Essential Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Vol. 1

First Published: October 2011

Contents: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 (May 1963) to #23 (October 1965); and Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Annual #1 (1965)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, George Roussos, and others

Key First Appearances: Nicholas “Nick” Fury, Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan, Isadore “Izzy” Cohen, Gabriel “Gabe” Jones, Jonathan “Junior” Juniper, Dino Manelli, Robert “Reb” Ralston, Samuel “Happy Sam” Sawyer, Pamela Hawley, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, Bull McGiveney, Percival “Pinky” Pinkerton, Captain Savage

Overview: Following the United States entry into World War II, the First Attack Squadron runs the missions that no one else wants to take. Whether it’s dropping into the Nazi territory, tracking down a Resistance spy, or conducting a daring rescue, Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos are the go-to squad for Captain Sam Sawyer. Wahoo!!

Nick Fury leads a rag-tag group of men into battle each issue, whether they are fighting in Europe, Northern Africa, or even the Pacific Islands. While Fury’s crew does not go after Adolf Hitler every month, they do attract a Nazi rival in Baron Strucker and his Blitzkrieg Squad, a team specifically assembled to stop the Commandos.

The Commandos are not on call 24/7, so they do get some leave time to go to London to relax and unwind. Fury even finds time to find the first love of his life, Pamela Hawley. She makes Fury more human and provides a reminder to Nick for what they are fighting for in Europe.

What makes this Essential?: This is an interesting book to look at and consider its merits. At the time this book started, the Marvel Age was growing by leaps and bounds. Already the Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man and Iron Man have been introduced with hints that they are all part of the same universe. Later in 1963, we would get Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men, So for Stan Lee & Jack Kirby to introduce a war book, at a time when Marvel was limited to publishing just eight titles per month, this seems like a strange move to make. Maybe Marvel wanted to keep a war comic on the racks just to stay competitive with the Distinguished Competition.

In terms of Sgt. Fury, this group of characters works well together. As with any of the ongoing war comics, you need to be less critical of the time line, knowing that the U.S. troops had a small window to be fighting in Europe. While Kirby’s art is stellar, I really believe the true hero of this book is Dick Ayers, whose art really shines in this book. The characters become more unique and distinct when lined up together. The stories are a mixed bag – Lee drops in too many anachronisms – but this is worth the read just for the art.

Meet the Commandos: In addition to Sgt Fury, the other members of the First Attack Squadron include:

  • Corporal Dum Dum Dugan serves as Fury’s right-hand man in the trenches and on furlough. Dugan lives for battle, preferring war to spending time at home with his wife and mother-in-law.
  • Private Izzy Cohen is the mechanic and explosives expert for the squadron.
  • Private Gabe Jones is an African-American serving in an integrated unit. In reality, the U.S. armed forces were not integrated until President Truman signed the orders in 1948.
  • Private Dino Manelli is a movie actor modeled after Dean Martin. Being fluent in both Italian and German, Dino is often sent on missions to impersonate Axis soldiers.
  • Private Reb Ralston is an ex-jockey from Kentucky and an avid poker player.
  • Private Junior Juniper was killed in action in just issue #4. It added a sense of realism to the book, that any of them were expendable. (However, given how many of the Commandos were also appearing in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., readers would know which ones were safe going forward.)
  • Private Pinky Pinkerton is a British soldier attached to the squadron to replace Juniper. Much like Dino was a stand-in for Dean Martin, Pinky is a stand-in for David Niven.

Footnotes: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos ran for 167 issues. Beginning with issue #80, the even-numbered issues featured a reprinted story, while the odd-numbered issues featured a new story. With issue #120, the series only reprinted stories and did not create any new stories. The title ended with issue #167 (December 1981).

