Essential Dazzler Vol. 2

Essential Dazzler Vol. 2

First Published: May 2009

Contents: Dazzler #22 (December 1982) to #42 (March 1986); Marvel Graphic Novel #12 (1984); Beauty and the Beast #1 (December 1984) to #4 (June 1985); and Secret Wars II #4 (October 1985)

Key Creator Credits: Frank Springer, Danny Fingeroth, Jim Shooter, Mike Carlin, Ann Nocenti, Don Perlin, Archie Goodwin, Paul Chadwick, Bill Sienkiewicz, and others

Story Continues From: Essential Dazzler Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 6

Overview: The Dazzler is back in action! (And a quick Google search confirms that those six words have never been used in that order before!) While still trying to make it as a singer, Dazzler finds herself constantly caught up in situations that require her to use her mutant powers. Whether battling the Sisterhood of Evil Mutants (Rogue, Mystique, and Destiny), fighting in an underground mutant gladiator arena in Los Angeles, or trashing the San Diego Comic Con, trouble just seems to find our title character.

This title suffers from a rotating creator team, as writers and artists shuffle in and out for a few issues at a time. That makes it a challenge for the next team to come in and pick up the story where it left off. So after a moderately successful run as a New York City singer, we find Allison moving to California, where the singing takes a back seat to gigs as a model and as an actress. She dates a variety of characters, like Roman Nekobah (a Frank Sinatra wannabe), for several issues, before the next writer introduces their own character.

While I wouldn’t call these standout moments, there are some familiar stories in here that may trigger some fuzzy memories:

  • First, Dazzler was one of the titles that participated in Assistant Editor’s Month. Dazzler took a side-trip to San Diego with Marvel editor Ralph Macchio and fought a mutant lizard. Yes, that happened.
  • Dazzler was the feature star of a Marvel Graphic Novel. Dazzler: The Movie was to be Allison’s big break in the acting business. Instead, it just outed her to the world as a mutant.
  • Dazzler teamed up with the Beast (who was leading the New Defenders at the time) for Beauty and the Beast, a four issue mini-series. Dazzler was recruited (and drugged) to participate in a mutant fight club, and it was up to Hank McCoy to help get her out.

Issue #38 gave us a new direction for our heroine. Sporting a new uniform, courtesy of the X-Men (and their cameo appearances), and featuring a new creative team of Archie Goodwin and Paul Chadwick, Dazzler finds herself being chased (pun intended) down by the bounty hunter, O.Z. Chase. Dazzler does her best to be cooperative with Chase to clear out what she believes is a misunderstanding, only to find out it’s a group wanting to use her powers to energize their aging bodies. As if that was not crazy enough, there is a side story where Allison finds herself the center of the Beyonder’s romantic interest. Right or wrong (but I’m leaning towards right), Dazzler was finally canceled with issue #42.

What makes this Essential?: What a change! I was very skeptical heading into Vol. 1. Let’s be honest, “Essential Dazzler” is one of the best oxymorons of all time. I’m not saying Vol. 1 is a great collection, but it turned out to be not as bad as I expected. (I think that’s a compliment.) So heading into Vol. 2, I had slightly higher expectations than before. And then I started reading. Oh my gosh, this was just…. not good. The stories were just all over the place. Lots of one-and-done stories, new supporting characters introduced every few issues; the most absurd romances for Allison; and way-too-many villains that were never used again. (Seriously, if the Scourge of the Underworld doesn’t bother to kill you, you know you are a lame villain.) Unless you are a completest like myself, I think you would be OK skipping this volume.

Life After Death: Dazzler’s title came to an end with issue #42 (March 1986). But she was not off the stage for very long. Later that summer, she joined up (finally!) with the X-Men, as the Mutant Massacre story came to an end. The X-Men found themselves short-handed, with injuries to Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde, and Colossus. So the team extends invites to Dazzler, Longshot, and Psylocke during this period. Dazzler would be a key member of the team for the remainder of the decade, before heading into the character limbo for most of the 1990s.

Footnotes: Beauty and the Beast #1-4 is also reprinted in Essential Defenders Vol. 7.

