Essential Defenders Vol. 7

First Published: May 2013

Contents: The Defenders #126 (December 1983) to #139 (January 1985); Beauty and the Beast #1 (December 1984) to #4 (June 1985); and Iceman #1 (December 1984) to #4 (June 1985)

Key Creator Credits: J.M. Dematteis, Peter Gillis, Ann Nocenti, Alan Kupperberg, Sal Buscema, Don Perlin, Mike Zeck, and others

Key First Appearances: Manslaughter, Oblivion, Dragon of the Moon

Story Continues From: Essential Defenders Vol. 6

Overview: The Defenders are dead! Long live the New Defenders! As we saw at the end of the last collection, With the core line-up (Doctor Strange, Hulk, Namor, & Silver Surfer) no longer able to work together for fear of destroying the Earth, a new team steps from the ashes to become the New Defenders. From the last run, Valkyrie, Gargoyle and Beast stick around, recruiting Angel, Iceman and Moondragon to join them in this journey.

With the new team, the dynamics between the various members make for an interesting story, sometimes more interesting than the villain of the month that they would battle each month. Who will lead the team? Is it the Beast, who has trained and studied under both Charles Xavier and Captain America? Is it the Angel, whose bank account is funding most of the team’s activities? Or is it Moondragon, who believes that everyone should bow down to the goddess that she believes herself to be?

Regardless who leads the team, we see the story moving forward with hints of things to come. We are introduced to the Dragon of the Moon, who will (SPOILER WARNING SINCE THERE IS NO ESSENTIAL DEFENDERS VOL. 8!) will become a negative influence in Moondragon’s life and lead to the eventual demise of this team (and this title).

But before then, we get lots of adventures of the new Defenders. We even get some solo mini-series involving members of the team. First up is an Iceman miniseries, which ran concurrently with Beauty and the Beast, teaming up the Beast with Dazzler (before she joined the X-Men).

What makes this Essential?: This is the most transformative era of the title that we have seen. For all of the talk about the Defenders not have a set roster, it was always some combination of the core line-up. Now just Valkyrie remains with half of the original X-Men, plus Moondragon and Gargoyle. So, for a change of pace with the characters, this is an interesting read. But it still doesn’t make this Essential. I personally would have rather seen the two mini-series dropped in favor of finding a way to get all of the remaining issues (it ran until #152) into this collection. I think J.M. DeMatteis and Peter Gillis have fun creating new adventures with these characters, with stellar art from the likes of Don Perlin and Alan Kubberberg, but these are not A-list characters to carry a book.

Footnotes: During this run of Defenders issues, the covers reflected the title The New Defenders. However, the indicia in the original issues indicated that the official title still was The Defenders. It wasn’t until issue #140 that the official name listed in the indicia was The New Defenders. Since this collection ends with issue #139, you could make the argument that Marvel collected all of the original issues in the Defenders series in this line of Essentials

Beauty and the Beast #1 to #4 are also reprinted in Essential Dazzler Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: hunting down a copy of The Gargoyle mini-series from 1985. This entire series has never been reprinted, so you will need to hit the back-issue bins to find this. Gargoyle co-creator and writer J.M. DeMatteis, along with artist Mark Badger, finally had the chance to do a solo series featuring Isaac Christians. He returns to his hometown, Christiansboro, Virginia, where Chambers is tricked into returning to his original body. Unfortunately, that allows the one of the demons to return to the Gargoyle shell and begin an attack to destroy the town. With the help of a druid, Christians’ soul is returned to the Gargoyle shell, and the Gargoyle destroys Isaac Chambers’ body so that he can’t be used like that again. This mini-series should have been collected in this volume, perhaps in place of the Beauty and the Beast series since that had been included in the Essential Dazzler Vol. 2 collection four years earlier.

Essential Moon Knight Vol. 3

First Published: February 2009

Contents: Moon Knight #31 (May 1983) to #38 (July 1984); Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu #1 (June 1985) to #6 (December 1985); Moon Knight stories from Marvel Fanfare #30 (January 1987), #38 (June 1988) and #39 (August 1988); the Moon Knight story from Solo Avengers #3 (February 1988); and the Moon Knight story from Marvel Super-Heroes #1 (May 1990)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Alan Zelenetz, Tony Isabella, Kevin Nowlan, Bo Hampton, Chris Warner, Denny O’Neill, and others

Key First Appearances: Joy Mercado

Story Continues From: Essential Moon Knight Vol. 2

Overview: Marvel’s man of the night is back with Essential Moon Knight Vol. 3. Regardless if the man under the mask is Marc Spector, Steven Grant, or Jake Lockley, Moon Knight is ready to take on any challenge, whether it’s physical, mental or mystical.

