Essential Daredevil Vol. 6

First Published: November 2013

Contents: Daredevil #126 (October 1975) to #146 (June 1977); Daredevil Annual #4 (1976); Iron Man #88 (July 1976) and #89 (August 1976); and Ghost Rider #19 (August 1976) and #20 (October 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, Jim Shooter, Chris Claremont, Archie Goodwin, Bob Brown, John Buscema, John Byrne, Sal Buscema, Gil Kane, George Tuska, and others

Key First Appearances: Heather Glenn, Brock Jones/Torpedo, Blake Tower, Bullseye

Story Continues From: Essential Daredevil Vol. 5

Overview: By now, I think we all know the Daredevil story. Blinded as a youth, Matt Murdock’s other senses have been heightened, allowing him to do spectacular feats beyond that of a normal man. Whether fighting crime on the streets at night or defending clients in court during the day, he is the Man Without Fear – Daredevil! This is Essential Daredevil Vol. 6.

Now at this point with the collection, Daredevil has been in business for over 10 years. Maybe it’s time for a change, to shake things up for the characters. For starters, let’s get the law firm of Nelson & Murdock out of their fancy offices. Instead, we are going to have them open up a storefront legal clinic in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen, where anyone can walk in off the street to discuss their legal problems. Let’s also introduce a new girlfriend, Heather Glenn, for Matt. A free spirit that makes you question what color the sky is in her world. (Given that this is a black & white collection, the answer should be white, but you never quite know how she might answer that question.) But just when things are getting comfortable between Heather and Matt, who should return but former romantic interest and secretary Karen Page.

Maybe we can add some new faces to the rogues’ gallery? In shoots Torpedo – but is he a hero or a villain. Or both?Then there is the new assassin known as Bullseye. He never misses regardless what the weapon is in his hands. But fans like the old foes too, so let’s bring in the likes of the Owl, Cobra, and Mr. Hyde. And being the in the Marvel Universe, you know you will have to cross paths with some other heroes, such as Iron Man, Black Panther, Namor, and Ghost Rider.

But Daredevil still shines brightest when he is a hero for the common man. Stopping a runaway bus, finding a lost boy in the big city, dealing with crooked cops, and the other challenges that come up from time to time. Going toe-to-toe with the villain of the month may sell comics, but protecting his city defines the man.

What makes this Essential?: I’ve got mixed opinions for this collection. Part of me says this is essential simply for the character introductions. Heather Glenn would be a long-time romantic interest for Matt. The Torpedo was a C-List hero but became a key part of the ROM book. District Attorney Blake Tower would become a fixture in many Marvel books, such as Amazing Spider-Man. Bullseye would become one of the most important Daredevil villains of all time, especially given the events during the Frank Miller run.

But…. these stories just seem very average. Marv Wolfman writes the majority of the stories in this collection, but I don’t feel like this is his best work. This was doing the era when Wolfman was also serving as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, so it makes sense that this title may not have had his full attention. I want this to be a stronger title, given the list of creators attached to these issues.

Footnotes: Ghost Rider #19 & #20, and Daredevil #138 are also reprinted in Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: Brian Michael Bendis’ legendary run on Daredevil in the early 2000s. I’ve previously recommended the Miller run, the Kevin Smith run, and the Mark Waid run with the Man Without Fear. It makes sense to cover the Bendis run, as he takes Matt Murdock and friends in a whole new direction. Bendis really makes this a psychological examination of what makes the hero, dragging him down to his lowest point ever. The Kingpin returns as the main protagonist for Daredevil, as well as the Owl and Bullseye. The highlight of the run is Matt Murdock being outed as Daredevil and forced to defend his name in court in a desperate attempt to maintain the dual identities. This series has been collected multiple times in trade paperbacks, hardcovers, and omnibus editions, so it should be easy to track down.

