Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 5

First Published: October 2011

Contents: Batman #216 (November 1969) to #228 (February 1971); Batman stories from Detective Comics #391 (September 1969) to #407 (January 1971)

Key Creator Credits: Frank Robbins, Irv Novick, Bob Brown, Neal Adams, Denny O’Neil, and others

Key First Appearances: Ten-Eyed Man, Arthur Reeves, Kirk Langstrom/Man-Bat, Francine Langstrom

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 6

Overview: It’s time to head back to the Batcave for another set of Batman adventures. But wait, what’s this… the Batcave is closed? This is Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 5.

This volume looks at the Batman stories from the early 1970s. Dick Grayson has finally left to go to college at Hudson University, and Bruce Wayne (and Alfred) suddenly realize how large and empty Wayne Manor feels now. So they close up the Manor (and the Batcave) and relocate to the Wayne Foundation tower in downtown Gotham City. Bruce lives in the penthouse suite but has a secret elevator to a hidden garage where the Batmobile is stored. This keeps Batman in Gotham at all times, allowing him to respond quicker to threats to his city.

But just because he is away at college doesn’t mean that we do not see Robin in this collection. He still makes the occasional appearance, such as in Batman #222, when they are tasked to discover the truth behind the rumors surrounding a Beatles-type group and  the possible death of the lead singer, Saul Cartwright. (This was cashing in on the ever-ongoing rumor that Paul McCartney had died years previous and had been replaced in the Beatles.)

A major new addition is added to the Batman Family in Detective Comics #400, with the introduction of the Man-Bat. Kirk Langstrom is a curator at the Gotham City Museum, and he has a keen interest in bats. Developing a serum, Langstrom hopes to modify himself into the next generation Batman. Unfortunately, the serum does not work as planned, and Langstrom is transformed into a living man-sized bat. With the origin of the Man-Bat in place, Batman works to stop as well as cure Langstrom. The curator is returned to normal, but we know that the Man-Bat will return multiple times in the future.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: A lot of the problems that I had with Vol. 4 still carry over into this collection. While there is nothing wrong with focusing on the Batman as a detective, these issues have me wanting more. If you have an artist of the caliber of Neal Adams on the title, should you be using him to draw common street criminals month after month? The redeeming point of the book is that towards the end, we start to see Denny O’Neil introducing the story elements for the future stories to be read in Vol. 6, where we will finally be introduced to Ra’s al Ghul.

Footnotes: Batman #218, #223 and #228 are reprint issues. The covers are included in this collection. 

Batman #217 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Robin the Boy Wonder Vol. 1.

Batman #225 contains two Batman stories, “Wanted for Murder One, The Batman” and “Shutdown on York Street!”. However, the “Shutdown on York Street!” story is not reprinted in this collection.

Detective Comics #404 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Enemy Ace Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: The Joker series from 1975 and 1976. During the period collected in this volume, more emphasis was being put on Batman being a detective. When he did battle “villains”, it was newer creations such as Man-Bat, the League of Assassins, and Ra’s al Ghul. The more colorful villains that we associate with Batman, such as the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman, were only being used in The Brave and the Bold from time to time. In early 1975, DC launched a bi-monthly series focusing on the Joker. With the Comics Code Authority still in place, the creative team had to adhere to a lot of rules in order to feature a villain as the protagonist. The Joker could not kill, he had to be captured at the end of each story, and Batman could not be used in the book. Even without the Caped Crusader, plenty of other characters made appearances in the run, such as Commissioner Gordon, Green Arrow, Black Canary, the Creeper, Catwoman, Two-Face and even Sherlock Holmes. The series ran for just nine issues, and the entire series was reprinted in a trade paperback in 2013.

