Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 1

WofSM1First Published: September 2011

Contents: Web of Spider-Man #1 (April 1985) to #18 (September 1986); Web of Spider-Man Annual #1 (1985) and #2 (1986); and Amazing Spider-Man #268 (September 1985)

Key Creator Credits: Louise Simonson, Greg LaRocque, Danny Fingeroth, Peter David, David Michelinie, Ann Nocenti, Mike Harris, Marc Silvestri, and others

Key First Appearances: Kathryn Cushing, Chance, Foreigner

Story Continues In: Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 2

Overview: He’s back in black — or sometimes red & blue. It’s the Amazing ….. no, that’s not right …. let’s try the Spectacular …. no, still not working here. Guess we better give the Web of Spider-Man a try!

Web 0f Spider-Man replaced the previously canceled Marvel Team-Up on the stands. We were still getting three new Spider-Man titles each month, just with fewer guest appearances. That’s not to say we don’t see guest stars in this collection – from the New Mutants to Dominic Fortune to David Letterman, this book has a little bit of everything.

These issues take place a few months following the Secret Wars event. Spider-Man is still haunted by the symbiote that returned to Earth with him. The series kicks off with Spidey fighting the symbiote, long before it would attach itself to Eddie Brock. A host of other familiar Spider-Man foes, such as the Vulture, Doctor Octopus, and the Shocker, soon follow.

Two longer stories really stand out in this volume. The first is a crossover with Amazing Spider-Man (complete with interlocking cover images) that ties into Secret Wars II. The Beyonder has turned a New York City building into gold, and the government, aided by the Kingpin, is in a mad scramble to remove the building before it destroys the economy. Spider-Man is more concerned about the people trapped inside, and gets upset when he realizes that the Kingpin is going to profit from this event. Spider-Man swings off with a gold notebook, which leads to the ethical questions of what he should do with it while also trying to find a way to unload it too.

Another ongoing story that crossed multiple issues featured Peter Parker as a neighborhood hero. Peter stops a mugging at the laundromat, earning him praise from his neighbors and the media. But the thugs he stopped come back to target Peter, vandalizing his apartment before eventually firebombing his place. Peter struggles to deal with these problems without reverting back to his costumed identity.

What makes this Essential?: This is a title that I read sporadically as it came out. I just didn’t have much interest in Spider-Man at this time. The problem I have with this book, and I think Marvel has realized it at different times along the way, is that there is nothing unique to this book that distinguishes it from Amazing Spider-Man or PPTSS.  There are several issues or moments that stand out in this book, such as Peter’s conversation with Flash Thompson about the high school bullying in issue #11 or Spider-Man chasing Warlock through New York City in Annual #2. But the highs don’t offset the lows in this collection. Maybe low is too harsh. The better word might be pedestrian or average. For the Spider-Man fan, I’m sure you will like this book. For the casual Marvel fan, you might consider other volumes first before this collection.

Footnotes: Web of Spider-Man #replaced Marvel Team-Up on the newsstand. Marvel editorial took a good look at the sales figures and realized that the numbers for Marvel Team-Up rose or dropped based on the co-star. Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter surmised that Marvel would be better off publishing a third Spider-Man solo title, and work in guest-stars when they were appropriate for the story.

If you like this volume, try: the original Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars. This volume has the two-part story that was tie-ins to the Secret Wars II event going on. I am not recommending you go out and read Secret Wars II. Trust me, having read it as it was happening, I have no desire to revisit Secret Wars II anytime soon. But I do go back and revisit the original Secret Wars every couple of years. Yes, this book was created specifically to sell toys. Lots of comics got their start that way, such as G.I. Joe and Transformers. But Marvel took the opportunity to make it a meaningful story, one that would have impacts on the Marvel Universe for years to come. The way the timing happened, we knew what those changes would be as the heroes returned to Earth in the comics that were released one week after Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #1. The biggest change is that Spider-Man returned wearing that spiffy black costume that reacted to his thoughts. What he soon found out is that the suit was an alien symbiote, and the Fantastic Four helped Peter separate himself from the symbiote. In Web of Spider-Man #1, we see the symbiote on the loose, tracking down Spider-Man. At the end of this volume, in Web of Spider-Man #18, we see a mysterious hand push Peter into the path of a subway train. Peter’s spider sense did not warn him, which is one of the advantages that Venom would have over Spider-Man when he made his full proper first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #300. In addition to the Spider-Man costume, Secret Wars also gave us She-Hulk joining the Fantastic Four, and the Thing staying behind on the Battleworld. The Hulk returns with a broken leg and is slowly reverting more and more to his mindless monster mode. And within the Secret Wars series, we see the X-Men working side-by-side with Magneto, which will lead to Magneto taking over the responsibilities for the Xavier School in Uncanny X-Men #200. Give this series a revisit – it’s available in multiple formats (trades, hardcovers, and omnibus editions).

