Essential Wolverine Vol. 6

First Published: December 2012

Contents: Wolverine #111 (March 1997) to #128 (September 1998); Wolverine #-1 (July 1997); and Wolverine Annual ’97 (1997)

Key Creator Credits: Larry Hama, Warren Ellis, Chris Claremont, Anthony Winn, Leinil Francis Yu, Denys Cowan, and others

Story Continues From: Essential Wolverine Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Wolverine Vol. 7

Overview: Despite being the best there is at what he does, Wolverine still seems to encounter opponents intent on proving that statement wrong. That works out for us, giving us Essential Wolverine Vol. 6.

This collection starts out with Wolverine striking out on his own — AGAIN! This time, he goes 35 miles south into the East Village neighborhood of New York City. He finds an apartment, lands a construction job, and lives happily ever after, right? Not so much. Sometimes trouble finds him, sometimes he finds trouble all on his own. In this situation, Logan encounters a killer mime. I can’t make this stuff up, but Larry Hama did!

Next Wolverine and the X-Men get caught up in the Operation Zero Tolerance story arc (see below). Following that, Warren Ellis and Leinil Francis Yu step in for a four-issue arc with Wolverine encountering a professional assassin, McLeish, who he thought had been dead for the last ten years. Surviving that, Wolverine encounters two former foes, Roughouse and Bloodscream, who he first met back in Essential Wolverine Vol. 1.

This final story in this collection is a fun read as Wolverine finds that he must marry Viper to fulfill a debt of honor. A long the way, most of the other women in Wolverine’s life (Kitty, Jubilee, Black Widow, Jessica Drew, and others) are trying to stop Wolverine from doing so. Of course, any comic book wedding has to be crashed by someone. In this instance, it’s Sabretooth and he wants to kill the groom.

What makes this Essential?: OK, I have come around on the Wolverine line of Essentials. With the last two volumes, the printing process did not work well with the new look of the comics. With this volume, the reprinting is nearly perfect. I still had a hard time reading the footnotes, but everything else looked great printed in black and white. The biggest challenge with this line is finding stories that feature Wolverine in a solo adventure. We had multiple crossovers with the X-Men, some more warranted than others. I realize that Marvel sold a lot of comics in the 1990s thanks to Wolverine and the X-Men, but sometimes you want the solo book to be a solo book and not just an extension of the team book.

If you like this volume, try: the complete X-Men – Operation Zero Tolerance story. In this volume, we get the Wolverine issues of the story, but it ran across a lot of other mutant books (X-Men, Cable, Generation X, and X-Force). Following the events of Age of Apocalypse, Henry Peter Gyrich and Bastion leverage their positions in the U.S. Government to go after the mutants. Bastion creates a new line of Prime Sentinels which he sends out to capture the mutants. The government takes control of the Xavier School, getting access to files and technology. Iceman steps up and leads a small group to help stop Bastion. Finally, S.H.I.E.L.D. finally intervenes and revokes the Operation Zero Tolerance orders. This has been collected as a hardcover and a trade paperback, so it should be easy to track down.

Showcase Presents Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld Vol. 1

First Published: September 2012

Contents: Amethyst story from Legion of Super-Heroes #298 (April 1983); Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld #1 (May 1983) to #12 (April 1984); Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld Annual #1 (1984); DC Comics Presents #63 (November 1983); and Amethyst #1 (January 1985) to #11 (November 1985)

Key Creator Credits: Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, Ernie Colón, Ric Estrada, and others

Key First Appearances: Amy Winston/Amethyst, Dark Opal, Carnelian, Sardonyx, Citrina, Herb Winston, Marion Winston, Emerald, Fire Jade, Topaz, Turquoise, Garnet, Moonstone, Diamond

Overview: Meet Amy Winston, your typical 13-year-old girl in America. For her birthday, she receives a mysterious gift containing an amethyst pendant. Amy discovers that the pendant opens a passage way to Gemworld, a magical land divided into 12 realms. When Amy travels to Gemworld, she is transformed into a 20-year-old woman known as Princess Amethyst, the heir to the throne of her realm.

Unfortunately, Gemworld is not a peaceful place. Dark Opal has plans to take over Gemworld and will stop at nothing to do so. But Amethyst and her loyal friends and subjects unite to stop Dark Opal. This would be easier to do if Amethyst could be a full-time resident of Gemworld. But she must constantly travel back to Earth to resume her life as Amy, and to keep her parents from going crazy with her sudden disappearances.

While the initial mini-series was ongoing, Amethyst got to make the obligatory appearance over in DC Comics Presents where she teams up with Superman for an issue. Unfortunately, this is the one brief appearance that really ties her into the DC Universe, other than the Wonder Woman poster hanging up in Amy’s bedroom.