Showcase Presents The Doom Patrol Vol. 2

doompatrol2First Published: August 2010

Contents: The Doom Patrol #102 (March 1966) to #121 (October 19686)

Key Creator Credits: Arnold Drake, Bruno Premiani, Bob Brown, and others

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Doom Patrol Vol. 1

Overview: They’re back! The quirkiest, kookiest, uncanniest heroes in all of DC Comics – the Doom Patrol! Led by the Chief, the various members of the Doom Patrol (Robotman, Elasti-Girl, Negative Man, Mento, and Beast Boy) find ways to save the world without killing each other in the process.

As a friendly reminder, the Doom Patrol is comprised of people that society deems as freaks or outcasts. Robotman has a human brain inside a robot shell. Elasti-Girl is a beautiful actress who can shape her body into any form. Negative Man keeps his body wrapped up in bandages to help hide the negative form inside his body. The world says that these people should serve no purpose anymore. But the Chief knows he can mold these outcasts into heroes.

But despite all the standard super-hero fighting, life still goes on for these characters. Elasti-Girl and Mento fall in love and get married. (Naturally, their ceremony is disrupted by the Brotherhood of Evil.) The new copule even go so far as to adopt Beast Boy into their family.

But just when you think things are finally clicking for these offbeat characters, the end came for the Doom Patrol, figuratively and literally. In issue #121, the series came to an abrupt end. The team faced off against General Zahl, who put them in a bind by having to decide between their lives and the lives of an innocent town. The Doom Patrol agreed to save the town, and the core members (Chief, Robotman, Elasti-Girl, and Negative Man) appeared to be destroyed in an explosion. The final panels end with series creators Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani putting a challenge out to the readers to determine if the Doom Patrol should ever return.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I still want to recommend this book to anyone interested in the concept or the characters. But I don’t think I liked this one nearly as much as Volume 1. The initial issues in this collection mirror the comics in the last collection. But about halfway through the book, the title takes an odd turn. It feels like the villains become cast members of the title, appearing on a monthly basis. Part of the charm of the a good comic, for me at least, is rotating the foes around each issue. If the foes are in every issue, than it just feels like a bad TV sitcom. Give this book a look, but don’t be surprised if you go back to Volume 1 more often.

Footnotes: In 1973, DC re-started The Doom Patrol for three issues – sort of. Continuing the numbering from where it left off in 1968, DC published issues #122 to #124, but all three comics were reprints of early Doom Patrol stories that can be found in Showcase Presents Doom Patrol Vol. 1. Maybe DC was trying to test the waters to see if there was still interest in the concept? Needless to say, it did not appear to gain a foothold in 1973 beyond these three issues.

CIA (Comic In Animation): Over 40 years after the initial release of the issue, Doom Patrol #121 was adapted in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series. In an episode from season 2 titled “The Last Patrol!”, the Doom Patrol must come out of retirement to stop all of their former foes. Despite having the Caped Crusader helping them out, the Doom Patrol still finds themselves faced with the choice to sacrifice their lives so that others may live.

If you like this volume, try: The Doom Patrol relaunch from 1987 by Paul Kupperberg, Steve Lightle, and Eric Larsen. In the DC Universe following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, a new Doom Patrol rises up. It’s a mixed team, with members from the classic 1960s line-up shown in this Showcase Presents, plus members from the mid-1970s reboot done by Kupperberg and Joe Staton in Showcase #94-96. This is an interesting take on the characters, and for many readers (including yours truly) this was their first exposure to the Doom Patrol concept. The original issues had the team headquarters based in Union Station in Kansas City, which made me quite happy. (It was only after the fact that I learned that the artist Steve Lightle also lived here!) This version of the team ran for 18 issues, plus an annual and a special that crossed over with the Suicide Squad, but it often gets overlooked as it was immediately followed by the start of Grant Morrison’s legendary take on the concept. Outside of the Suicide Squad special, these issues have not been reprinted, so you will need to dive into some back-issue bins to track these down.

