Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 2

First Published: April 2004

Contents: The Tomb of Dracula #26 (November 1974) to #49 (October 1976); Giant-Size Dracula #2 (September 1974) to #5 (June 1975); and Doctor Strange #14 (May 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, Tom Palmer, Chris Claremont, Don Heck, David Kraft, Steve Englehart, and others

Key First Appearances: Harold H. Harold, Aurora Rabinowitz, Domini, Anton Lupeski

Story Continues From: Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 3

Overview: Dracula is dead! Love live Dracula!

Welcome back to The Tomb of Dracula, the legendary run by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan and Tom Palmer. Having worked on the title for more than a year, the creative team have found their stride with the title, putting together some of the best stories in the run of the series.

Picking up where things left off in the last collection, Dracula is believed to be dead, which leads his pursuers to go their separate ways. Taj returns tot India, where we discover that his wife is crippled and his own son is a vampire. Frank travels to Brazil, where he encounters zombies and the mysterious Brother Voodoo.

Meanwhile, Dracula realizes that this powers are waning, and must track down the reason for his condition. Following the clues, he travels across to Europe, taking on assignments to move him forward in his weakened condition. Eventually, the clues point him to America and Dr. Sun, who apparently did not die in their last battle seen in Volume 1.

Dracula crosses the Atlantic to America, where he sets up his operations in Boston. There, he meets a new ally in Harold H. Harold, a would-be writer of vampire tales. Harold hopes to leverage his friendship as a source for new stories. Dracula revives long enough to confront Dr. Sun, only to be killed by a henchman.

As can be expected, there is no quiet way for a vampire to travel, and eventually Quincy Harker and his team are back on Dracula’s trail, following him to America. Realizing how strong Dr. Sun has become, the vampire hunters conclude that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and bring Dracula back to life to help them in their battle. Dr. Sun is eventually defeated and Dracula regains his powers.

Following a meeting between Dracula and Doctor Strange, the vampire turns his attention to establishing a base of power in America. He joins up with the Church of the Damned in Boston. He meets Domini, a beautiful woman who has given herself over to the church, and decides to take her as his new bride. Dracula plans on siring a new child, with the goal of taking over the church to expand his reach. Unfortunately, the church has plans to use the offspring to take down Dracula once and for all.

What makes this Essential?: Wolfman, Colan and Palmer reach their peak with this collection. The stories and art are more solid than the previous and next volumes. Dracula finally feels like a threat, yet he remains a character you want to see succeed in his actions. I like setting the stories in America, as it gives the entire team a more comfortable environment in which to tell the stories.

Footnotes: Doctor Strange #14 and Tomb of Dracula #44 and #45 are also reprinted in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 3.

Several issues in this Essential make reference to the events in Dracula Lives, a black-and-white magazine that ran for 13 issues. Those magazines are collected in Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: the Doctor Strange vs. Dracula trade paperback from 2006. Yes, it does reprint the crossover already collected in this Essential, but it also includes a five-part story from Doctor Strange #58 to #62 from 1983. In this story arc by Roger Stern and Dan Green, the two title characters are searching for the Darkhold, a book with untold secrets. One of those secrets can bring an end to all vampires on Earth. Dracula and Doctor Strange go back-and-forth in their quest to claim the book, which also brings in Blade and the Avengers.

Essential Wolverine Vol. 6

First Published: December 2012

Contents: Wolverine #111 (March 1997) to #128 (September 1998); Wolverine #-1 (July 1997); and Wolverine Annual ’97 (1997)

Key Creator Credits: Larry Hama, Warren Ellis, Chris Claremont, Anthony Winn, Leinil Francis Yu, Denys Cowan, and others

Story Continues From: Essential Wolverine Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Wolverine Vol. 7

Overview: Despite being the best there is at what he does, Wolverine still seems to encounter opponents intent on proving that statement wrong. That works out for us, giving us Essential Wolverine Vol. 6.

