Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2

Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2

First Published: November 2008

Contents: Supernatural Thrillers #5 (August 1973), and #7 (June 1974) to #15 (October 1975); Brother Voodoo introduction from Tales of the Zombie #2 (October 1973), #6 (July 1974), and #10 (March 1975); Strange Tales #169 (September 1973) to #174 (June 1974), #176 (October 1974) and #177 (December 1974); Marvel Team-Up #24 (August 1974); Haunt of Horror #2 (July 1974) to #5 (January 1975); Monsters Unleashed #11 (April 1975); Marvel Two-In-One #11 (September 1975), #18 (August 1976), and #33 (November 1977); Marvel Chillers #1 (October 1975) and #2 (December 1975); Dead of Night #11 (August 1975); and Marvel Spotlight #26 (February 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Tony Isabella, Len Wein, Doug Moench, Mike Friedrich, Bill Mantlo, John Warner, Scott Edelman, Val Mayerik, Gene Colan, Tony Dezuniga, Sonny Trinidad, Billy Graham, and others

Key First Appearances: Living Mummy, Elementals (Hellfire, Hydron, Magnum, Zephyr), Asp, Jericho Drumm/Brother Voodoo, Daniel Drumm, Damballah, Black Talon, Gabriel/Devil-Hunter, Modred the Mystic, Chthon, Scarecrow (Straw Man)

Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1

Overview: Welcome back to more marvelous debuts of characters from the horror-themed titles of the 1970s. This volume features the first appearances of six characters of varying degrees of success.

  • First up is the Living Mummy. Awakened after 3,000 years, the Living Mummy finds himself adapting to the world of 1973, whether in the streets of New York City or in the deserts of Egypt.
  • Next up is Brother Voodoo, perhaps the most successful of the characters featured in this collection. Jericho Drumm returns to his home in Haiti. Caught up in a spiritual war, Drumm learns the secrets of the Loa and becomes Brother Voodoo. With the spirit of his deceased brother Daniel living in him, Brother Voodoo challenges zombies, ghosts, vampires, and villains.
  • Gabriel, Devil Hunter comes to us from the pages of the horror magazines. With one good eye, the former priest conducts exorcisms to draw out the demons inhabiting innocent souls.
  • Golem hearkens back to Jewish folklore, as a clay figure comes to life, powered by love. The Marvel Comics’ Golem has very few appearances. (If you are interested in reading a great story about a Golem, check out Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001.)
  • Modred the Mystic comes to us from King Arthur’s court. Modred was to become an apprentice to Merlin, but that tended to be red-shirt situation, if you catch my drift. He embarks on a path to explore the Darkhold, which casts him into suspended animation until he is revived in the 1970s.
  • Finally, the Scarecrow jumps out of a portrait to battle demons. (When he appeared later, he was renamed as Straw Man, to differentiate himself from the Silver Age villain known as Scarecrow.) I really want to write more about him, but there is not a lot to work with here.

What makes this Essential?: This is a book that can go either way — it’s a must-own book or it’s a do not own book. It’s all dependent on your personal tastes. I found that the Living Mummy and the Brother Voodoo stories worked the best, as we were given multiple issues to really dive into the characters. The other four characters each get 3-5 issues, which in most cases is not enough to really get a solid or favorable position on the character.

Personally, I might have preferred seeing more established Marvel Universe characters in this volume. For example, Greer Nelson debuted in the pages of The Cat in 1972. In 1974, she became Tigra in Giant-Size Creatures #1, followed up by a run in Marvel Chillers. She would later have stints in Fantastic Four and The Avengers (see the later Essential volumes of those titles), and has remained a fairly active character in the Marvel Universe since her introduction. This would have been a perfect showcase (pardon the use) for a female character, in a volume that is very male-centric to begin with. 

If any of the six featured characters interest you, then pick it up. If these characters do not interest you, stay far away from this book.

Footnotes: Marvel Two-in-One #11 and #18 were also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1.

Marvel Two-in-One #33 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2 and Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1.