Essential Daredevil Vol. 5

Daredevil5First Published: February 2010

Contents: Daredevil #102 (August 1973) to #125 (September 1975); and Marvel Two-in-One #3 (May 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Tony Isabella, Bob Brown, Don Heck, Gene Colan, and others

Key First Appearances: Ramrod, Candace Nelson, Silver Samurai, Death Stalker, Blackwing

Story Continues From: Essential Daredevil Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Daredevil Vol. 6

Overview: For a book featuring a blind lawyer-by-day, hero-by-night lead character, Essential Daredevil Vol. 5 is all over the place, but in a good way. Sure, the story bounces back and forth between San Francisco and New York City. Yes, we get plenty of Black Widow and Foggy Nelson, as to be expected. But it’s the other stories that take you by surprise in this collection.

For starters, show of hands here, who remembers the time Daredevil led a group of heroes against Thanos? Seriously this happened! During the initial story which introduced Thanos to the Marvel Universe, he crossed paths with Daredevil, who got an assist from Captain Marvel and Moondragon. Too good to be true, you say? Check out Daredevil #107 to see it play out!

The surprise foe of this book has to be the Mandrill, who has the ability to control women through pheromones. Certainly not due to his looks, that’s for sure. Thankfully, the Man Without Fear must dive into action to free the Black Widow and Shanna the She-Devil, as well as rescue Washington, D.C., from Mandrill’s takeover bid in Daredevil #110 to #112.

What about the time Nick Fury stops by to see if Foggy would join S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Board of Directors? Public knowledge of that would paint a huge target on Foggy’s head, putting Daredevil and Black Widow on high alert against the forces of HYDRA! See Tony Isabella’s run from Daredevil #119 to #123 to get the origins of HYDRA and Foggy’s answer.

What makes this Essential?: This was a more interesting read for me compared to the previous collection. I really like both Steve Gerber’s and Tony Isabella’s stories in this collection. (Side note – but I really believe that Gerber, Isabella, and Chris Claremont were probably Marvel’s most important writers in the 1970s.) Getting Daredevil back to New York was important, but the plot thread with Black Widow still in San Francisco dangled on for too long in my opinion.

Perhaps the most essential part of this volume is the introduction of the Silver Samurai in Daredevil #111. Created by Gerber and Bob Brown, he sat dormant for three years before Claremont started bringing him into Marvel Team-Up on a frequent basis. That lead to an appearance in Spider-Woman, again written by Claremont. Two months later, he appears in both New Mutants and Uncanny X-Men, tying him forever into the mutant books from that point forward.

Footnotes: Marvel Two-in-One #3 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Kraven’s Last Hunt storyline from the Spider-Man books in 1987. OK, yes, I know this post is a review of Essential Daredevil Vol. 5. But I find the inclusion of Kraven the Hunter in Daredevil #104 and #105 very interesting. See, Kraven was not a villain that appeared in many books that didn’t involve Spider-Man. We never saw Kraven going after the X-Men or the Fantastic Four. And it really surprised me that despite being one of the memorable creations from Lee & Ditko during that initial run on Amazing Spider-Man, Kraven really didn’t get used that much period. So to have him show up here was a surprise to me.

So in 1987, Kraven’s Last Hunt ran across the three books featuring Spider-Man (Amazing, Spectacular, and Web of) for two months. In a surprising move at that time, all six issues were written by J.M. DeMatteus and drawn by Mike Zeck. (Hindsight being 20/20, having the one team for the story arc worked out well over the years, as Kraven’s Last Hunt became one of the first trade paperback collections.) In the story, Kraven takes out Spider-Man by shooting him in the back with a dart and burying him in a shallow grave. Kraven then takes the black costume and embraces the Spider-Man totem as he hunts down Vermin, a sewer-based villain that could control rats. Eventually, Spider-Man is able to free himself and track down both Kraven and Vermin. Despondent over how things have played out, Kraven takes his own life.

The story and art are perfect for this, and it has remained in print over the years across numerous formats. If by chance you have not read it yet, stick around because we get all six issues of the story collected in Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 2.

Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 4

batman4First Published: July 2009

Contents: Batman #202 (June 1968) to #215 (September 1969); Batman stories from Detective Comics #376 (June 1968) to #390 (August 1969)

Key Creator Credits: Frank Robbins, Gardner Fox, Irv Novick, Bob Brown, and others

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 5 

Overview: The Batmobile is fueled, the Batcopter is set, and the Batcycle is ready to race. Pick your Bat-vehicle of choice, because we got a new collection of adventures featuring Batman, Robin, and Batgirl to talk about. This is Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 4.

As quickly as Batmania took over the country in the mid-1960s, it faded away even quicker with the demise of the Batman TV series. While ABC was able to find other shows to fill the programming schedule, it feels like the DC Comics took a step back without the show to leverage. The colorfully costumed villains are used less frequently, replaced by stories requiring Batman to showcase his detective skills against common gangsters and other ordinary criminals.

The bulk of this volume is written by Frank Robbins, with art duties shared by Irv Novick and Bob Brown, and an occasional cover from Neal Adams. While I am on the record of not being a fan of Robbins’ work later in his career, his stories here are quite serviceable for that era. There wasn’t the demand for multi-issue epic stories. These are one-and-done issues, and everything resets with the next issue. These are predominantly Batman and Robin stories, but some team-ups with Batgirl are scattered in here too.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I know that it’s an unwritten rule on the Internet that we should not speak (or write) ill of the Batman. But I was really disappointed in this collection. I really felt like the series turned the corner with Vol. 3, as we start getting Batman’s most familiar foes month after month, and we had the addition of Batgirl to the family. But the stories in this collection just feel like a let-down in comparison. There are no significant introductions of new characters during this time. Many of the stories seem to be reinterpretations of stories seen in the prior volumes. For the Batman completist, I understand the need to have this volume on your bookshelf. For the casual fan, I would say go back and get Vol. 3, or look for Volumes 5 and 6 when we get Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, and Jim Aparo more involved with Batman.

Footnotes: Batman #203 and #208 are reprint issues. The covers are included in this collection. 

Batman #214 and the lead story from Detective Comics #385 were also reprinted in Showcase Presents Batgirl Vol. 1.

Batman #213 and Detective Comics #386 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents Robin the Boy Wonder Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: The Batman Adventures series which started in 1992 in support of the then-new animated show on FOX. As we are all well aware, Batman: The Animated Series is considered to be one of the greatest interpretations of the Batman Universe ever. The show gave us Harley Quinn and cemented in this writer’s head that Kevin Conroy is the voice of Batman. What often got overlooked or dismissed as a kids comic was The Batman Adventures comic series. This is an outstanding series and still remains my favorite run of Batman in the 1990s. The talent that worked on this book read like a Who’s Who of great creators – Kelley Puckett, Ty Templeton, Rick Burchett, Mike Parobeck, and much more. They took the concepts introduced in the series and expanded on them month after month. DC has started a new line of trade paperbacks to reprint this run, as many of these issues are hard to find – see The Batman Adventures #12. If you are a fan of the show, you need to read this series!

Showcase Presents The Doom Patrol Vol. 1

Showcase Presents The Doom Patrol Vol. 1

First Published: April 2009

Contents: My Greatest Adventure #80 (June 1963) to #85 (February 1964); and The Doom Patrol #86 (March 1964) to #101 (February 1966)

Key Creator Credits: Arnold Drake, Bruno Premiani, Bob Brown, and others

Key First Appearances: Niles Caulder/The Chief, Cliff Steele/Robotman, Rita Farr/Elasti-Girl, Larry Trainor/Negative Man, General Immortus, the Brotherhood of Evil (the Brain, Madame Rouge, Monsieur Mallah), Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, Steve Dayton/Mento, Garguax, Garfield Logan/Beast Boy, Jillian Jackson,

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Doom Patrol Vol. 2

Overview: Let’s take three outcasts, who find themselves with special abilities as the result of accidents. None can fit into society, and have no where else to go. Let’s organized them behind the leadership of a wheelchair-bound genius. Is this the X-Men? No, this is the Doom Patrol!