This collection starts out with Wolverine striking out on his own — AGAIN! This time, he goes 35 miles south into the East Village neighborhood of New York City. He finds an apartment, lands a construction job, and lives happily ever after, right? Not so much. Sometimes trouble finds him, sometimes he finds trouble all on his own. In this situation, Logan encounters a killer mime. I can’t make this stuff up, but Larry Hama did!

Next Wolverine and the X-Men get caught up in the Operation Zero Tolerance story arc (see below). Following that, Warren Ellis and Leinil Francis Yu step in for a four-issue arc with Wolverine encountering a professional assassin, McLeish, who he thought had been dead for the last ten years. Surviving that, Wolverine encounters two former foes, Roughouse and Bloodscream, who he first met back in Essential Wolverine Vol. 1.

This final story in this collection is a fun read as Wolverine finds that he must marry Viper to fulfill a debt of honor. A long the way, most of the other women in Wolverine’s life (Kitty, Jubilee, Black Widow, Jessica Drew, and others) are trying to stop Wolverine from doing so. Of course, any comic book wedding has to be crashed by someone. In this instance, it’s Sabretooth and he wants to kill the groom.

What makes this Essential?: OK, I have come around on the Wolverine line of Essentials. With the last two volumes, the printing process did not work well with the new look of the comics. With this volume, the reprinting is nearly perfect. I still had a hard time reading the footnotes, but everything else looked great printed in black and white. The biggest challenge with this line is finding stories that feature Wolverine in a solo adventure. We had multiple crossovers with the X-Men, some more warranted than others. I realize that Marvel sold a lot of comics in the 1990s thanks to Wolverine and the X-Men, but sometimes you want the solo book to be a solo book and not just an extension of the team book.

If you like this volume, try: the complete X-Men – Operation Zero Tolerance story. In this volume, we get the Wolverine issues of the story, but it ran across a lot of other mutant books (X-Men, Cable, Generation X, and X-Force). Following the events of Age of Apocalypse, Henry Peter Gyrich and Bastion leverage their positions in the U.S. Government to go after the mutants. Bastion creates a new line of Prime Sentinels which he sends out to capture the mutants. The government takes control of the Xavier School, getting access to files and technology. Iceman steps up and leads a small group to help stop Bastion. Finally, S.H.I.E.L.D. finally intervenes and revokes the Operation Zero Tolerance orders. This has been collected as a hardcover and a trade paperback, so it should be easy to track down.

Essential X-Men Vol. 11

xmen11First Published: January 2013

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #273 (February 1991) to #280 (September 1991); Uncanny X-Men Annual #15 (1991); X-Men #1 (October 1991) to #3 (December 1991); X-Factor #69 (August 1991) and #70 (September 1991); X-Factor Annual #6 (1991); New Mutants Annual #7 (1991); and New Warriors Annual #1 (1991)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, Fabian Nicieza, Peter David, Paul Smith, Andy Kubert, Tom Raney, Whilce Portacio, and others

Key First Appearances: Acolytes (Fabian Cortez, Delgado, Anne-Marie Cortez, Chrome)

Story Continues From: Essential X-Men Vol. 10

Overview: This is the end, beautiful friends! Over the last 15 years of reprinted stories, we have seen X-Men come and go from the mansion in Westchester, New York. We have buried teammates, and seen many resurrected, as well as welcome new heroes to the family. The villains have gotten deadlier, whether they are shooting lasers or leading congressional sub-committees. But the goal remains the same, to find a way for humans and mutants to live together in the same world. This is Essential X-Men Vol. 11.

This collection starts out with the crazy adventures we have come to expect from the X-Men. We get Rogue, Magneto, and Nick Fury heading to the Savage Land. We’ve got the rest of the X-Men heading to deep space to stop the War Skrulls. Seriously, we knew the Skrulls were war-inclined for years, but now these War Skrulls take it to a new level!

Next up is the summer crossover event that went between the Annuals – Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants, and New Warriors. A.I.M. is looking to resurrect Proteus, the mutant son of Moira MacTaggert. A rag-tag team of heroes (i.e., those not good enough to go on the mission into space) must ban together to stop A.I.M. and Proteus.