If you like this volume, try: the Secret Warriors series from 2009 to 2011. Spinning out of the Dark Reign events, Nick Fury has created new teams within S.H.I.E.L.D. to respond to threats. These are various individuals with some kind of powers, such as Daisy Johnson a.k.a. Quake. The Secret Warriors team takes on those covert missions that S.H.I.E.L.D. cannot publicly handle. Many of the concepts here have been incorporated into Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tv series. One of the story-arcs in the Secret Warriors series was The Last Ride of the Howling Commandos, which can be found in issues #17-#19, and involved many of the surviving Commandos reuniting for a dinner. This was such a well-done series from Brian Michael Bendis and Jonathan Hickman.

Essential X-Men Vol. 11

xmen11First Published: January 2013

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #273 (February 1991) to #280 (September 1991); Uncanny X-Men Annual #15 (1991); X-Men #1 (October 1991) to #3 (December 1991); X-Factor #69 (August 1991) and #70 (September 1991); X-Factor Annual #6 (1991); New Mutants Annual #7 (1991); and New Warriors Annual #1 (1991)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, Fabian Nicieza, Peter David, Paul Smith, Andy Kubert, Tom Raney, Whilce Portacio, and others

Key First Appearances: Acolytes (Fabian Cortez, Delgado, Anne-Marie Cortez, Chrome)

Story Continues From: Essential X-Men Vol. 10

Overview: This is the end, beautiful friends! Over the last 15 years of reprinted stories, we have seen X-Men come and go from the mansion in Westchester, New York. We have buried teammates, and seen many resurrected, as well as welcome new heroes to the family. The villains have gotten deadlier, whether they are shooting lasers or leading congressional sub-committees. But the goal remains the same, to find a way for humans and mutants to live together in the same world. This is Essential X-Men Vol. 11.

This collection starts out with the crazy adventures we have come to expect from the X-Men. We get Rogue, Magneto, and Nick Fury heading to the Savage Land. We’ve got the rest of the X-Men heading to deep space to stop the War Skrulls. Seriously, we knew the Skrulls were war-inclined for years, but now these War Skrulls take it to a new level!

Next up is the summer crossover event that went between the Annuals – Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants, and New Warriors. A.I.M. is looking to resurrect Proteus, the mutant son of Moira MacTaggert. A rag-tag team of heroes (i.e., those not good enough to go on the mission into space) must ban together to stop A.I.M. and Proteus.

Upon their return to Earth, the X-Men find that the Shadow King, the ne’er-do-well that has been lurking around in their minds for years, has taken over all of the inhabitants of Muir Island. The X-Men give their all to stop the Shadow King, with Xavier making a final stand with his son Legion in a coma.

The book concludes with the first three issues of the adjectiveless X-Men title. With Jim Lee on art and with the benefit of five different covers, Chris Claremont pens the best-selling comic book in the modern era. Really, after all the ups and downs of the past 15 years, Claremont is bringing things back to how he found them when he first took over the X-Men scripting duties. The original X-Men have returned to the team, the mansion has been rebuilt (AGAIN!) and Magneto has returned to his evil ways. It’s been often said that a comic book writer should leave the title as they found it. Claremont found a way to make things right as he left the mansion…. for now.

What makes this Essential?: This is a great way to wrap up Chris Claremont’s 17-year run with the Marvel mutants. Picking up from their introduction in Giant-Size X-Men #1 back in 1975, Claremont helped turn around the X-Men from a doormat title into one of Marvel’s most important (and most profitable) franchises of all time.

By the time this Essential comes to an end, Claremont is ready to step away from the mutant books. Under his guidance, he turned the Uncanny X-Men comic around from a bi-monthly title into two different ongoing monthly titles, along with multiple spin-off titles (New Mutants/X-Force, X-Factor, Excalibur, Wolverine, and others). A new generation of comic book creators, who grew up reading Claremont’s books, were in place ready to take over the reigns of the books.

Footnotes: Uncanny X-Men #280, Uncanny X-Men Annual #15, and X-Factor #69 and #70 are also reprinted in Essential X-Factor Vol. 5.