Let’s start with our heroes:

  • First there is Robotman. Cliff Steele was race car driver who was involved in a deadly crash. With his body shutting down, a skilled doctor (Niles Caulder) removes Cliff’s brain and places it inside a steel body. Robotman has been the anchor point for every incarnation of the Doom Patrol.
  • Next up is Elasti-Girl. Rita Farr was an Olympic athlete and a Hollywood movie star. While on location in Africa, Rita is exposed to some mysterious gases, which gives her the ability to grow or shrink her body, but it’s an ability she cannot control. Giving up her career, she goes into hiding until she is recruited by Niles Caulder to join his team.
  • Let’s look at Negative Man now. Larry Trainor flew through a radioactive field while test piloting a jet. Filled with a mysterious energy, Larry can send a black negative form out of his body, which can fly and move objects at will. That negative form can only be outside of Larry’s body for 60 seconds, or he risks dying. Because of the radioactivity, Larry must wrap his body up in protective gauze, so he does not expose those around him to the radiation. He too is recruited by Niles Caulder.
  • Finally, the Chief. This is the Niles Caulder that has appeared in everyone’s story. A genius confined to a wheelchair, Caulder directs his team to help humanity any way they can, even though humanity wants very little to do with them.

Initially, the Doom Patrol fought many of the same foes over and over, month to month. We get a lot of appearances by General Immortus, a man whose seen way too many birthdays in his long life. The team also matches up with Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, whose body can morph into any item that can be classified as one of those three objects.

As the book progresses, new heroes join the team, such as Mento (secretly Steve Dayton, the sixth richest man in the world) and Beast Boy, a green-skinned teenage boy who can transform himself into any kind of animal. But as the team grows, so does the threat level, with more powerful foes like the Brotherhood of Evil,.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I was really surprised about how much I ended up enjoying this volume. The plots of the stories can be somewhat kooky, but the interactions between the characters really feels like a 1960s Marvel Comic. Despite an explosive finish to their title, which we will discuss in more detail with Showcase Presents The Doom Patrol Vol. 2, these characters have stuck around in various incarnations for 50 years. When Arnold and Bob developed Beast Boy, I really think that was done to add some youth to the title. I don’t think anyone could have ever imagined he would become such a critical character for DC in the Teen Titans. Anyway, I would say track down a copy of this book, especially if you are a fan of the Silver Age Marvel Comics.

Footnotes: So you have a group of heroes with odd powers, led by a man confined to a wheelchair. Sure sounds like the X-Men, right? For many years, numerous commentaries have noted the similarities between the two teams. The Doom Patrol first appeared in My Greatest Adventure #80 (June 1963). The X-Men debuted in the first issue of their book three months later. There is no hard evidence to show that Marvel was trying to swipe away the concept from DC. And three months would barely be enough time to get start a “stolen” concept from script to publication in 1963, especially given Marvel’s limited distribution options. I think it’s safe to say that creators in the comic book industry like to get together and talk shop, and that some common ideas are shared over a public discussion, then fully developed on their own in the respective company offices. (Something similar to this happened in the early 1970s, as Man-Thing and Swamp Thing were introduced around the same time from the two companies.)

MIA (Missing Issue Alert): In the final issue in this collection, Doom Patrol #101, the Challengers of the Unknown appear in the last panel. This was to set up a crossover with Challengers of the Unknown #48, the first of a two-part story which would be finished in Doom Patrol #102. However, the Challengers issue was not included, either in this volume or in Showcase Presents The Doom Patrol Vol. 2. And the Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown line has yet to reach issue #48. So you may need to hit the back-issue bins to find this comic to complete the story.