Upon their return to Earth, the X-Men find that the Shadow King, the ne’er-do-well that has been lurking around in their minds for years, has taken over all of the inhabitants of Muir Island. The X-Men give their all to stop the Shadow King, with Xavier making a final stand with his son Legion in a coma.

The book concludes with the first three issues of the adjectiveless X-Men title. With Jim Lee on art and with the benefit of five different covers, Chris Claremont pens the best-selling comic book in the modern era. Really, after all the ups and downs of the past 15 years, Claremont is bringing things back to how he found them when he first took over the X-Men scripting duties. The original X-Men have returned to the team, the mansion has been rebuilt (AGAIN!) and Magneto has returned to his evil ways. It’s been often said that a comic book writer should leave the title as they found it. Claremont found a way to make things right as he left the mansion…. for now.

What makes this Essential?: This is a great way to wrap up Chris Claremont’s 17-year run with the Marvel mutants. Picking up from their introduction in Giant-Size X-Men #1 back in 1975, Claremont helped turn around the X-Men from a doormat title into one of Marvel’s most important (and most profitable) franchises of all time.

By the time this Essential comes to an end, Claremont is ready to step away from the mutant books. Under his guidance, he turned the Uncanny X-Men comic around from a bi-monthly title into two different ongoing monthly titles, along with multiple spin-off titles (New Mutants/X-Force, X-Factor, Excalibur, Wolverine, and others). A new generation of comic book creators, who grew up reading Claremont’s books, were in place ready to take over the reigns of the books.

Footnotes: Uncanny X-Men #280, Uncanny X-Men Annual #15, and X-Factor #69 and #70 are also reprinted in Essential X-Factor Vol. 5.

If you like this volume, try: the Comic Geek Speak podcast look at the X-Men in the Chromium Age. Yes, I am part of my own podcast (Worst. Comic. Podcast. EVER!) and would love for you to check it out and follow me there. But the guys over at CGS have been doing the podcast thing for over 10 years now. They know what they are doing, and they do it well. CGS has been doing detailed looks at titles or characters over a period of time, such as the X-Men. With the podcast referenced above, they take a detailed look at the X-Men in the early 1990s. There is so much information in these podcasts. Bookmark their website and use it as a reference like I do.

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.

Spring Break 2017 – UPDATE!

Greetings, true believers! I know it’s been awhile since I last checked in. Thank you for your patience with my absence.

First, the surgery went well, and I am on the path to a full recovery. I am still going through rehab, working to get the full flexibility back into the knee.

Next, the blog will start back up on May 1. While I am getting back into getting some reviews written, I am also preparing for two conventions coming up on back-to-back weekends in Kansas City.

That leads into my next item to share with you. My hometown convention is Planet Comicon, which is coming up April 28-30. Once again, my friends and I will be managing the Hero Initiative table (#1030/1032). If you are at the show, please stop by and say hi!

My friends and I also do the Worst. Comic. Podcast. EVER!, which I hope you give us a listen each week. With our work on the podcast, that has opened the doors for us to host panels at the convention. If you are at Planet Comicon, stop by the Marvel Comics panel on Saturday, where I will be hosting Jason Aaron, Dennis Hopeless, Cullen Bunn and Greg Smallwood.

On Sunday, I host two different panels which may interest you. I start the morning off with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles panel with co-creator Kevin Eastman and artist Freddie Williams II. Later that day, I will have a conversation with legendary writer Chris Claremont.

So, if anyone has any questions for any of the creators, please share them with me and I will do my best to work them into the panels. We are going to try to record all of the panels we host, so hopefully, I can share the audio with you after the con.

Essential ROM is still in the works. I am working my way through the books, but as we all know, Bill Mantlo can be a wordy writer. Look for updates on that project later this spring!

So, that’s all for now. Look for me at Planet Comicon, and the blog resumes May 1. Thanks!!