If you like this volume, try: the Comic Geek Speak podcast look at the X-Men in the Chromium Age. Yes, I am part of my own podcast (Worst. Comic. Podcast. EVER!) and would love for you to check it out and follow me there. But the guys over at CGS have been doing the podcast thing for over 10 years now. They know what they are doing, and they do it well. CGS has been doing detailed looks at titles or characters over a period of time, such as the X-Men. With the podcast referenced above, they take a detailed look at the X-Men in the early 1990s. There is so much information in these podcasts. Bookmark their website and use it as a reference like I do.

Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 5

Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 5

First Published: December 2014

Contents: Legion of Super-Heroes stories from Superboy #193 (February 1973), #195 (June 1973), and #197 (September 1973) to #220 (October 1976); and Karate Kid #1 (March 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Cary Bates, Jim Shooter, Paul Levitz, Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell, Ric Estrada, and others

Key First Appearances: Drake Burroughs/ERG-1/Wildfire, Tyr, Hunter, Infectious Lass, Porcupine Pete, Roon Dyron, Chameleon Chief, Sun Emperor, Esper Lass, Magno Lad, Micro Lad, Leland McCauley IV, Tyroc, Diamondeth, Laurel Kent, Earth-Man

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 4

Overview: It’s time to go back to the future with the fifth Showcase Presents volume of the Legion of Super-Heroes. If you have been reading along in real time, it’s been more than four years since DC released Volume 4, so this is a long-overdue return to the teenage heroes of the 30th Century!

With this volume, we see the Legion stories slowly starting to take over the Superboy title. For most of these issues, the title on the cover reads Superboy Starring the Legion of Super-Heroes. Beginning with issue #231. the title officially changes to Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. The takeover is finally completed in issue #259, as the title officially becomes Legion of Super-Heroes. 

While we just get two new Legionnaires added to the roster in this collection (ERG-1, quickly renamed to Wildfire, and Tyroc), we see the supporting cast and ancillary characters start to develop. While some of these may seem like throw-away characters, talented writers such as Paul Levitz and Geoff Johns have been able to mine these stories years later and bring these characters back to prominence. For example, in Superboy #218, Cary Bates introduces a character by the code-name of Earth-Man. We don’t see this character for 30 years before Johns brought him back as the main for during his Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes arc in Action Comics (well worth a read!).

In this volume, we see the end of the Dave Cockrum run with the Legion. Cockrum would leave in late 1974 to head over to Marvel to work on a little book called Uncanny X-Men. Have you heard of it? I thought so…. Cockrum definitely had a particular style with his costumes that he developed for characters, and many people have pointed out the similarities between the Legion for DC and the Imperial Guard at Marvel. (See my review of Essential X-Men Vol. 1 for more details.)

Replacing Cockrum was Mike Grell, whose first published comic book work was these Legion issues. Grell brought a new level of detail to the artwork that had not been seen in Legion stories to date. Following his run on Legion, Grell would do memorable work with Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Jon Sable.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I’ll give you two great reasons why this should be Showcased: Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell. The two artists defined the look of the Legion in the 1970s. Whether it was co-creating new characters, or developing new costumes for the characters, Cockrum and Grell are the key components to the Legion’s success in this era. The story structure remains the same as from previous volumes, but we see the signs that the title is moving towards a more traditional comic with stories carrying over across multiple issues. By all means, pick this up for the art if nothing else. But I think you will enjoy the stories, too.

Footnotes: This volume includes the first issue of the Karate Kid solo series. This series ran bi-monthly for 15 issues, and it has not been reprinted in a collected edition.

If you like this volume, try: the 2011 Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes mini-series from IDW. Written by Chris Roberson, with art by the Moy brothers (Jeff and Philip), the series unites the greatest heroes from the 23rd Century with the greatest heroes of the 31st Century. Most of the senior crew of the Enterprise (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov) find themselves on a planet where they meet a squad of Legionnaires (Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, and Shadow Lass). After the obligatory skirmish between the two groups, they unite to work together to battle a common set of enemies, Q and Vandal Savage. The main covers for the series were done by Phil Jiminez, but the variant covers were done by legendary artists long associated with the Legion, such as Mike Grell, Keith Giffen, and Steve Lightle, among others. This has been collected as both a hardcover and a trade paperback, so it should be relatively easy to track down a copy. And while this isn’t a perfect story – and most media crossovers are not! – the Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes mini-series is a fun read.

