Essential Iron Man Vol. 3

Essential Iron Man Vol. 3

First Published: April 2008

Contents: Iron Man #12 (April 1969) to #38 (June 1971); and Daredevil #73 (February 1971)

Key Creator Credits: Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Gerry Conway, Don Heck, Allyn Brodsky, and others

Key First Appearances: Controller, Crimson Dynamo (III), Madame Masque, Eddie March, Firebrand, Kevin O’Brien, Spymaster, Marianne Rodgers

Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 4

Overview: Every hero has to have a weakness, right? Over at DC Comics, Superman must avoid Kryptonite, Green Lantern is useless against anything yellow, and Aquaman cannot be away from water for very long. At Marvel, Iron Man comes to mind, as Tony Stark has been living on borrowed time with his damaged heart. His armor has kept his heart beating for years. But for all of his money and genius, Stark has never been able to fully repair his heart – until NOW! So let’s dive into Essential Iron Man Vol. 3.

Tony Stark finally decides to scale back his Iron Man life and to live more outside of the armor. He has met the (current) love of his life, Janice Cord, and wants to spend as much of his time with her as possible. That means he is finally ready for that heart transplant, so he doesn’t have to be tied down to the armor so much. The transplant is a success, but circumstances always force Stark back into the armor. Shortly after his surgery, Iron Man has to face off against the Titanium Man and the new Crimson Dynamo. During that battle, Janice Cord is fatally injured, once again throwing Tony’s life into chaos.

Some new faces come into Tony Stark’s life, some more important than others. Boxer Eddie March becomes the next man to wear the Iron Man armor. His run is short-lived, but he will return in later Essential volumes in a freaky appearance. Whitney Frost, whom we met in the last Essential, is injured and forced to hide her scars behind a face plate, becoming Madame Masque. The villain Firebrand shows up for the first time, but he will have a longer (and more important) story arc in the next collection. And Kevin O’Brien is hired on at Stark Industries; in the next collection, he will don a green version of Stark’s armor and will be called Guardsman.

Perhaps the most significant addition would be Marianne Rodgers, who becomes the new romantic interest for Tony. While her first appearance is listed as Iron Man #36, some people believe that she is the “Marion” character from Tales of Suspense #40, who suggested that Iron Man paint his armor some other color besides battleship gray. When she appears in Iron Man #36, it’s implied in the story that they already know each other, Tony starts referring to her as “Honey” within three pages.

What makes this Essential?: I liked this volume, but I am struggling to give this a strong endorsement. Archie Goodwin and George Tuska dominate the first half of this book, and those are good stories. Allyn Brodsky and Gerry Conway take over the writing duties, with art by Don Heck, and I can’t really complain about that. But I keep looking through the book and I can’t imagine wanting to read this again. If I was more of an Iron Man fan, I could envision wanting to get back into these issues. So what to do, what to do….. Definitely, read this if you are a fan of Iron Man. There are some key character introductions that will play important roles in the years to come. For the casual Marvel fan, maybe just flip through this on the side.

Footnotes: Iron Man #35 & #36 and Daredevil #73 are also collected in Essential Daredevil Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: reading Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle story by David Michelinie, Bob Layton, and John Romita, Jr. Collecting Iron Man #120 to #128 from 1979, Iron Man is besieged by numerous foes, with someone attempting to take over his armor. As the pressures increase, Tony Stark turns to alcohol. Unfortunately, Stark’s compulsive personality leads him further and further down a dark path. He is forced to turn over his armor to the police, and he must step down as leader of the Avengers. Stark finally bottoms out and recognizes his problem. With the help of Bethany Cabe, Tony goes through a withdrawal and begins the long, slow climb to sobriety. At the time this was created, this wasn’t necessarily written as a long storyline; they were just attempting to tell a good story month after month. It was only after the fact that people began to refer to this story arc as “Demon in the Bottle” (which was the issue name for the final issue in Iron Man #128) In 1984, this was one of the first stories that Marvel ever collected in a trade paperback. It has been reprinted multiple times in multiple formats, and should be easy to find.

Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 2

Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 2

First Published: February 2007

Contents: Ghost Rider #21 (December 1976) to #50 (November 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, Roger McKenzie, Michael Fleisher, Don Heck, Don Perlin, Carmine Infantino, and others

Key First Appearances: Enforcer, Water Wizard, Zarathos 

Story Continues In: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 1

Story Continues From: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 3

Overview: Driving like a bat out of hell, Johnny Blaze travels the roads of the American West, looking to find peace with his demonic alter-ego, the Ghost Rider. Month after month, Blaze encounters various threats from both man and demons. He crosses paths with Dr. Strange, Professor Xavier, Hawkeye, and the Two-Gun Kid, in addition to the occasional appearances of Ghost Rider’s teammates in the Champions. One of the highlights of the book (besides it being the final comic of the volume) is issue #50, where Ghost Rider is transported into the past, where he teams up with the Phantom Rider, who made his debut in The Ghost Rider #1 (February 1967).