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 5

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 5

First Published: July 2011

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #97 (December 1984) to #114 (May 1986), and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #5 (1985)

Key Creator Credits: Al Milgrom, Herb Trimpe, Peter David, Rich Buckler, Luke McDonnell, and Mark Beachum

Key First Appearances: The Spot, roommates Randi, Candi, and Bambi, Sin-Eater,

Story Continues From: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 4

Overview: Once again, we swing into the crazy life of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man. We see Peter struggling with his relationship with the Black Cat, who only has feelings for him when he is in costume. There is the question of the Black Cat’s new powers – how she came to get them, and why they are driving her away from her Spider. All of this gets wrapped up in the anniversary issue #100, with an all-out battle between Spider-Man, the Black Cat, the Kingpin, and the Spot. Yes, the Spot!

After that, we are given a lot of one-and-done stories to fill out this Essential. The title has a rotating creative team until Peter David and Rich Buckler take control of the book, creating some memorable storylines, detailed below. A benefit to these issues were some amazing covers by John Byrne for issues #101 and #102.

There is one issue towards the end, #111, which was a Secret Wars II crossover. Spider-Man’s adversary, the Puma, decides that it is his life purpose to destroy the Beyonder, and Peter finds himself with the moral dilemma of saving someone like the Beyonder.

What makes this Essential?: This book could be divided into two halves, one labeled Before Peter David, and the other Written By Peter David. The Before Peter David stories wrap up the ongoing storylines from Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 4, featuring the long-running story between Spider-Man, the Black Cat, and the Kingpin. The stories here are very similar in tone and quality to the other stories of this time (Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel Team-Up).

There is a marked shift in tone when Peter David comes on board. These stories are his earliest work at Marvel, and they quickly show what an excellent writer he is of comics. The characters feel more real, more alive under David’s guidance. He shocked readers with the killing of long-time supporting character Jean DeWolff, not just proclaiming it on the first cover of the storyline, but with her dead body on page 3 of the story, giving no one the chance to say good-bye. For the work that David showed here, it is worthy of picking up.

Footnotes: Peter David would bring back the Sin-Eater in a second storyline, which ran in The Spectacular Spider-Man #134 (January 1988) to #136 (March 1988). These three issues, along with the original four-issue storyline, were collected in a Marvel Premiere edition, Spider-Man: The Death of Jean DeWolff.

If you like this volume, try: Spider-Man 2099 This was one of the first four titles in the Marvel 2099 line launched in 1992. Originally conceived as a Marvel: The World of Tomorrow project by Stan Lee and John Byrne, the concept eventually morphed into the 2099 line. The Spider-Man title ran for 46 issues, plus two specials, with almost all of the issues written by Peter David. In this story-arc, Miguel O’Hara is trying to recreate the abilities of Spider-Man when a freak accident causes half of his DNA to be over-written by the DNA code of a spider. There have been two trade paperbacks collecting the first year of the title, but the entire series is worth tracking down in the back issue bins.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 10

spiderman10First Published: June 2011

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #211 (December 1980) to #230 (July 1982); and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 (1981)

Key Creator Credits: Denny O’Neil, Roger Stern, John Romita Jr., Frank Miller, and others

Key First Appearances: Hydro-Man

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 9

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 11

Overview: It’s AMAZING to think that by the time this volume finishes, Peter Parker will be entering his twentieth year slinging webs around New York City. He’s come a long way since his humble beginnings as a novelty character in the final issue of a monster comic, Spider-Man has become one of the most recognizable characters in all of the comics. This is Essential Spider-Man Vol. 10.

The adventures in this collection are overseen by three key players. Veteran writers Denny O’Neil and Roger Stern oversee the majority of the tales in this book, while (then) young artist John Romita Jr. becomes the regular artist on Amazing Spider-Man, following in his dad’s footsteps. These issues are fairly typical of the time, usually one-and-done stories. We do get the occasional appearance from some up-and-coming stars such as Moon Knight and the Punisher.

One new character is introduced in this volume with the creation of Hydro-Man. Given that one of Spider-Man’s long-time foes is Sandman, it’s surprising that it took nearly 20 years to get a Hydro-Man. Thankfully for Peter, he gets some help early on from the Sub-Mariner with taking down the new villain. It won’t be the last that we see of Hydro-Man, and he will often be partnered with the aforementioned Sandman.

The volume wraps up with one of the most memorable Spider-Man stories from the 1980s. Spider-Man goes one-on-one with the Juggernaut, who is on the hunt for Madame Web. She reaches out to Peter for protection, guiding him along the Juggernaut’s path in an attempt to stop him, if not just slow him down until other help can arrive. But there is no one else – the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and even Doctor Strange are all unavailable. Spider-Man finally brings the Juggernaut to a halt at a construction project. Peter launches a tanker truck full of gasoline into the Juggernaut, causing a horrific explosion and making him angrier. So angry, in fact, that the Juggernaut does not notice that he is being led directly into a freshly poured foundation of wet cement. The Juggernaut’s weight sinks him to the bottom of the foundation, where he remains trapped — for now!

