Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 3

ghostrider3First Published: November 2009

Contents: Ghost Rider #51 (December 1980) to #65 (February 1982); Marvel Two-In-One #80 (October 1981); Ghost Rider story from Marvel Super-Heroes #11 (October 1992); and Avengers #214 (December 1981)

Key Creator Credits: Michael Fleisher, Don Perlin, Jack Sparling, Herb Trimpe, Alan Kupperberg, Luke McDonnell, and others

Key First Appearances: Asmodeus, Hamilton Slade/Phantom Rider, Red Fowler

Story Continues In: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 2

Story Continues From: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 4

Overview: Ghost Rider is back in action with another Essential volume reprinting his original series from the early 1980s. Stunt rider Johnny Blaze travels the American West, going from one gig to the next, doing his best to stay out of trouble as well as keeping the demon Zarathos from taking control of his soul.

Without a lot of supporting characters from issue to issue, many of these stories are one-and-done as Ghost Rider finds himself in a different location each issue. It’s not to say that Johnny doesn’t run into some familiar faces along the way. We get crossovers with the Thing, the Avengers, the Arabian Knight, Werewolf by Night, and others.

What makes this Essential?: I’m sure there is something I am missing here, but I just don’t get Ghost Rider. I understand the origins of the character. I can see how some people would be attracted to this character. But from what I have read so far in these Essential volumes, I find it disappointing. The stories and the art seem very average. I have read more contemporary Ghost Rider stories and found them much more interesting. My only thought is that these Ghost Rider issues filled a niche in the market and the followers were extremely loyal and vocal to keep Ghost Rider around. 

Footnotes: Marvel Two-In-One #80 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: the original Marvel mini-series, Marvel Super Heroes Contest of Champions. This was originally planned on an oversized special to coincide with the 1980 Summer Olympics. But when the United States pulled out of the games, Marvel shelved the project and resurrected it two years later as a three issue mini-series. In Contest of Champions, the Grandmaster engages in a game against the entity representing Death. He wants to get his brother, the Collector, resurrected, and wages his own life if he should lose. The two participants choose teams of heroes from around the globe and make them square off against each other. While Ghost Rider is not featured in this series, the Arabian Knight and the Thing are both participants in the game. This series has been reprinted multiple times, making it easy to track down in some format.

Essential Moon Knight Vol. 2

moon_knight_2First Published: October 2007

Contents: Moon Knight #11 (September 1981) to #30 (April 1983)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alan Zelenetz, Greg LaRocque, Steven Grant, and others

Key First Appearances: Morpheus, Detective Flint, Stained Glass Scarlet, Black Spectre

Story Continues From: Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Moon Knight Vol. 3

Overview: He’s back! Moon Knight returns in his second Essential volume, reprinting the stories from his first ongoing series.

During this run of issues, the Moon Knight titled transitioned into a direct market only 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 and were eventually upgraded to a better paper quality. In addition, Marvel could start to tell somewhat more mature stories in this format.

Most of the stories are one-and-done, but there are the occasional multi-part stories. We are introduced to a pair of foes that would be regulars in Moon Knight’s rogues’ gallery – Morpheus and Scarlet. I think the development of the supporting characters in the book helps enhance the title character.

The best stories are found towards the end of the book, and the end of artist Bill Sienkiewicz’s run on the title. In particular, issue #26 with the “Hit It” story works on multiple levels, striking a powerful blow at the reader.

What makes this Essential?: These are really good issues, and they translate well into the black & white format. As I mentioned before, I’ve never been a fan of Moon Knight. To me, he seemed to just be Marvel’s version of Batman, albeit with multiple personalities.

But I read an interesting theory in the preparation of this review that made me rethink my position. As seen in this volume, some cover art is done by Frank Miller, who was bringing his legendary run on Daredevil to a conclusion in this time frame. Soon after, Miller started doing some work for DC, including Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. Now, the Batman that most people think of when we hear the character’s name most often is the Frank Miller-influenced Batman that came out of those two stories. And since Miller worked on Moon Knight before he worked on Batman, you could (maybe) make the case that Batman is actually DC’s version of Moon Knight. It may be a stretch, but it’s an idea I want to think some more about.

Anyway, buy this book, whether it is for the character, the Doug Moench stories, or the beautiful Bill Sienkiewicz artwork.

