Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 2

wosm2First Published: July 2012

Contents: Web of Spider-Man #19 (October 1986) to #32 (November 1987); Web of Spider-Man Annual #3 (1987); Amazing Spider-Man #293 (October 1987) and #294 (November 1987); and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #131 (October 1987) and #132 (November 1987)

Key Creator Credits: David Michelinie, Larry Lieber, Len Kaminski, J.M. Dematteis, James Owsley, Mike Zeck, Marc Silvestri, Steve Geiger, and others

Key First Appearances: Humbug, Solo

Story Continues From: Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 1

Overview: Swinging across the city and across the pond, Spider-Man is back in action with amazing adventures and spectacular scenes. This is Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 2!

The stories in this collection fall at either end of the scale – these are either really good or really bad. Focusing on the good tales, Peter and Joy Mercado travel to the United Kingdom, where Spider-Man must rescue Margaret Thatcher from an assassination attempt. We don’t get many political or real-world scenario stories with Spidey (generally), so these issues stand out as a change of pace.

We also get the typical New York mob story as we get the origin story of the Rose, who is the estranged son of the Kingpin. In addition, we get a wrap-up to the Ned Leeds/Hobgoblin arc that had been building for years across the various Spider-Man titles.

The volume concludes with one of the most powerful Spider-Man stories of all time, Kraven’s Last Hunt, which ran across the three monthly books for two months. Kraven takes out Spider-Man and dons his costume to replace him. Kraven buries Peter in a shallow grave. Meanwhile, Vermin is back, kidnapping people into the sewers to feast on them, and his most recent victim is Mary Jane. The storylines all converge together, and Peter must reclaim his title as Spider-Man, leaving Kraven a shattered shell of his former self. This magnificent story from J. M. Dematteis and Mike Zeck remains as one of the greatest arcs of all time.

What makes this Essential?: First, my apologies for spoiling this review. I promoted the Kraven’s Last Hunt storyline with my review of Essential Daredevil Vol. 5, not fully realizing that this storyline would be included in this collection. In all fairness, I wanted to make sure I pointed people to this story, one way or another! his 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

So, yes, the reason to own this collection is for Kraven’s Last Hunt. This is one of the most powerful Spider-Man stories of all time. This still stands up nearly 25 years later, and it should be part of any collection.

The fact that we get other Spider-Man stories is an added bonus – sort of! The stories from David Michelinie and James Owsley (Christopher Priest) are solid stories. The fill-in issues that round up this volume feel so out of place when lined up against these other tales. This might be a volume where you check the issue credits before reading the issue.

If you like this volume, try: finding two books that were never reprinted in the Essential format, but would be helpful to have read when reading this volume.

The first is Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (1987), which features the wedding of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. This was a landmark issue years in the making, as the two lovebirds finally tied the knot. The issue featured two different covers – the first had MJ and Peter, with their friends and family in the background, while the second had MJ and Spider-Man, with his enemies in the background. MJ’s dress was actually designed by real-life wedding dress designer Willie Smith. Marvel actually made it into a real event, hosting a ceremony at Shea Stadium. This has been reprinted in multiple trades including the Marvel Weddings TPB.

The second is Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1 (February 1987). This was a stand-alone special edition book that gave us the identity of Hobgoblin, a mystery that had been building for four years in the various Spider-books. Turns out that it was [SPOLIER ALERT FROM 30 YEARS AGO!] mild-mannered reporter Ned Leeds who had been tormenting Spider-Man and trying to take over the crime rackets in New York City. We get a follow-up issue of Web of Spider-Man to this special edition – too bad it wasn’t included in this collection.