If you like this volume, try: The Doom Patrol Omnibus by Grant Morrison and Richard Case. In the mid-1980s, following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC relaunched The Doom Patrol, returning the team to it’s traditional roots and characters. However, after 18 issues, DC opted for a change, and gave the book over to a very young Grant Morrison, a Scottish comic book writer best known for his work on Judge Dredd. His work had finally caught the attention of DC, and they had already started him on Animal Man. Beginning with issue #19, Morrison took over Doom Patrol and flipped it on it’s head. Ditching most everything but Robotman, Doom Patrol went on an eccletic ride for four years under Morrison’s direction, making the strange the norm. By the end of Morrison’s run, DC had moved The Doom Patrol under the Vertigo banner. Morrison’s run has been reprinted multiple times in trades, and most recently as an omnibus.

Essential Avengers Vol. 6

Essential Avengers Vol. 6

Essential Avengers Vol. 6

First Published: February 2008

Contents: Avengers #120 (April 1972) to #140 (October 1975); Giant-Size Avengers #1 (August 1974) to #4 (June 1975); Captain Marvel #33 (July 1974); and Fantastic Four #150 (September 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, John Buscema, Bob Brown, George Tuska, and others

Key First Appearances: Nuklo, Bova

Story Continues From: Essential Avengers Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Avengers Vol. 7

Overview: In preparation for this review, I consider some alternatives to make my point here. My first thought would be to increase the font size to a larger style, but I hate that when other sites do it. I CONSIDERED WRITING THIS ENTIRE REVIEW IN ALL CAPS, BUT I DON’T WANT TO COME ACROSS THAT I AM YELLING AT YOU, MY LOYAL READERS. Maybe I should attach a sound file with trumpets blaring, or I figure out a way to roll out a red carpet. See, the reason for these possible changes is to help convey just how EPIC is this collection of the Essential Avengers!

Writer Steve Englehart and friends put together a series of memorable runs over multiple issues. This really felt like a heavy hitters lineup for the team, led by Thor, Iron Man, and the Vision. In this collection, the Avengers have their first encounter with Thanos; in a crossover with the Fantastic Four, we see Quicksilver and Crystal tie the knot in a ceremony delayed by Ultron; and we discover the secret origin of the Vision, in a story that goes back to the very first issue of Marvel Comics in 1939.

The highlight of this volume is the story of Mantis. In the lead-off story where the Avengers battle Zodiac, Mantis discovers that Libra is her father. She learns that she was raised by the Priests of Pama, which takes the Avengers to Viet-Nam where they encounter the Star-Stalker. From there, long-time Avengers foe Kang kidnaps Mantis and Moondragon, as both have been identified as potential candidates to become the Celestial Madonna. That leads the Avengers to travel through time and space after their teammate. During the battle with Kang, the Swordsman is killed, and Mantis realizes that he was the love of her life and not the Vision. Mantis discovers more of her origins, and finally embraces her role as the Celestial Madonna. In a ceremony overseen by Immortus, Mantis marries a Cotati reanimating the body of Swordsman, and the couple merge and depart to space. (It should be noted that the wedding was a double ceremony, as the Vision and the Scarlet Witch finally say their “I Do’s”.)

The volume concludes as some new faces become probationary members of the team in Avengers #137. Having graduated from the X-Men and moved on to a solo career, the blue-haired Beast shows up for a series of adventures, but it won’t be until the next Essential before he earns his Avengers identification card. Also, Moondragon joins the team, making for a good consolation prize for losing out on the Celestial Madonna sweepstakes.

What makes this Essential?: This volume can best be summed up with one name – Steve Englehart. The writer had taken over writing duties on the Avengers in the previous Essential volume, and this collection sees Englehart work in all of the stories that he was really wanting to tell. He uses a core line-up of Iron Man, Thor, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Mantis. (It should be noted that long-time Avenger Captain America was knee-deep in his own book at that time, and could only make the occasional appearance in the Avengers. By the way, Captain America and Falcon was being written by Englehart.) Mantis, a creation of Englehart and Don Heck, becomes the focus of the Celestial Madonna story in this volume. Towards the end of the run, Hank McCoy (a.k.a the Beast of the X-Men) Joins up, but this is the blue-furred Beast. Hank McCoy had undergone a further mutation in the pages of Amazing Adventures, written by — wait for it! — yes that’s right, it was Steve Englehart. So long story short, you need to be a big fan of Englehart and his epic vision for the Avengers to really appreciate this volume. I first read these stories out of order, as I picked up the back issues to fill out my Avengers collection over the years. Being able to re-read this story in order via the Essential allows me to better appreciate what Englehart did here.