Essential Daredevil Vol. 6

First Published: November 2013

Contents: Daredevil #126 (October 1975) to #146 (June 1977); Daredevil Annual #4 (1976); Iron Man #88 (July 1976) and #89 (August 1976); and Ghost Rider #19 (August 1976) and #20 (October 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, Jim Shooter, Chris Claremont, Archie Goodwin, Bob Brown, John Buscema, John Byrne, Sal Buscema, Gil Kane, George Tuska, and others

Key First Appearances: Heather Glenn, Brock Jones/Torpedo, Blake Tower, Bullseye

Story Continues From: Essential Daredevil Vol. 5

Overview: By now, I think we all know the Daredevil story. Blinded as a youth, Matt Murdock’s other senses have been heightened, allowing him to do spectacular feats beyond that of a normal man. Whether fighting crime on the streets at night or defending clients in court during the day, he is the Man Without Fear – Daredevil! This is Essential Daredevil Vol. 6.

Now at this point with the collection, Daredevil has been in business for over 10 years. Maybe it’s time for a change, to shake things up for the characters. For starters, let’s get the law firm of Nelson & Murdock out of their fancy offices. Instead, we are going to have them open up a storefront legal clinic in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen, where anyone can walk in off the street to discuss their legal problems. Let’s also introduce a new girlfriend, Heather Glenn, for Matt. A free spirit that makes you question what color the sky is in her world. (Given that this is a black & white collection, the answer should be white, but you never quite know how she might answer that question.) But just when things are getting comfortable between Heather and Matt, who should return but former romantic interest and secretary Karen Page.

Maybe we can add some new faces to the rogues’ gallery? In shoots Torpedo – but is he a hero or a villain. Or both?Then there is the new assassin known as Bullseye. He never misses regardless what the weapon is in his hands. But fans like the old foes too, so let’s bring in the likes of the Owl, Cobra, and Mr. Hyde. And being the in the Marvel Universe, you know you will have to cross paths with some other heroes, such as Iron Man, Black Panther, Namor, and Ghost Rider.

But Daredevil still shines brightest when he is a hero for the common man. Stopping a runaway bus, finding a lost boy in the big city, dealing with crooked cops, and the other challenges that come up from time to time. Going toe-to-toe with the villain of the month may sell comics, but protecting his city defines the man.

What makes this Essential?: I’ve got mixed opinions for this collection. Part of me says this is essential simply for the character introductions. Heather Glenn would be a long-time romantic interest for Matt. The Torpedo was a C-List hero but became a key part of the ROM book. District Attorney Blake Tower would become a fixture in many Marvel books, such as Amazing Spider-Man. Bullseye would become one of the most important Daredevil villains of all time, especially given the events during the Frank Miller run.

But…. these stories just seem very average. Marv Wolfman writes the majority of the stories in this collection, but I don’t feel like this is his best work. This was doing the era when Wolfman was also serving as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, so it makes sense that this title may not have had his full attention. I want this to be a stronger title, given the list of creators attached to these issues.

Footnotes: Ghost Rider #19 & #20, and Daredevil #138 are also reprinted in Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: Brian Michael Bendis’ legendary run on Daredevil in the early 2000s. I’ve previously recommended the Miller run, the Kevin Smith run, and the Mark Waid run with the Man Without Fear. It makes sense to cover the Bendis run, as he takes Matt Murdock and friends in a whole new direction. Bendis really makes this a psychological examination of what makes the hero, dragging him down to his lowest point ever. The Kingpin returns as the main protagonist for Daredevil, as well as the Owl and Bullseye. The highlight of the run is Matt Murdock being outed as Daredevil and forced to defend his name in court in a desperate attempt to maintain the dual identities. This series has been collected multiple times in trade paperbacks, hardcovers, and omnibus editions, so it should be easy to track down.

