Essential Defenders Vol. 7

First Published: May 2013

Contents: The Defenders #126 (December 1983) to #139 (January 1985); Beauty and the Beast #1 (December 1984) to #4 (June 1985); and Iceman #1 (December 1984) to #4 (June 1985)

Key Creator Credits: J.M. Dematteis, Peter Gillis, Ann Nocenti, Alan Kupperberg, Sal Buscema, Don Perlin, Mike Zeck, and others

Key First Appearances: Manslaughter, Oblivion, Dragon of the Moon

Story Continues From: Essential Defenders Vol. 6

Overview: The Defenders are dead! Long live the New Defenders! As we saw at the end of the last collection, With the core line-up (Doctor Strange, Hulk, Namor, & Silver Surfer) no longer able to work together for fear of destroying the Earth, a new team steps from the ashes to become the New Defenders. From the last run, Valkyrie, Gargoyle and Beast stick around, recruiting Angel, Iceman and Moondragon to join them in this journey.

With the new team, the dynamics between the various members make for an interesting story, sometimes more interesting than the villain of the month that they would battle each month. Who will lead the team? Is it the Beast, who has trained and studied under both Charles Xavier and Captain America? Is it the Angel, whose bank account is funding most of the team’s activities? Or is it Moondragon, who believes that everyone should bow down to the goddess that she believes herself to be?

Regardless who leads the team, we see the story moving forward with hints of things to come. We are introduced to the Dragon of the Moon, who will (SPOILER WARNING SINCE THERE IS NO ESSENTIAL DEFENDERS VOL. 8!) will become a negative influence in Moondragon’s life and lead to the eventual demise of this team (and this title).

But before then, we get lots of adventures of the new Defenders. We even get some solo mini-series involving members of the team. First up is an Iceman miniseries, which ran concurrently with Beauty and the Beast, teaming up the Beast with Dazzler (before she joined the X-Men).

What makes this Essential?: This is the most transformative era of the title that we have seen. For all of the talk about the Defenders not have a set roster, it was always some combination of the core line-up. Now just Valkyrie remains with half of the original X-Men, plus Moondragon and Gargoyle. So, for a change of pace with the characters, this is an interesting read. But it still doesn’t make this Essential. I personally would have rather seen the two mini-series dropped in favor of finding a way to get all of the remaining issues (it ran until #152) into this collection. I think J.M. DeMatteis and Peter Gillis have fun creating new adventures with these characters, with stellar art from the likes of Don Perlin and Alan Kubberberg, but these are not A-list characters to carry a book.

Footnotes: During this run of Defenders issues, the covers reflected the title The New Defenders. However, the indicia in the original issues indicated that the official title still was The Defenders. It wasn’t until issue #140 that the official name listed in the indicia was The New Defenders. Since this collection ends with issue #139, you could make the argument that Marvel collected all of the original issues in the Defenders series in this line of Essentials

Beauty and the Beast #1 to #4 are also reprinted in Essential Dazzler Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: hunting down a copy of The Gargoyle mini-series from 1985. This entire series has never been reprinted, so you will need to hit the back-issue bins to find this. Gargoyle co-creator and writer J.M. DeMatteis, along with artist Mark Badger, finally had the chance to do a solo series featuring Isaac Christians. He returns to his hometown, Christiansboro, Virginia, where Chambers is tricked into returning to his original body. Unfortunately, that allows the one of the demons to return to the Gargoyle shell and begin an attack to destroy the town. With the help of a druid, Christians’ soul is returned to the Gargoyle shell, and the Gargoyle destroys Isaac Chambers’ body so that he can’t be used like that again. This mini-series should have been collected in this volume, perhaps in place of the Beauty and the Beast series since that had been included in the Essential Dazzler Vol. 2 collection four years earlier.

Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 4

marvel2i1vol4First Published: January 2012

Contents: Marvel Two-In-One #78 (August 1981) to #98 (April 1983), and #100 (June 1983); and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #6 (1981) and #7 (1982)

Key Creator Credits: Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, David Anthony Kraft, Alan Kupperberg, David Michelinie, John Byrne, and others

Key First Appearances: American Eagle, Champion

Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 3

Overview: He’s the hero of millions, but still the #1 target of the Yancy Street Gang. That’s right, we’re back with another collection of adventures of Ben Grimm, better known as the Thing. This is Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 4.