Sadly, this volume begins with the end of writer Doug Moench’s run on the title. During this run of issues, the Moon Knight titled transitioned into a direct market title, meaning that fans could only find the book at comic book retailers and not on the spinner rack at your local convenience store. The direct market status came with some benefits to the discerning readers. The comics were ad-free, giving us longer stories, and were eventually upgraded to a better paper quality. In addition, Marvel could start to tell somewhat more mature stories in this format.

The stories run through the various comic book possibilities – maybe Moon Knight is fighting street crime, dealing with a supernatural threat, solving a mystery, or fighting the super villain of the month. Moon Knight is often compared to Batman, and one of those reasons is the flexibility in being able to use the title character in these various stories. (By sheer coincidence, last week’s review of Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 6 featured many stories by Denny O’Neil. Many of the issues in this volume were edited by O’Neil.)

One year after the end of the direct market title, Moon Knight returned to the spinner racks with Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu. Now Marc Spector must act as an agent on Earth for Khonshu, which puts him at odds with the love of his life, Marlene. She leaves Marc, freeing up Marc (and the writer) to move about without having to check in every issue with a supporting cast. Sadly, the book lasts just six issues before it was cancelled.

This collection is rounded out by some solo Moon Knight stories that appeared in other books, such as Marvel Fanfare. Unfortunately, the sporadic nature of these tales makes it hard to have any true character development. You might have to look elsewhere to find a lengthy run with Moon Knight. See below for more details!

What makes this Essential?: Visually, these are some great stories. Sometimes you buy books just for the art, and this may be one of those. That said, Moon Knight as a character loses direction with Doug Moench leaving the character. It’s as if no one at Marvel knew what to do next with Moon Knight. I loved the start of the Fist of Khonshu series, where he had to act as a champion for Khonshu or face physical pain. But that series came to an abrupt end. Given the potential we saw with the character during the Moench/Sienkiewicz era, this volume feels like a let down in comparison.

If you like this volume, try: West Coast Avengers Omnibus Vol 2 from 2013. Shortly after the cancellation of Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu series, Moon Knight relocated to California and started hanging out with the West Coast Avengers, beginning with issue #21 of that title. Moon Knight stayed as a member of the team for almost two years, before leaving the team with issue #41. From there, Moon Knight moved back into his own title once again, named Marc Spector: Moon Knight. That ran for five years, but it doesn’t appear to have been collected yet.

Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 6

First Published: January 2016

Contents: Batman #229 (February 1971) to #244 (September 1972); Batman stories from Detective Comics #408 (February 1971) to #426 (August 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Frank Robbins, Irv Novick, Bob Brown, Neal Adams, Denny O’Neil, Dick Giordano and others

Key First Appearances: Talia al Ghul, Ra’s al Ghul, Ubu, Doctor Moon, Matches Malone

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 5

Overview: Welcome back to the sixth (and sadly final) volume of the Showcase Presents Batman series. I am your host, Jerry – a reader of a lot of comics and a tardy blogger who is way overdue to get another one of these reviews posted.

Let’s dive in, because this is the volume we have been waiting for. We’ve got Denny O’Neil writing many of these issues, and we have Neal Adams drawing many of those same issues. Let’s take the concept of the League of Assassins (created by Adams in the Deadman stories in Strange Adventures) and bring it to the Batman books. But we need a leader of the League… a figurehead… maybe a Demon’s Head. Enter Ra’s al Ghul and his daughter Talia.

Over a series of non-consecutive issues across both Batman and Detective Comics, Batman is drawn into a battle that appears to be centuries old. Ra’s al Ghul has big plans for the world, and those plans do not involve Batman. To complicate matters, Talia has a romantic interest in Batman. Throw those in together, and you get some explosive stories, going from the streets of Gotham City to the remote peaks of Nanda Parbat. Keep your Lazarus Pit handy, because someone is not walking away from this fight.

In between these classic al Ghul stories, this volume gives us a mix of mostly solo Batman stories. (Robin could usually be found in his own back-up feature in Batman, while Batgirl had her own back-up feature in Detective Comics.) We do get two visits from traditional Batman foes, with Two-Face and Man-Bat. Otherwise, this collection features a lot of detective stories, with Batman having to solve a mystery or follow the clues to a solution.