If you like this volume, try: Daredevil: Love and War from the 1980s Marvel Graphic Novel line. This is an incredible Daredevil story from Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz that often gets overlooked. The Kingpin has kidnapped a psychiatrist in hopes of helping his wife Vanessa recover. Daredevil must stop the Kingpin and rescue the psychiatrist, as well as the psychiatrist’s wife, who is being held by a psychotic killer on behalf of the Kingpin. This is a beautiful book that is best viewed as the Marvel Graphic Novel, in order to get the proper scaling for the pages. I’ve been on record that I was NOT a Sienkiewicz fan when he took over the art on New Mutants. I hated his work and only stayed with the book because I actually had a mail subscription to the title. But Love and War was a 180-degree turn for me in my opinions of Sienkiewicz. I suddenly got his art and thought it was incredible. Please check out this story however you can find it.

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 4

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 4

First Published: February 2013

Contents: Marvel Team-Up #76 (December 1978) to #78 (February 1979), and #80 (April 1979) to #98 (October 1980), and Marvel Team-Up Annual #2 (1979) and #3 (1980).

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Steven Grant, Mike Vosburg, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino

Key First Appearances: Cutthroat, Mister Fear, Dansen Macabre, Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird, Alexi Vazhin

Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3

Overview: Living in New York City, Spider-Man has the opportunity to cross paths with many different heroes from all corners of the Marvel Universe. A casual stroll through Greenwich Village usually prompts an encounter with the mystical Dr. Strange. Being sent on a photo shoot for the Daily Globe allows Peter to meet up with the Invisible Girl. And you just never know when Howard the Duck might drive his cab from Cleveland to Manhattan.

While references are made to ongoing events in Spider-Man’s other monthly books, these stories usually follow the one-and-done format, giving the reader a complete story within the 20-plus pages per issue. These stories also tend to be more lighthearted, giving into the absurdity that brings some of these team-ups together.

What makes this Essential?: The team-up books, such as this or Marvel Two-in-One, are a good way to read a particular character, be exposed to a variety of other characters, and not get bogged down in continuity from the main character’s books (usually). While mostly one-and-done stories, there are a couple of mini-story arcs (#76, #77, #80, #81; and #82-#85) that make for more interesting stories. While this is not a must-read volume to understand Peter Parker, this is a friendly  way to introduce a new reader to the world of Spider-Man.

Footnotes: Marvel Team-Up #79 is not included in this Essential volume. That issue teamed Spider-Man up with Red Sonja. Marvel no longer holds the rights to publish Red Sonja, so it could not be included in this Essential.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
#76 – Spider-Man & Dr. Strange
#77 – Spider-Man & Ms. Marvel
#78 – Spider-Man & Wonder Man
#80 – Spider-Man & Dr. Strange and Clea / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1
#81 – Spider-Man & Satana / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1
#82 – Spider-Man & Black Widow
#83 – Spider-Man & Nick Fury
#84 – Spider-Man & Master of Kung Fu
#85 – Spider-Man & Shang-Chi, Black Widow, and Nick Fury
#86 – Spider-Man & Guardians of the Galaxy
#87 – Spider-Man & Black Panther
#88 – Spider-Man & Invisible Girl
#89 – Spider-Man & Nightcrawler
#90 – Spider-Man & Beast
#91 – Spider-Man & Ghost Rider
#92 – Spider-Man & Hawkeye
#93 – Spider-Man & Werewolf
#94 – Spider-Man & Shroud
#95 – Spider-Man & Mockingbird
#96 – Spider-Man & Howard the Duck
#97 – Hulk & Spider-Woman / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 2
#98 – Spider-Man & Black Widow
Annual #2 – Spider-Man & Hulk
Annual #3 – Hulk & Power Man, Iron Fist, and Machine Man

If you like this volume, try: the first Hawkeye mini-series from 1983. We see Hawkeye in Marvel Team-Up #92 working as the security chief for Cross Technological Enterprises (CTE). Hawkeye would work for CTE during his many leaves of absence from the Avengers. The mini-series brings the CTE storyline to a conclusion, as Hawkeye discovers that the cousin of CTE’s CEO is the villain Crossfire, who is hatching a plan to destroy all superheroes. Working with former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Mockingbird (first introduced in Marvel Team-Up #95), Hawkeye stops Crossfire’s plan. The series ends with Hawkeye and Mockingbird getting married. This series has been collected in a trade paperback and as a Marvel Premiere edition.

Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1

moonknight1First Published: February 2006

Contents: Werewolf by Night #32 (August 1975) and #33 (September 1975); Marvel Spotlight #28 (June 1976) and #29 (August 1976); Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #22 (September 1978) and #23 (October 1978); Marvel Two-In-One #52 (June 1979); Moon Knight stories from The Hulk! #11 (October 1978) to #15 (June 1979), #17 (October 1979), #18 (December 1979), and #20 (April 1980); Marvel Preview #21 (May 1980); and Moon Knight #1 (November 1980) to #10 (August 1981)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Don Perlin, Bill Sienkiewicz, and others

Key First Appearances: Marc Spector/Steven Grant/Jake Lockley/Moon Knight, Frenchie, Marlene Alraune, Gena Landers, Bertrand Crawley, Samuels, Hatchet-Man/Shadowknight, Crossfire, Bushman, Khonshu, Ray Landers, Ricky Landers

Story Continues In: Essential Moon Knight Vol. 2

Overview: Introduced as the latest villain-of-the-month, mercenary Marc Spector has been hired to bring in Jack Russell, a.k.a. the Werewolf By Night. Given an armor covered in silver (the one element that’s deadly to werewolves) and armed with throwing crescents and other weapons, the Moon Knight works to bring in his prey to the Committee. From this humble beginnings, a new modern Marvel hero was born.

Following his initial appearance, Moon Knight made some scattered appearances in other titles before finally earning a regular backup feature in The Hulk magazine. With the ongoing story, writer Doug Moench was able to start fleshing out the character’s origin, tying it in with the Egyptian moon god Khonshu, as well as creating a supporting cast around Moon Knight.

As we learn more about Marc Spector, we find out that he has multiple personalities. Initially, the various identities seem to just be costumes that Moon Knight uses to solve his missions. As the stories develop more, we see that these various personalities (mercenary Marc Spector, millionaire Steven Grant, cab driver Jake Lockley) all seem to struggle for control of the body along with Moon Knight.

In response to his ever-growing popularity, Moon Knight finally graduates to his own ongoing title in 1980. The longer format allows for more detailed stories, as we get the all-new revised origin for Moon Knight. These issues also showcase the development of artist Bill Sienkiewicz’s art, as he progresses to the look that he would most be known for in the future.

What makes this Essential?: For years, I have resisted diving into the Moon Knight universe. My only interaction with the character was his brief stint with the West Coast Avengers. Add in that much of the series was as a direct market title, which made it unavailable on the spinner racks at convenience stores.

So reading this collection was truly a proper introduction to the character. I was fascinated to see the character, first introduced as a foe for the Jack Russell werewolf, go through a transformation to become a hero. Rather than just being a hired hand wearing a fancy suit, we find out in the main series that Marc Spector was “destined” to become Moon Knight by the Khonshu.

I’m going to keep moving forward with the Moon Knight volumes to see where this story goes and to marvel over the Sienkiewicz artwork.

Footnotes: Werewolf By Night #32 and #33 were also reprinted in Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 2.

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

Marvel Two-in-One #52 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 2.

The Hulk & Moon Knight stories from Hulk! #15 are also reprinted in Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the current ongoing Moon Knight series from Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood. The two creators really “get” the Moon Knight concept, and the output is pure comic goodness. Lemire’s initial story arc plays with the multiple identities of the man wearing the Moon Knight costume, placing Marc Spector in an insane ward. But the patients around him is his familiar group of friends in Frenchie, Marlene, Bertrand and Gena. Greg’s art has gone up a level or two with this book. He is presenting creative layouts, where the design of the panels contributes to the story. His art feels like an extension of the legendary work that Bill Sienkiewicz crafted on the original run of the Moon Knight title. The first story arc just completed, and a trade paperback of it will be released in December.

Essential Thor Vol. 6

Essential Thor 6

First Published: October 2012

Contents: Thor #221 (March 1974) to #247 (May 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Joe Sinnott, and others

Key First Appearances: Firelord, Dweller-in-Darkness, Horus, Isis, Osiris, Seth, Mimir, Servitor

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 7

Overview: Given his success in the cinematic Marvel Universe, you can fully expect Marvel to keep cranking out Essentials of the Bronze Age adventures of our favorite Norse deity, Thor.