What makes this Essential?: This is a very good book. I don’t know if it is Essential, other than the final two issues collected in it, but these issues are worth reading. You don’t have to be reading Peter Parker or Marvel Team-Up in order to keep up with what is going on in Peter Parker’s life. John Romita Jr. does most of the art in the collection, cementing his place on the list of definitive Spider-Man artists. Roger Stern scripts some brilliant stories. I really feel like it is this period when Spider-Man is finally viewed, and treated, as an adult.

Footnotes: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 was also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends TV cartoon series from 1981-1983. You’ll see this show advertised on the front of Amazing Spider-Man #223, as well as all of the other Marvel books that month. This show teamed up Spider-Man with college friends Iceman and Firestar. (Firestar was an original character created for the TV series to serve as an opposite to Iceman. She was later brought into the Marvel universe properly with her own mini-series and appearances in New Mutants.) This show debuted right as I was really getting into comics, so it holds a special memory in my heart. What I loved about this series was that they used so many Marvel characters, even those outside the Spider-Man universe of that era. This was the first time we saw X-Men in an animated series – yes, this is the infamous cartoon that gave Wolverine an Aussie accent. We also got Captain America, Doctor Strange, Doctor Doom, Shanna the She-Devil, the Black Knight and more. The second and third seasons only added three episodes each, so the first season was repeated a lot during this time period. It may pale in comparison in today’s world to so much of the animation that has come out since then, but it was still better than many of the other Saturday morning offerings during this time.

Essential Captain America Vol. 7

Essential Captain America Vol. 7

First Published: July 2013

Contents: Captain America #231 (March 1979) to #257 (May 1981)

Key Creator Credits: Roger McKenzie, Roger Stern, Sal Buscema, John Byrne, and others

Key First Appearances: Bernie Rosenthal, Joe Chapman/Union Jack (III), Kenneth Crichton/Baron Blood (III)

Story Continues from: Essential Captain America Vol. 6

Overview: Captain America continues his patriotic duty to his country. The first half of this volume has several one-and-done stories with a variety of creative teams. Beginning with #247, Stern and Byrne take over, pushing the title in a new direction. Over the next nine issues, Captain America battles MachineSmith; considers a run for the presidency; and battles Baron Blood to the death. The final issue of the Stern/Byrne run, #255, gives us the definitive origin story which is still in use, for the most part, to this day.

Other highlights from the book include Steve Rogers moving to Brooklyn to start establishing his own identity. He gets to know the other tenants in his apartment building, including Bernie Rosenthal, a law student that would be a key player in the Captain America stories of the 1980s. With no mention of his Avengers stipend, Rogers goes to work as a free-lance artist for magazines and other publications. His artist portfolio was large enough to hold his shield, to allow for quick changes into the Captain America costume as necessary.

What makes this Essential?: IBy definition, you should consider this Essential-worthy just to get the Stern-Byrne run on Captain America. BUT, those issues can be found together in various collections, usually under the Captain America: War and Remembrance title, in both hardcover and softcover, and always in color. I would be hard-pressed to name a better run of Captain America issues, so find a way to read them in full color. You’ll thank me later!

Footnotes: Captain America #241 was also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

On a personal note, this volume was the 100th Essential edition read by this reviewer. Finishing this volume is what prompted me to start the Essential Showcase blog back in 2013.

If you like this volume, try: the first Mark Waid and Ron Garney run on Captain America. Following Mark Gruenwald’s long run on the title, the stories (as well as the character) were feeling a little stale. The Waid/Garney run began with #444 (October 1995) and breathed new life into both Steve Rogers and Captain America. Going from #443 to #444 really felt like going from #246 to #247 with Stern/Byrne. The run came to an end with #454, so that the title could be included in the Heroes Reborn launch with WildStorm. The Waid/Garney issues have been collected into a Marvel Premiere Edition titled Captain America: Operation Rebirth, and, most recently, these issues were included in a Captain America Epic collection.

Essential Captain America Vol. 6

captainamerica6First Published: April 2011

Contents: Captain America and the Falcon #206 (February 1977) to #222 (June 1978); Captain America #223 (July 1978) to #230 (February 1979); Captain America Annual #4 (1977); and Incredible Hulk #232 (February 1979)

Key Creator Credits: Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Don Glut, Steve Gerber, David Anthony Kraft, Roger McKenzie, Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Arnim Zola, Primus, Wendell Vaughn/Marvel Boy (Marvel Man/Quasar), Vamp, Ameridroid

Story Continues From: Essential Captain America Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Captain America Vol. 7

Overview: Welcome back to the (sometimes) solo adventures of Captain America. He’s a soldier, a patriot, an Avenger, and most importantly an American.  u recall the creation of Captain America, right? I’m not talking about the character’s origin story in the comics. Rather, I refer to the creation of the character in 1940. Writer Joe Simon doodled out a concept called Super

This collection wraps up the end of legendary Jack Kirby run of the mid-1970s. But before he goes, Kirby gives us another of his wacky character creations with Arnim Zola, the would-be conqueror who’s mind has been transferred to a robot body, which has a TV screen in its chest displaying Zola’s face. Zola was a Nazi biochemist who escaped capture at the end of World War II. If you are a long-time reader, you know that any time Captain America comes into contact with a former Nazi, that the Red Skull cannot be far behind.