What makes this Essential?: Even in the hardest of reads, I try to find SOMETHING positive about the Essentials and Showcase Presents that I review. But I need help with this volume because I cannot find ANYTHING positive about this book. The writing and art are average at best – even with pencils from legendary talents such as Don Heck, Jim Starlin, and Carmine Infantino.  Sadly, very little is done to develop the character, either as Johnny Blaze or as the Ghost Rider. Many of his supporting cast seen in the first volume, such as Stunt Master and Roxanne Simpson, are quickly dropped. With volume 1, there was at least a purpose for the character, as he was trying to free his soul from the Devil. This book just wanders aimlessly. And don’t get me started on the over-abundance of motorcycle-riding foes in this volume. Just because Ghost Rider uses a motorcycle does not mean that everyone he fights has to be on a motorcycle. Would you want a Batman story where issue after issue, he chases after criminals in cars just because Batman uses a Batmobile?  So, if you know what was good from this book, please let me know because I sure couldn’t find it. 

If you like this volume, try: Shade The Changing Man from DC Comics. Writer Michael Fleisher, who starts a long run with Ghost Rider in this volume, was very prolific for both DC and Marvel throughout the 1970s and 1980s. One of his early works was Shade, which was done with the legendary Steve Ditko. The Shade title ran for eight issues, before it was caught up in the DC implosion of 1978. The entire series was collected in The Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol. 1 from DC in 2011.

Essential Defenders Vol. 2

Essential Defenders Vol. 2

First Published: December 2006

Contents: The Defenders #15 (September 1974) to #30 (December 1975); Giant-Size Defenders #1 (July 1974) to #5 (August 1975); Marvel Two-in-One #6 (November 1974) and #7 (January 1975); Marvel Team-Up #33 (May 1975) to #35 (July 1975); and Marvel Treasury Edition #12 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, Steve Gerber, Tony Isabella, Gerry Conway, Jim Starlin, Sal Buscema, Don Heck, and others

Key First Appearances: Supreme Serpent, Wrecking Crew (Bulldozer, Piledriver, Thunderball), Elf with a Gun, Starhawk, Aleta, Michael Korvac

Story Continues From: Essential Defenders Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Defenders Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to the ongoing adventures of Marvel’s non-team of heroes, the Defenders! The team with no rules, no charter, no membership cards, and no matching uniforms.

Core founding members Sub-Mariner and the Silver Surfer have moved on in this volume to other adventures, but will return in later Essential Defenders volumes. In their place, Valkyrie and Nighthawk team up with Doctor Strange and the Hulk to form the core members of the team in this volume. Other heroes hang out with the Defenders for a few issues in this volume, such as Power Man, Son of Satan, the Thing, and Yellowjacket.

Two story arcs in particular stand out in this issue. For issues #15 and #16, the Defenders face off against Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, a group of characters that had not been seen much with the X-Men title on hiatus. This is followed up in #17 and #18 with the debut of Wrecking Crew – three super-powered construction working villains that work with the Wrecker. The Wrecking Crew have been mainstays in the Marvel Universe since then, fighting everyone from the Avengers to Spider-Man to Wolverine, among others.

The volume concludes with a long story arc featuring the return of the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Guardians made their debut in the late 1960s, but were unused for many years until Steve Gerber brought them back to the forefront in Marvel Two-in-One #5, The story arc in Defenders introduced Starhawk to the team.

What makes this Essential?: While there are still moments where the title feels like an extension of the Doctor Strange book, the Defenders start to come into their own as an individual title, albeit an unofficial team. Steve Gerber begins his long run with the team, and we start to see Gerber’s familiar story-telling techniques which will be more prominently seen in the pages of Howard the Duck. This is an interesting read, but I just don’t know if it’s essential to read.

Footnotes: Marvel Two-in-One #6 and #7 are also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1.

Marvel Team-Up #33-#35 are also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2.