This volume could be divided up into two sections, with the first section of 18 issues featuring stories from Gerry Conway and John Buscema. With the first issue of this volume, #221, Thor is joined on a series of adventures with his old friend, Hercules, the Demi-God from the Greek pantheon. The title becomes a “buddy cop” team-up of sorts, as the two hang-out around New York City, stumbling from one misadventure to the next.

There are several key stories during this run of Thor & Hercules: Galactus returns to Earth once again, this time with his new herald, Firelord. But Galactus is not here for dinner; rather, he needs Thor’s help in dealing with Ego, the Living Planet. Upon resolving that conflict, Thor arranges a swap with Galactus, giving Firelord his freedom on Earth, and in exchange, he gives Galactus the old guardian of Asgard, the Destroyer, to animate and use as his herald.

During another adventure, the long-lost love of Thor, Jane Foster, returns but she is on the brink of death. Thor does anything he can to help prolong her life, but nothing is helping. Finally, Lady Sif sacrifices her life, and merges her soul with that of Jane Foster, reviving the former nurse. From that point forward, Thor and Jane Foster are inseparable. However, Odin feels that Thor has once again disobeyed his orders, and banishes Thor from Asgard (again!). Foster still has some of the memories of Sif, and often picks up a sword and jumps into battle with Thor.

The second section would cover the final nine issues, where Roy Thomas and then Len Wein take over the scripting duties from Conway. In this section, we meet the Egyptian pantheon of gods, such as Horus, Isis, and Osiris, as a pyramid springs up in Southern California. Thor is forced to team-up with the Egyptians to save his amnesiac father, Odin. In other issues, Thor, Jane Foster, and the Warriors Three travel to the end of time to stop the Time-Twisters from destroying the universe. And we get one final match-up with Firelord, who has been mesmerized into helping rebels trying to overthrow a democratically elected government in South America.

What makes this Essential?: I honestly had no idea of the Thor & Hercules team-up adventures that dominate the majority of this book. For those issues alone, you should track down this Essential. These are solid stories from the mid-1970s that do not get revisited often enough. The art from Buscema and friends remains stellar. Buscema’s artwork is solid enough that it works just as well, if not better, in black & white as it does in color. With the developments between Thor, Jane Foster, and Lady Sif, this is a worthy read for the advancement of the characters. 

Footnotes: When Thor #231 was published, page 14 was printed out of order. For this Essential, the pages were placed in the correct reading order.

Also in issue #231, a reference is made to an adventure that Hercules had with Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #28. That issue can be found in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2.

If Gerry Conway is writing a book in the 1970s, you can expect the title character to make a visit to see Tom Fagan, as Thor did once again in issue #232. For more information on Tom Fagan in Rutland, Vermont, see the review for Essential Avengers Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try:  the Hercules: Prince of Power Premiere Edition from 2009. This collects the two Hercules miniseries from 1982 and 1984, both done by Bob Layton. The two series each took place roughly 500 years into the future, as Hercules is traveling the galaxy. Accompanied by a Recorder, he crosses paths with the Skrulls, Starfox, and even Galactus. This is Hercules at his bombastic peak, bold and brash and looking for fun. Set so far into the future, you do not need to be deeply versed in Hercules’ history in the Marvel Universe. Track this book down – you will thank me later!

Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 2

First Published: October 2007

Contents: Werewolf by Night #22 (October 1974) to #43 (March 1977); Giant-Size Werewolf #2 (October 1974) to #5 (July 1975); and Marvel Premiere #28 (February 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Don Perlin, and others

Key First Appearances: Marc Spector/Moon Knight, Frenchie

Story Continues From: Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 1

Overview: Every 28 days, give or take, the full moon rises and lights up the night sky. Some people love those three nights that the full moon is visible. For other people, like Jack Russell, those nights of the full moon are the worst days of your month. See, Jack is a lycanthrope, which means that his body transforms into a werewolf with the start of the full moon. This is Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 2.

Not much has changed since we read the last volume. Jack struggles with the transformations. His friends help him out, sometimes at great risk to their own lives. But a new threat emerges as Jack’s sister Lyssa approaches her 18th birthday. Will she be affected by the family curse? The short answer is yes. Unfortunately, during her first transformation, she is also imbued with a dark evil energy, making her a more ferocious threat. Thankfully, the group finds a cure for her condition, but Jack is still bound to the werewolf.

