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.

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.

Essential Warlock Vol. 1

First Published: August 2012

Contents: Marvel Premiere #1 (April 1972) and #2 (May 1972); Warlock #1 (August 1972) to #8 (October 1973); Incredible Hulk #176 (June 1974) to #178 (August 1974); Strange Tales #178 (February 1975) to #181 (August 1975); Warlock #9 (October 1975) to #15 (November 1976); Marvel Team-Up #55 (March 1977); Avengers Annual #7 (1977); and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (1977)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Gil Kane, Mike Friedrich, Bob Brown, Gerry Conway, Herb Trimpe, Jim Starlin, Steve Leialoha, and others

Key First Appearances: David Carter, Jason Grey, Ellie Roberts, Eddie Roberts, Brute, Magus, Matriarch, Autolycus, Pip the Troll, Gamora, In-Betweener, Gardener

Overview: Do you remember Him? That’s Him with an uppercase H, as in a proper name. He first appeared many moons ago in Fantastic Four #67, then was brought back for four issues in Thor. He’s an interesting guy but he needs a better name. How does Warlock sound? Even better, let’s make it Adam Warlock. This is Essential Warlock Vol. 1!

Warlock has been found by the High Evolutionary, who takes in Warlock as a new project. Embedding the Soul Gem in his forehead, Warlock is sent to Alternate-Earth (which is located on the far side of the sun from Earth in the same orbit) to become a hero for a heroless world. Warlock befriends a group of teenagers trying to find their way in the world, and that way eventually leads the group to the White House. There we find that the President is actually the Man-Beast in disguise, who is looking to take over the world.

Warlock tries to stop the Man-Beast but it can’t be done before the cancellation bug brings his book to an end. So the final battle takes place over in the pages of the Incredible Hulk. The green giant finds himself on the Alternate-Earth and encounters Warlock being held prisoner by the Man-Beast. Warlock makes the ultimate sacrifice – his own life – to stop the Man-Beast but is resurrected a few days later in a new, more powerful form.

When Warlock returns to his own title, after a quick run in Strange Tales, he starts to find a new set of friends, as well as new enemies. Now traveling the galaxy, he meets Gamora and Pip the Troll, who end up tagging along on his adventures. He also meets Magus, a would-be god in the future who just happens to be Warlock. Our hero must destroy his future self in order to save the universe of today.

Now, this collection would not be complete without mentioning Thanos, the big bad heavy of the Marvel Universe. Warlock and Thanos have been linked together for a long time, and it starts with the issues in this collection. Thanos finds that he must work with Warlock to defeat Magus’ army, but once that battle is done, they go their separate ways. Thanos hatches a new plan to rule the universe, and it takes the combined efforts of Warlock and his crew, along with Spider-Man, the Thing, Captain Mar-Vel, and the Avengers to stop Thanos for good — for now at least.

What makes this Essential?: This collection makes for an interesting look at religion. With the initial arc from Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, the writer was inspired by the then-current Jesus Christ Superstar musical. Sharing a name with the first man in the Bible, Adam Warlock is sent to Earth (albeit Alternate-Earth) to help save the people from a false prophet. During the Jim Starlin arc, Warlock must battle a future version of himself who has been set up as a god across the universe. Given the teases for Warlock in both Guardians of the Galaxy movies, I anticipate the demand for this book to increase as he joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Footnotes: Incredible Hulk #176 to #178 were also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 5.

Marvel Team-Up #55 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3.

Avengers Annual #7 was also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 8.

Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2 and Essential Avengers Vol. 8.

If you like this volume, try: The Infinity Gauntlet mini-series from 1991. Written by Jim Starlin with art by George Perez and Ron Lim, Thanos has acquired all six infinity gems and mounted them onto his glove. Seeking to win the affection of Death, Thanos kills half of the galaxy, including the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. The remaining heroes are given a chance to stop Thanos, but they are unable to prevail. Transcending into a god-like being, Thanos leaves his body unprotected, and his reported granddaughter Nebula steals the glove and restores the universe to how it was before. When things have settled, the recently returned Warlock takes possession of the glove, which led into a new ongoing series titled Warlock and the Infinity Watch.

Essential Thor Vol. 7

Essential Thor Vol. 7

First Published: October 2013

Contents: Thor #248 (June 1976) to #271 (May 1978); and Thor Annual #5 (1976) and #6 (1977)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, John Buscema, Walt Simonson, Tony DeZuniga, and others

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 6

Overview: So over the last 14 years of Thor adventures at Marvel, we have seen some epic runs led by some of the greats in comic book history. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, and John Buscema. With this final Essential Thor volume, we can now add Walt Simonson to that list.