Marvel Treasury Edition #12 is also reprinted in Essential Howard the Duck Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers trade paperbacks from 2013. We are given a taste of the Guardians of the Galaxy in this Essential Defenders volume. But to find the origins of the original Guardians, check out these collections. Originally created by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan, but fully developed later by Steve Gerber and Al Milgrom, the Guardians come together to help save the 31st Century. Vance Astro, Martinex, Charlie-27, and Yondu form the original core, and we see Starhawk join during the appearance in Defenders. Whether you view this as Marvel’s version of the Legion of Super-Heroes, or as a future version of the Avengers, the Guardians are a fun look at one possible future for the Marvel Universe. Given the success of the summer blockbuster of the same name (but different character line-up), fans should check out these volumes to see the roots of the original Guardians of the Galaxy.

Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2

Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2

First Published: May 2006

Contents: The X-Men #25 (October 1966) to #53 (February 1969); and Avengers #53 (June 1968)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, Gary Friedrich, Arnold Drake, Don Heck, George Tuska, Jim Steranko, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Sean Cassidy/Banshee, Cobalt Man, Candy Southern, Changeling, Frankenstein’s Monster, Grotesk, William Drake, Madeline Drake, Mesmero, Norton McCoy, Edna McCoy, Lorna Dane/Polaris

Story Continues From: Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. With a small enrollment, headmaster Charles Xavier is able to focus and help each student develop to the fullest extent of their abilities. Mutant abilities, that is! As all of the students are members of the X-Men, mutants working to build a world that homo-sapiens and homo-superior can live side-by-side.

In this volume, we get the first new member to join the team, as Mimic comes on board. However, he left quickly after fighting with Cyclops and losing his ability to mimic others’ abilities during a fight with the Super-Adaptoid. At this same time, future X-Man Banshee is introduced as a foe, but soon becomes a loyal friend to the X-Men. At the end of this volume, we do meet Lorna Dane, but more of her story will unfold in Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3.

Now, over the years, many people have claimed that Charles Xavier can be an ass. A story arc in this volume would be Example #1. During a battle with Grotesk, the X-Men believe that Xavier has been killed. The students bury their mentor and figure out how they will function going forward. Out of nowhere, Xavier returns alive and well. Turns out he had been hiding in a secret basement at the mansion, so he could mentally prepare to stop an alien attack. Xavier hired the reformed criminal known as Changeling to impersonate him, giving him some of his mental powers. So it was the Xavier-impersonator that died in battle with Grotesk. Trust me, this is just the first of a long list of Xavier’s foibles.

Towards the end of these issues collected, a new format was introduced into the books. The stories would run around 15 pages, and then there would be a 5-page back-up which slowly revealed the origins of the original X-Men. In this volume, we get the origins for Cyclops, Iceman, and Beast.

What makes this Essential?: I actually feel that these stories are better than those found in Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1. While I do not want to besmirch the work of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, I don’t believe the X-Men were ever their top priority. I think when writer Roy Thomas comes onboard, he is able to put his full effort into the stories, and we see the characters start to develop, becoming individuals with unique costumes and not just chess pieces controlled by Xavier. I almost think the casual X-Men fan would be better off starting with this volume first before ever reading Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1.

Footnotes: X-Men #45 and Avengers #53 are also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: Marvel Visionaries: Roy Thomas, which collects assorted issues from Thomas’ legendary career at Marvel. In the early 1960s, Stan Lee realized he needed help and hired Thomas to come in as an assistant. He was quickly promoted to writer, and one-by-one, Thomas would scribe the adventures of nearly every significant Marvel title at some point in the 1960s and 1970s. By my count, he has stories reprinted in over 35 Marvel Essentials (plus 2 DC Showcase Presents). The stories collected here give the reader some of the many highlights from Thomas’ resume – The Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, the Invaders, Dr. Strange, and Dracula.

Essential Avengers Vol. 5

Essential Avengers Vol. 5

First Published: January 2006

Contents: Avengers #98 (April 1972) to #119 (March 1972); Daredevil #99 (May 1973); and Defenders #8 (September 1973) to #11 (December 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Steve Englehart, Barry Windsor-Smith, Rich Buckler, Don Heck, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, and others

Key First Appearances: Imus Champion, Mantis

Story Continues From: Essential Avengers Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Avengers Vol. 6

Overview: In the aftermath of the Kree-Skrull war, the Avengers have returned to Earth to find that one of their members is missing. Tracking down the Warhawks, the Avengers are reunited with Clint Barton, who has dropped the Goliath act and is now back to the bow and arrows of Hawkeye. With him, they find another former Avenger, Hercules, confused and disoriented. What a way to start the next volume of Essential Avengers!

The disoriented Hercules leads into a storyline that leads into #100 anniversary issue, which brought back every former Avengers – including the Hulk – in a battle between Earth, Asgard, and Olympus. Following that, the Avengers face numerous familiar foes, including the Grim Reaper, the Sentinels, the Space Phantom, and Magneto.