There is one new addition to the Batman mythos – the creation of Batman’s Matches Malone identity. Malone was a mob boss killed by Ra’s al Ghul. Batman seized upon the opportunity and kept Malone’s death a secret. He would dress up as Malone to infiltrate criminal hangouts to obtain information that he wouldn’t normally be able to get if he came strolling into the room as Batman. The Matches Malone identity will be used a lot over the years by many writers, and it adds a new approach to Batman’s quest to rid Gotham City of crime.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This was a hot and cold book for me. The stories are either INCREDIBLE or average. Reading through this book, I grew to look forward to the O’Neil-Adams stories, and I learned to dread the Robbins stories. (Not to bash on Frank Robbins here. I like his stuff, just not on Batman.) In this era, you were given a lot of different versions of Batman – super-hero, detective, crime fighter and more. If you like Batman to have a lot of different roles, this is a great collection. If you want one particular take on Batman, this might not be the book for you.

Footnotes: Batman #233 and #238 are reprint issues. The covers are included in this collection. 

Batman #237 features the Batman and Robin attending the Halloween parade in Rutland, Vermont. For more information on Rutland, see Essential Avengers Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: the Batman by Neal Adams omnibus from 2016. Yes, if you have been reading this blog for some time, then you have already read two-thirds of this book. You’ll get the Adams stories from Batman, Detective Comics, The Brave and the Bold, and World’s Finest. You even get reprints of the two Batman Power Records that Adams did. My personal opinion here, but the only downside of this collection is that it contains Batman: Odyssey. It’s a beautifully drawn story, but it needed a strong writer and editor to bring that title together. Regardless of my opinions on Odyssey, the other stories deserve to be viewed on an oversized white page with modern color printing. If you look around, you should be able to find it for less than cover price, and it will look so good sitting on your bookshelf.

Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 2

First Published: April 2004

Contents: The Tomb of Dracula #26 (November 1974) to #49 (October 1976); Giant-Size Dracula #2 (September 1974) to #5 (June 1975); and Doctor Strange #14 (May 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, Tom Palmer, Chris Claremont, Don Heck, David Kraft, Steve Englehart, and others

Key First Appearances: Harold H. Harold, Aurora Rabinowitz, Domini, Anton Lupeski

Story Continues From: Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 3

Overview: Dracula is dead! Love live Dracula!

Welcome back to The Tomb of Dracula, the legendary run by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan and Tom Palmer. Having worked on the title for more than a year, the creative team have found their stride with the title, putting together some of the best stories in the run of the series.

Picking up where things left off in the last collection, Dracula is believed to be dead, which leads his pursuers to go their separate ways. Taj returns tot India, where we discover that his wife is crippled and his own son is a vampire. Frank travels to Brazil, where he encounters zombies and the mysterious Brother Voodoo.

Meanwhile, Dracula realizes that this powers are waning, and must track down the reason for his condition. Following the clues, he travels across to Europe, taking on assignments to move him forward in his weakened condition. Eventually, the clues point him to America and Dr. Sun, who apparently did not die in their last battle seen in Volume 1.

Dracula crosses the Atlantic to America, where he sets up his operations in Boston. There, he meets a new ally in Harold H. Harold, a would-be writer of vampire tales. Harold hopes to leverage his friendship as a source for new stories. Dracula revives long enough to confront Dr. Sun, only to be killed by a henchman.

As can be expected, there is no quiet way for a vampire to travel, and eventually Quincy Harker and his team are back on Dracula’s trail, following him to America. Realizing how strong Dr. Sun has become, the vampire hunters conclude that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and bring Dracula back to life to help them in their battle. Dr. Sun is eventually defeated and Dracula regains his powers.

Following a meeting between Dracula and Doctor Strange, the vampire turns his attention to establishing a base of power in America. He joins up with the Church of the Damned in Boston. He meets Domini, a beautiful woman who has given herself over to the church, and decides to take her as his new bride. Dracula plans on siring a new child, with the goal of taking over the church to expand his reach. Unfortunately, the church has plans to use the offspring to take down Dracula once and for all.

What makes this Essential?: Wolfman, Colan and Palmer reach their peak with this collection. The stories and art are more solid than the previous and next volumes. Dracula finally feels like a threat, yet he remains a character you want to see succeed in his actions. I like setting the stories in America, as it gives the entire team a more comfortable environment in which to tell the stories.

Footnotes: Doctor Strange #14 and Tomb of Dracula #44 and #45 are also reprinted in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 3.

Several issues in this Essential make reference to the events in Dracula Lives, a black-and-white magazine that ran for 13 issues. Those magazines are collected in Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: the Doctor Strange vs. Dracula trade paperback from 2006. Yes, it does reprint the crossover already collected in this Essential, but it also includes a five-part story from Doctor Strange #58 to #62 from 1983. In this story arc by Roger Stern and Dan Green, the two title characters are searching for the Darkhold, a book with untold secrets. One of those secrets can bring an end to all vampires on Earth. Dracula and Doctor Strange go back-and-forth in their quest to claim the book, which also brings in Blade and the Avengers.