The highlight of this collection comes in Werewolf By Night #32 and #33, as a new villain is introduced to stop the Werewolf – the Moon Knight. It’s interesting to see mercenary Marc Spector contracted to bring in the Werewolf for a mysterious group known as the Committee, and they provide him a special suit with silver weapons to stop him. At the time, he seemed to almost be a throw-away character, as were most of the characters created in this run. But something took hold with this character, as we will see soon in a future Essential review.

What makes this Essential?: I want to like this more, but these issues just do not hold up. The two biggest items in this volume are the introduction of Moon Knight and the ability to will his transformations regardless of the moon phase. With Moon Knight, you get the full context of those issues by reading it here, but you could also just get Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1 if you want to see Marc Spector’s first appearance. The ability to revert to the werewolf at will should actually help the story-telling process, but by that point, the book had moved to bi-monthly status, and the popularity of the character appears to have been declining. For the completist, by all means, pick up this volume. I think the bookshelf would look great with two Werewolf By Night volumes, along with the four Tomb of Dracula, the Frankenstein, the Zombie, and the two Marvel Horror Essentials. I’m glad that Marvel reprinted this era of their books, but that still doesn’t make them essential.

Footnotes: Werewolf By Night #32 and #33 were also reprinted in Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1.

Giant-Size Werewolf #2 was also reprinted in Essential Monster of Frankenstein Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Legion of Monsters mini-series from Marvel in 2011. Getting a group of monsters together is not a new concept. Universal did it repeatedly with their monster films of the 1940s and 1950s. DC had their take with the Creature Commandos. We saw Marvel’s take in this collection with the Legion of Monsters story from Marvel Premiere #28. That concept was recently revisited in a story written by Dennis Hopeless. The monster hunter, Elsa Bloodstone, is on the trail of a killer… a trail which leads right to the hidden home of the monsters. But the monsters refuse to go down without a fight. Morbius, Werewolf, the Living Mummy and Manphibian defend themselves against Bloodstone in a fun romp that harkens back to so many of the monster mythos, both within Marvel Comics and in the pop culture lore.

Essential Monster of Frankenstein Vol. 1

monsteroffrankenstein1First Published: October 2004

Contents: The Monster of Frankenstein #1 (January 1973) to #5 (September 1973); The Frankenstein Monster #6 (October 1973) to #18 (September 1975); Giant-Size Werewolf #2 (October 1974); Monsters Unleashed #2 (October 1973) and #4 (February 1974) to #10 (February 1975); and Legion of Monsters #1 (September 1975)

Key Creator Credits: Gary Friedrich, Mike Ploog, Doug Moench, John Buscema, Val Mayerik, and others

Key First Appearances: Frankenstein’s Monster, Victor Frankenstein

Overview: Ripped from the pages of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein’s Monster comes to life in the Marvel Universe. This is Essential Monster of Frankenstein Vol. 1.

The book starts out by retelling Shelley’s story – how Dr. Frankenstein created new life from the remains of old bodies, but the new creature turned against his “father”. The Frankenstein Monster seeks out Victor Frankenstein, chasing him to the Arctic Circle. Following the death of Victor, and perhaps borrowing a page from Captain America’s story, the Frankenstein Monster falls into the freezing waters, and is encased in ice preserving his so-called life until he could be revived in the late twentieth century.

Joining the modern world, the Frankenstein Monster shuffles from story-to-story. Some deal with him seeking out other descendants of Victor Frankenstein. Other stories have him crossing paths with the other popular Marvel monsters, such as Dracula or Werewolf. Add in a handful of stories that involve the Frankenstein monster being used by others to further their desires.

What makes this Essential?: Marvel found a lot of success in the 1970s with the launch of the various Monster or Horror titles, such as Tomb of Dracula, Ghost Rider, or Werewolf By Night. I think Frankenstein must have been a moderate success, at least enough to warrant this Essential. But reading so many of these stories, particularly the ones from the Monsters Unleashed magazine, there is not much difference between reading these stories and many of the Rampaging Hulk stories from this era. Both were large guys with communication issues, looking to be left alone, and often finds himself in the middle of a situation he wants nothing to do with. I personally found the team-up issues, like the Legion of Monsters story, more interesting. Those stories do not rely on the Frankenstein monster to carry the story forward.

Footnotes: Frankenstein’s Monster #7  to #9 were also reprinted in Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 4.

Giant-Size Werewolf #2 was also reprinted in Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 2.