Showcase Presents Showcase Vol. 1

showcaseFirst Published: July 2012

Contents: Showcase #1 (March-April 1956) to #21 (July-August 1959)

Key Creator Credits: Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino, Joe Kubert, Jack Kirby, John Broome, Otto Binder, Ruben Moreira, Al Plastino, Wayne Boring, Jerry Coleman, Dave Wood, Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Jack Miller

Key First Appearances: Barry Allen/The Flash, Iris West, Challengers of the Unknown (Rocky Davis, Prof Haley, Ace Morgan, Red Ryan, June Robbins), Captain Cold, Mr. Element/Doctor Alchemy, Space Ranger, Cryll, Myra Mason, Adam Strange, Alanna, Sardath, Rip Hunter, Jeff Smith, Bonnie Baxter, Corky Baster

Overview: In 1956, DC introduced a brand new book that helped revolutionize the comic book industry. Following in the footsteps of The Brave and the Bold, the new comic Showcase promised to feature new characters each and every issue, based on the requests from the readers. That last part may have lasted for an issue or two before it quickly became a try-out book for new features and concepts that would become the foundation of the DC Universe.

  • The Flash was the first big character introduced in Showcase, which was a revitalization of the Golden Age Flash concept set in (then) modern times. Barry Allen is a police scientist who was bathed in chemicals during a lightning strike that imbued him with super-speed. The Flash made four appearances in Showcase before moving into his own title, and later becoming a founding member of the Justice League.
  • The Challengers of the Unknown are four adventurers that survive a plane crash and vow to work together now that they are living on borrowed time. The Challengers would have four appearances in Showcase before moving on to their own title.
  • Lois Lane had been a long-time member of the Superman supporting cast, but this was the first time she was featured in her own stories. These two appearances led to her own title, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane.
  • Adam Strange is a man caught between two worlds, traveling between Earth and the far distant planet Rann. Adam Strange uses his science knowledge to help save Rann from multiple threats. After three appearances in Showcase, Adam Strange would become the lead feature in Mystery in Space.
  • Rip Hunter has built a time bubble which allows him to travel to any era in history. With a team of loyal friends, Rip leveraged four appearances in Showcase to graduate into his own title.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This is a no-brainer. This is an absolute must read for any comic book historian, just to see the hit after hit coming out every other month in this title. Obviously, most of these issues are reprinted in other volumes, but this is a great collection to sample the early adventures of these heroes without having to buy the five other books.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
#1 – Fireman Farrell
#2 – Kings of the Wild
#3 – The Frogmen
#4 – The Flash / Showcase Presents The Flash Vol. 1
#5 – Manhunters
#6 – Challengers of the Unknown / Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Vol. 1
#7 – Challengers of the Unknown / Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Vol. 1
#8 – The Flash / Showcase Presents The Flash Vol. 1
#9 – Lois Lane / Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 1
#10 – Lois Lane / Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 1
#11 – Challengers of the Unknown / Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Vol. 1
#12 – Challengers of the Unknown / Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Vol. 1
#13 – The Flash / Showcase Presents The Flash Vol. 1
#14 – The Flash / Showcase Presents The Flash Vol. 1
#15 – Space Ranger
#16 – Space Ranger
#17 – Adam Strange / Showcase Presents Adam Strange Vol. 1
#18 – Adam Strange / Showcase Presents Adam Strange Vol. 1
#19 – Adam Strange / Showcase Presents Adam Strange Vol. 1
#20 – Rip Hunter/ Showcase Presents Rip Hunter, Time Master Vol. 1
#21 – Rip Hunter/ Showcase Presents Rip Hunter, Time Master Vol. 1

If you like this volume, try: reading some more stories on Space Ranger, the one main character introduced in this volume that did not earn his own Showcase Presents collection. Track down some old issues of Tales of the Unexpected. From issues #40 (August 1959) to #82 (April-May 1964), the Space Ranger was featured in this book. Following that long run, he became a secondary character that would pop-up in random comics when a DC character needed to encounter a familiar face in deep space.

Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 4

ghostrider4First Published: October 2010

Contents: Ghost Rider #66 (March 1982) to #81 (June 1983); Amazing Spider-Man #274 (March 1986); and New Defenders #145 (July 1985) and #146 (August 1985)

Key Creator Credits: J.M. Dematteis, Roger Stern, Michael Fleisher, Don Perlin, Bob Budiansky, Tom Sutton, Ron Frenz, and others

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

Story Continues From: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 3

Overview: Get your motor runnin’ as Ghost Rider races to the finish line of his first series. This Essential collection brings the 1970s series to an end, perhaps with some of the best issues of the entire run.

This is an interesting take on the character, as I think the book finally gets the right creative team and directions for the comic. Rather than treating the book as a reluctant hero, it becomes more of a horror title, focusing on a title character struggling to keep a demon in check. It’s too bad that the direction came so late because there was no way to avoid the dreaded cancellation ax by this point. I almost wish Dematteis & Budiansky had more issues to play with this concept.

Despite the cancellation of the title, we do get two epilogs of sorts to Johnny Blaze and to the demon Zarathos. Johnny Blaze gets to bid farewell to many of his former Champions teammates over in the pages of New Defenders, while Zarathos is used as a pawn by the Beyonder to test the limits of Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man.

What makes this Essential?: The good news is that this is the final Essential volume for this character. I’m running out of ways to be diplomatic with my comments. Nonetheless, I like the way that writer J.M. Dematteis and artist Bob Budiansky brought the whole series to a conclusion, picking up many of the plot threads and characters introduced years earlier. Given the way so many other titles abruptly ended in this era (I’m looking at you, Spider-Woman!), this was a nice way to say so long (for now) to Johnny Blaze. 

If you like this volume, try: the Ghost Rider by Jason Aaron omnibus from Marvel. Released in 2010, this collects writer Jason Aaron’s run with the Ghost Riders (Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch), with art by the likes of Tony Moore and Tan Eng Huat. My issues with Ghost Rider is not that I don’t like the character. The 80+ issues that I have read over the four Essential volumes are just not that great. Whether the stories do not hold up over the years or that the stories are just really bad can be debated. There have been some writers on this run who I really like, but I don’t know that their Ghost Rider work is the best example of their abilities.

So, with all of that said, I truly believe that Jason Aaron is one of the best writers at Marvel today. His volume of work stands out across multiple titles and genres. I think you could find the most obscure Marvel character, and Aaron could find a take on the character that will blow everyone away. Please check out his current work (Mighty Thor, Doctor Strange) and track down the Ghost Rider omnibus.

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017!

Goodbye 2016: Another year is in the books – pun intended! As we say goodbye (and some might say good riddance) to 2016, this is my annual look back at my reading and work on this blog. I once again found myself with down time between working assignments, so the reading output picked up some. I finished nine Showcase Presents volumes and 13 Essential volumes. And there were 52 new reviews posted each and every Monday morning.

Showcase Presents volumes read in 2016: Metal Men 1 & 2; Sgt. Rock 1; Enemy Ace 1; Spectre 1; Sea Devils 1; Doc Savage 1; The House of Mystery 2; and Showcase 1.
Essential volumes read in 2016: Werewolf by Night 1 & 2; Web of Spider-Man 1; Avengers 8 & 9; Fantastic Four 8; Monster of Frankenstein 1; Moon Knight 1 & 2; Ghost Rider 3 & 4; Marvel Two-in-One 4; and Marvel Saga 1.

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Hello 2017: This is going to be a transition year with the blog, as I am starting to see the end approaching. No worries, it’s not going away anytime soon. I still have plenty of books to read and write reviews. But right now, my list has roughly 40 books that I have not reviewed yet, and there are 52 weeks in the year. Do the math!

There may be some weeks that I take the week off. I might not have a review ready to go, or I may be busy with my podcast work. I will still post a quick note to let you know what’s going on.

