

Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1

First Published: April 2007

Contents: Legion of Super-Heroes stories from Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), #267 (December 1959), #282 (March 1961), #290 (November 1961), #293 (February 1962), and #300 (September 1962) to #321 (June 1964); Action Comics #267 (August 1960), #276 (May 1961), #287 (April 1962), and #289 (June 1962); Superboy #86 (January 1961), #89 (June 1961), and #98 (July 1962); Superman #147 (August 1961); Superman Annual #4 (1962); and Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #72 (October 1963) and #76 (June 1964)

Key Creator Credits: Otto Binder, Al Pastino, Curt Swan, Jerry Siegel, George Papp, Jim Mooney, John Forte, Edmond Hamilton

Key First Appearances: Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Invisible Kid, Brainiac-5, Star Boy, Bouncing Boy, Phantom Girl, Shrinking Violet, Triplicate Girl, Mon-El, Legion of Super-Villains (Cosmic King, Lightning Lord, Saturn Queen), Sun Boy, Legion of Super-Pets, Ultra Boy, Science Police, Matter-Eater Lad, Legion of Substitute-Heroes (Chlorophyll Kid, Fire Lad, Night Girl, Polar Boy, Stone Boy), Element Lad, Lightning Lass/Light Lass, Proty, Dream Girl, Time Trapper

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 2

Overview: On an average day in Smallville, USA, Clark Kent is accosted by three strange teenagers who claim to know his secret identity. The teenagers reveal themselves to be Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl. They are from 1,000 years in the future, and have been inspired by Superboy/Superman to use their unique super-powers to help Earth and other planets. Thus, the Legion of Super-Heroes is born. Long live the Legion!

Meeting in a converted rocket ship-turned-clubhouse, the Legion of Super-Heroes is made up of teenagers, each with a unique set of powers and abilities. No duplication of powers is allowed, although they tend to wiggle the rules on that from time to time. Over the six-year time frame of the stories collected in this volume, we meet 20 Legionnaires, plus all of the would-be Legion members and their spinoffs, such as the Legion of Super-Pets and the Legion of Substitute-Heroes.

Some prominent foes are introduced, including the Legion of Super-Villains. Their initial line-up was older family members of the Legion founders, all with the same power set. The mysterious Time Trapper comes into play at the end of this volume, and will revisit many times over, only to be thwarted by the Legion.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I’ve been pretty honest on my opinions of the DC Silver Age stories. Most stories are hard to read against today’s standards. But even so, these Legion stories are a real treat. The stories can be absurd, yes, very much so. But they still retain a youthful innocence that compels the reader to want to keep reading. Who wouldn’t want to hang out in a super-hero clubhouse with other teenagers with wonderful powers and abilities. Sign me up!

Footnotes: The Legion stories in Action Comics #267 and #276 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 1.
The Legion stories in Action Comics #287 and #289 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 2.
The Legion story in Superman #147 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank from 2008. This story originally ran in Action Comics. Geoff Johns combines story elements from the 50 year history of the Legion to tell a great story of Superman traveling into the future to visit his friends from his teenage years. But in the year 3008, Earth’s sun has become red, and Superman’s name is synonymous with treachery. The Legion has moved underground, considered to be outlaws by the local authorities. Superman gathers together all of the Legionnaires that he can find to lead an attack against the Justice League of Earth and restore the proper order on the planet. The art is by Gary Frank, creating a realistic look to his figures and in particular his faces. This is worth tracking down, as it gives you a good overview of the entire Legion lore.

Essential Iron Man Vol. 2

Essential Iron Man Vol. 2

Essential Iron Man Vol. 2

First Published: November 2004

Contents: Iron Man stories from Tales of Suspense #73 (January 1966) to #99 (March 1968); Sub-Mariner story from Tales to Astonish #82 (August 1966); Iron Man & Sub-Mariner #1 (April 1968); and Iron Man #1 (May 1968) to #11 (March 1969)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, and Johnny Craig

Key First Appearances: Ultimo, Whiplash, Whitney Frost/Countess Giulietta Nefaria, Janice Cord

Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to the world of Iron Man! Tony Stark is a man of many roles — inventor, businessman, playboy, and Avenger. Whether holding off another scheme by the Mandarin, or testifying before Congress, Tony Stark balances the many demands and threats on his life with the charm and suave that makes men jealous and women swoon.

In this volume, we see more of Tony’s ties with Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division). Tony’s best friend, Happy Hogan, undergoes some freakish changes. And the villain known as Whiplash makes his debut; however, he will rename himself Blacklash in later issues.