Marvel Team-Up #24 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the 1980s Elementals series from Comico. The idea of characters with powers representing the basic elements is nothing new in comics. The argument could be made that the Fantastic Four is the best representation of this concept. In the Living Mummy stories in this collection, we see an actual team of adversaries called the Elementals. Over at DC Comics, a team of Elementals was introduced (but never used again) in the pages of Super Friends – see Showcase Presents Super Friends Vol. 1. But the greatest use of the concept came in 1984 at Comico, when Elementals #1 hit the comic book racks. The four characters that would comprise the Elementals (Vortex, Morningstar, Fathom, and Monolith) actually made their debut in the Justice Machine Annual #1 from 1983.  The basic set-up for Elementals is that the four element spirits find physical hosts (who have each recently died in that element) to help bring balance back to the universe due to the actions of the evil sorcerer Lord Saker. The book was written and drawn by Bill Willingham, many years before he became the grand storyteller of the Fables series. This is a really great series that sadly is not easily available today. Comico went through ownership changes and bankruptcy courts, and these characters have remained in limbo since the late 1990s. Comico released a trade paperback in 1988 collecting the initial story arc, but again, that is more than 25 years ago and its no longer in print. You might have to go to eBay or a really good back issue dealer to find these comics, but it’s well worth the hunt.

Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2

Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2

First Published: June 2007

Contents: Marvel Two-In-One #26 (April 1977) to #52 (June 1979); and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 (1977) and #3 (1978)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, John Byrne, Bill Mantlo, Jim Starlin, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Ron Wilson, and others

Key First Appearances: Machinesmith, Crossfire, Lord Chaos, Master Order

Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 1

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

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew, Ben Grimm, known better to the world as the Thing.

As with any team-up book, this is a very mixed collection of stories. Some stories are one-and-done, while others run across multiple issues. Sometimes editorial would step in and insert a filler issue into the run, as it had already been paid for yet not published. As a member of the Fantastic Four, Ben Grimm seems to be a nexus of events that happen in the Marvel Universe, which works to our benefit as readers!

There are some stand-out stories in this collection worth noting:

  • From issues #29 to #33, Ben Grimm and Alicia Masters travels to England, where they get caught up in the early adventures of the Jessica Drew Spider-Woman.
  • Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 is a continuation of a story started in Avengers Annual #7, with the Avengers battling Thanos. Regrettably, Marvel did not reprint the Avengers Annual in this collection, but it can be found in Essential Avengers Vol. 8 and in Essential Warlock Vol. 1.
  • Issue #47 has the Thing “teaming up” with the Yancy Street Gang, the gang which Ben was once a member of many years ago. Over the years, the gang has gone out of their way to play pranks and other tricks on Ben. But when the Thing is attacked, the Yancy Street Gang comes out of the shadows to protect one of their own.
  • Issue #50 was a fun meeting between the Thing and the Thing. Ben Grimm uses Dr. Doom’s time machine to travel back to the early days of the Fantastic Four. There he encounters himself during his lumpy clay phase. Of course, clobberin’ time ensues. This issue is written and penciled by John Byrne, marking one of his earliest encounters with a member of Marvel’s First Family of heroes. (Byrne also did the pencils on issue #43.)

What makes this Essential?: I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Team-Up Books are MUST OWN! This volume is unique with Marv Wolfman’s long run on the title. He had the chance to develop stories running across multiple issues, helping to invest the reader to return each month regardless of the guest star. There are some memorable moments that impacted the Marvel Universe – Spider-Woman’s beginnings, battle with Thanos – not normally seen in the typical team-up book. Please give this a read to understand while Ben Grimm is the idol of millions!