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Wish List: Through this entire project, I have never asked for anything…. until now. My first rule for this blog was that I would only write a review if I owned and had read the book. Considering that I have published nearly 240 reviews so far, with at least 40 more to go, that translates to a lot of books in my collection. But I don’t have them all. There are around 12 books, mostly Showcases, that I do not own. I know that I can probably track them down, but I thought I would put this out to the world and see what happens.

On the blog, I have posted a Wish List of books I still need to track down to read and review. If you have one of these books and you want to pass it along to me, that would be awesome. I’m not asking anyone to go out and buy these books unless you can find them on the cheap. I’ve promised the family I will not buy any more of these books but I can accept free gifts!

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Marvel Saga: I started a new podcast venture with Nicholas Prom of the Comic Reflections podcast — and please check out his show if you are a fan of the Silver and Bronze Age comics! In each show, we are taking a detailed look at Marvel Saga from the mid-1980s. The comic was Marvel’s attempt to put all of the original stories in chronological order. A new show will go up once a month, with issue 2 posted just yesterday! The show is available in the feeds for both Comic Reflections and Worst. Comic. Podcast. EVER!, so please give us a listen.

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Worst. Comic. Podcast. EVER!: It was another great year with the podcast. We put a lot of time and sweat into the show, but with it came some great rewards. We hosted a lot of panels at shows around the Midwest, we interviewed guests from coast to coast and helped create some incredible experiences that will never be replicated.

In September, I traveled to Portland, OR, for the Rose City Comic Con. There I got to hang out with Ty Templeton at the Hero Initiative booth throughout the weekend, as well as meet creators such as Jimmy Palmiotti, Kurt Busiek, Gail Simone, Ron Randall, and more. The next weekend, we were part of the initial Panel Exploration event in Omaha, NE, where we sat down and talked about the comic book process with the likes of Stan Sakai, Phil Hester, and Cullen Bunn.

  • WCPE 2016 Interviews with: Hayley Nitz, Cullen Bunn, Jody Houser, Terry Moore, José Luis García-López, Ant Lucia, Yanick Paquette, Franco Aureliani, Art Baltazar, Rafer Roberts, David Baron, Steve Lightle, Greg Smallwood, Grace Ellis, Phil Hester, Stan Sakai, Allen Passalaqua, Megan Levens, Vivek Tiwary, Rick Stasi, B. Clay Moore, and more.
  • WCPE 2016 Panels hosted with: Jeremy Haun, B. Clay Moore, Seth Peck, Alex Grecian, Greg Smallwood, Roland Mann, John Lucas, John Dugan, Dennis Hopeless, Cullen Bunn, Jason Aaron & Jason Latour, Amanda Conner & Jai Nitz, Marv Wolfman, Helen Slater, Lesley Ann Brandt, Frank Conniff & Trace Beaulieu, Ksenia Solo, Aaron Stanford, John Schneider & Tom Wopat, Brian Herring, Peter Shinkoda, Michael Golden & Mike Grell, Stan Sakai, and more.

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Thank you!: We live in an age where we are overwhelmed by requests for our time and attention. Our social media feeds are updated every second with new items that we want to see and read and watch and listen. So with all of the demands on our precious time, I do appreciate each and every one of you who take the time each week to read my musings of these comics. I read the comments, I get a thrill when it is shared or liked. I would finish this project even if no one was reading this, but knowing that YOU are reading it helps me along. So thank you very much for your time and feedback!

Showcase Presents The House of Mystery Vol. 2

showcase_presents_house_mystery_volume_2First Published: March 2007

Contents: The House of Mystery #195 (October 1971) to #211 (February 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Joe Orlando, Sergio Aragonés, Neal Adams, Nick Cardy, Bernie Wrightson, John Albano, E. Nelson Bridwell, and others

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents The House of Mystery Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents The House of Mystery Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to the House of Mystery? Much like the Hotel California – you can check out any time you want but you can never leave.