Although not collected in this collection, Marvel Team-Up #36 and #37 featured Spider-Man meeting the Frankenstein Monster. Those issues were reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: the Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. series from DC as part of the New 52 Universe. The series was written by Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt, with art by Alberto Ponticelli. In this take on the classic character, we see the version of Frankenstein’s monster that Grant Morrison developed in his Seven Soldiers series. Frankenstein and the other Creature Commandos work for a secret government agency known as S.H.A.D.E. (Super Human Advanced Defense Executive). S.H.A.D.E. is the first line for investigating and fighting supernatural threats. The series ran for seventeen issues, and it was reprinted in two trade paperbacks.

 

Essential Defenders Vol. 6

defenders6

First Published: October 2011

Contents: The Defenders #107 (May 1982) to #125 (November 1983); Avengers Annual #11 (1982); and Marvel Team-Up #119 (July 1982)

Key Creator Credits: J.M. Dematteis, Don Perlin, Mark Gruenwald, and others

Key First Appearances: Mistress Love, Arcanna, Nuke, Power Princess, Sassafras, Cloud, Mad-Dog

Story Continues From: Essential Defenders Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Defenders Vol. 7

Overview: Welcome back to yet another volume of Essential Defenders. For a book with no official line-up, headquarters, and/or uniforms, it still amazes me that this title ran for 152 issues. It was a title that for 15 years could do almost any type of story, as everything was fair game with magicians, mutants, Asgardians, and more hanging out each and every month.

This volume kicks off with the death of Valkyrie, or so it seems. See back in Defenders #66 to #68, Valkyrie’s spirit was put into the body of Barbara Norris, and Norris’ spirit was placed into Valkyrie’s body, who was left in the Asgardian realm of Niffleheim. While Norris’ body is killed, the Defenders are able to save Valkyrie’s spirit, and reunite it with her body. So, long live Valkyrie, and so long Barbara Norris.

Next up is Avengers Annual #11, which won’t be found in the Essential Avengers run. Long-time Defenders adversary Nebulon finds himself sentenced to Earth. He encounters Thor, who brings Nebulon to the Avengers to aid the alien in returning to his home. At this same time, another member of Nebulon’s race, Nalia, arrives and seeks out the Defenders. She claims that Nebulon has plans to take over the Earth, and asks the Defenders to stop him. In typical comic book fashion, the two teams square off in the Himalayas, only to eventually realize that both teams were being manipulated by the aliens.

The Squadron Supreme, Marvel’s version of the Justice League, shows up for a multi-issue story, and the rest of the team is finally introduced in this story, with Arcanna (Zatanna), Nuke (Firestorm), and Power Princess (Wonder Woman). It’s a battle royale between the Defenders, the Squadron Supreme, and the Overmind

As this volume winds down, we see the transition start with the line-up that leads to the creation of the New Defenders. The Beast becomes more of the de facto leader of the non-team. Two of the Beast’s former teammates, Iceman and the Angel, show up and stick around. Valkyrie brings along a guest in Moondragon, who is under the warrior’s supervision following her latest power grab move with the Avengers. And of course, there is the Gargoyle, who really has no place else to go, so of course, he will stick around. Patsy Walker and Daimon Hellstorm finally take their leave of the team following their wedding. And the four heroes most closely associated with the concept of the Defenders – Doctor Strange, Hulk, Sub-Mariner, and Silver Surfer – turn over the reigns to the new team, knowing that there is a new set of Defenders to help protect the world.

What makes this Essential?: There are parts of this book that are good to read, such as the Avengers Annual, the Squadron Supreme crossover, and the formation of the “New Defenders”. However, I don’t know that the sum of these parts justifies the full Essential volume. These are decent stories, but so much of this run just feels like a monthly placeholder, just to ensure that the book met its monthly deadline.