If you like this volume, try: Elektra: Assassin by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz from 1986-87. OK, I’ve laid out that this is not a collection of good stories. I don’t need to bang this drum anymore. But if there was one glimmer of light in this book, it would be the cover work by Bill Sienkiewicz. (And for those of you struggling with his name, it’s pronounced “sin-KEV-itch”.) Sienkiewicz rose in popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s with work on Moon Knight and New Mutants. In the mid-1980s, the artist collaborated with artist-turned-writer Miller to create a direct-market mini-series released under Marvel’s Epic line. At this time, both men were at their creative peaks, and the collaboration produced an elegant and powerful story in the vein of the “Manchurian Candidate”,which takes place…. sometime. It’s been a debate whether this takes place chronologically before her first appearance in the pages of Daredevil, or sometime after her encounter with Bullseye. Regardless when it takes place, this is a must own series for any fan of Miller, Sienkiewicz, and/or Elektra. Sienkiewicz’s career has been filled with outstanding projects, but this title always ranks at the top of his comic book accomplishments.

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

First Published: September 2008

Contents: Man-Thing #15 (March 1975) to #22 (October 1975); Giant-Size Man-Thing #3 (February 1975) to #5 (August 1975); Man-Thing story from Rampaging Hulk #7 (February 1978); Marvel Team-Up #68 (April 1978); Marvel Two-in-One #43 (September 1978); Man-Thing #1 (November 1979) to #11 (July 1981); and Doctor Strange #41 (June 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Jim Mooney, Ed Hannigan, John Byrne, Don Perlin, Michael Fleisher, and others

Key First Appearances: Scavenger, D’Spayre, Sheriff John Daltry

Story Continues From: Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1

Overview: The Man-Thing is back! Still based out his swamp in the Florida Everglades, the spirit of Ted Sallis still propels the monster forward, as he seeks out human emotion. But make sure to feel some happy thoughts. That last thing you want to do is show fear because whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!

The first half of this book finishes the Steve Gerber run of the character. Picking up where things left off in Volume 1, the Man-Thing trudges from one adventure to the next, befriended along the way by Richard Rory, Jennifer Kale, and Howard the Duck, among others. As with any other of his other work, the reader feels like Gerber is using the comics as a social commentary on the events of the era. (I realize Gerber passed away in 2008, but I do wonder what it would have been like to have seen and interacted with Gerber in today’s social media world. Like it or love it, it would be entertaining regardless!)

Following the end of the Gerber run, the Man-Thing spent some time in character limbo. He made various guest appearances in other Marvel Comics of the time, some of which are collected in this volume. In late 1979, the Man-Thing once again moved back into his own monthly title. It was initially written by Michael Fleisher, but then Chris Claremont took over during a cross-over with Doctor Strange. This volume of Man-Thing feels more like a “super-hero” comic book, and not a social diatribe. A new supporting character is introduced, John Daltry, who is the local sheriff outside the swamp in Florida. Despite the more traditional approach, the title came to an end with issue #11.

And here is an interesting twist to close the book. Man-Thing has had two different series with his name on the masthead, and the final issues for both series are contained in this Essential. In Man-Thing #22 (October 1975), writer Steve Gerber writes himself into the story, going on an adventure with Man-Thing to wrap up as many story threads as possible from the last four years. If you have read other works by Gerber, you know that Gerber has no qualms about including himself in the stories – in particular, see my review for Essential Howard the Duck Vol. 1. Now, let’s jump ahead six years. In Man-Thing #11 (July 1981), writer Chris Claremont writes himself into the story, going on an adventure with Man-Thing to wrap up the story threads from the last two years. While Claremont has “appeared” in comics in the past, this is the only time when he was an active participant in the story. If I’m wrong, I trust one of you out there to correct me!

What makes this Essential?: This may be an unpopular stance, but I don’t believe these issues are essential. In fact, I would suggest that Man-Thing should never be a title character. He’s great in a back-up or supporting role, but he should not be the star of the book. Now hear me out before you get the rope and look for a tall tree branch. He’s a speechless, mindless character. For writers, you need some kind of supporting characters around him in order to advance the story. Richard Rory and John Daltry just did not work for me in that role. For artists, this is a love/hate character. Sure, you don’t have a detailed costume to replicate panel after panel, but you still have to detail the bulky character with his key facial features. So bottom line, I really believe Man-Thing is best used as a supporting character. His appearances in Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-in-One are the highlights of this book for me. 

Footnotes: Marvel Team-Up #68 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3.

Marvel Two-in-One #43 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2.