This anthology once again presents horror stories in black and white, which only adds to the creepiness of the tales. Any type of story is fair game for this format, and many of the stories are introduced by Cain, the caretaker of the House of Mystery. or issue #174, the book went back to

The earlier issues in this collection are larger issues, so you get 40+ pages of stories and features per issue. In the later issues in this collection, the page count drops down to the 20-25 pages per issue. There is no continuity between the stories, so these can be read in any order.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Read this for the art, as always. The stories vary in quality but that’s OK. I am more fascinated by the artwork page after page. So many talented artists that are given free reign to tell stories however they want to without having to abide by a style guide.

If you like this volume, try: Harrow County from Dark Horse Comics. Written by Cullen Bunn and art by Tyler Crook, this is a modern horror series that feels like it would fit right at home with the House of Mystery fans. The woods that surround Emmy’s home in Harrow County are filled with ghosts and monsters. But it’s not until Emmy’s eighteenth birthday that the ghosts and monsters introduce themselves to her, and she realizes that there is more to her life and her home than she ever realized. While the issues are being collected in trade paperbacks, some of the backup features are not included in the collections so you may want to track down the individual issues now. With a television series in development, you may want to grab up these back issues now.

Essential Iron Man Vol. 5

Essential Iron Man Vol. 5

First Published: April 2013

Contents: Iron Man #62 (September 1973) to #75 (June 1975); and #77 (August 1975) to #87 (June 1976); and Iron Man Annual #3 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: Mike Friedrich, Bill Mantlo, Len Wein, Steve Gerber, George Tuska, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Michael O’Brien, Blizzard

Story Continues From: Essential Iron Man Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the fifth Essential Iron Man volume from Marvel Comics, in which our hero, Tony Stark, finally adds the one accessory to his suit that it really didn’t need – an iron nose!

This volume has several storylines that run across multiple issues at a time. Iron Man battles Doctor Spectrum from the Squadron Sinister at the Stark Industries plant in Detroit, which leads to a battle against his fellow Avenger Thor. During this battle, Happy Hogan is injured while trying to cover for Tony, and the treatment to heal him reverts Happy back to his Freak personality.

That story no sooner wraps up before Iron Man is off to southeast Asia, where he gets caught-up in a super-villain royal rumble, as the Black Lama is setting up villains to fight each other for supremacy. Enter the Yellow Claw, the Mandarin, the Unicorn, Man-Bull, Whiplash, the Melter, and others. This complex storyline, plagued by the dreaded deadline, wraps with Iron Man and Firebrand following the Black Lama to his home dimension for one last showdown. The best part of this story arc was issue #72, which found Tony grounded in San Diego for repairs, and makes a visit to the 1974 San Diego Comic Convention.

One of the minor highlights of this volume occurs around issue #73 when Stark Industries undergoes a name change to Stark International. Tony wanted to showcase the diversity of all business aspects that the company was involved in, and he wanted to put some distance between the munitions manufacturer that his company was once branded as.

What makes this Essential?: I really was not that impressed with this volume. Some decent stories, but these are not great stories. You read this volume only if you are a die-hard fan of Iron Man. But my guess is that if you are that die-hard fan of Iron Man, you might be better off owning the original issues. Some checking of online retailers shows that most of these issues are very affordable despite being 40 years old.

Footnotes:  Iron Man #76 is a reprint issue of Iron Man #9. The cover for #76 is included in this Essential. Issue #9 was collected in Essential Iron Man Vol. 2.

Iron Man Annuals (King-Size Specials) #1 & #2 and Giant-Size Iron Man #1 were all reprints of various stories from Tales of Suspense. The covers to those issues are included in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: Iron Man: Armor Wars from the 1980s. Written by David Michelinie and Bob Layton, with art Layton, Mark Bright, and Barry Windsor-Smith, this has been collected numerous times in trade paperbacks and hardcovers. Tony Stark discovers that some of the technology used in his suits – technology that is so secret he dares not patent it – is now being used in the suits of numerous super-villains. Tony goes on an armor hunt to track down his missing technology, while at the same time updating his own armor to stay ahead of the competition. This story arc would be repeated multiple times in multiple formats, such as in comics as well as the Saturday-morning cartoon series from the 1990s.