Footnotes: As noted in the review for Volume 1, the Fantastic Four and Alicia Masters make numerous appearances in these issues, and could be read side by side with the Fantastic Four title during this era – keep Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8 and Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 9 handy while reading this book.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
Marvel Two-In-One #26 – The Thing & Nick Fury
Marvel Two-In-One #27 – The Thing & Deathlok
Marvel Two-In-One #28 – The Thing & the Sub-Mariner
Marvel Two-In-One #29 – The Thing & Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1
Marvel Two-In-One #30 – The Thing & Spider-Woman / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1
Marvel Two-In-One #31 – The Thing & Mystery Menace (Alicia Masters) / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1
Marvel Two-In-One #32 – The Thing & Invisible Girl / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1
Marvel Two-In-One #33 – The Thing & Modred the Mystic / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2
Marvel Two-In-One #34 – The Thing & Nighthawk
Marvel Two-In-One #35 – The Thing & Skull the Slayer
Marvel Two-In-One #36 – The Thing & Mr. Fantastic
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 – The Thing & Spider-Man (with the Avengers) / Essential Avengers Vol. 8 / Essential Warlock Vol. 1
Marvel Two-In-One #37 – The Thing & Matt Murdock
Marvel Two-In-One #38 – The Thing & Daredevil
Marvel Two-In-One #39 – The Thing & the Vision
Marvel Two-In-One #40 – The Thing & Black Panther
Marvel Two-In-One #41 – The Thing & Brother Voodoo
Marvel Two-In-One #42 – The Thing & Captain America
Marvel Two-In-One #43 – The Thing & Man-Thing / Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #3 – The Thing & Nova / Essential Nova Vol. 1
Marvel Two-In-One #44 – The Thing & Hercules
Marvel Two-In-One #45 – The Thing & Captain Marvel
Marvel Two-In-One #46 – The Thing & the Incredible Hulk
Marvel Two-In-One #47 – The Thing & the Yancy Street Gang
Marvel Two-In-One #48 – The Thing & Jack of Hearts
Marvel Two-In-One #49 – The Thing & Dr. Strange
Marvel Two-In-One #50 – The Thing & the Thing
Marvel Two-In-One #51 – The Thing & the Beast, Ms. Marvel, Nick Fury, and Wonder Man
Marvel Two-In-One #52 – The Thing & Moon Knight / Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1

If you like this volume, try: tracking down a copy of Fantastic Four (vol. 3) #61 (November 2002). In this story by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo, Ben Grimm is once again the victim of the Yancy Street Gang – or so he thinks! Turns out that most of the pranks he has fallen for over the years were masterminded by Ben’s teammate, Johnny Storm. Finding a receipt for the shop that sent him the latest prank (a pie in the face), Ben stomps off in a mad rage, ready to clobberin’ time the guilty party. Johnny flies after Ben, trying to slow him down and get him to cool off. Ben finally reaches the address on the receipt to find a completely empty lot. He lumbers off, puzzled by how there could be a completely empty lot in the middle of New York City. Only after the fact does he realize it must have been the Invisible Girl hiding the business, saving the Fantastic Four a costly damage bill from another of Ben’s rampages. Waid proves once again why he is a master storyteller, and the energetic art from Wieringo – gone too soon – just leaps off the page. This is a fun story and worth the hunt in the back-issue bin.

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 3

First Published: March 2007

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #54 (May 1981) to #74 (January 1983); and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #3 (1981)

Key Creator Credits: Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Roger Stern, Ed Hannigan, Al Milgrom, Luke McDonnell, and others

Key First Appearances: Cloak, Dagger

Story Continues From: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS). This book remains a companion book to Amazing Spider-Man, but focuses primarily on Peter Parker and his collegiate life.

Once again, this volume breaks out into two separate sections, much like the Volume 2. The difference is we start out with the Roger Stern stories first. These stories are serviceable, but are generally one-and-done issues. The various “villain of the month” shows up to make Peter don the blue-and-red costume, with the occasional check-in with life on the ESU campus. During this run, the highlights of these issues may be the covers, as Frank Miller does many of the cover images.

The second section picks up with issue #61, as Roger Stern hands over writing duties on the title back to Bill Mantlo. (Stern gave up this title to take over the writing duties of Amazing Spider-Man.) Mantlo, working with artists such as Ed Hannigan and Jim Mooney, introduces a new tone to the title. It no longer feels like a secondary book to Amazing, but as a top-level book in its own right. Obviously, the biggest event in this volume occurs in issue #64, as Cloak and Dagger are introduced, becoming one of Marvel’s biggest surprises of the 1980s. The volume concludes with the start of a gang war between Doctor Octopus and the Owl, and it leaves us hanging with the final page return of the Black Cat.