Essential Avengers Vol. 9

First Published: September 2013

Contents: Avengers #185 (July 1979) to #206 (April 1981); Avengers Annual #9 (1979); and the Vision story from Tales to Astonish #12 (November 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Steven Grant, Mark Gruenwald, David Michelinie, Jim Shooter, Bill Mantlo, John Byrne, George Pérez, Roger Stern, Carmine Infantino, and others

Key First Appearances: Magda Lehnsherr, Taskmaster

Story Continues From: Essential Avengers Vol. 8

Overview: Did you think that Vol. 8 was incredible? Well, you are in for a special treat because Essential Avengers Vol. 9 reaches all new level of awesomeness. 

The book begins with Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch returning to Wundagore Mountain. Being used as pawns for Modred the Mystic, who was controlled himself by the demon Chthon, the rest of the Avengers come running to the rescue. Before it’s over, Wanda learns some more information about her birth mother, Magda, who apparently was married to a magnetic white-haired man who is always causing problems in the X-Men books. That’s going to make for an interesting family reunion in the future.

Once the Avengers finally make it back to the United States, after a quick stop in Russia to fight some deadly elements, the team finds itself finally free of Henry Peter Gyrich and the government restrictions. The first change has the Avengers increasing their numbers, bringing back Hawkeye and Wonder Man among others. Falcon leaves, because he never really fit in with this group and not particularly wanting to be the quota member of the team. Wasp, Yellowjacket, and guest star Ant-Man investigate the Solomon Institute, where they encounter a new villain by the name of Taskmaster. He has photographic reflexes, which allows him to replicate moves or actions from anyone he sees. Armed with a sword, shield, and bow & arrow, he becomes a worthy foe for the mighty Avengers.

We are quickly moving forward to Avengers #200. But before we can get there, the Avengers must stop Red Ronin from destroying New York City. For those not familiar with the giant robot, Red Ronin was designed by S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop Godzilla, so it’s going to take every available Avenger to stop the construct. Well, almost everyone is involved. Everyone except Ms. Marvel, who finds herself on an unplanned maternity leave. But more on that later…

Post issue #200, we finally get the one Avengers story that fans have been clamoring for – a solo Jarvis story. Jarvis takes on a neighborhood bully while visiting his mom, reminding us that he has done a lot more with his life than just serve as a butler to the Stark family. While this is going on, Ultron has returned with plans for world domination and killing his dad, Henry Pym. Some things never change!

What makes this Essential?: I wrote this for my review of Volume 8, and I will write it again: The artwork of George Pérez and John Byrne looks spectacular in black & white. It’s worth the cover price of this book just to see their artwork like this. There are interesting stories which will impact the Marvel Universe for years to come. But the reason to get this book is the art!

I got 200 problems but the cover ain’t one: So about Avengers #200…. There are positives to this book, primarily found with the outstanding art from George Pérez. But the story is a train wreck, perhaps with too many writers trying to tell a story. In issue #197, Carol Danvers a.k.a. Ms. Marvel suddenly finds herself pregnant. Over the next two issues, her pregnancy takes just days, not months, as she quickly comes to full term for issue #200. Carol gives birth to a boy, who is named Marcus. Much like the pregnancy, Marcus rapidly grows to adulthood in just hours, revealing himself to be the son of the long-time (pun intended) foe of the Avengers, Immortus. Marcus was trapped in Limbo following the death of Immortus, and his only way to escape was to be “born” in the world. So he had brought Ms. Marvel to limbo to impregnate her. As if this wasn’t bad enough, once the Avengers stop all of the time issues occurring brought on by Marcus’ equipment, Ms. Marvel volunteers to go back to Limbo with Marcus. The issue ends, and everyone seems OK with everything that has happened, right?

So, this issue gets resolved in Avengers Annual #10, which can be found in Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1. The Avengers find out that Ms. Marvel has returned from Limbo, and she has lost her powers to Rogue. When Rogue and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants have been stopped, Carol Danvers gets the chance to unload on the Avengers, who turned a blind eye to the fact that Marcus mind-controlled Carol and raped her with his actions. No one came to her defense. No one thought twice about her returning to Limbo with Marcus. Annual writer Chris Claremont was not happy with issue #200 and used this issue as a way to address, if not repair, the damage previously done.