The Kirby run comes to an end with Captain America Annual #4, which has Cap facing off against another one of Kirby’s great co-creations, Magneto! Considering that one of these characters has powers of magnetism, and one of these characters carries an adamantium shield, well, it’s not looking good for our hero.

Following the obligatory reprint issue or two to recount Captain America’s origins, we are treated to a visit by Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. The spy organization has been recruiting a new team of super agents, but the squad needs a leader. Naturally, Nick believes that Steve Rogers is the man for the job, but Steve has a better suggestion. He proposes that the Falcon take on that task. He’s been working with Cap for many years and is ready to be a leader in his own right. So Captain America and the Falcon go their separate ways, but the two will find ways to reunite in the years to come.

So Captain America is once again working solo, but that doesn’t mean he is alone. We are treated to numerous appearances from the Avengers, and Sharon Carter is by Steve’s side to bridge the gap between his costumed and civilian life. The volume wraps up with a two-issue crossover with the Hulk, making for a pair of characters that we don’t normally see together. It’s a great way to bring this book to a close!

What makes this Essential?: This is an interesting transition time for Captain America. Jack Kirby’s run comes to an end. The title seems to have a rotating roster of writers before Roger McKenzie begins a two-year run. Sal Buscema returns to the book, providing some familiarity for the long-time readers. But the biggest change comes with the ending of the Captain America-Falcon partnership, both within the book as well as the title of the comic.

Despite all of the changes, this is a solid collection. The Kirby issues in this book are my favorites of his mid-1970s run. Arnim Zola may be one of, if not the last great crazy Kirby concept, who has become a mainstay in the comics and now in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Letting the book go back to its singular focus on the title character helps the book, allowing stories to go in different directions without trying to find a way to work the Falcon into the plot. That’s not to imply that I don’t like the Falcon. Just that after being partnered with the Falcon for seven years, having Steve Rogers on his own just offered up fresh takes on our hero.

Footnotes: The table of contents is incorrect in this volume, which lists Captain America Annual #4 as being located between Captain America #230 and Incredible Hulk #232 in the collection. The annual is actually found between Captain America #214 and #215, at the end of the Kirby run.

Captain America #230 and Incredible Hulk #232 are also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 7.

If you like this volume, try: reading up on Quasar. From his humble origins as Marvel Boy contained in this Essential, his stature has grown over the years. He was a recurring character in Marvel Two-in-One with the Project: Pegasus storyline. He was a member of the Avengers, serving a key role in the Galactic Storm mission. He headlined his own title for 60 issues. And he was one of the featured characters in the original Annihilation story, which that event kicked off a series of events that brought “Marvel Cosmic” back into the mainstream. As a result of Annihilation, readers were given a re-introduction/re-imagining of the Guardians of the Galaxy concept which we later saw incorporated into the MCU. The early issues of his solo series were reprinted in 2012 in a Quasar Classic trade paperback. He’s an interesting character that we don’t see enough of anymore, so dive into the back issue bins to find his early adventures.

Essential Hulk Vol. 6

Hulk6First Published: September 2010

Contents: Incredible Hulk #201 (July 1976) to #225 (July 1978); and Incredible Hulk Annual #6 (1977)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, Sal Buscema, David Anthony Kraft, Roger Stern, Herb Trimpe, George Tuska, Jim Starlin, and others

Key First Appearances: Constrictor, Quintronic Man

Story Continues From: Essential Hulk Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Hulk Vol. 7

Overview: He’s back! He’s mad! And he’s green! Do we need much more than that for an introduction to the sixth volume of Essential Hulk

There are two main names to know about this book – Len Wein and Sal Buscema. Both joined the series in the last volume, helping to provide the definitive take on the Hulk in the 1970s. At the end of this volume, Wein transitions the writing duties over to Roger Stern, who will begin a long run with our title hero.

The basic points of the story remain the same. Bruce Banner changes to the Hulk when he is angered. The US Army led by General Ross is on the hunt for the Hulk. Banner still has feelings for Ross’ daughter Betty, who married the general’s second-in-command. The Hulk still has feelings for Jarella, the green queen of a microscopic world. Finally, the Hulk once had friends, such as Rick Jones and Jim Wilson. But at the end of the day, the Hulk is a loner. That’s everything you need to know to get started with a Hulk story.