Essential Wolverine Vol. 7

First Published: June 2013

Contents: Wolverine #129 (October 1998) to #148 (March 2000); and Hulk #8 (November 1999)

Key Creator Credits: Todd DeZago, Fabian Nicieza, Erik Larsen, Eric Stephenson, Leinil Francis Yu, Cary Nord, Jeff Matsuda, Mike Miller, Roger Cruz, Ron Garney, and others

Story Continues From: Essential Wolverine Vol. 6

Overview: Over the years, Wolverine has faced every foe possible, from Magneto to Apocalypse to Sabretooth. He’s even clashed with the mainstream villains like Dr. Doom. But leave it to his, the final Essential Wolverine collection, for Wolverine to go up against the ultimate force in the Marvel Universe – Galactus!

Following the standard Wolverine vs. Sabretooth story that we are quite familiar with already, Wolverine gets caught up in an intergalactic tale. He gets kidnapped via a mutant who can control minds. Wolverine regains control to find himself mixed up with the Collector. With an assist from the Starjammers, Wolverine stops the Collector but finds he must now protect the various captives on the ship from Galactus. Wolverine learns that some battles cannot be won and that getting everyone out alive is the best victory you can hope for in this situation.

Next up are a series of one-shot team-up issues, featuring the likes of Cable, Nightcrawler, Jubilee and Alpha Flight. It’s really surprising to me, given how insanely popular Wolverine became during this era, that Marvel never gave him his own team-up book, much like Spider-Man and the Thing had in the 1970s and 1980s.

Finally, as part of the character’s 25th-anniversary celebration, Wolverine is finally reunited with his adamantium skeleton and claws. Professor Xavier has been forced to disband the X-Men when they find that Apocalypse has planted a fake Wolverine on their team. In all actuality, the real Wolverine finds himself as one of Apocalypse’s four horsemen, Death. Unfortunately, too much of the storyline is not reprinted here, so I’m going to need to check out the reprint collection of The Twelve to get a full idea of what is going on in this story.

The final issue is part of the Ages of Apocalypse storyline, featuring a reunion of the All-New Fantastic Four (Wolverine, Spider-Man, Hulk and Ghost Rider), which was first introduced in Walt Simonson’s memorable run on Fantastic Four. It’s a fun mash-up of characters, and one that I wish Marvel would find a way to revisit again someday.

What makes this Essential?: Why does this have to happen to me? Just when I really start to enjoy the Wolverine line of books, the Essential line comes to an end. I wasn’t reading the Wolverine title (or the X-Men books) in this era, so this was my first read of all of these issues. These are more interesting stories, especially those that do not get caught up in the current X-event.

If you like this volume, try: the 2017 Logan movie. This may be Hugh Jackman’s best take on Wolverine in any of the X-Men and Wolverine movies over the last 20 years. Borrowing heavily from Old Man Logan, the film takes place sometime in the future, where most of the mutants have been killed off. Logan finds himself as Xavier’s caretaker, trying to help the Professor keep his abilities in check as dementia takes over his mind. A new mutant, Laura Kinney, appears on the scene, created from Logan’s DNA, making her Wolverine’s daughter. He agrees to take Laura to Eden, a safe place for mutants, only to discover that it’s a mythical place from a comic book. They are hunted by the Reavers, who are relentless in their pursuit of the mutants. Logan eventually finds Eden but must sacrifice himself to stop the Reavers and give the kids a chance to escape. This was a tremendous movie, doing well with both critics and the box-office returns.

Showcase Presents The Unknown Soldier Vol. 2

First Published: January 2015

Contents: Star Spangled War Stories #189 (July 1975) to #204 (March 1977); and The Unknown Soldier #205 (May 1977) to #226 (April 1979)

Key Creator Credits: Joe Kubert, David Michelinie, Gerry Talaoc, Bob Haney, Dick Ayers, Al Milgrom, and others

Key First Appearances: Chat Noir

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents The Unknown Soldier Vol. 1

Overview: In Two In every war, there is a man who no one knows, yet who is known by everyone. He wears a thousand faces — fights countless battles — and proves that one man, in the right place at the right time, can make the difference. This is Showcase Presents The Unknown Soldier Vol. 2.

Once again, the Unknown Soldier takes on the missions that no one else could handle. With the ability to wear any face, the Unknown Soldier can pose as any man — or woman — allowing himself to work his way behind enemy lines and sabotage the Axis efforts to win the war. Sometimes the Unknown Soldier must rescue someone, other times he must destroy a base or weapon to keep it from turning the tide of war. Most of the stories are set in Europe, but we do get some stories set in the Pacific or Northern Africa.