The highlight of this volume is the Avengers-Defenders War, which crossed over between the two titles, both scripted by Steve Englehart. Loki, the step-brother of Thor, and Dormammu, long-time foe of Doctor Strange, manipulate the two super-teams into battle. This has been reprinted multiple times, including in the Essential Defenders books.

The volume concludes as the Avengers make another return to Rutland, Vermont, for the annual Halloween parade. Once again, chaos ensues as the Collector shows up trying to complete a set of Avengers.

What is interesting with this volume is Englehart advancing the characters into relationships, bordering on a soap opera. The Scarlet Witch and the Vision start a relationship, much to Quicksilver’s chagrin. Mantis shows up, and wants to claim the Vision as her own. The Swordsman has fallen head over heels in love with Mantis, but can’t get the time of day from her. All of this gets resolved in the next volume.

What makes this Essential?: We see another transition in the Avengers title as Roy Thomas steps down as writer, and Steve Englehart comes in as the new scribe of the book. The X-Men – friend and foes – make numerous appearances during a time when their book was strictly a reprint title. Englehart scripts one of the first multi-part crossovers between the Avengers and the Defenders. With the introduction of Mantis, we start approaching the Celestial Madonna storyline that will dominate Essential Avengers Vol. 6. The downside to this volume is the art, which suffers from a lack of consistency. If you liked Essential Avengers Vol. 4, you should probably have this volume as well to continue the run.

Footnotes: Avengers #111 and Daredevil #99 was also reprinted in Essential Daredevil Vol. 4.

Avengers #115-#118 and Defenders #8-#11 are also reprinted in Essential Defenders Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: Avengers: Under Siege by Roger Stern and John Buscema. Running in Avengers #270-#277, the Masters of Evil are back with a vengeance, taking down the Avengers one-by-one. During the onslaught, Hercules is beaten within inches of his life; control of the Avengers Mansion falls over to the bad guys; and even the butler Jarvis is caught up and injured. But falling back to the group’s origins, the Wasp rallies the troops, calling in Thor and Captain America to defeat the Masters of Evil. When fans are asked to name the best Avengers stories, this is easily in the top five for everyone, if not the top choice. This has been collected multiple times and remains in print nearly 30 years after it initially ran in the monthly book.

Showcase Presents Batgirl Vol. 1

First Published: July 2007

Contents: Batgirl stories from: Detective Comics #359 (January 1967), #363 (May 1967), #369 (November 1967), #371 (January 1968), #384 (February 1969), #385 (March 1969), #388 (June 1969), #389 (July 1969), #392 (October 1969), #393 (November 1969), #396 (February 1970), #397 (March 1970), #400 (June 1970), #401 (July 1970), #404 (October 1970) to #424 (June 1972); World’s Finest Comics #169 (September 1967) and #176 (June 1968); 
Batman #197 (December 1967) and #214 (August 1969); Justice League of America #60 (February 1968); The Brave and The Bold #78 (June-July 1968); Adventure Comics #381 (June 1969); Superman #268 (October 1973) and #279 (September 1974); and Superman Family #171 (June/July 1975)

Key Creator Credits: Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino, Frank Robbins, Gil Kane, Don Heck, Curt Swan, Mike Friedrich, and others

Key First Appearances: Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Jason Bard

Overview: Meet Barbara Gordon, librarian and daughter of Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon. With an invitation to the Gotham City Policeman’s Masquerade Ball, Barbara is making a female-fitting version of the Batman costume. While on the way to the ball, Barbara encounters a robbery in progress, and jumps in to stop the crime. Later on, she can’t stop thinking about the rush she experienced as a crime-fighter. Making her costume more practical for physical activity, Barbara joins the Dynamic Duo as a protector of Gotham City, as Batgirl.

Early on, Batgirl was brought in every couple of issues to help Batman and Robin with whatever case they may be working on. But her popularity grew as a character, earning her a back-up feature role in the pages of Detective Comics. While most of these stories are one-and-done, towards the end of this run an ongoing story arc was introduced by Frank Robbins and Don Heck. Barbara reveals her secret identity to her father, who being a good cop had already deduced her secret. Barbara gets elected to Congress to help represent Gotham City in Washington, D.C.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Batgirl was created at the request of the producers of the Batman television show, hoping to add a new female character to the show’s third season. Appropriately enough, her first comic appearance was titled “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!” The show helped cement Barbara Gordon’s place in the Batman universe, and the writers and artists found ways to take advantage (albeit slowly) of this incredible character. This is a great volume to own, and share with readers of all ages. My only complaint about this volume is the cover image they chose for this volume (Page 1 from Detective Comics #371). Seriously, could DC find a more sexist image to use? I understand that Batgirl was not used on many covers during the time frame that this book covers, but the covers to Detective Comics #359 or #369 would have been much better choices to use over the cover image above.