Amethyst did return with a new ongoing series, letting us see more of Gemworld and new threats to the realms. Amethyst tries her best to balance her time between Gemworld and Earth, but the demands of the throne keep making it harder and harder to be a teenage girl.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I checked out this series some when it was first released in 1983. I wasn’t overly sold on it, but I think that was also a time when I liked a lot of other books on the shelves more and my allowance was limited. So I probably never gave a fair chance back then.

Reading this now, I am intrigued and disappointed at the same time. There is a lot that works really well for this series. I want to know more about the various houses and see more of the back-and-forth between the realms of Gemworld. But this series suffers being reprinted in black & white. Much like Green Lantern, so much of the story is dependent on the book being printed in color. You need the colors of the page to help distinguish some of the characters. I’m also upset that the character has been relatively unused since the two series finished in the mid-1980s.

Footnotes:  The 1985 Amethyst series ran for 16 issues, plus a Special. The final five issues and the Special have not been reprinted.

If you like this volume, try: reading Promethea from Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III. This was part of the ABC Comics from Moore that DC put out in the early 2000s. Promethea tells the story of a young woman, Sophie Bangs, who is researching the ancient myth of Promethea for a college paper. Soon after, she encounters an ancient enemy of Promethea and then finds herself transforming into Promethea. Now Sophie must quickly learn her new powers and abilities before she is destroyed. This story mixes so many elements from different comics (Wonder Woman, Shazam, even Amethyst) and is gorgeously illustrated by Williams. This series is available in multiple formats, so it should not be difficult to track down.

Essential Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Vol. 1

First Published: October 2011

Contents: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 (May 1963) to #23 (October 1965); and Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Annual #1 (1965)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, George Roussos, and others

Key First Appearances: Nicholas “Nick” Fury, Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan, Isadore “Izzy” Cohen, Gabriel “Gabe” Jones, Jonathan “Junior” Juniper, Dino Manelli, Robert “Reb” Ralston, Samuel “Happy Sam” Sawyer, Pamela Hawley, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, Bull McGiveney, Percival “Pinky” Pinkerton, Captain Savage

Overview: Following the United States entry into World War II, the First Attack Squadron runs the missions that no one else wants to take. Whether it’s dropping into the Nazi territory, tracking down a Resistance spy, or conducting a daring rescue, Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos are the go-to squad for Captain Sam Sawyer. Wahoo!!

Nick Fury leads a rag-tag group of men into battle each issue, whether they are fighting in Europe, Northern Africa, or even the Pacific Islands. While Fury’s crew does not go after Adolf Hitler every month, they do attract a Nazi rival in Baron Strucker and his Blitzkrieg Squad, a team specifically assembled to stop the Commandos.

The Commandos are not on call 24/7, so they do get some leave time to go to London to relax and unwind. Fury even finds time to find the first love of his life, Pamela Hawley. She makes Fury more human and provides a reminder to Nick for what they are fighting for in Europe.

What makes this Essential?: This is an interesting book to look at and consider its merits. At the time this book started, the Marvel Age was growing by leaps and bounds. Already the Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man and Iron Man have been introduced with hints that they are all part of the same universe. Later in 1963, we would get Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men, So for Stan Lee & Jack Kirby to introduce a war book, at a time when Marvel was limited to publishing just eight titles per month, this seems like a strange move to make. Maybe Marvel wanted to keep a war comic on the racks just to stay competitive with the Distinguished Competition.

In terms of Sgt. Fury, this group of characters works well together. As with any of the ongoing war comics, you need to be less critical of the time line, knowing that the U.S. troops had a small window to be fighting in Europe. While Kirby’s art is stellar, I really believe the true hero of this book is Dick Ayers, whose art really shines in this book. The characters become more unique and distinct when lined up together. The stories are a mixed bag – Lee drops in too many anachronisms – but this is worth the read just for the art.

Meet the Commandos: In addition to Sgt Fury, the other members of the First Attack Squadron include:

  • Corporal Dum Dum Dugan serves as Fury’s right-hand man in the trenches and on furlough. Dugan lives for battle, preferring war to spending time at home with his wife and mother-in-law.
  • Private Izzy Cohen is the mechanic and explosives expert for the squadron.
  • Private Gabe Jones is an African-American serving in an integrated unit. In reality, the U.S. armed forces were not integrated until President Truman signed the orders in 1948.
  • Private Dino Manelli is a movie actor modeled after Dean Martin. Being fluent in both Italian and German, Dino is often sent on missions to impersonate Axis soldiers.
  • Private Reb Ralston is an ex-jockey from Kentucky and an avid poker player.
  • Private Junior Juniper was killed in action in just issue #4. It added a sense of realism to the book, that any of them were expendable. (However, given how many of the Commandos were also appearing in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., readers would know which ones were safe going forward.)
  • Private Pinky Pinkerton is a British soldier attached to the squadron to replace Juniper. Much like Dino was a stand-in for Dean Martin, Pinky is a stand-in for David Niven.

