Essential Avengers Vol. 2

EssentiaL Avengers Vol. 2

EssentiaL Avengers Vol. 2

First Published: June 2000

Contents: Avengers #25 (February 1966) to #46 (November 1967), King-Size Avengers #1 (September 1967), and the Ant-Man story from Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Don Heck, and John Buscema

Key First Appearances: Goliath, Collector, Bill Foster, Sons of the Serpent, Living Laser, Red Guardian, Whirlwind

Story Continues From: Essential Avengers Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Avengers Vol. 3

Overview: The Avengers legacy continues in this second Essential edition. The line-up of Cap’s Quirky Quartet (Captain America, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver) are the core line-up in this volume, but we see the return of the Wasp and Giant-Man, who soon adopts the new identity of Goliath.  In addition, the Greek demi-god Hercules becomes a long-term guest of the Avengers before finally being named a member of the team in issue #45. Hawkeye petitions the team to admit his girlfriend Black Widow to the team, but she would not officially join the team for many years.

In this era, stories start being stretched out over multiple issues, becoming grander in scope. New villains are introduced, such as the Collector, Whirlwind and the Living Laser; existing villains such as Dr. Doom, Dragon Man and Attuma are imported from other titles; and familiar villains like Enchantress and the Executioner are still causing trouble.

What makes this Essential?: Quite honestly, these stories are very pedestrian. When fans make lists of their favorite Avengers stories, these issues do not make the cut. However, I think this volume is key because of two creators who begin their long residency at Avengers Mansion.

Roy Thomas was the first of many fans to join the comic industry in the 1960s. Thomas was hired as a staff writer, taking over many books that had been written by Stan Lee since issue #1. Thomas took over with Avengers #35, which began a seven-year run on the title. Thomas’ long career has given him the chance to work on nearly every character, but his Avengers run, particularly the Kree-Skrull war, remains one of his best.

John Buscema provided much of the art during the Thomas era on the Avengers, and then later returned to the title in the 1980s for a memorable five-year run with Roger Stern.  In the 1960s, Buscema’s art-style was very similar in look and energy with Jack Kirby, and became the natural choice to take over the art duties on the Fantastic Four and Thor titles when Kirby left Marvel in 1970.

Footnotes: Beginning with issue #38, Tony Stark’s mansion is now referred to as Avengers Mansion for the first time.

If you like this volume, try: the Avengers: Mythos hardcover collection from 2012. Back in 2006, Marvel started releasing one-shots titled Mythos: <Character Name> written by Paul Jenkins. Characters featured included Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, Hulk, Spider-Man and the X-Men. Jump to early 2012, when Marvel started gearing up for the Avengers movie by putting out all kinds of comic books. One such line of books were five Avengers Origins comics, focusing on various members of the team (Ant Man and Wasp; Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver; Thor; Vision; and Luke Cage).  The hardcover released late in 2012 collects the five Avengers Origins comics, as well as the Captain America and Hulk Mythos issues. So outside of Iron Man and Hawkeye, this gives the reader a modern retelling of the early days of mid-1960s Avengers.

Essential Captain America Vol. 1

Essential Captain America Vol. 1

Essential Captain America Vol. 1

First Published: March 2000

Contents: Captain America stories from Tales of Suspense #59 (November 1964) to #99 (March 1968), Captain America #100 (April 1968) to #102 (June 1968), and a story from Captain America Comics #5 (August 1941)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Key First Appearances: Batroc the Leaper, Sharon Carter/Agent 13, Peggy Carter, Super-Adaptoid, Agent Axis, M.O.D.O.K., Fourth Sleeper, Exiles

Story Continues In: Essential Captain America Vol. 2

Overview: Following his triumphant re-introduction to the Marvel Universe, Captain America leaps into an ongoing feature in Tales of Suspense, sharing the book with his fellow Avenger, Iron Man.  After issue #99, Iron Man left for his own monthly book, and Tales of Suspense was renamed Captain America, continuing the numbering from Tales of Suspense.

As with many Silver Age stories of the era, familiar plot points are brought up issue and issue. Steve Rogers is a stranger in a strange land, trying to acclimate himself into a new era. Memories of his deceased sidekick Bucky haunt Captain America, not only in his dreams but also in the real world with his encounters with Rick Jones. And while evil has advanced to new levels, the faces behind them remain the same, with arch foes from World War II such as Baron Zemo and the Red Skull.

There is a stretch of issues in the first year of the Captain America feature that re-imagine the Simon & Kirby Captain America stories from the 1940s, giving the new comic readers of 1964 a look back to the early days of the character. As the storyline progressed, new allies and threats were introduced that would become mainstays for years to come. The blonde beauty Sharon Carter was introduced, who at the time was the younger sister of Peggy Carter, one of Captain America’s wartime associates. As we got to see more of S.H.I.E.L.D., a comparative rival organization sprung up by the name of A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics). From the A.I.M. labs come the living computer M.O.D.O.K., and the first appearance of the Cosmic Cube.