If you like this volume, try: the Avengers/JLA mini-series from 2003, a joint collaboration between DC Comics and Marvel Comics. The crossover was originally conceived in the late 1970s, to be written by Gerry Conway and art by George Pérez. However, editorial disputes between the two companies shelved the project for nearly 20 years. When the new project was introduced, it was then Avengers writer Kurt Busiek attached the project, and Pérez was brought back for the pencils, as he had a clause in his Crossgen-exclusive contract which allowed him to do this project if it ever came to fruition. In this new series, Krona and the Grandmaster challenge each other to a wager, using the Avengers and the Justice League as their pawns. As with any crossover of this magnitude, the teams travel to the other characters’ universes, and the typical match-ups between similar characters (Flash/Quicksilver, Green Arrow/Hawkeye) live up to every fanboy’s dream. For me, as a life-long reader of each title, this is a must read if you are a fan of the Silver Age and/or Bronze Age runs of both the Avengers and the Justice League of America.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 11

spiderman11First Published: June 2012

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #231 (August 1982) to #248 (January 1984); and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (1982) and #17 (1983)

Key Creator Credits: Roger Stern, Bill Mantlo, John Romita Jr., Bob Hall, Ron Frenz, Ed Hannigan, and others

Key First Appearances: Monica Rambeau/Captain Marvel, Hobgoblin

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 10

Overview: OK, if you have been following along at home, so far I have written five reviews for Essential Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, four volumes of Essential Marvel Team-Up, and this will be the eleventh volume of Essential Spider-Man, highlighting the run in Amazing Spider-Man. So on the off-chance I repeat myself at any point in this review, just understand that there is a good reason why I might re-use a joke or line. Because if comics has taught me anything, it’s that you re-use whatever works best as many times as you can!

As we left off with the last collection, these issues are primarily done by writer Roger Stern and artist John Romita Jr. For as many good teams that have worked on Spider-Man over the years, this may be one of my favorite creator teams to ever work on Amazing Spider-Man. In these stories, Peter Parker is focusing on his photo-journalism work for the Daily Bugle. In his personal life, we see Mary Jane Watson becoming more of a potential romantic interest for Peter, but she’s not the only one.

The highlight of this volume has to be the introduction of the Hobgoblin. Someone has discovered one of Norman Osborn’s secret labs and has modified the Green Goblin identity for his own purposes. It makes for an intriguing storyline (not really seen since the time the Green Goblin was first introduced) as Peter (and the readers) try to unravel the identity of this new costumed villain. The Hobgoblin became a break-out star in the Spider-Man books, building up over a year’s time to a fiery conclusion.

Another character introduction comes with a familiar name, as Roger Stern and the John Romitas (Sr. and Jr.) gave us Monica Rambeau, the new Captain Marvel. Obviously, Marvel did this as a way to maintain the rights to Captain Marvel, keeping it away from DC Comics. This Captain Marvel was able to transform into any form of energy and developed into a strong character even after she ceded the Captain Marvel name, becoming first Photon and then Pulsar. While introduced in the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, Stern would bring her onto the Avengers team during his five-year run on that title.

One of my all-time favorite Spider-Man stories comes at the end of this collection, with “The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man” from Amazing Spider-Man #248. This came during Marvel’s infamous Assistant Editor’s Month when many titles decided to have fun with issues that month. But we get an incredibly touching backup story from Roger Stern and Ron Frenz. Spider-Man pays a visit to a young boy named Tim, who claims to be Spider-Man’s biggest fan. Peter shows off for Tim, answers some questions, and then shares with Tim his secret identity. It’s only an 11-page story, but I still tear up every time I read this.

What makes this Essential?: I really enjoyed this volume. Obviously, the introduction of Hobgoblin was significant at the time, but it seems diminished now looking back on it more than 30 years later. John Romita Jr’s art really shines in the black and white format, and I believe Roger Stern is a criminally underrated writer who doesn’t get the proper recognition he deserves. Stern helps usher in a new era to Spider-Man and Peter Parker in particular, moving his away from his graduate studies and focusing more on his photojournalism work.