This book is very evenly divided between a long run by Buscema and a long run by Simonson, both overseen by writer Len Wein. There are a couple of extra inclusions, like the Annuals and the Tales of Asgard stories. But the three names to focus on our Wein, Buscema, and Simonson.

The first half of the book feels like one long story, as Thor and his friends discover that Odin is missing, and must travel the stars in search of him. Along the way, the Norse deities encounter many obstacles along the way, before tracking down the All-Father being used as a power-source for the wall around the Doomsday Star.

Returning to Asgard, the band of travelers finds that Loki has tricked Balder into surrendering the throne to him. Thor once again defeats his step-brother, and normalcy is returned to Asgard. This gives Thor the breather to return to Earth, where we get to finally see Dr. Donald Blake again.

The highlight of this collection for me was Thor Annual #6, as Thor is kidnapped across time and space to help out the Guardians of the Galaxy. Mind you, this is not the GotG with Rocket and Groot that we fell in love with in the summer of 2014 – and eagerly awaiting their return this weekend! This is the original GotG with Major Vance Astro, Charlie-27, Martinex, Yondu, and Nikki. This is such a fun story!

What makes this Essential?: I can give you two great reasons to read this book: 1) John Buscema; and 2) Walt Simonson. This is a book you buy primarily for the artwork. The stories are decent, but the non-stop space epic looking for Odin started to get stale after awhile. (Remember, this searching for Odin started in Essential Thor Vol. 6!) Towards the end of this volume, when Odin has been found and balance has been restored to Asgard (for now), Thor returns to Earth. And it’s like a breath of fresh air. We get to see Donald Blake again, and we see Thor interact with Iron Man and the Avengers. I get that there is a need for a character like Thor to be featured in EPIC stories, but so much of the charm of the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby Thor was that he was tethered to Earth by his dual identity.

So, back to the art! I’ve sung the praises for Buscema in the past many times over. And I heartedly recommended Simonson’s second and more famous run on Thor during my review of Essential Thor Vol. 4. To get both of these artists in one book is worth the suggested retail price of this book! Give it a read while you can still find a copy on the shelves. 

 

If you like this volume, try:  the current run of Mighty Thor by Jason Aaron. Back with my review for Essential Thor Vol. 3, I suggested you check out Aaron’s run on Thor, God of Thunder. That run came to an end in the fall of 2014, and this new series launched in October 2014. However, this is a different look at Thor. Sure, Thor still wields Mjolnir, still wears the red cape and helmet, and still calls Asgard home. But this Thor no longer uses the same bathroom as the Warriors Three. This Thor is now a female, as the inscription on the hammer reads “…if she be worthy….” Jason Aaron fully gets the big-picture view of Thor, Asgard, and Norse deities. This is an excellent companion piece to his first series, so please pick this up!

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 11

spiderman11First Published: June 2012

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #231 (August 1982) to #248 (January 1984); and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (1982) and #17 (1983)

Key Creator Credits: Roger Stern, Bill Mantlo, John Romita Jr., Bob Hall, Ron Frenz, Ed Hannigan, and others

Key First Appearances: Monica Rambeau/Captain Marvel, Hobgoblin

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 10

Overview: OK, if you have been following along at home, so far I have written five reviews for Essential Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, four volumes of Essential Marvel Team-Up, and this will be the eleventh volume of Essential Spider-Man, highlighting the run in Amazing Spider-Man. So on the off-chance I repeat myself at any point in this review, just understand that there is a good reason why I might re-use a joke or line. Because if comics has taught me anything, it’s that you re-use whatever works best as many times as you can!

As we left off with the last collection, these issues are primarily done by writer Roger Stern and artist John Romita Jr. For as many good teams that have worked on Spider-Man over the years, this may be one of my favorite creator teams to ever work on Amazing Spider-Man. In these stories, Peter Parker is focusing on his photo-journalism work for the Daily Bugle. In his personal life, we see Mary Jane Watson becoming more of a potential romantic interest for Peter, but she’s not the only one.

The highlight of this volume has to be the introduction of the Hobgoblin. Someone has discovered one of Norman Osborn’s secret labs and has modified the Green Goblin identity for his own purposes. It makes for an intriguing storyline (not really seen since the time the Green Goblin was first introduced) as Peter (and the readers) try to unravel the identity of this new costumed villain. The Hobgoblin became a break-out star in the Spider-Man books, building up over a year’s time to a fiery conclusion.

Another character introduction comes with a familiar name, as Roger Stern and the John Romitas (Sr. and Jr.) gave us Monica Rambeau, the new Captain Marvel. Obviously, Marvel did this as a way to maintain the rights to Captain Marvel, keeping it away from DC Comics. This Captain Marvel was able to transform into any form of energy and developed into a strong character even after she ceded the Captain Marvel name, becoming first Photon and then Pulsar. While introduced in the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, Stern would bring her onto the Avengers team during his five-year run on that title.