Now I mentioned Jarella earlier, the queen of her world. She reappears in the Hulk’s life, but this time by coming to his world. In the heat of a battle, Jarella is killed saving the life of a child. The Hulk does his best to save his love, going from one Doc (Samson) to another Doctor (Strange) but nothing can overcome death. Not even the Hulk.

You could make the argument that Jack of Hearts makes his first comic book appearance (Incredible Hulk #213) in this collection. He had been a character featured in the Marvel black & white magazines up to this point. I guess I could promote this as Jack of Hearts first appearance in color, but we all know the Essentials are black & white collections. Maybe we should just be excited for the inclusion of Jack of Hearts for a few issues and go with that, OK?

One of my favorite B-grade villains is introduced in this collection with the Constrictor. He wears a costumed suit with electrified adamantium alloy cables that shoot out of his wrists, creating a heavy-duty whip that he can use as an offensive weapon. He never sticks around for vey long, but I always loved the design of his costume.

As we get to the end of this collection, we find that the status quo remains much how we found it at the beginning. Bruce Banner changes to the Hulk when he is angered. General Ross and the Army still hunts for the Hulk. Banner still has feelings for Ross’ daughter Betty. The Hulk still has feelings for Jarella. And the Hulk has a few friends, such as Rick Jones and Jim Wilson. But at the end of the day, the Hulk is alone. (Well, not entirely correct there. At the end of THIS collection, we see the Hulk and Doc Samson in battle against the Leader. The book leaves us in the middle of a story arc! Stupid Marvel, I need to go read Essential Hulk Vol. 7 now!)

What makes this Essential?: I am unsure how to sum up this volume. The stories are interesting, and there are some memorable moments (particularly with Jarella) that stand out in this volume. Sal Buscema has become THE Hulk artist in this era, and visually defined who the Hulk is at a time when there were more eyes on the book as a result of the CBS TV show. But I find myself wanting just a little bit more from these comics. I get the feeling that monthly publishing schedule was more important than developing and pushing the characters forward. It’s OK to have books that meet the publishing schedule month after month, but for a book that has been around for more than 10 years (at this point), I just don’t know if we see the growth in the Hulk character compared to the growth seen in other characters in this time-period. This is a good volume, but I really want some more at this point with the Hulk.

Footnotes: The Incredible Hulk TV series debuted on CBS as a pilot movie on November 4, 1977, during the era of the books in this collection. This volume ends with issue #225 so we won’t see this until the next Essential volume, but beginning with issue #227, each cover will have a banner reading “Marvel’s TV Sensation.”

If you like this volume, try: reading up on Jack of Hearts. Visually he is so interesting to look at, although he probably induces nervous twitches in artists or colorists when his name comes up in the script. His appearance here in the Incredible Hulk is his first outside of his initial story arc in the Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu magazine. Born from a human father and an alien mother, Jack Hart discovers as he grows up that his body is developing deadly energy. His father designs a special containment suit, which just happens to maybe look like a Jack from a deck of cards. (This was the 1970s – inspiration could be found EVERYWHERE!) Over the years, Jack of Hearts would pop up in a variety of Marvel titles, sometimes embracing his cosmic heritage, other times just to provide a visually interesting character. He did land his own mini-series in the mid-1980s, but that has not been completely reprinted. He did eventually join up with the Avengers, during the Busiek and Johns eras in the late 1990s. Sadly, Jack of Hearts did not survive the roster upheaval with Avengers: Disassembled, and has been used very sparingly ever since.

Essential Defenders Vol. 5

defenders5First Published: August 2010

Contents: The Defenders #92 (February 1981) to #106 (April 1982); Marvel Team-Up #101 (January 1981), #111 (November 1981), and #116 (April 1982); and Captain America # 268 (April 1982)

Key Creator Credits: J.M. Dematteis, Don Perlin, Joe Sinnott, Herb Trimpe, Mike Zeck, and others

Key First Appearances: Isaac Christians/Gargoyle, Luann Bloom

Story Continues From: Essential Defenders Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Defenders Vol. 6

Overview: Welcome back to the Defenders, everyone’s favorite non-team in the Marvel Universe. No matching uniforms like the FF or New Mutants. No ID cards like the Avengers or Alpha Flight. No charter or official group headquarters for these heroes. Just a willingness to help out when called, or if you happen to have nothing else to do on a Tuesday night.

This is an interesting collection of stories, as writer J.M DeMatteis uses the opportunity to have his stories here cross over into other books that he was writing at the time, such as Marvel Team-Up and Captain America. We also get the introduction of two new characters to the Defenders unofficial line-up. The first is a brand new character in Gargoyle, who was once Isaac Christians, a man in his late 80s. In an effort to save his declining Virginia town, Christians makes a deal with Avarrish to serve him. His first assignment is to slay Hellcat. Gargoyle eventually turns on Avarrish and sides with the Defenders in their battle against the Six-Fingered Hand. Unfortunately, Christians finds he is trapped permanently inside the body of the Gargoyle. With no place else to go, the Gargoyle joins the Defenders.