If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin trade paperback. My biggest complaint is that this collection stopped three issues too short. This book needed to include Amazing Spider-Man #249 to #251, which would have wrapped up not only the Hobgoblin storyline (for now) but also the red-and-blue costume era as the black symbiote costume is introduced in #252. The Hobgoblin story had been building for a year, causing a lot of speculation as to the identity of the villain. If you can’t track down the individual issues, find this trade paperback to complete the story.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 9

ff9First Published: August 2013

Contents: Fantastic Four #184 (July 1977) to #188 (November 1977) and #190 (January 1978) to #207 (June 1979); and Fantastic Four Annual #11 (1977) and #12 (1978)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, George Pérez, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Keith Pollard, Bob Hall, and others

Key First Appearances: Nicholas Scratch, Salem’s Seven (Bructacus, Gazelle, Hydron, Reptilla, Vakume, and Vertigo), Adora, Nova Prime

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8

Overview: This is it! The day we thought would never happen. The Fantastic Four have broken up. The Four is no more. Good thing this is the ninth and final volume of Essential Fantastic Four,.

When we left off with the last volume, the Fantastic Four was at a crossroads. Reed Richards is powerless. Now at other times when the team has been down one member, they simply recruit another member to fill the spot. Not this time. Nope, time to disband the team and go their separate ways. Let’s give up the lease on the Baxter Building and move on. Johnny tries driving race cars, Ben becomes a test pilot, Sue goes to Hollywood to star in a movie, and Reed joins a think tank. And everyone lived happily ever after, right?

As luck would have it, the individual stories eventually merge into one storyline, bringing the foursome back together. Seems like Reed has been working on a project for a mysterious benefactor that turns out to be none other than Doctor Doom. This leads to Reed being launched into space to be exposed to cosmic rays once again, leading to predictable results. Reed returns to Earth in his stretchable form and leads the team to stop Doom from taking over the world.

The volume comes to the conclusion with the start of the Skrull-Xandar war, which was also featured in the final issues of the Nova series. Unfortunately, neither Essential book contains the full storyline. You need to track down the Nova Classic Vol. 3 trade paperback to get the full story if you can’t find the individual issues.

What makes this Essential?: I admit I am very partial to this era, as I was reading the Fantastic Four on and off as these issues came out in the late 1970s. Honestly, this build-up to issue #200 is a good Doctor Doom story, a character that had not been used much in the pages of Fantastic Four for some time. Personally, I think that helped recapture some of the nostalgia of the Lee-Kirby era with this big storyline. Marv Wolfman really gets these characters and doesn’t get the credit he probably deserves for his work on Fantastic Four. This would be a near perfect collection if it didn’t force us to track down the finish to the Nova storyline.

Footnotes: Fantastic Four #189 is a reprint issue of Fantastic Four Annual #4, which was reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3. The new cover to Fantastic Four #189 is included in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: John Byrne’s legendary run from 1981 (Fantastic Four #232) to 1986 (Fantastic Four #295). Byrne did a stint as the artist on the book shortly after the end of this Essential volume, but those issues were still written by Marv Wolfman and Bill Mantlo. Byrne got a two-issue try out in #220 and #221 where he wrote and drew the issue. But beginning with issue #232, Byrne took over as the regular writer and artist on the “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine”. The book was really revitalized under Byrne’s direction and reaches new creative levels not seen since the days of Jack and Stan. This run has been collected in two Omnibus editions and multiple Visionaries volumes. If you are a fan of the Fantastic Four, you should own a set of these issues in your collection.