Essential X-Men Vol. 10

xmen10First Published: March 2012

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #265 (Early August 1990) to #272 (January 1991); Uncanny X-Men Annual #14 (1990); New Mutants #95 (November 1990) to #97 (January 1991); X-Factor #60 (November 1990) to #62 (January 1991); and material from Fantastic Four Annual #23 (1990); New Mutants Annual #6 (1990), and X-Factor Annual #5 (1990)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, Louise Simonson, Rob Liefeld, Jon Bogdanove, and others

Key First Appearances: Remy LeBeau/Gambit, Seraph, Ahab

Story Continues From: Essential X-Men Vol. 9 

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 11

Overview: Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of future present for the X-Men and their extended family. Make no doubt about it, the X-Men title in this era is a full-blown daytime soap opera. You’re going to need a scorecard to keep up with everything going on here in Essential X-Men Vol. 10.

Let’s start with Storm, the one-time leader of the X-Men. She is suffering from amnesia, and her body has been reverted from adulthood to childhood. She is getting by with petty thievery on the streets of New Orleans, where she meets the Cajun mutant, Gambit. Will this charming rogue stick around?

Speaking of Rogue, she’s back in Australia from the Siege Perilous. But she has been split into two people, Rogue and Ms. Marvel, whose powers she absorbed so many years ago. The two women must fight each other as well as the Reavers for control of the headquarters and for control of Rogue’s body. Who will win?

Of course, we can’t tell an X-Men story without involving Wolverine. We get a great stand-alone issue, featured on the cover of the Essential, which tells a flashback story of Wolverine and Captain America saving a young Natasha Romanov, who would one day become the Black Widow.

But the highlights of this collection are the two large stories that take up most of the book.

The first is the Days of Future Present story, which ran across multiple annuals in 1991. Serving as a sequel to the original Days of Future Past story (check out Essential X-Men Vol. 2), a grown-up Franklin Richards travels from the future hoping to stop the events that lead to his current situation. This leads to fights between the Fantastic Four, the New Mutants, X-Factor and the various members of the X-Men. Adult Franklin meets young Franklin, Jean Grey meets Rachel Summers, and Cable spends time in the same room with infant Nathan Summers without things going wacky.

But the main story that takes up the last half of the book is the X-Tinction Agenda epic. The various teams (X-Men, X-Factor, and the New Mutants) must ban together to finally overthrow the Genoshan government. This storyline wrapped up so many ongoing storylines, with the most important conclusion being the reformation of the X-Men as an official team with a line-up featuring Storm (now returned to her adult form), Wolverine, Banshee, Forge, Psylocke, Jubilee, and Gambit. But the teams did not escape unharmed. Warlock was killed, and Wolfsbane finds herself trapped in her wolf form. She and Havok elect to stay behind on Genosha and help rebuild the government, one which will treat mutants and humans as equals.

What makes this Essential?: This is an interesting era for the X-Men, as the book (and the various related titles) truly become a large soap opera of sorts. While it’s always been a key component of any Chris Claremont X-Men story, the stories in this collection seem even more focused on the character interactions than the over-the-top superhero adventures. (Don’t get me wrong, you still get those stories, especially with the epic crossovers in this book.)

If you have been reading the X-Men since Giant-Size X-Men #1, then, by all means, pick up this book, if you don’t already have all of the issues. But if you are just getting into the X-Men, you might be better off just focusing on the big epic stories, many of which can be found in their own hardcover or trade paperback collection.

Footnotes: Material from Fantastic Four Annual #23, New Mutants Annual #6, X-Factor Annual #5, and Uncanny X-Men Annual #14 are also reprinted in Essential X-Factor Vol. 4.

Uncanny X-Men #270 to #272, New Mutants #95 to #97 and X-Factor #60 to #62 are also reprinted in Essential X-Factor Vol. 5.