Another familiar face makes his first appearance with this would-be team. Hank McCoy, a.k.a. the Beast finds himself working alongside our heroes. As a founding member of the X-Men and a one-time card-carrying member of the Avengers, the Beast is very much into the team dynamics, something this group of heroes is sorely lacking. But that story takes a little longer to develop, so stick around for Essential Defenders Vol. 6.

Not that this book has any one star above the others, but it seems like for this set of issues the focus falls on Nighthawk. As the Batman-analog on this team, Nighthawk always seems to be right in the middle of things, whether it is in his costumed identity or his wealthy playboy life as Kyle Richmond. Following that battle with the Six-Fingered Hand, Nighthawk finds himself confined to a wheelchair during the day but is at full strength at night. He quits the team for awhile but returns again in time for the title’s 100th issue, which brought back every former member in a battle against Satan. Soon after, Nighthawk finds himself at odds with his ex-girlfriend, Mindy Williams, who is a telepath leading an attack against the Soviet Union. With the help of the Defenders and Captain America, Nighthawk is able to stop the telepaths, but the cost appears to be Kyle sacrificing his life. (Do not fear — he gets better! Keep reading!)

What makes this Essential?: I really want to rate this higher. I think this title became more interesting in this era, as it featured less of the four core “non-members” (Doctor Strange, Hulk, Namor, and/or Silver Surfer) and more of the extended members (Valkyrie, Nighthawk, Hellcat, Gargoyle, and Beast). However, despite the change of focus, I didn’t find much about this collection that remained memorable. I read this a few years ago, but I honestly have no recollection of many of these stories. If that’s the case, I can’t honestly believe that this is essential. For the Defenders completist, I can justify having this in your collection – provided you didn’t already have the issues. But I just can’t give this a “go-out-and-buy” this book recommendation.

If you like this volume, try: the Nighthawk mini-series from 1998. While it appears that Nighthawk perished in the explosion at the end of Defenders #106. Turns out he actually did survive, but he’s been in a hospital in a coma for many months. Nighthawk’s soul makes a deal to perform various tasks in order to fully return to the living. Unfortunately, the tasks come with ulterior motives, and Nighthawk must overcome his saviors in order to return to normal, thanks in part to the timely assist by Daredevil. This is just a three issue mini-series, written by Jim Krueger with art by Richard Case. It has never been reprinted, so you will need to dive into the back issue bins to track this one down.

Essential Thor Vol. 5

Essential Thor Vol. 5

First Published: May 2011

Contents: Thor #196 (February 1972) to #220 (February 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, John Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Silas Grant, Ego-Prime, Young Gods, Mercurio the 4-D Man, Ultimus, Krista

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 6

Overview: If you are worthy, it is time to hold up the hammer and possess the power of Thor. Welcome back to another Essential Thor volume.

In this volume, Thor battles new foes such as Ego-Prime and Mercurio, but must still deal with familiar villains such as Pluto, the Absorbing Man, and Loki. Of course, Thor’s ego gets the better of him once again in Asgard, and Odin banishes his son (and some of his friends) to Earth for some time. Which leads to some humorous moments as the Asgardians hanging out at Avengers Mansion with Jarvis, the butler.

A battle with Ulik forces Thor and his friends to return to Asgard, which they find empty of all people. That mystery leads them into space chasing intergalactic slavers. That, in turn, leads to another battle against Mercurio, whom we thought was destroyed six issues past. Finally, Thor defeats all enemies, and returns to Asgard with his friends and Odin, only to find Asgard ruled by another Thor and Odin. Confused yet? Trust me, go pick up this volume and see how this wraps up!

An interesting insert occurs with issue #200. I don’t know if this was planned from the start for the anniversary issue, or the need to meet a production deadline, but this appears to be a filler issue by Stan Lee and John Buscema (with a prolog and epilog by Gerry Conway and Buscema). It has nothing to do with issues #199 or #201, which makes me lean towards Marvel just trying to meet a deadline. Anyway, Lee gets the chance to tell his take on the Ragnarok story, which according to Norse legend is the end of the gods in a final battle. In Asgard, Odin has a prophetess share how the Ragnarok would play out: Loki triggers the start of Ragnarok, then does battle with Thor while the world around them falls. The Asgardians and the world dies and is reborn again. As the prophetess ends her tale, Odin cautions Loki that only those deemed worthy are reborn in the new world, and Loki slinks off wondering if he is part of that number.

What makes this Essential?: The stories in this volume are interesting. Not Gerry Conway’s best work ever, but by no means his worst work either. The stories split nearly evenly between those on Earth, those on Asgard, and those in space. The Earth and Asgard stories seem to be the more-complete stories, but the space stories feel like they are not fully complete. Almost like Conway wanted to do something a little more with them but held back, either by choice or editorial constraint. Buscema’s art once again shows the epic proportions of Thor and his entourage. These stories are an interesting read for a Thor fan, but I don’t know if I would say these are truly Essential. 