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.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8

ff8First Published: May 2010

Contents: Fantastic Four #160 (July 1975) to #179 (February 1977) and #181 (April 1977) to #183 (June 1977); Fantastic Four Annual #11 (June 1976); Marvel Two-in-One #20 (October 1976); and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #1 (October 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, John Buscema, George Pérez, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema, Bill Mantlo, and others

Key First Appearances: Crusader, Frankie Raye, Captain Ultra, Texas Twister

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 9

Overview: Pay attention people! There are a lot of moving parts in this book, and if you skip a page, you might be totally lost. We’ve got multiple Reed Richards and Johnny Storms and Things, but only one Sue Richards. And if you look closely, you will see some familiar faces in the Marvel Bullpen, with Stan, Jack, George, Roy and more. All of this and more in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8.

The book starts out with a three-way war between different universes. One of those universes features a Fantastic Four where Reed Richards gained the powers (and rocky outlook) of the Thing when they were exposed to the cosmic rays. There’s another Johnny flying around too in this battle, so keep an eye out for him.

An eventful moment in the history of the team followed a unique team-up between the Thing and the Hulk. As the two were skipping around the midwest, the Hulk’s gamma-radiated body counter-acted the Thing’s cosmic-radiated body and turned him back into Ben Grimm. Faced with the requirement to maintain four powered members on the active roster, Reed recruits Luke Cage, the hero for hire, to serve as a member of the team. Luke’s stay with the team is short, thanks to the shenanigans of the Puppet Master, but it gave Reed enough time to finish an exoskeleton Thing suit for Ben to wear and regain his place in the team. However, we realize about this time that Ben is not the only one without a power loss, as Reed’s stretching ability is starting to weaken, causing him great pain when he uses his abilities.

Next, a time-travel story that teams the Fantastic Four with the Invaders and the Liberty Legion during the days of World War II. The team no sooner returns to 1976 before they find themselves caught up in a showdown between the High Evolutionary and Galactus. The world devourer is seeking to consume the High Evolutionary’s Counter-Earth, and the FF is sent out to seek out a suitable replacement world to sustain Galactus. One is found, but it comes with a cost – the return of the Impossible Man.

Upon their return to Earth and a wild romp through the Marvel Comics offices, the Fantastic Four must stop the latest recruitment drive for the Frightful Four being held at their own headquarters in the Baxter Building. Despite the aid of Tigra, Thundra, and the Impossible Man, the Frightful Four are able to best the team with their new recruit, the Brute, who is actually the Reed Richards from Counter-Earth. The Frightful Four are defeated, but the Counter-Earth Richards replaces his counterpart as leader of the Fantastic Four, banishing our Reed Richards to the Negative Zone. The team soon realizes that the Reed leading their team is not the Reed they know and love, and they go out in search of their missing friend, but not before they encounter Annihilus.

What makes this Essential?: Once again, I wrestled with how I wanted to review this book. The end of this book is the exact era when I started reading Fantastic Four issues off of the newsstands. So I am trying to not allow my childhood nostalgia of the title cloud my objective review of this collection. I like this better than the previous Essential volume, so that is a plus. I think Roy Thomas finally started to understand the possibilities of what he could do with the characters and began working on the characters and concepts that most interested him. The art is superb, whether it comes from either of the Buscemas, Perez, or the underrated Rich Buckler. But….. I still don’t think these stories live up to the moniker of “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine.” I would rather be reading the Lee-Kirby issues or skip ahead to the John Byrne run.

Footnotes: Fantastic Four Annual #11, Marvel Two-in-One Annual #1 and Marvel Two-in-One #20 are also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1.

Fantastic Four #180 is a reprint issue of Fantastic Four #101, which was reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5. The new cover to Fantastic Four #180 is included in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: the 2011 Impossible Man trade paperback, collecting many of the green hero’s more memorable appearances. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in Fantastic Four #11, the character was quickly forgotten about when the bad feedback came in from the readers. He sat dormant for nearly 15 years before writer Roy Thomas brought him back in Fantastic Four #176, making him a supporting character for the next few years in the FF title. In the 1980s, the Impossible Man started expanding into other parts of the Marvel Universe, crossing paths with the likes of Spider-Woman, the New Mutants, and the Silver Surfer. In many ways, you could consider the Impossible Man to be the Marvel equivalent to Bat-Mite or Mr. Mxyzptlk, as the annoying character that can do most anything to vex the star of the title. This trade paperback collects many of those fun appearances.