If you like this volume, try: the X-Force series that started in 1991. Following the end of the X-Tinction Agenda story, the New Mutants book was due for a shake-up. Wolfsbane left the team to stay in Genosha and help rebuild the nation. Long-time member Warlock had been killed during the story. New members were joining the team, and the group was now led by Cable. Series artist Rob Liefeld had taken over the writing duties, and it made sense for Marvel to relaunch the title in a new direction with a new #1 issue. Along with co-writer Fabian Nicieza, X-Force #1 became one of the best-selling comics of all time, thanks to the issue being poly-bagged with collector cards. The first year of X-Force has been collected in an omnibus edition, so that might be the best way to track down these stories to read.

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 4

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 4

First Published: February 2013

Contents: Marvel Team-Up #76 (December 1978) to #78 (February 1979), and #80 (April 1979) to #98 (October 1980), and Marvel Team-Up Annual #2 (1979) and #3 (1980).

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Steven Grant, Mike Vosburg, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino

Key First Appearances: Cutthroat, Mister Fear, Dansen Macabre, Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird, Alexi Vazhin

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

Overview: Living in New York City, Spider-Man has the opportunity to cross paths with many different heroes from all corners of the Marvel Universe. A casual stroll through Greenwich Village usually prompts an encounter with the mystical Dr. Strange. Being sent on a photo shoot for the Daily Globe allows Peter to meet up with the Invisible Girl. And you just never know when Howard the Duck might drive his cab from Cleveland to Manhattan.

While references are made to ongoing events in Spider-Man’s other monthly books, these stories usually follow the one-and-done format, giving the reader a complete story within the 20-plus pages per issue. These stories also tend to be more lighthearted, giving into the absurdity that brings some of these team-ups together.

What makes this Essential?: The team-up books, such as this or Marvel Two-in-One, are a good way to read a particular character, be exposed to a variety of other characters, and not get bogged down in continuity from the main character’s books (usually). While mostly one-and-done stories, there are a couple of mini-story arcs (#76, #77, #80, #81; and #82-#85) that make for more interesting stories. While this is not a must-read volume to understand Peter Parker, this is a friendly  way to introduce a new reader to the world of Spider-Man.

Footnotes: Marvel Team-Up #79 is not included in this Essential volume. That issue teamed Spider-Man up with Red Sonja. Marvel no longer holds the rights to publish Red Sonja, so it could not be included in this Essential.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
#76 – Spider-Man & Dr. Strange
#77 – Spider-Man & Ms. Marvel
#78 – Spider-Man & Wonder Man
#80 – Spider-Man & Dr. Strange and Clea / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1
#81 – Spider-Man & Satana / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1
#82 – Spider-Man & Black Widow
#83 – Spider-Man & Nick Fury
#84 – Spider-Man & Master of Kung Fu
#85 – Spider-Man & Shang-Chi, Black Widow, and Nick Fury
#86 – Spider-Man & Guardians of the Galaxy
#87 – Spider-Man & Black Panther
#88 – Spider-Man & Invisible Girl
#89 – Spider-Man & Nightcrawler
#90 – Spider-Man & Beast
#91 – Spider-Man & Ghost Rider
#92 – Spider-Man & Hawkeye
#93 – Spider-Man & Werewolf
#94 – Spider-Man & Shroud
#95 – Spider-Man & Mockingbird
#96 – Spider-Man & Howard the Duck
#97 – Hulk & Spider-Woman / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 2
#98 – Spider-Man & Black Widow
Annual #2 – Spider-Man & Hulk
Annual #3 – Hulk & Power Man, Iron Fist, and Machine Man

If you like this volume, try: the first Hawkeye mini-series from 1983. We see Hawkeye in Marvel Team-Up #92 working as the security chief for Cross Technological Enterprises (CTE). Hawkeye would work for CTE during his many leaves of absence from the Avengers. The mini-series brings the CTE storyline to a conclusion, as Hawkeye discovers that the cousin of CTE’s CEO is the villain Crossfire, who is hatching a plan to destroy all superheroes. Working with former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Mockingbird (first introduced in Marvel Team-Up #95), Hawkeye stops Crossfire’s plan. The series ends with Hawkeye and Mockingbird getting married. This series has been collected in a trade paperback and as a Marvel Premiere edition.