Essential Avengers Vol. 9

First Published: September 2013

Contents: Avengers #185 (July 1979) to #206 (April 1981); Avengers Annual #9 (1979); and the Vision story from Tales to Astonish #12 (November 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Steven Grant, Mark Gruenwald, David Michelinie, Jim Shooter, Bill Mantlo, John Byrne, George Pérez, Roger Stern, Carmine Infantino, and others

Key First Appearances: Magda Lehnsherr, Taskmaster

Story Continues From: Essential Avengers Vol. 8

Overview: Did you think that Vol. 8 was incredible? Well, you are in for a special treat because Essential Avengers Vol. 9 reaches all new level of awesomeness. 

The book begins with Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch returning to Wundagore Mountain. Being used as pawns for Modred the Mystic, who was controlled himself by the demon Chthon, the rest of the Avengers come running to the rescue. Before it’s over, Wanda learns some more information about her birth mother, Magda, who apparently was married to a magnetic white-haired man who is always causing problems in the X-Men books. That’s going to make for an interesting family reunion in the future.

Once the Avengers finally make it back to the United States, after a quick stop in Russia to fight some deadly elements, the team finds itself finally free of Henry Peter Gyrich and the government restrictions. The first change has the Avengers increasing their numbers, bringing back Hawkeye and Wonder Man among others. Falcon leaves, because he never really fit in with this group and not particularly wanting to be the quota member of the team. Wasp, Yellowjacket, and guest star Ant-Man investigate the Solomon Institute, where they encounter a new villain by the name of Taskmaster. He has photographic reflexes, which allows him to replicate moves or actions from anyone he sees. Armed with a sword, shield, and bow & arrow, he becomes a worthy foe for the mighty Avengers.

We are quickly moving forward to Avengers #200. But before we can get there, the Avengers must stop Red Ronin from destroying New York City. For those not familiar with the giant robot, Red Ronin was designed by S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop Godzilla, so it’s going to take every available Avenger to stop the construct. Well, almost everyone is involved. Everyone except Ms. Marvel, who finds herself on an unplanned maternity leave. But more on that later…

Post issue #200, we finally get the one Avengers story that fans have been clamoring for – a solo Jarvis story. Jarvis takes on a neighborhood bully while visiting his mom, reminding us that he has done a lot more with his life than just serve as a butler to the Stark family. While this is going on, Ultron has returned with plans for world domination and killing his dad, Henry Pym. Some things never change!

What makes this Essential?: I wrote this for my review of Volume 8, and I will write it again: The artwork of George Pérez and John Byrne looks spectacular in black & white. It’s worth the cover price of this book just to see their artwork like this. There are interesting stories which will impact the Marvel Universe for years to come. But the reason to get this book is the art!

I got 200 problems but the cover ain’t one: So about Avengers #200…. There are positives to this book, primarily found with the outstanding art from George Pérez. But the story is a train wreck, perhaps with too many writers trying to tell a story. In issue #197, Carol Danvers a.k.a. Ms. Marvel suddenly finds herself pregnant. Over the next two issues, her pregnancy takes just days, not months, as she quickly comes to full term for issue #200. Carol gives birth to a boy, who is named Marcus. Much like the pregnancy, Marcus rapidly grows to adulthood in just hours, revealing himself to be the son of the long-time (pun intended) foe of the Avengers, Immortus. Marcus was trapped in Limbo following the death of Immortus, and his only way to escape was to be “born” in the world. So he had brought Ms. Marvel to limbo to impregnate her. As if this wasn’t bad enough, once the Avengers stop all of the time issues occurring brought on by Marcus’ equipment, Ms. Marvel volunteers to go back to Limbo with Marcus. The issue ends, and everyone seems OK with everything that has happened, right?