Footnotes: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos ran for 167 issues. Beginning with issue #80, the even-numbered issues featured a reprinted story, while the odd-numbered issues featured a new story. With issue #120, the series only reprinted stories and did not create any new stories. The title ended with issue #167 (December 1981).

If you like this volume, try: the Secret Warriors series from 2009 to 2011. Spinning out of the Dark Reign events, Nick Fury has created new teams within S.H.I.E.L.D. to respond to threats. These are various individuals with some kind of powers, such as Daisy Johnson a.k.a. Quake. The Secret Warriors team takes on those covert missions that S.H.I.E.L.D. cannot publicly handle. Many of the concepts here have been incorporated into Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tv series. One of the story-arcs in the Secret Warriors series was The Last Ride of the Howling Commandos, which can be found in issues #17-#19, and involved many of the surviving Commandos reuniting for a dinner. This was such a well-done series from Brian Michael Bendis and Jonathan Hickman.

Essential X-Men Vol. 11

xmen11First Published: January 2013

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #273 (February 1991) to #280 (September 1991); Uncanny X-Men Annual #15 (1991); X-Men #1 (October 1991) to #3 (December 1991); X-Factor #69 (August 1991) and #70 (September 1991); X-Factor Annual #6 (1991); New Mutants Annual #7 (1991); and New Warriors Annual #1 (1991)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, Fabian Nicieza, Peter David, Paul Smith, Andy Kubert, Tom Raney, Whilce Portacio, and others

Key First Appearances: Acolytes (Fabian Cortez, Delgado, Anne-Marie Cortez, Chrome)

Story Continues From: Essential X-Men Vol. 10

Overview: This is the end, beautiful friends! Over the last 15 years of reprinted stories, we have seen X-Men come and go from the mansion in Westchester, New York. We have buried teammates, and seen many resurrected, as well as welcome new heroes to the family. The villains have gotten deadlier, whether they are shooting lasers or leading congressional sub-committees. But the goal remains the same, to find a way for humans and mutants to live together in the same world. This is Essential X-Men Vol. 11.

This collection starts out with the crazy adventures we have come to expect from the X-Men. We get Rogue, Magneto, and Nick Fury heading to the Savage Land. We’ve got the rest of the X-Men heading to deep space to stop the War Skrulls. Seriously, we knew the Skrulls were war-inclined for years, but now these War Skrulls take it to a new level!

Next up is the summer crossover event that went between the Annuals – Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants, and New Warriors. A.I.M. is looking to resurrect Proteus, the mutant son of Moira MacTaggert. A rag-tag team of heroes (i.e., those not good enough to go on the mission into space) must ban together to stop A.I.M. and Proteus.

Upon their return to Earth, the X-Men find that the Shadow King, the ne’er-do-well that has been lurking around in their minds for years, has taken over all of the inhabitants of Muir Island. The X-Men give their all to stop the Shadow King, with Xavier making a final stand with his son Legion in a coma.

The book concludes with the first three issues of the adjectiveless X-Men title. With Jim Lee on art and with the benefit of five different covers, Chris Claremont pens the best-selling comic book in the modern era. Really, after all the ups and downs of the past 15 years, Claremont is bringing things back to how he found them when he first took over the X-Men scripting duties. The original X-Men have returned to the team, the mansion has been rebuilt (AGAIN!) and Magneto has returned to his evil ways. It’s been often said that a comic book writer should leave the title as they found it. Claremont found a way to make things right as he left the mansion…. for now.

What makes this Essential?: This is a great way to wrap up Chris Claremont’s 17-year run with the Marvel mutants. Picking up from their introduction in Giant-Size X-Men #1 back in 1975, Claremont helped turn around the X-Men from a doormat title into one of Marvel’s most important (and most profitable) franchises of all time.

By the time this Essential comes to an end, Claremont is ready to step away from the mutant books. Under his guidance, he turned the Uncanny X-Men comic around from a bi-monthly title into two different ongoing monthly titles, along with multiple spin-off titles (New Mutants/X-Force, X-Factor, Excalibur, Wolverine, and others). A new generation of comic book creators, who grew up reading Claremont’s books, were in place ready to take over the reigns of the books.

