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 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 Dazzler Vol. 2

Essential Dazzler Vol. 2

First Published: May 2009

Contents: Dazzler #22 (December 1982) to #42 (March 1986); Marvel Graphic Novel #12 (1984); Beauty and the Beast #1 (December 1984) to #4 (June 1985); and Secret Wars II #4 (October 1985)

Key Creator Credits: Frank Springer, Danny Fingeroth, Jim Shooter, Mike Carlin, Ann Nocenti, Don Perlin, Archie Goodwin, Paul Chadwick, Bill Sienkiewicz, and others

Story Continues From: Essential Dazzler Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 6

Overview: The Dazzler is back in action! (And a quick Google search confirms that those six words have never been used in that order before!) While still trying to make it as a singer, Dazzler finds herself constantly caught up in situations that require her to use her mutant powers. Whether battling the Sisterhood of Evil Mutants (Rogue, Mystique, and Destiny), fighting in an underground mutant gladiator arena in Los Angeles, or trashing the San Diego Comic Con, trouble just seems to find our title character.

This title suffers from a rotating creator team, as writers and artists shuffle in and out for a few issues at a time. That makes it a challenge for the next team to come in and pick up the story where it left off. So after a moderately successful run as a New York City singer, we find Allison moving to California, where the singing takes a back seat to gigs as a model and as an actress. She dates a variety of characters, like Roman Nekobah (a Frank Sinatra wannabe), for several issues, before the next writer introduces their own character.

While I wouldn’t call these standout moments, there are some familiar stories in here that may trigger some fuzzy memories:

  • First, Dazzler was one of the titles that participated in Assistant Editor’s Month. Dazzler took a side-trip to San Diego with Marvel editor Ralph Macchio and fought a mutant lizard. Yes, that happened.
  • Dazzler was the feature star of a Marvel Graphic Novel. Dazzler: The Movie was to be Allison’s big break in the acting business. Instead, it just outed her to the world as a mutant.
  • Dazzler teamed up with the Beast (who was leading the New Defenders at the time) for Beauty and the Beast, a four issue mini-series. Dazzler was recruited (and drugged) to participate in a mutant fight club, and it was up to Hank McCoy to help get her out.

Issue #38 gave us a new direction for our heroine. Sporting a new uniform, courtesy of the X-Men (and their cameo appearances), and featuring a new creative team of Archie Goodwin and Paul Chadwick, Dazzler finds herself being chased (pun intended) down by the bounty hunter, O.Z. Chase. Dazzler does her best to be cooperative with Chase to clear out what she believes is a misunderstanding, only to find out it’s a group wanting to use her powers to energize their aging bodies. As if that was not crazy enough, there is a side story where Allison finds herself the center of the Beyonder’s romantic interest. Right or wrong (but I’m leaning towards right), Dazzler was finally canceled with issue #42.

What makes this Essential?: What a change! I was very skeptical heading into Vol. 1. Let’s be honest, “Essential Dazzler” is one of the best oxymorons of all time. I’m not saying Vol. 1 is a great collection, but it turned out to be not as bad as I expected. (I think that’s a compliment.) So heading into Vol. 2, I had slightly higher expectations than before. And then I started reading. Oh my gosh, this was just…. not good. The stories were just all over the place. Lots of one-and-done stories, new supporting characters introduced every few issues; the most absurd romances for Allison; and way-too-many villains that were never used again. (Seriously, if the Scourge of the Underworld doesn’t bother to kill you, you know you are a lame villain.) Unless you are a completest like myself, I think you would be OK skipping this volume.

Life After Death: Dazzler’s title came to an end with issue #42 (March 1986). But she was not off the stage for very long. Later that summer, she joined up (finally!) with the X-Men, as the Mutant Massacre story came to an end. The X-Men found themselves short-handed, with injuries to Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde, and Colossus. So the team extends invites to Dazzler, Longshot, and Psylocke during this period. Dazzler would be a key member of the team for the remainder of the decade, before heading into the character limbo for most of the 1990s.

Footnotes: Beauty and the Beast #1-4 is also reprinted in Essential Defenders Vol. 7.

If you like this volume, try: Elektra: Assassin by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz from 1986-87. OK, I’ve laid out that this is not a collection of good stories. I don’t need to bang this drum anymore. But if there was one glimmer of light in this book, it would be the cover work by Bill Sienkiewicz. (And for those of you struggling with his name, it’s pronounced “sin-KEV-itch”.) Sienkiewicz rose in popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s with work on Moon Knight and New Mutants. In the mid-1980s, the artist collaborated with artist-turned-writer Miller to create a direct-market mini-series released under Marvel’s Epic line. At this time, both men were at their creative peaks, and the collaboration produced an elegant and powerful story in the vein of the “Manchurian Candidate”,which takes place…. sometime. It’s been a debate whether this takes place chronologically before her first appearance in the pages of Daredevil, or sometime after her encounter with Bullseye. Regardless when it takes place, this is a must own series for any fan of Miller, Sienkiewicz, and/or Elektra. Sienkiewicz’s career has been filled with outstanding projects, but this title always ranks at the top of his comic book accomplishments.