As we have seen in multiple team-up collections, the hero of the book (The Thing) meets up with another character that they generally would not be interacting with much in order to stop a villain that they generally would not be interacting with much. That’s how we get issues such as Thing + Machine Man vs. Ultron, or Thing + Captain America vs. MODOK, or my favorite Thing + Sandman vs. Miller Lite.

The issues in this book are mostly one-and-done. We do get a couple of multi-part stories, as well as plenty of references to events going on over in the Fantastic Four book. But this book can easily be read without needing to consult dozens of other comics from this era.

Sadly, Marvel Two-in-One came to an end during this volume. For the oversized final issue, creator John Byrne came in to revisit a favorite story he did more than four years ago, in Marvel Two-in-One #50. In that issue, the Thing teamed up with the Thing (on an alternate Earth). For issue #100, the Thing revisits that alternate Earth and teams up with Ben Grimm. It made for a nice character study to say goodbye (but not for long) to the Thing’s team-up title.

What makes this Essential?: My rule with this blog has been that all of the team-up collections are must reads. I stand by that statement, but…. I’m a little disappointed with this collection. It’s still very good and enjoyable, but it doesn’t match the quality level that we found in Volume 3. The stories seem rather average here when looking back to the Project Pegasus and Serpent Society stories. We do get some memorable issues, but no great stories. 

Footnotes: Marvel Two-in-One #99 is not reprinted in this collection. This issue features a team-up with the ROM, who Marvel no longer controls the publishing rights for to include in reprints.

Who’s Who:
Marvel Two-In-One #78 – The Thing & Wonder Man
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #6 – The Thing & American Eagle
Marvel Two-In-One #79 – The Thing & Blue Diamond
Marvel Two-In-One #80 – The Thing & Ghost Rider / Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 3.
Marvel Two-In-One #81 – The Thing & Sub-Mariner
Marvel Two-In-One #82 – The Thing & Captain America
Marvel Two-In-One #83 – The Thing & Sasquatch
Marvel Two-In-One #84 – The Thing & Alpha Flight
Marvel Two-In-One #85 – The Thing & Spider-Woman  
Marvel Two-In-One #86 – The Thing & Sandman
Marvel Two-In-One #87 – The Thing & Ant-Man
Marvel Two-In-One #88 – The Thing & She-Hulk
Marvel Two-In-One #89 – The Thing & the Human Torch
Marvel Two-In-One #90 – The Thing & Spider-Man
Marvel Two-In-One #91 – The Thing & the Sphinx
Marvel Two-In-One #92 – The Thing & Jocasta
Marvel Two-In-One #93 – The Thing & Machine Man
Marvel Two-In-One #94 – The Thing & Power Man and Iron Fist
Marvel Two-In-One #95 – The Thing & the Living Mummy
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #7 – The Thing & Champion
Marvel Two-In-One #96 – The Thing & the Marvel Universe
Marvel Two-In-One #97 – The Thing & Iron Man 
Marvel Two-In-One #98 – The Thing & Franklin Richards
Marvel Two-In-One #100 – The Thing & Ben Grimm

If you like this volume, try: The Thing series that started following the cancellation of Marvel Two-in-One. John Byrne, who was overseeing the Fantastic Four title during this era, was asked to take on Marvel Two-in-One. While Byrne found Ben Grimm to be an interesting character, the stories he had in mind did not necessarily need a guest star each month. So the decision was made to bring Marvel Two-in-One to an end, and relaunch the book as The Thing with a #1 issue. The series ran for 36 issues and can be broken down into three arcs. The first arc covered the first ten issues, looking into Ben’s past and his relationships with his teammates and Alicia. The second arc went from issue #11 to #22, as Ben chose to stay on Battleworld following the end of the original Secret Wars. The final arc from #23 to #36 has Ben back on Earth, but not part of the Fantastic Four. Instead, he spends time traveling around the country and spends some time as a professional wrestler. The first and second arcs have been recently reprinted in The Thing Classic trade paperbacks, although many of the original issues should be easily found in back-issue bins.

Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 3

ghostrider3First Published: November 2009

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

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

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

Story Continues In: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 2

Story Continues From: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 4

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

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

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

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

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