Man-Thing #4 and Doctor Strange #41 are also reprinted in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: diving into the back issue bins to find the first 12 issues of Marvel Comics Presents. This was a new anthology title that launched in 1988 as a bi-weekly book. Story arcs would carry over from one issue to the next, and when a story finished, a new character would start a different story in the next issue. Over the first 12 issues, Steve Gerber and Tom Sutton did a Man-Thing story titled Elements of Terror. This has never been collected, so you need to find the back issues. Gerber is back with another Gerber-esque story arc, which touches on the Iran-Contra affair (with the government trying to arm rebels in Doctor Doom’s Latvia), Satanism, and whatever other thoughts happened to be dominating Steve’s mind at the time. Gerber is definitely a unique voice in the world of comics, one that you either get & appreciate, or one that you avoid. It’s taken awhile, but I have grown to enjoy the Gerber stories through readings of his work on Man-Thing, Defenders, and Howard the Duck.

Essential Defenders Vol. 4

Essential Defenders Vol. 4

First Published: July 2008

Contents: The Defenders #61 (July 1978) to #91 (January 1981)

Key Creator Credits: David Kraft, Sal Buscema, Ed Hannigan, Don Perlin, Herb Trimpe, Steven Grant, and others

Key First Appearances: Milton Rosenblum, Dolly Donahue

Story Continues From: Essential Defenders Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Defenders Vol. 5

Overview: Imagine if you were a leader of a team of super-heroes, and you need to add new members. How do you do that? Check online reviews, or get recommendations from the current team. What if you were a non-team, with no official rules or charter or even a leader. In that case, you air a television commercial inviting would be members out to the Long Island home of one of your members, a member who is trying to keep his identity a secret. This is what makes the Defenders such a quirky book!

As I mentioned above, the “Defenders for a Day” story kicks off this volume. Dollar Bill, a sidekick of sorts to the team, puts out a TV commercial inviting hero try-outs at the estate of Kyle (Nighthawk) Richmond. Who should show up is a B-List of Marvel heroes from the late 1970s – Ms. Marvel, Iron Fist, Hercules, Nova, Jack of Hearts, Marvel Boy, the Falcon, Captain Marvel, Havok, Black Goliath, and many, many more. Anyone who has read comics for any period of time can anticipate what happens next. Various heroes all vying for a spot on the team, a misunderstanding, and the next thing you know everyone is fighting. The story gets even better, when Iron Man shows up to share the news that a lot of villains are running rampant in New York City, claiming to be a member of the Defenders. Everyone finds a way to get back to the city and get things straightened out. Net result of all of this “Defenders for a Day”? No new members.

One highlight I found in this book was the development of the characters. We dive into the back stories for Valkryie, Nighthawk, and in particular Hellcat. Be honest, who remembers Patsy Walker being friends with Millie the Model? It is during the late run of the book that the team “changes” headquarters and sets up shop at Patsy’s house.

What makes this Essential?: Writing a review for the Defenders keeps getting harder and harder. It’s not a traditional book where there seems to be a reason for these characters to be together. If you like one of these characters, or can appreciate the humor in this quirky book, then please give this a read. But my gut feeling tells me that even if I was to loan this book to someone to read, I would feel very guilty about wasting their time reading these issues.

Avengers #221

If you like this volume, try: the I Am An Avenger trade paperbacks from 2010. Yes, this is a review of the Defenders and not the Avengers, but the Defenders have not been collected as often. Maybe if the Defenders were a “real” team… but I digress. These two trade paperbacks collect many of the Avengers issues where new members were asked to join the team. Specifically, in the first collection, Avengers #221 is reprinted, which is one of the first issues of Avengers that I bought off of the spinner rack. In that issue, the Avengers roster is down to just four members: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Wasp. They each go out to seek out new recruits to join the team. Numerous heroes are asked, and most politely decline. Spider-Man turns them down, but then has second thoughts when he finds out that active members on the team receive a weekly stipend. In the end, the Avengers add Hawkeye and She-Hulk to their active roster. The cover to this issue stood out, as it featured a mug-shot line-up of the various potential recruits featured in the story. This is definitely a step-up from the “Defender for a Day” story that started this collection. With any team book – Defenders, Avengers, X-Men, Justice League, etc. – the books thrive on the rotating line-ups, and the “Old Order Changeth!” issues are some of the most memorable moments.

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.