Footnotes: Uncanny X-Men #280, Uncanny X-Men Annual #15, and X-Factor #69 and #70 are also reprinted in Essential X-Factor Vol. 5.

If you like this volume, try: the Comic Geek Speak podcast look at the X-Men in the Chromium Age. Yes, I am part of my own podcast (Worst. Comic. Podcast. EVER!) and would love for you to check it out and follow me there. But the guys over at CGS have been doing the podcast thing for over 10 years now. They know what they are doing, and they do it well. CGS has been doing detailed looks at titles or characters over a period of time, such as the X-Men. With the podcast referenced above, they take a detailed look at the X-Men in the early 1990s. There is so much information in these podcasts. Bookmark their website and use it as a reference like I do.

Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 5

Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 5

First Published: December 2014

Contents: Legion of Super-Heroes stories from Superboy #193 (February 1973), #195 (June 1973), and #197 (September 1973) to #220 (October 1976); and Karate Kid #1 (March 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Cary Bates, Jim Shooter, Paul Levitz, Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell, Ric Estrada, and others

Key First Appearances: Drake Burroughs/ERG-1/Wildfire, Tyr, Hunter, Infectious Lass, Porcupine Pete, Roon Dyron, Chameleon Chief, Sun Emperor, Esper Lass, Magno Lad, Micro Lad, Leland McCauley IV, Tyroc, Diamondeth, Laurel Kent, Earth-Man

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 4

Overview: It’s time to go back to the future with the fifth Showcase Presents volume of the Legion of Super-Heroes. If you have been reading along in real time, it’s been more than four years since DC released Volume 4, so this is a long-overdue return to the teenage heroes of the 30th Century!

With this volume, we see the Legion stories slowly starting to take over the Superboy title. For most of these issues, the title on the cover reads Superboy Starring the Legion of Super-Heroes. Beginning with issue #231. the title officially changes to Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. The takeover is finally completed in issue #259, as the title officially becomes Legion of Super-Heroes. 

While we just get two new Legionnaires added to the roster in this collection (ERG-1, quickly renamed to Wildfire, and Tyroc), we see the supporting cast and ancillary characters start to develop. While some of these may seem like throw-away characters, talented writers such as Paul Levitz and Geoff Johns have been able to mine these stories years later and bring these characters back to prominence. For example, in Superboy #218, Cary Bates introduces a character by the code-name of Earth-Man. We don’t see this character for 30 years before Johns brought him back as the main for during his Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes arc in Action Comics (well worth a read!).

In this volume, we see the end of the Dave Cockrum run with the Legion. Cockrum would leave in late 1974 to head over to Marvel to work on a little book called Uncanny X-Men. Have you heard of it? I thought so…. Cockrum definitely had a particular style with his costumes that he developed for characters, and many people have pointed out the similarities between the Legion for DC and the Imperial Guard at Marvel. (See my review of Essential X-Men Vol. 1 for more details.)

Replacing Cockrum was Mike Grell, whose first published comic book work was these Legion issues. Grell brought a new level of detail to the artwork that had not been seen in Legion stories to date. Following his run on Legion, Grell would do memorable work with Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Jon Sable.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I’ll give you two great reasons why this should be Showcased: Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell. The two artists defined the look of the Legion in the 1970s. Whether it was co-creating new characters, or developing new costumes for the characters, Cockrum and Grell are the key components to the Legion’s success in this era. The story structure remains the same as from previous volumes, but we see the signs that the title is moving towards a more traditional comic with stories carrying over across multiple issues. By all means, pick this up for the art if nothing else. But I think you will enjoy the stories, too.

Footnotes: This volume includes the first issue of the Karate Kid solo series. This series ran bi-monthly for 15 issues, and it has not been reprinted in a collected edition.

If you like this volume, try: the 2011 Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes mini-series from IDW. Written by Chris Roberson, with art by the Moy brothers (Jeff and Philip), the series unites the greatest heroes from the 23rd Century with the greatest heroes of the 31st Century. Most of the senior crew of the Enterprise (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov) find themselves on a planet where they meet a squad of Legionnaires (Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, and Shadow Lass). After the obligatory skirmish between the two groups, they unite to work together to battle a common set of enemies, Q and Vandal Savage. The main covers for the series were done by Phil Jiminez, but the variant covers were done by legendary artists long associated with the Legion, such as Mike Grell, Keith Giffen, and Steve Lightle, among others. This has been collected as both a hardcover and a trade paperback, so it should be relatively easy to track down a copy. And while this isn’t a perfect story – and most media crossovers are not! – the Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes mini-series is a fun read.