Showcase Presents Super Friends! Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Super Friends! Vol. 1

First Published: May 2014

Contents: Super Friends #1 (November 1976) to #24 (September 1979)

Key Creator Credits: E. Nelson Bridwell, Ric Estrada, Ramona Fradon, Kurt Schaffenberger, Denny O’Neil (as Sergius O’Shaughnessy), and others

Key First Appearances: Wendy Harris, Wonderdog, Jayna, Zan, Gleek, Bushmaster, Jack O’Lantern, Rising Sun, Thunderlord, Icemaiden, Little Mermaid, Olympian, Tasmanian Devil, Doctor Mist

Overview: In the Great Hall of the Justice League, there are assembled the world’s four greatest heroes created from the cosmic legends of the universe! Superman! Wonder Woman! Batman! Aquaman! And the three Junior Super Friends, Wendy, Marvin, and Wonderdog! Their mission: To fight injustice, to right that which is wrong, and to serve all mankind!

Super Friends! was launched to capitalize on the growing popularity of the Saturday morning cartoon on ABC. We get the core members of the Justice League training the next generation of heroes. The first group, featuring Wendy, Marvin, and Wonderdog, quickly graduated in order to make room for the next class, featuring the Wonder Twins and their space monkey Gleek.

White there are a few multi-part stories, most of these are self-contained stories that provide a fun adventure in 17 pages. Plenty of cameos abounds in these stories, where it was a guest appearance by other characters or even references to other companies. In issue #5, the Super Friends host a telethon to raise funds for United Charities. At one point, Anthony Stark calls in from New York City to pledge $75,000. Not to be outdone by a marvelous contribution, Batman slips away so that Bruce Wayne can call in and pledge $100,000.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Absolutely, this series should be featured in a Showcase Presents. I hope that DC gets a Volume 2 onto their schedule soon to wrap up the second half of the series. This is a fun all-ages book that serves as a good introduction to the DC Universe, without having to know all of the backstories of the various characters. With Ramona Fradon doing most of the art, we are reminded of how diverse her skills were, to adapt the animated style of the show two decades before the “animated style” became trendy with the Batman: The Animated Series books. This is one Showcase volume that I am already looking forward to re-reading sometime soon.

Footnotes: So the big question remains: are these stories in continuity on Earth-1. If you asked E. Nelson Bridwell, he most definitely said yes. Throughout the series, references were made to other events going on in the DC Universe, such as Batman’s break-up with Silver St. Cloud. While the Hall of Justice was used as a training center for the Junior Super Friends, they often had to go to the Justice League satellite orbiting 22,300 miles above Earth. Many other JLA members (Flash, Hawkgirl, Green Arrow, Elongated Man, etc.) make appearances in the book, wearing their costumes of that era. Many of the world-wide characters introduced were later be united in the Global Guardians. Bridwell wrote the series to be a part of the DC Universe but aimed at a younger audience than most DC books of the time. 

If you like this volume, try: tracking down issues of the Justice League Adventures (2002-2004) and Justice League Unlimited (2004-2008). Following the success of the animated Batman and Superman series of the 1990s, Cartoon Network launched an animated Justice League series in 2001. To support that project, DC launched a “Johnny DC” book, using the animated style used in the cartoon. Admittedly, many people do not give the Johnny DC books the time of day, viewing them only as the “kids” books. But there are some very good issues in these runs, featuring stories by Dan Slott, Adam Beechen, Mike W. Barr, and many other veteran creators. As innovative as the CN show was, consider these an extension of the show, telling the stories that they didn’t have time to tell.