Footnotes: Thor makes his first visit to Rutland, Vermont, in Thor #206 and #207. For more information on Rutland, see Essential Avengers Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try:  the Ragnarok story from 2004 from Michael Avon Oeming and Andrea DiVito. This wrapped up the 1998 Thor series, as all of the Avengers-related titles were disassembling around the characters (and the readers). The Thor story was the best ending of those titles, Once again, Loki has aspirations of taking over the throne of Asgard, and resurrects Surtur to begin the Ragnarok. Over the course of six issues, spanning many months, the various Norse gods meet their demise in battle. At the end, Thor beheads Loki, and places himself into hibernation, until it is time for Thor to return. This story has been collected in two editions – a 2009 Avengers Disassembled hardcover that collected the ends of the Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man titles; and a 2005 Thor: Disassembled trade paperback.

Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 1

werewolf1First Published: October 2005

Contents: Marvel Spotlight #2 (February 1972) to #4 (June 1972); Werewolf by Night #1 (September 1972) to #21 (June 1979); Tomb of Dracula #18 (March 1974); Giant-Size Creatures #1 (July 1974); and Marvel Team-Up #12 (August 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Mike Friedrich, Doug Moench, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Mike Ploog, Gene Colan, Gil Kane, Tom Sutton, and others

Key First Appearances: Jack Russell/Werewolf, Lissa Russell, Phillip Russell, Buck Cowan, Tatterdemalion, Raymond Coker, Topaz, Tigra,

Story Continues In: Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 2

Overview: Jack Russell is your typical teenage boy growing up in southern California in the 1970s. He’s just turned 18, he can’t stand his stepfather, and his mom is always nagging him about something. But turning 18 brings on a change to Jack Russell, as he finds out that he carries a recessive trait thanks to his birth father, who he never really knew. Turns out dear old dad was also a lycanthrope, and now Jack is too. Not familiar with the lycanthrope term? Let me save you the time of looking it up and clue you in on the more common term – a werewolf! This is Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 1.

So now at the start of each full moon, Jack Russell undergoes a transformation into a werewolf. He retains very little of Jack’s memories and values, reverting more to a wild animal looking for the hunt and trying to escape the city for the forest. For three days, Jack must worry about the setting of the sun and the rise of the moon, when his transformation kicks in. He’s constantly looking for a cure and often falls into traps because someone offers him the solution to his monthly hairy situation.

I think we can all agree that being a werewolf is not the easiest of curses to deal with. For starters, you go through a lot of shirts – good thing you live in SoCal as the weather generally works in your favor. You try to protect your family members, like your sister. When people realize your secret, they create schemes or plans to make that work for their own personal gain.

Many of these issues are one-and-done, or they might have a story that carries across three issues with each issue covering one night of the current full moon. Right or wrong, there are a lot of foes or characters that only appear once or twice, and never appear again in any other comic.

Now, just because he is based in California doesn’t mean that he is isolated from the Marvel Universe. A trip to Europe in search of clues about his birth father leads to an encounter with Dracula in a memorable crossover between the respective books. Back in California, he meets up with Greer Nelson as she becomes Tigra for the first time. And in the craziest of meet-ups, the Werewolf meets up with Spider-Man in San Francisco, after Peter Parker is sent to the west coast to get pictures of Daredevil and Black Widow.

What makes this Essential?: There were parts of this collection that I really enjoyed. Reading individual issues were good, but reading these issues back-to-back seems to fall apart. The problem I had is that Jack Russell’s condition is triggered by the full moon, which runs for roughly three nights every 28 days, give or take. So as I am reading this, I’m curious to find out what is going on in the 3 1/2 weeks between the end of one transformation period and the start of the next transformation period. (I had this same problem with Showcase Presents Martian Manhunter Vol. 2 when he was fighting a villain that would only appear at the start of a full moon.) If I had been reading this month-to-month, I think I would have appreciated the title more. But reading this as a complete collection, I think it doesn’t hold up.

Footnotes: Werewolf By Night #15 and Tomb of Dracula #18 were also reprinted in Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1.

Marvel Team-Up #1 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1.

Giant-Size Creatures #12 featured the first appearance of Greer Nelson as Tigra. However, Greer’s first appearance in comics was in The Cat #1 (November 1972). In this short-lived series, Nelson and another woman were part of an experiment to imbue them with cat-like abilities. Greer used her abilities for good, while the other woman used hers for bad. Guess how that worked itself out? Anyway, in the Giant-Size Creatures issue, we Greer transformed yet again, this time into Tigra. Somewhere along the lines, Greer’s original Cat costume was left in the care of the Avengers. It was later claimed by Patsy Walker, who went briefly by the name of the Cat as well before settling on Hellcat.