If you like this volume, try: The Vision and Scarlet Witch mini-series from 1982. Following yet another roster shuffle in Avengers #211, the Vision and the Scarlet Witch opted to become reserve members and move out to a home in New Jersey. Despite some occasional appearances in The Defenders and the team-up books, the Vision and Scarlet Witch were out of the spotlight for awhile before earning their first mini-series, created by Bill Mantlo and Rick Leonardi. These two characters have such a complex family history, which all comes into play in this series. The Vision is visited by the Grim Reaper, who is the step-brother to Wonder Man, who shares his brain patterns with the aforementioned Vision. We get a visit by the Golden-Age hero, the Whizzer, who was once thought to be the father to the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, but that was finally proven not to be true in this series. But the significant news that came out of this mini-series was the true heritage of Wanda and Pietro – as the children of Magneto. (It had long been assumed, finally confirmed, and recently overturned in order to support the Marvel Cinematic Universe.) This series was reprinted in a 2005 trade paperback, but I believe the actual issues can still be tracked down in the back issue bins.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8

ff8First Published: May 2010

Contents: Fantastic Four #160 (July 1975) to #179 (February 1977) and #181 (April 1977) to #183 (June 1977); Fantastic Four Annual #11 (June 1976); Marvel Two-in-One #20 (October 1976); and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #1 (October 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, John Buscema, George Pérez, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema, Bill Mantlo, and others

Key First Appearances: Crusader, Frankie Raye, Captain Ultra, Texas Twister

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 9

Overview: Pay attention people! There are a lot of moving parts in this book, and if you skip a page, you might be totally lost. We’ve got multiple Reed Richards and Johnny Storms and Things, but only one Sue Richards. And if you look closely, you will see some familiar faces in the Marvel Bullpen, with Stan, Jack, George, Roy and more. All of this and more in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8.

The book starts out with a three-way war between different universes. One of those universes features a Fantastic Four where Reed Richards gained the powers (and rocky outlook) of the Thing when they were exposed to the cosmic rays. There’s another Johnny flying around too in this battle, so keep an eye out for him.

An eventful moment in the history of the team followed a unique team-up between the Thing and the Hulk. As the two were skipping around the midwest, the Hulk’s gamma-radiated body counter-acted the Thing’s cosmic-radiated body and turned him back into Ben Grimm. Faced with the requirement to maintain four powered members on the active roster, Reed recruits Luke Cage, the hero for hire, to serve as a member of the team. Luke’s stay with the team is short, thanks to the shenanigans of the Puppet Master, but it gave Reed enough time to finish an exoskeleton Thing suit for Ben to wear and regain his place in the team. However, we realize about this time that Ben is not the only one without a power loss, as Reed’s stretching ability is starting to weaken, causing him great pain when he uses his abilities.

Next, a time-travel story that teams the Fantastic Four with the Invaders and the Liberty Legion during the days of World War II. The team no sooner returns to 1976 before they find themselves caught up in a showdown between the High Evolutionary and Galactus. The world devourer is seeking to consume the High Evolutionary’s Counter-Earth, and the FF is sent out to seek out a suitable replacement world to sustain Galactus. One is found, but it comes with a cost – the return of the Impossible Man.

Upon their return to Earth and a wild romp through the Marvel Comics offices, the Fantastic Four must stop the latest recruitment drive for the Frightful Four being held at their own headquarters in the Baxter Building. Despite the aid of Tigra, Thundra, and the Impossible Man, the Frightful Four are able to best the team with their new recruit, the Brute, who is actually the Reed Richards from Counter-Earth. The Frightful Four are defeated, but the Counter-Earth Richards replaces his counterpart as leader of the Fantastic Four, banishing our Reed Richards to the Negative Zone. The team soon realizes that the Reed leading their team is not the Reed they know and love, and they go out in search of their missing friend, but not before they encounter Annihilus.

What makes this Essential?: Once again, I wrestled with how I wanted to review this book. The end of this book is the exact era when I started reading Fantastic Four issues off of the newsstands. So I am trying to not allow my childhood nostalgia of the title cloud my objective review of this collection. I like this better than the previous Essential volume, so that is a plus. I think Roy Thomas finally started to understand the possibilities of what he could do with the characters and began working on the characters and concepts that most interested him. The art is superb, whether it comes from either of the Buscemas, Perez, or the underrated Rich Buckler. But….. I still don’t think these stories live up to the moniker of “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine.” I would rather be reading the Lee-Kirby issues or skip ahead to the John Byrne run.

Footnotes: Fantastic Four Annual #11, Marvel Two-in-One Annual #1 and Marvel Two-in-One #20 are also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1.