What makes this Essential?: This may be the first volume in the series that is truly worth picking up. While there are teases to events ongoing in Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Team-Up, this book can be read as a self-contained series of issues. The writing is solid, as Bill Mantlo and Roger Stern have mastered the Spider-Man story formula. The art is decent, but not spectacular, if you will pardon the pun. My biggest complaint is that this volume ends with issue #74, which is right in the middle of the Doctor Octopus vs. Owl storyline. That story finally wrapped up in issue #79, so it might have pushed the limits to include it in here.

If you like this volume, try: the Cloak and Dagger mini-series from 1983. Written by Bill Mantlo with art by Rick Leonardi, the break-out stars from this volume of PPTSS jump over into their own four-issue series. We find our duo hiding in a church, where Father Delgado befriends the two. We get their origin – two runaways from different backgrounds arrive in New York City, They were taken into a shelter along with other runaways, and are given an experimental drug designed by the Maggia to be a replacement for heroin. The drug reacts with latent mutant genes in their bodies, mutating the two characters into the light and darkness personified. As a result, Cloak and Dagger make it their personal mission to take on the drug trade every chance they can. This series was released as a hardcover in 2009, so it should be easy to find.

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2

First Published: August 2006

Contents: Marvel Team-Up #25 (September 1974) to #51 (November 1976); and Marvel Two-in-One #17 (July 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema, Ron Wilson, and others

Key First Appearances: Jean DeWolff, Wraith

Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3

Overview: As a New York City-based character, Spider-Man continues to be the center of attention in the Marvel Universe, and in the pages of Marvel Team-Up, as seen in this second Essential volume.

As with the first volume, Marvel Team-Up partners the various Marvel characters with their most recognizable hero in Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man. While most of these stories are one-and-done, we do see some multiple-issue story arcs. Spider-Man moves from one team-up to the next, all as part of the same story. For example, see the Defenders story in issues #33-#35; a multi-part story focusing on the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in issues #41-#44; and the Iron Man arc from issues #48-#51. This last story arc introduced NYPD Captain Jean DeWolff, one of the few officers that recognize Spider-Man as a hero working with the police, and Jean’s brother-turned-villain, the Wraith.

The Human Torch makes the last of his appearances as the lead feature in Marvel Team-Up #36 in this Essential. However, the Human Torch would still cross paths three more times with Spider-Man in this title over the run of the book.

What makes this Essential?: Is this really an Essential title? Absolutely not, when looking at the significant moments of the characters’ life stories. However, this title, as well as the other team-up books from Marvel and DC, is the perfect way to introduce a new reader to a world of characters. From this volume, a reader could go explore the adventures of Iron Man, Thor, The Fantastic Four, The Defenders, The Avengers, Doctor Strange, Killraven, and many others. So give this a read and see what interests you next!

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
Marvel Team-Up #25 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
Marvel Team-Up #26 – Human Torch & Thor
Marvel Team-Up #27 – Spider-Man & the Hulk
Marvel Team-Up #28 – Spider-Man & Hercules
Marvel Team-Up #29 – Human Torch & Iron Man
Marvel Team-Up #30 – Spider-Man & Falcon
Marvel Team-Up #31 – Spider-Man & Iron Fist
Marvel Team-Up #32 – Human Torch & the Son of Satan / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #33 – Spider-Man & Nighthawk / Essential Defenders Vol. 2
Marvel Team-Up #34 – Spider-Man & Valkyrie / Essential Defenders Vol. 2
Marvel Team-Up #35 – Human Torch & Doctor Strange / Essential Defenders Vol. 2
Marvel Team-Up #36 – Spider-Man & the Frankenstein Monster
Marvel Team-Up #37 – Spider-Man & Man-Wolf
Marvel Team-Up #38 – Spider-Man & the Beast
Marvel Team-Up #39 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
Marvel Team-Up #40 – Spider-Man & the Sons of the Tiger
Marvel Team-Up #41 – Spider-Man & Scarlet Witch
Marvel Team-Up #42 – Spider-Man & the Vision
Marvel Team-Up #43 – Spider-Man & Doctor Doom
Marvel Team-Up #44 – Spider-Man & Moondragon
Marvel Team-Up #45 – Spider-Man & Killraven / Essential Killraven Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #46 – Spider-Man & Deathlok
Marvel Two-In-One #17 – The Thing & Spider-Man / Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #47 – Spider-Man & the Thing / Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #48 – Spider-Man & Iron Man
Marvel Team-Up #49 – Spider-Man & Iron Man 
Marvel Team-Up #50 – Spider-Man & Doctor Strange
Marvel Team-Up #51 – Spider-Man & Iron Man