Some new ladies come into Tony Stark’s life. First up is Whitney Frost, a.k.a. the Countess Nefaria, the heiress to the Maggia crime family. This puts her at odds with Tony Stark, in and out of his armor. In the next Essential, we see Frost injured in a place crash, forcing her to don a mask to hide her disfigurement and adopt a new identity of Madame Masque. Another character introduced was Janice Cord, Tony’s girlfriend and the daughter of the CEO of Cord Industries, a rival to Stark Industries. Unfortunately, being the girlfriend of a Marvel hero is a hazardous occupation, as we see in Essential Iron Man Vol. 3.

What makes this Essential?:This collection explodes off the page as Gene Colan replaces Don Heck as the Iron Man artist in Tales of Suspense. These stories read quickly, as the stories cram a lot of events into 12 pages of stories. Colan would stay with the character for the remainder of the Tales of Suspense run. (It was also in this era that Colan took over the art duties on Daredevil.) The end of Tales of Suspense marked a lot of changes for the character. Iron Man moved into his own title, and Archie Goodwin replaced Stan Lee as the Iron Man writer. New artists take over from Colan at the same time. Because of the art, I consider this to be a better volume than Essential Iron Man Vol. 1, but so much gets introduced in that first volume that it still remains an essential read.

Footnotes:Tales to Astonish #82 and Tales of Suspense #80 were reprinted in Essential Sub-Mariner Vol. 1

If you like this volume, try: reading S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver. This series from 2010 explored the history of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, with roots back to Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton. While the story jumps around in different eras, the characters from the most current era of the story are Howard Stark (future father of Tony Stark) and Nathaniel Richards (future father of Reed Richards). Hickman creates a wondrous history of an organization designed to protect humanity, and Weavers illustrations are majestic in the scope of the story. Easter eggs are scattered throughout the issues, sure to delight long-time Marvel readers. Hickman and Weaver keep promising to finish up the second volume of S.H.I.E.L.D., so hopefully we will see that later this year.

Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1

Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1

Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1

First Published: October 2004

Contents: Marvel Premiere #15 (May 1974) to #25 (October 1975); Iron Fist #1 (November 1975) to #15 (September 1977); Marvel Team-Up #63 (November 1977) and #64 (December 1977); Power Man #48 (December 1977) and #49 (February 1978); Power Man & Iron Fist #50 (April 1978)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Doug Moench, Larry Hama, Tony Isabella, Arvell Jones

Key First Appearances: Danny Rand/Iron Fist, Yu-Ti, K’un-Lun, Shou-Lao, Thunderer, Joy Meachum, Colleen Wing, Rafael Scarfe, Steel Serpent, Jeryn Hogarth, Victor Creed/Sabretooth

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

Overview: After the death of his parents, young Danny Rand takes refuge in K’un-Lun, a hidden city that appears in our world once every 10 years. While there, he trains in the martial arts, making his body a living weapon. When he focuses his chi into his fist, letting it build until it becomes like unto a thing of iron, Danny Rand can unleash the Iron Fist.

Returning to the real world, Rand is a stranger in a strange land, having to relearn how to function in modern society. Rand finds out the he is the heir to half of the fortunes of the Rand-Meachum Corporation, which allows Rand to live the life he wants to, helping out people as best as he can. He often teams up with Colleen Wing and Misty Knight, the female private detectives from Knightwing Restorations.

Eventually, Iron Fist’s path crosses with that of Luke Cage, the hero for hire known as Power Man. The two form a tight friendship, and join together as partners in a Heroes for Hire business.

What makes this Essential?: I believe you have two reasons for wanting to pick up this Essential. The first, and most obvious, is that you are fan of the Iron Fist character. This is a great way to read about the early years of the character. Iron Fist was clearly a product of the 1970s, fueling the interest in martial arts via a comic book. But he has managed to survive (despite his death in Power Man & Iron Fist #125) for forty years.

The other reason is for the run of issues by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Primarily remembered for their run on Uncanny X-Men, their 15-issue run on the Iron Fist jumps off the page with energy. With cameos by Iron Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men, and with the key first appearance of Sabretooth, the Claremont-Byrne run on Iron Fist is a hidden gem of the Marvel Universe.

Footnotes: Marvel Team-Up #63 and #64 are also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3.
Power Man #48 and #49 are also reprinted in Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 2.
Power Man & Iron Fist #50 is also reprinted in Essential Power Man & Iron Fist Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: The Immortal Iron Fist by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, David Aja, Travel Foreman, and Duane Swierczynski from 2007. This series helped bring Danny Rand back in to the popular spotlight. Early stories focused on the Iron Fist prior to Danny Rand, as the title and role has been passed down multiple times before it reached our hero. Danny Rand would later buy back the Heroes for Hire headquarters and redirect his company into a non-profit organization, becoming a resource for the needy. The series ran for just over two years, and is available in multiple editions.