So, this issue gets resolved in Avengers Annual #10, which can be found in Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1. The Avengers find out that Ms. Marvel has returned from Limbo, and she has lost her powers to Rogue. When Rogue and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants have been stopped, Carol Danvers gets the chance to unload on the Avengers, who turned a blind eye to the fact that Marcus mind-controlled Carol and raped her with his actions. No one came to her defense. No one thought twice about her returning to Limbo with Marcus. Annual writer Chris Claremont was not happy with issue #200 and used this issue as a way to address, if not repair, the damage previously done.

If you like this volume, try: the Avengers/JLA mini-series from 2003, a joint collaboration between DC Comics and Marvel Comics. The crossover was originally conceived in the late 1970s, to be written by Gerry Conway and art by George Pérez. However, editorial disputes between the two companies shelved the project for nearly 20 years. When the new project was introduced, it was then Avengers writer Kurt Busiek attached the project, and Pérez was brought back for the pencils, as he had a clause in his Crossgen-exclusive contract which allowed him to do this project if it ever came to fruition. In this new series, Krona and the Grandmaster challenge each other to a wager, using the Avengers and the Justice League as their pawns. As with any crossover of this magnitude, the teams travel to the other characters’ universes, and the typical match-ups between similar characters (Flash/Quicksilver, Green Arrow/Hawkeye) live up to every fanboy’s dream. For me, as a life-long reader of each title, this is a must read if you are a fan of the Silver Age and/or Bronze Age runs of both the Avengers and the Justice League of America.

Showcase Presents The Losers Vol. 1

First Published: March 2012

Contents: The Losers stories from G.I. Combat #138 (October 1969), and Our Fighting Forces #123 (January-February 1970) to #150 (August-September 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Ross Andru, John Severin, and others

Key First Appearances: Ona Tomsen

Overview: In his play The Tempest, William Shakespeare wrote, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” That easily describes the situation for the members of the Losers – a group of soldiers that have lost their original units. These orphans come together in a special unit that gets assigned the missions that no one else in their right mind would ever volunteer for.

The Losers consist of four soldiers, all previously featured in their own stories by writer Robert Kanigher for the various DC war titles.

  • Captain Storm is the former commander of a PT boat, which was destroyed in battle and the crew lost. Storm lost his lower left leg in an earlier battle and uses a wooden leg to get around.
  • Johnny Cloud, a Navajo pilot who is the sole survivor of his squadron and appears to always fly the final flight of any plane.
  • Gunner and Sarge, a two-man team from the trenches who always appear to be the last two standing from any firefight.

The four men, originally brought together by the Haunted Tank, primarily take on missions in Europe. However, getting assigned missions in the Pacific and Africa is not out of the picture. The Losers are given assignments, and each man goes into the battle thinking that this will be their final mission. When they survive the mission, they realize that the Losers find a way to fight again another day.

As the title develops under Kanigher and artists Ross Andru and John Severin, the story starts to become an ongoing narrative from issue to issue. On one mission, it appears that Captain Storm is killed in a bomb explosion. He is soon replaced by Ona Tomsen, a female member of the Norwegian Resistance Unit who views herself as a loser, being the sole survivor of her village. Thankfully Storm returns to the team, after a brief foray as a pirate, thanks to amnesia from the explosion.

 

Why should these stories be Showcased?: The concept of the Losers is perhaps more important than the specific characters themselves. The concept (and the characters) are revisited quite frequently over the years, whether it is continuing their original story or assigning the concept to a new group of characters, as seen in the 2002 Vertigo series. The stories are just long enough to tell a decent tale, without getting caught up in repeating the same story formula issue after issue.

If you like this volume, try: Jack Kirby’s take on the Losers. Kanigher and Severin’s run with the Losers came to an end with Our Fighting Forces #150. Beginning with the next issue, Kirby did a 12-issue run with Captain Storm, Johnny Cloud, Sarge, and Gunner. Like so many other Kirby books in that era, the initial reaction appears to be less than positive, with long-time readers not appreciating Kirby’s approach. Over the years, fans have flocked back to this run as one of Kirby’s last great DC arcs. The entire run was reprinted in 2009 has a hardcover edition.