If you like this volume, try: the Ultimate Marvel Team-Up series from 2001 & 2002. The Ultimate universe was created by Marvel in the early 2000s as a way to tell stories featuring their most popular characters without the 40+ years of continuity weighing them down. The stories mirrored many of the original character stories but told to match the modern society. For example, teenage Peter Parker did get a job at the Daily Bugle, but he was helping out on the paper’s website.  For Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, the entire series (16 issues and one special) is written by Brian Michael Bendis, with art from a variety of artists. These issues serve as a way to introduce many Marvel characters into the Ultimate Universe, so the first appearances of Ultimate Hulk, Ultimate Iron Man, Ultimate Daredevil, etc. My personal favorite was issue #14, where Spider-Man crossed paths with the Ultimate version of Black Widow. The art is done by Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise) who was the perfect choice to show teenage awkwardness of Peter against the sleek beauty of Natasha. The entire series has been reprinted multiple times in multiple formats, so it should not be a challenge to track these issues down.

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

First Published: February 2005

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #32 (July 1979) to #53 (April 1981); Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 (1979) and #2 (1980); Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13 (1979); and Fantastic Four #218 (May 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Roger Stern, John Romita, Jr., Mike Zeck, Marie Severin, and others

Key First Appearances: Marcy Kane, Dr. Morris Sloan, Steve Hopkins, Roderick Kingsley (Hobgoblin), Nathan Lubensky

Story Continues From: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

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

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS). This book remains a companion book to Amazing Spider-Man, but focuses primarily on Peter Parker and his collegiate life.

This volume breaks out into two separate sections – the first is written by Bill Mantlo, continuing the stories he started in Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1. Mantlo wraps up the Carrion storyline, but not before bringing in the Lizard, the Iquana, and the Swarm. Following another appearance by Morbius, Mantlo concludes this run of PPTSS with a crossover with Fantastic Four, another title he was writing at the time.

The second section picks up with issue #43, as Roger Stern takes over writing duties on the title. Stern brings back the Vulture and the White Tiger, and introduces two new characters into Peter Parker’s life – Nathan Lubensky would become a long-time tenant at Aunt May’s boarding house, and Roderick Kingsley, a background character in PPTSS, but will don the Hobgoblin costume when Stern moves over to Amazing Spider-Man.

What makes this Essential?: I really want to give this a strong recommendation. I do. I like to think of PPTSS as the little book that could. But, the simple fact remains that this title plays second fiddle to every other book that Spider-Man appears in each month. You need to be a hard-core Spider-Man fan to want this volume. The stories are not bad, per se. Some of them are quite good. But each issue just reminds the reader that there are other stories you should be reading, which can be found in the Essential Spider-Man and Essential Marvel Team-Up books.

Footnotes: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13 were also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man 9.

If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man newspaper comic strip, which started in January of 1977. Originally done by Stan Lee and John Romita, Sr., this was a syndicated comic strip that told stand-alone stories not set in the continuity of the Marvel Universe. Other comic notables, such as Larry Lieber, Paul Ryan, Alex Saviuk, Joe Sinnott, and Roy Thomas, have helped out on the strip over the years. There have been a few collections of the early years of the newspaper strip. If your local newspaper does not carry the strip, it can still be read online at several websites.

Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 1

Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 1

First Published: November 2005

Contents: Marvel Feature #11 (September 1973) and #12 (November 1973); Marvel Two-In-One #1 (January 1974) to #20 (October 1976); and #22 (December 1976) to #25 (March 1977); Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1 (October 1976); Marvel Team-Up #47 (July 1976); and Fantastic Four Annual #11 (July 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Roy Thomas, Bill Mantlo, Jim Starlin, Gil Kane, Sal Buscema, Ron Wilson, and others

Key First Appearances: Tarin, Blacksun

Story Continues In: Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 2

Overview: It’s Clobberin’ Time! Welcome to the solo adventures of Ben Grimm, one-quarter of the fabled Fantastic Four. Being the blue-eyed idol of millions is not easy, but the Thing pulls it off as he encounters all kinds of heroes across the Marvel Universe.

Marvel Two-In-One actually started in the pages of Marvel Feature. That title had been the starting point for the Defenders and had recently been home to Ant-Man & Wasp storyline. The final two issues of Marvel Feature featured Ben Grimm teaming up with the Hulk and Iron Man. The end of issue #12 promised a Thing team-up with Man-Thing in the next issue, but two months later, it was Marvel Two-in-One #1 that was on the newsstands. Marvel Two-in-One remained a bimonthly book until finally going monthly with issue #15.

The team-ups collected here are a mixed bag – some issues flow right into the next issue, adding another character into the mix. Other issues seem to come out of nowhere – perhaps a fill-in issue that had been sitting in a file cabinet somewhere in the Marvel bullpen. The Fantastic Four and Alicia Masters make numerous appearances in these issues, and could be read side by side with the Fantastic Four title during this era – keep Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7 and Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8 handy while reading this book.

What makes this Essential?: This is a great book to give to any reader, young or old, to introduce the Marvel Universe. Ben Grimm is the “everyman” of the Marvel U, — there are numerous logical connections that help make sense of Ben teaming up with diverse characters such as Thor, Man-Thing, Golem, and the Black Widow. While a lot of familiar Marvel writers and artists took turns on this book, the notable name to look for here is Ron Wilson. Ron’s first issue was #12, and he remained one of the main artists on the title for the remainder of the book’s run, as well as the follow-up series, The Thing

Footnotes: Marvel Two-In-One #21 is not included in this Essential volume. That issue teamed the Thing up with Doc Savage. Marvel no longer holds the rights to publish Doc Savage, so it could not be included in this Essential.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
Marvel Feature #11 – The Thing & the Hulk
Marvel Feature #12 – The Thing & Iron Man / Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 2
Marvel Two-In-One #1 – The Thing & Man-Thing
Marvel Two-In-One #2 – The Thing & Sub-Mariner
Marvel Two-In-One #3 – The Thing & Daredevil / Essential Daredevil Vol. 5
Marvel Two-In-One #4 – The Thing & Captain America
Marvel Two-In-One #5 – The Thing & the Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel Two-In-One #6 – The Thing & Doctor Strange / Essential Defenders Vol. 2
Marvel Two-In-One #7 – The Thing & Valkyrie / Essential Defenders Vol. 2
Marvel Two-In-One #8 – The Thing & Ghost Rider
Marvel Two-In-One #9 – The Thing & Thor
Marvel Two-In-One #10 – The Thing & Black Widow
Marvel Two-In-One #11 – The Thing & the Golem / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2
Marvel Two-In-One #12 – The Thing & Iron Man
Marvel Two-In-One #13 – The Thing & Power Man
Marvel Two-In-One #14 – The Thing & the Son of Satan / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1
Marvel Two-In-One #15 – The Thing & Morbius
Marvel Two-In-One #16 – The Thing & Ka-Zar
Marvel Two-In-One #17 – The Thing & Spider-Man / Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2
Marvel Team-Up #47 – Spider-Man & the Thing / Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2
Marvel Two-In-One #18 – The Thing & the Scarecrow / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2
Marvel Two-In-One #19 – The Thing & Tigra
Marvel Two-In-One #20 – The Thing & the Liberty Legion / Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8
Marvel Two-In-One #22 – The Thing & Thor
Marvel Two-In-One #23 – The Thing & Thor
Marvel Two-In-One #24 – The Thing & Black Goliath
Marvel Two-In-One #25 – The Thing & Iron Fist
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1 – The Thing & the Liberty Legion / Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8