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 4

spectacular_spiderman_4First Published: August 2009

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #75 (February 1983) to #96 (November 1984); and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #4 (1984)

Key Creator Credits: Bill Mantlo, Al Milgrom, Jim Mooney, Fred Hembeck, and others

Key First Appearances: Answer

Story Continues From: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 5

Overview: With the last volume, I criticized Marvel for ending that book in the middle of the Doctor Octopus-Owl gang war. As disappointing as it was to finish Volume 3 that way, it also means that this volume starts off right in the middle of the action. So let’s get into the stories!

In case you are unfamiliar with this title, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS)  is part of the ongoing story-arc of Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe. Each of the various books from this era had a set of characters they would use, with Peter, MJ, and Black Cat being in the center of the Spider-Man Venn diagram.

As mentioned earlier, we start off in the middle of the gang war between the Owl and Doctor Octopus, both underrated villains in my humble opinion. While both are taken out, you know they will both be back again to cause trouble for Spider-Man.

I love that this book gets to feature multiple return appearances by Cloak & Dagger, the drug-triggered mutants who made their debut in the last volume. While Cloak and Dagger remain focused on ridding New York City of the drug traffic, their methods often put themselves at odds with our title hero. Another anti-hero crosses through this title is the Punisher, who is finally brought to trial for his many incidents. The Punisher is sentenced to prison, which led to his own mini-series, followed quickly by his ongoing series.

As with the Amazing Spider-Man book in this era, we see the Kingpin pulling a lot of strings in the background, with the Rose and the Answer being in the forefront. Kingpin still remains a thorn in the side of Spider-Man on many levels, in particular when the Kingpin aids the Black Cat in giving her powers to allow her to be equal to Spider-Man during their adventures. The Black Cat gets a “bad luck” aura about her, causing bad things to happen to people around her trying to threaten her.

The final issues in this collection feature the return of Spider-Man in his black costume following his adventures on Battleworld. The costume is slick and new and alive, although he won’t find out about the “alive” bit for a few months.

What makes this Essential?: I really like the direction that PPTSS took during this era. It finally feels like the book is now the equal to Amazing Spider-Man and not just a secondary book on the stands. The Marvel Bullpen more evenly coordinated storylines between the books, along with Marvel Team-Up, to create a near-seamless story arc for Peter Parker, yet each title could be read on its own. Creators Bill Mantlo and Al Milgrom had a great run in this era that doesn’t get enough recognition. I think it worth the pick-up, if for no other reason than to revisit the Black Costume storyline post-Secret Wars, which the Essential Spider-Man and Essential Marvel Team-Up series never reached.

Footnotes: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #81, #82, and #83 were also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: The Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archives Omnibus collection from 2008. While there are many interesting storylines in this volume, the highlight of this Essential was Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #86, featuring art by Fred Hembeck. This issue was part of the Assistant Editor’s Month – while the editors went to San Diego Comic Con, the assistant editors were left in charge for a month and hi-jinx ensued. We got the Avengers appearing on David Letterman; Aunt May and Franklin Richards teaming-up to stop Galactus; and Steve Rogers’ girlfriend Bernie Rosenthol becoming a new super-hero. With this issue of Peter Parker, the story remained true, but Hembeck was brought in to do the art in his very distinctive art-style. Hembeck has been a long-time fixture in the comic scene, offering a humorous look at Marvel and DC characters. In the 1970s, he contributed a comic strip to the Daily Planet pages at DC. In the 1980s, he was a regular contributor to the Marvel Age comic. In 2008, Image Comics put out this trade paperback collection of Hembeck’s fanzine and self-published work. It’s 900 over-sized pages, printed in black and white with the same paper quality of the Essentials, collecting most of Hembeck’s work to that date. With a MSRP of $24.99, it’s an incredible bargain. Give this book a read, and check out Hembeck’s eBay store to get an original sketch.