The one change to these stories is the introduction of a supporting character. Chat Noir is a former U.S. soldier who now works with the French Underground. He provides support and someone for the Unknown Soldier to interact with while on the missions.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I believe I enjoyed this volume slightly more than the first volume.There is a little bit of continuity from issue to issue, via multi-part stories or the addition of a supporting cast in Chat Noir. The art from Gerry Talaoc and Dick Ayers stands out in the black & white format. The stories from David Michelinie and Bob Haney are serviceable, following the standard format of setting up the Unknown Soldier in a dire situation on pages 1 & 2, a flashback on pages 3-5 showing how he got into that situation, and then 5 pages or more to get out of the trap and complete his mission. I think I enjoyed this series more than say Sgt. Rock or even Sgt. Fury, where the large supporting cast sometimes gets in the way of telling the story.

Footnotes: The Unknown Solider ran until #268 (October 1982). The character has had multiple miniseries over the years, either due to a new story to be told or to keep the copyrights on the character.

If you like this volume, try: the Vertigo-published Unknown Soldier series from 2008. The series is written by Joshua Dysart, with art from Alberto Ponticelli. Set in Uganda during the 2002 civil war, Moses Lwanga is a doctor who is doing his best to protect his family and patients amidst the chaos of the war. But he suffers from nightmares, where he sees himself killing others like a soldier would. Donning the bandages to his face, Lwanga becomes the Unknown Soldier, trying to make the situation better by any means necessary. Along the way, the reader discovers a connection between Lwanga and the original Unknown Soldier from World War II. The series ran for 25 issues and has been collected in four trade paperbacks. The early trades appear to be out of print so you may need to go back issue bin diving to locate this incredible story.

Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol. 2

First Published: March 2014

Contents: Jonah Hex stories from Weird Western Tales #34 (May-June 1976) to #38 (January-February 1977); and Jonah Hex #1 (March-April 1977) to #22 (March 1979)

Key Creator Credits: Michael Fleisher, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Ernie Chan, Rich Buckler, Vicente Alcazar, and others

Key First Appearances: El Papagayo, Woodson Hex,

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol. 1

Overview: He was a hero to some, a villain to others… and wherever he rode, people spoke his name in whispers. He had no friends, this Jonah Hex, but he did have two companions: one was Death itself… the other, the acrid smell of gunsmoke…. This is Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol. 2.

Once again, we are treated to mostly one-and-done stories in this collection, but there is some continuation from time to time with the stories. We do get to delve into more of the origins of Jonah Hex. We find out that Jonah was sold to an Apache tribe by his own father. He was raised like one of their own and became a man at age 16 according to tribe custom. Unfortunately, the tribe leader’s son Noh-Tante grew jealous of the attention that Jonah was receiving from the young women, specifically White Fawn, of the tribe. Noh-Tante eventually betrayed Jonah, leaving him captured with a tribe of Kiowa Indians.

Years later, Jonah returned to his Apache tribe to find that Noh-Tante and White Fawn were man and wife. Jonah told the chief of Noh-Tante’s actions and had the chance to face him in combat. Noh-Tante sabotaged Jonah’s tomahawk, and he was forced to use a knife to defend himself by killing Noh-Tante. The tribe chief had Jonah’s face branded with the mark of the demon and banished him from the tribe with the threat of death if he was ever to return.

Of course, Jonah would return at some point, but it would be White Fawn who is ultimately punished by the chief for helping Jonah escape. Jonah kills the chief and most of the tribe as he leaves for the last time.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I definitely appreciated this volume more than Volume 1. My complaint with the last collection is that most of those stories could be told with any of DC’s western characters. They were western stories that happened to feature Jonah Hex. With this collection, we get Jonah Hex stories, and the world needs more Jonah Hex!

If you like this volume, try: watching some of Jonah’s appearances in the DC Animated Universe. Jonah Hex has been featured in Batman: The Animated Series (Showdown), Justice League Unlimited (The Once and Future Thing Part 1), and Batman: The Brave and the Bold (Return of the Fearsome Fangs, Duel of the Double Crossers, The Siege of Starro! Part 1). Earlier this year, Jonah Hex was even featured on an episode of Justice League Action (All Aboard the Space Train). In that feature, Jonah must team up with Space Cabbie to stop Kanjar Ro from robbing a space train. Typing this out makes no sense, I know, but that’s part of the charm of Jonah Hex. I would watch animated Jonah Hex over and over for the rest of my life before ever watching the live-action film from 2010 again.