What makes this Essential?: It’s hard to say anything negative about a Stan Lee and Jack Kirby story. These are decent stories, but not exceptional stories. There are many issues that felt like a repeat of the previous issues – whether that was intentional or accidental, I don’t know. I think the best way to read this would be concurrently with Essential Avengers Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. The first story in this volume came out the same month that Avengers #10 did, so pick up there and alternate reading the stories between the two volumes. Both sets of stories make references to events in the other book, and the Avengers make numerous appearances in the Captain America stories in Tales of Suspense.

Footnotes: In the credits for this book, the Golden Age Captain America story is attributed to Captain America Comics #10, written by Stan Lee and art by Joe Simon. However, the ComicBookDB website and the Grand Comics Database website both attribute the story to Captain America Comics #5, written and drawn by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
The family relationship between Peggy Carter and Sharon Carter has changed over the years, as the stories moved further and further away from the fixed time-point of World War II (1939-1945). Initially, Peggy and Sharon were sisters. Later revisions made Peggy an aunt to Sharon, to allow for the greater difference in age if Peggy was to have served during World War II.

If you like this volume, try: the two Captain America: Winter Soldier trade paperbacks, that collected the first year of the 2005 relaunch of the Captain America title by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. Brubaker and Epting took Captain America back to the 1960s feel with a political espionage storyline with the Red Skull controlling things in the background. The Soviets have obtained a Cosmic Cube, and Captain America is brought in to clean things up. Along the way, Captain America comes face-to-face with the Winter Soldier, which turns out to be Steve Rogers’ worst nightmare come back to life. The Brubaker-Epting run on this title is one of the best Captain America story-arcs, and it all starts with these volumes. With the upcoming Captain America movie in 2014, these stories will become very popular to track down.

Essential Avengers Vol. 1

Essential Avengers Vol. 1

Essential Avengers Vol. 1

First Published: October 1998

Contents: Avengers #1 (September 1963) to #24 (January 1966)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Don Heck

Key First Appearances: Space Phantom, Lava Men, Heinrich Zemo/Baron Zemo, Nathan Garrett/Black Knight, Masters of Evil, Kang, Simon Williams/Wonder Man, Immortus, Count Nefaria, Maggia, Jacques Duquesne/Swordsman, Erik Josten/Power Man, Princess Ravonna,

Story Continues In: Essential Avengers Vol. 2

Overview: And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes and heroines found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were born — to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand! Through the years, their roster has prospered, changing many times, but their glory has never been denied! Heed the call, then — for now, the Avengers Assemble!

In an attempt to gain revenge against his step-brother, Loki creates a plot to force the Hulk to fight Thor. Along the way, Iron Man, Ant Man, and the Wasp join with Thor, before they realize that their true enemy is not the Hulk but rather Loki. From that point, the five heroes vow to ban together to form an unbeatable team. The Wasp suggests the Avengers name, and the rest is history.

Subsequent early issues will have the Hulk leaving the team and Captain America, the now living legend of World War II, joining the team, establishing a tradition of an ever-changing Avengers line-up. This is dramatically shown in issue #16, when the remaining founders take leave from the team and are replaced by a team of reformed criminals in Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch (dubbed Cap’s Quirky Quartet).

Several long-time Avenger foes are introduced with Kang, Immortus, and Baron Zemo and the changing lineup of his Masters of Evil. Future Avenger members Wonder Man (initially a villain, but reforms years later following his resurrection) and Swordsman make appearances in this volume.

What makes this Essential?: As much as the Fantastic Four title was in response to DC’s success with the Justice League of America title, the Avengers is the more comparable doppelganger to the JLA. The original members of the Avengers (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Ant Man and Wasp, Captain America) all were featured in other anthology books at the time. The Avengers gave the characters a second monthly appearance each month. The events in this title impacted the individual character’s stories in the anthology books, thereby building up the Marvel continuity in a unified comic universe. If Iron Man or Thor was absent from an issue, an editor’s note would drop a hint to the reader to check out that other book to see what was going on.

Also, given the success of recent movie franchise, this is a worthy look at the humble beginnings of the Avengers. While small details were changed, the basic idea of a band of heroes uniting to stop Loki remains the same.

If you like this volume, try: the Avengers Assemble Vol. 1 HC from Kurt Busiek and George Perez. This collection contains the first year of the 1998 relaunch of the Avengers title. While other individual Avengers stories may be more memorable, this series by Busiek-Perez is one of the greatest runs of Avengers stories. The story kicks off with reuniting all previous Avengers to stop Morgana Le Fay from remaking the Earth. The team then slims down to a more manageable line-up, with traditional mainstays (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch) and introducing new Avengers (Firestar, Justice, Triathalon).