Footnotes: The stories from Detective Comics #359, #363, #369, & #371, and Batman #197 were also reprinted in Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 3.

Batman #214 was also reprinted in Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 4.

Detective Comics #400 & #401 were also reprinted in Showcase Presents Robin the Boy Wonder Vol. 1.

The Brave and The Bold #78 was also reprinted in Showcase Presents The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 1.

World’s Finest Comics #169 was also reprinted in Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 3.

World’s Finest Comics #176 was also reprinted in Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 4.

Justice League of America #60 was also reprinted in Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: tracking down a copy of The Brave and the Bold #33 (June 2010), during the J. Michael Straczynski run on the book. This story is set in the days prior to the events of Batman: The Killing Joke (and if you need info on why that book is important, you probably shouldn’t be reading this blog). Zatanna has had premonitions of events coming up in Barbara Gordon’s life, so she and Wonder Woman take Babs out on the town for a night of fun. Cliff Chiang draws a beautiful yet realistic female figure, and was a perfect choice for this issue. This issue was collected in the Team-ups of the Brave and the Bold hardcover, which collected the JMS issues of The Brave and the Bold.

Essential Daredevil Vol. 3

Essential Daredevil Vol. 3

First Published: August 2005

Contents: Daredevil #49 (February 1969) to #74 (March 1971); and Iron Man #35 (March 1971) and #36 (April 1971)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, Barry Windsor-Smith, Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Don Heck, and others

Key First Appearances: Starr Saxon/Mister Fear (Machinesmith), Stunt-Master, Turk Barrett, Thunderbolt,

Story Continues From: Essential Daredevil Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Daredevil Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Daredevil, the Man without Fear. In this volume, we say goodbye to writer Stan Lee, as he gives up the reigns to Rascally Roy Thomas and, later, Gerry Conway. Most of the art in this volume comes from the talented Gene Colan, although we do get a taste of early Barry Windsor-Smith in this collection.

This volume starts off with Matt suffering from a crisis of conscience. Foggy Nelson has been elected District Attorney and has gone his separate ways from Matt. Matt wants to ditch his red union suit and try to settle down into a reasonably normal life with Karen Page. Sadly, circumstances force Matt back into costume, as Daredevil has a city to protect.

One of the early villains introduced is Star Saxon, a genius who builds killer robots. (Saxon later appears in this same volume as Mister Fear, but his fame would eventually peak when he takes the name Machinesmith, being a foil for Daredevil, Captain America, Spider-Man, and others.) Long time foes Gladiator and Jester make return appearances to take on Daredevil, as well as Cobra and Mr. Hyde coming over from the pages of Thor.

The volume concludes with a crossover between Iron Man and Daredevil, as they battle the Zodiac. It makes for a nice change of pace to see Don Heck’s take on Daredevil for these issues.

What makes this Essential?: Once again, the artwork steals the show with this volume. I’ve praised Gene Colan’s talents many times in this blog, and there is not much else I can say to convince you on his art. This volume is no exception. In terms of the stories themselves, the tales in here are generally forgettable, quite honestly. This feels like a time in the character’s history where the primary concern was just to get a monthly book out, and any character development was a secondary concern. By all means, get this volume for Colan’s art. Just don’t get your hopes up if you are getting this for the Daredevil stories.

Footnotes: Daredevil #73 and Iron Man #35 & #36 are also collected in Essential Iron Man Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: the Daredevil run from Frank Miller. In the late 1970s, Miller came onto the book as the artist and eventually took over the writing chores as well. During his run, Miller took a throwaway character introduced in Daredevil #69, Turk Barrett. Turk made that one appearance and then did not appear again for nearly 10 years until the Miller run. Turk was a two-bit thug that had dreams of bigger jobs with greater rewards, but he always seems to make the wrong choice. Daredevil would crash into whatever bar Turk was drowning his sorrows in, smash everything (and everyone) up, and then question Turk, who would squeal and give Daredevil whatever info he was needing.

Notwithstanding the use of Turk, the Miller run on Daredevil is the first one mentioned when people talk about the best Daredevil runs. Miller pushed the boundaries for a monthly newsstand comic and helped set the tone for comics to come in the 1980s. This has been collected numerous times as both hardcovers and trade paperbacks. If you haven’t read this yet, you are missing out on one of the all-time great Daredevil stories.