If you like this volume, try: the Fables series from DC/Vertigo and created by Bill Willingham. The basic concept of the series is that the fables we are told as kids to teach us morals and values are all true. The characters are real and still alive. In fact, they have migrated from the Old Lands and have set up residence in Fabletown, a hidden neighborhood in New York City. In addition, there is a farm in upstate New York to host the animal characters from the fables. One of the main characters from the series is Bigby Wolf, the Big Bad Wolf from ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ or ‘The Three Little Pigs’ fame. Bigby Wolf serves as the sheriff of Fabletown, and can switch back and forth between his human, werewolf, and wolf forms. This series ran for 150 issues and is easily found in trade paperbacks and hardcovers.

Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1

tombofdracula1First Published: December 2003

Contents: The Tomb of Dracula #1 (April 1972) to #25 (October 1974); Werewolf by Night #15 (March 1974); and Giant-Size Chillers #1 (June 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Gardner Fox, and others

Key First Appearances: Dracula, Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, Taj Nital, Quincy Harker, Blade, Doctor Sun, Deacon Frost, Lilith, Hannibal King

Story Continues In: Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 2

Overview: In the early 1970s, the Comics Code Authority started relaxing its standards, opening the doors for comic book publishers to get back into the business of publishing horror titles. Having already introduced Morbius as the “Living Vampire” in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel was ready to get back into the monster business. First up was the king of the vampires with The Tomb of Dracula.

Perhaps as an indication of the madcap rush to get the title to press as quickly as possible, Tomb of Dracula went through a long list of writers over the first six issues. Gerry Conway is credited with writing the first two issues, but the bulk of #1 was actually written by Roy Thomas and Stan Lee. Conway left after the second issue because of better writing opportunities, and Archie Goodwin took over, but only for issues #3 and #4. He was followed by Gardner Fox, who wrote issues #5 and #6. Fox was relieved of his duties on the title, and Marv Wolfman took over. It took Wolfman a few issues to get comfortable with the title character and the supporting cast introduced by the previous five writers. But once he does find his footing, the series picks up and becomes a hard book to put down.

What does remain constant is the art duties of Gene Colan, who handles all of the pencilings for the issues in this volume (as well as this series). Colan’s art is just a breath-taking as his run on Daredevil, just with less spandex.

For the story itself, after a hundred years of a stake-induced slumber, Count Dracula is revived and begins his quest to reclaim his spot in a changing world. But Dracula’s return to action does not go unnoticed, and a group of would-be vampire hunters is soon on his trail:

  • Frank Drake is a descendant of Dracula, from his days before he became a vampire. Nothing would make Drake happier than putting his forefather back in the grave.
  • Rachel Van Helsing is the granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing, the first vampire hunter. She is still in the “family business”, and is often accompanied by her mute assistant, Taj Nital
  • Quincy Harker is a wheelchair-bound expert on vampires and has a wealth of weapons at his disposal.
  • Blade, the vampire hunter, is a living vampire who blames the monsters for the death of his mother.
  • Hannibal King is another vampire hunter and also another living vampire.

Outside of a crossover with the Werewolf, there is very little about this book that ties it into the Marvel Universe proper. In future volumes, we will see appearances by Doctor Strange and Brother Voodoo, but in general, this is not a title that you have to read a lot of the other Marvel titles in order to understand. Conversely, characters like Blade and Hannibal King will become more prominent in other titles, with Blade actually crossing the break-out success point in the 1990s to warrant his own series, a trilogy of movies, and a syndicated television show.

What makes this Essential?: Once Wolfman takes over, I really liked the book, which came as a great surprise to me. I only picked up this book a few years ago because I found it for a good price on eBay, and the collector mentality in me is obsessing to get all of the Essentials. I’ve never been a big fan of the monster concepts, either in the original novels, the classic films, or these legendary comics. So, for now, at least, I am hooked on this concept, this presentation. I should have known that with my great love for Gene Colan’s work, I should have picked this book up earlier! I do think that the black-and-white format works better for this title, even though I know it was presented in color with it was first published. I like that this story feels timeless, in that this same story could be told today (albeit with slight differences such as replacing cord phones with cell phones) and still be just as effective.

Footnotes: Werewolf By Night #15 and Tomb of Dracula #18 are also reprinted in Essential Werewolf by Night Vol. 1.

The entire 70-issue run of The Tomb of Dracula was penciled by Gene Colan, who used the image of actor Jack Palance as his model for Dracula.

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: tracking down a copy of The Curse of Dracula, a three-issue mini-series from Dark Horse Comics in 1998. This series reunited Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan on the Dracula character, but it is not officially tied to their work at Marvel with the character. Jonathan Van Helsing leads a team of vampire hunters to the fog-covered streets of San Francisco to help solve a series of mysterious murders. It was reprinted as both a hardcover and a trade paperback, but this might be a series that is easier to find in the back-issue bin.