Fantastic Four #180 is a reprint issue of Fantastic Four #101, which was reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5. The new cover to Fantastic Four #180 is included in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: the 2011 Impossible Man trade paperback, collecting many of the green hero’s more memorable appearances. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in Fantastic Four #11, the character was quickly forgotten about when the bad feedback came in from the readers. He sat dormant for nearly 15 years before writer Roy Thomas brought him back in Fantastic Four #176, making him a supporting character for the next few years in the FF title. In the 1980s, the Impossible Man started expanding into other parts of the Marvel Universe, crossing paths with the likes of Spider-Woman, the New Mutants, and the Silver Surfer. In many ways, you could consider the Impossible Man to be the Marvel equivalent to Bat-Mite or Mr. Mxyzptlk, as the annoying character that can do most anything to vex the star of the title. This trade paperback collects many of those fun appearances.

Essential Avengers Vol. 8

avengers8First Published: April 2012

Contents: Avengers #164 (October 1977) to #184 (June 1979); Avengers Annual #7 (1977) and #8 (1978); and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (1977)

Key Creator Credits: Jim Shooter, John Byrne, Jim Starlin, Joe Rubinstein, George Pérez, Sal Buscema, David Michelinie, Tom DeFalco, Jim Mooney, and others

Key First Appearances: Henry Peter Gyrich, Django Maximoff, Lord Chaos, Master Order

Story Continues From: Essential Avengers Vol. 7

Story Continues In: Essential Avengers Vol. 9

Overview: Get comfortable, loyal readers! It doesn’t get much more essential than Essential Avengers Vol. 8!

The book starts out with a bang with the return of Count Nefaria, last seen taking on the “All-New All-Different” X-Men, which led to the death of Warpath. Nefaria has hired a team of scientists to increase his powers to a level where he can go toe-to-toe with Thor. However, he finds out that the increase in his powers comes at a price, as he starts to age at an aggressive rate. The team is stretched to the limits to defeat Nefaria but the battle ends with the Avengers facing a new threat – government agent Henry Peter Gyrich. We’ll get back to him soon enough.

Next up is an epic battle that crosses over between two annuals, where the combined forces of the Avengers, Captain Mar-Vel, Warlock, the Thing, and Spider-Man must take on Thanos. This famous story by Jim Starline and Joe Rubinstein has been reprinted many times, including multiple Essential volumes as noted below.

We then find ourselves slowly building up to the next great Avengers epic. The Guardians of the Galaxy have traveled to Earth in search of Korvac, their foe with god-like powers. While this is going on, members of the Avengers start disappearing. Are the two stories linked? This is a great story that builds up over 10 issues to an explosive conclusion.

Now I mentioned Gyrich earlier. Seems he has a problem with the Avengers. Lack of security to get into the mansion. Too many people coming in and out of the line-up. Gyrich lays down the law with the team, placing new guidelines on the team in order to keep their government clearance. Gyrich not only imposes a limit of seven active members on the team, he also takes it upon himself to name the new line-up: Iron Man, Vision, Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Beast, Wasp, and the Falcon. Wait, the Falcon? We remember Captain America’s former partner, but he’s never been an Avenger before. But the government demands equal opportunities for minorities. The Falcon begrudgingly joins the team, and when the Scarlet Witch is forced to take a medical leave, she is replaced by Ms. Marvel. This gives us the new line-up for the team heading into Essential Avengers Vol. 9 and the epic Avengers #200 in the near-future.

What makes this Essential?: I just love this era of the Avengers! This has to be a must-own book for numerous reasons – the stories, the artwork, the character development, and more. The introduction of Henry Peter Gyrich opens the door for the concept that the government has some control over the Avengers. The Korvac Saga storyline may be one of the best multi-issue arcs since the Kree-Skrull War. The artwork of George Pérez and John Byrne looks spectacular in black & white. Please do yourself a favor and track down this collection!

Footnotes: Avengers Annual #7 was also reprinted in Essential Warlock Vol. 1.

Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 were also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2 and Essential Warlock Vol. 1.

Even though he is announced as a new member of the team in issue #181, the Falcon does not actually join the team until Avengers #183.

If you like this volume, try: the 1990s Guardians of the Galaxy series, with the first half of the series done by Jim Valentino. For many years, the Guardians had been those interesting backup group of characters, who never got the chance to really shine in their own feature. The Korvac storyline in this Essential is one of the longest appearances of the team until the launch of their own series in 1990. Along with The New Warriors, the new GotG title kicked off a new wave of youthful superheroes at Marvel. Valentino left after issue #29 to become one of the founders of Image Comics, but the Guardians title ran until issue #62. The Valentino issues were recently reprinted in three trade paperbacks, so they should be readily available to track down.