Footnotes: Captain Marvel #33 is also reprinted in Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 2.

Avengers #127 and Fantastic Four #150 are also reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7.

If you like this volume, try: the first series of The Ultimates. Hot on the heels of the successful Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men, Marvel turned to Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch to develop an Ultimate version of the Avengers. Trimming the team down to it’s 1963 roster of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Giant Man, the Wasp, and Captain America, Millar and Hitch created an EPIC spin on the historic narrative. Yes, changes were made to make the group more contemporary – most notable is Nick Fury portrayed as an African-American that happens to look a lot like Samuel L. Jackson, long before that actor was cast in any Marvel Studios role. Conversely, The Ultimates became a template that Marvel Studios could use as they began to shape the Phase One series of movies. This initial series ran for 13 issues, albeit over two years time, and has been collected in numerous trades and hardcover collections. There have been various sequels to spin out of this, but the original story remains the best by far.

Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Vol. 2

Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Vol. 2

First Published: April 2008

Contents: Challengers of the Unknown #18 (February-March 1961) to #37 (April-May 1964)

Key Creator Credits: Bob Brown, Arnold Drake, Ed Herron, and others

Key First Appearances: Cosmo

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Vol. 1

Overview: A plane crash brings four men together, when they realize that they cheated death by walking away from the wreckage. Rocky Davis (Olympic wrestling champion), Prof Haley (master skin diver), Red Ryan (circus daredevil), and Ace Morgan (fearless jet pilot) team-up to form the Challengers of the Unknown, and their adventures continue in this second Showcase Presents volume.

Once again, the book follows a predictable formula from issue to issue. Most issues featured two stories – one with honorary Challenger June Robbins and one without June. Whether it was aliens from space, creatures from the Earth, or killer robots from laboratories, the Challengers stood up to anything thrown their way.

Only one new character is introduced in this volume, as the Challengers come across an alien animal that they adopt as a pet. Named Cosmo since he came from the stars, Cosmo would make the occasional appearance, including in one issue where his rightful owner came to Earth looking for his pet.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I really want to like this book, but I just can’t. The creators had a story formula and stuck with it issue after issue after issue. The Challengers face off against threats from outer space, giant robots attacking the city, and the return of Multi-Man every four or five issues, and the story locations would just happen to require the use of their special skills. Come on, truthfully, how many stories can involve both skin-diving in the ocean AND climbing mountains? Even though the guys are living on borrowed time, at no point do we ever feel like the guys will not survive the latest adventure. It pains me to write this, but I think this is a volume that does not need to be on your bookshelf. I wish DC could skip ahead to the issues where the Challengers start interacting with other members of the DC Universe.

If you like this volume, try: the Silver Age event from DC Comics in 2000. This has never been collected, so plan on digging in some back-issue boxes to track this down. Most credit is given to Mark Waid as the overall architect of the project, but most of DC’s top talent of that time was involved in some form or fashion. The story was started with book titled simply Silver Age. Agamemno, a villain from space, enlists the help of Lex Luthor and other villains in swapping places with their heroic counterparts. The story then split off into nine one-shot books from books popular during the 1960s (Justice League of America, Challengers of the Unknown, Teen Titans, Dial H for Hero, Flash, Doom Patrol, The Brave and the Bold, Green Lantern, and Showcase). For the Silver Age: Challengers of the Unknown book, the Challengers travel to Ivy University to help Atom defeat Chronos. The Silver Age books were done to look like were released in the 1960s, complete with the checkerboard cover, an old DC Comics logo, This was a fun project to look back fondly on DC’s Silver Age of comics.