If you like this volume, try: The Thing comic from 2006 by Dan Slott, Andrea DiVito, and Kieron Dwyer. This eight-issue series put Ben Grimm back in the spotlight of his own title. Ben finds himself flush with money, so he moves out of the Baxter Building and sets himself up in a penthouse apartment. He starts to hang out with the millionaire superhero crown (Tony Stark, Kyle Richmond), which puts him in the sights of Arcade, Sandman, and many other villains. In the end, Ben finds that the money is not the solution to all of his troubles in life. Dan Slott has a wonderful grasp of Ben Grimm, and I wish this series had performed better to last longer. This is definitely a hidden gem from Slott’s catalog of great titles. The entire series was collected into one trade paperback, The Thing: Idol of Millions.

Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 1

Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 1

First Published: March 2005

Contents: Hero For Hire #1 (June 1972) to #16 (December 1973); Power Man #17 (February 1974) to #27 (October 1975)

Key Creator Credits: Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Steve Englehart, Billy Graham, Len Wein, Tony Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Ron Wilson, and others

Key First Appearances: Luke Cage/Power Man, Noah Burnstein, David “D.W.” Griffith, Claire Temple, Stiletto, Discus, Black Goliath

Story Continues In: Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 2

Overview: Framed for a crime he did not commit, Carl Lucas is sent to Seagate Prison in the deep south. Lucas volunteers for an experiment conducted by the prison doctor, Noah Burnstein. Doused in a mixture of chemicals, Carl Lucas finds himself with steel-hard skin and solid muscles. Lucas makes a prison break and goes on the run to clear his name. Playing around with his name, he takes on the new identity of Luke Cage and takes on the name to become Power Man, a hero for hire.

Over the course of these stories, Cage sets up shop in Times Square, above a movie theater that only shows westerns and run by would-be-filmmaker D.W. Griffith. Dr. Burnstein returns to set up shop in New York City, aided by Dr. Claire Temple, who quickly becomes the girlfriend of Cage. Cage is eventually able to get his record cleared, and becomes a true hero for the people in downtown New York City, provided their money is green.

Fighting a mix of street thugs and one-appearance villains, Cage does get to tangle with Dr. Doom early on in issues #8 and #9, when he is hired to track down some robots. When Doom bails on the payment, Cage travels to Latveria to collect his $200. Sweet Christmas! Another notable event occurred in issue #24, when Dr. Henry Pym’s lab assistant, Dr. Bill Foster, takes a dose of Pym particles and becomes Black Goliath. He would later drop Black from his name, going by just Goliath, and he would appear in and out of costume up until the events of Marvel’s Civil War.

What makes this Essential?: Again, this is a border-line essential book. With an African-American leading his own title, this is an important change for the lily-white look of Marvel Comics to date. The problem I have is that this reads like a comic-book adaption of Shaft and the other blaxploitation features of the early-1970s. Cage is a better character, and I think we should be thankful that the character has grown well past his early origins. As an early study on the character, you could consider giving this a read. However, you might be better skipping ahead to Essential Power Man & Iron Fist Vol. 1, when his partnership with Danny Rand helps offset the over-exaggerated rage of Luke Cage.

Footnotes: Luke Cage is one of the first African American characters to have his own title. The first is attributed to Dell Comics, which published a two-issue western called Lobo in the mid-1960s.

If you like this volume, try: the Milestone Comics properties from the mid-1990s. Released by DC Comics, Milestone was created by African-American artists and writers that felt they were under-represented within the comics industry. Creating an entirely new universe of characters based around the fictional city of Dakota, titles in the line included Hardware, Static, Icon, Blood Syndicate, and later Shadow Cabinet and Xombi. Several of the characters have moved into the DC Universe proper and have been included in comics as well as the Young Justice cartoon series. There are various collections on some of the titles, but you may need to dive into the back issue bins to track down all issues of the various series.