One of my all-time favorite Spider-Man stories comes at the end of this collection, with “The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man” from Amazing Spider-Man #248. This came during Marvel’s infamous Assistant Editor’s Month when many titles decided to have fun with issues that month. But we get an incredibly touching backup story from Roger Stern and Ron Frenz. Spider-Man pays a visit to a young boy named Tim, who claims to be Spider-Man’s biggest fan. Peter shows off for Tim, answers some questions, and then shares with Tim his secret identity. It’s only an 11-page story, but I still tear up every time I read this.

What makes this Essential?: I really enjoyed this volume. Obviously, the introduction of Hobgoblin was significant at the time, but it seems diminished now looking back on it more than 30 years later. John Romita Jr’s art really shines in the black and white format, and I believe Roger Stern is a criminally underrated writer who doesn’t get the proper recognition he deserves. Stern helps usher in a new era to Spider-Man and Peter Parker in particular, moving his away from his graduate studies and focusing more on his photojournalism work.

If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin trade paperback. My biggest complaint is that this collection stopped three issues too short. This book needed to include Amazing Spider-Man #249 to #251, which would have wrapped up not only the Hobgoblin storyline (for now) but also the red-and-blue costume era as the black symbiote costume is introduced in #252. The Hobgoblin story had been building for a year, causing a lot of speculation as to the identity of the villain. If you can’t track down the individual issues, find this trade paperback to complete the story.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 9

ff9First Published: August 2013

Contents: Fantastic Four #184 (July 1977) to #188 (November 1977) and #190 (January 1978) to #207 (June 1979); and Fantastic Four Annual #11 (1977) and #12 (1978)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, George Pérez, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Keith Pollard, Bob Hall, and others

Key First Appearances: Nicholas Scratch, Salem’s Seven (Bructacus, Gazelle, Hydron, Reptilla, Vakume, and Vertigo), Adora, Nova Prime

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8

Overview: This is it! The day we thought would never happen. The Fantastic Four have broken up. The Four is no more. Good thing this is the ninth and final volume of Essential Fantastic Four,.

When we left off with the last volume, the Fantastic Four was at a crossroads. Reed Richards is powerless. Now at other times when the team has been down one member, they simply recruit another member to fill the spot. Not this time. Nope, time to disband the team and go their separate ways. Let’s give up the lease on the Baxter Building and move on. Johnny tries driving race cars, Ben becomes a test pilot, Sue goes to Hollywood to star in a movie, and Reed joins a think tank. And everyone lived happily ever after, right?

As luck would have it, the individual stories eventually merge into one storyline, bringing the foursome back together. Seems like Reed has been working on a project for a mysterious benefactor that turns out to be none other than Doctor Doom. This leads to Reed being launched into space to be exposed to cosmic rays once again, leading to predictable results. Reed returns to Earth in his stretchable form and leads the team to stop Doom from taking over the world.

The volume comes to the conclusion with the start of the Skrull-Xandar war, which was also featured in the final issues of the Nova series. Unfortunately, neither Essential book contains the full storyline. You need to track down the Nova Classic Vol. 3 trade paperback to get the full story if you can’t find the individual issues.

What makes this Essential?: I admit I am very partial to this era, as I was reading the Fantastic Four on and off as these issues came out in the late 1970s. Honestly, this build-up to issue #200 is a good Doctor Doom story, a character that had not been used much in the pages of Fantastic Four for some time. Personally, I think that helped recapture some of the nostalgia of the Lee-Kirby era with this big storyline. Marv Wolfman really gets these characters and doesn’t get the credit he probably deserves for his work on Fantastic Four. This would be a near perfect collection if it didn’t force us to track down the finish to the Nova storyline.

Footnotes: Fantastic Four #189 is a reprint issue of Fantastic Four Annual #4, which was reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3. The new cover to Fantastic Four #189 is included in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: John Byrne’s legendary run from 1981 (Fantastic Four #232) to 1986 (Fantastic Four #295). Byrne did a stint as the artist on the book shortly after the end of this Essential volume, but those issues were still written by Marv Wolfman and Bill Mantlo. Byrne got a two-issue try out in #220 and #221 where he wrote and drew the issue. But beginning with issue #232, Byrne took over as the regular writer and artist on the “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine”. The book was really revitalized under Byrne’s direction and reaches new creative levels not seen since the days of Jack and Stan. This run has been collected in two Omnibus editions and multiple Visionaries volumes. If you are a fan of the Fantastic Four, you should own a set of these issues in your collection.