Showcase Presents Doc Savage Vol. 1

docsavageFirst Published: July 2011

Contents: Doc Savage #1 (August 1975) to #8 (Spring 1977)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Ken Barr, Tony DeZuniga, and others

Overview: In 1930s New York City, on the 86th floor of a skyscraper that may or may not be the Empire State Building, you can find the offices of Dr. Clark Savage, Jr. Affectionately referred to as Doc Savage, he is the ultimate example of the best that a man could be. Trained as a physician, scientist, inventor, researcher, and more, Savage is the modern renaissance man. With the help of his loyal friends, Doc Savage takes on challenges that no other mortal man could do, as evidenced by his sworn oath: “I will travel the world, helping those who need help, and punishing those who deserve punishment.”

Originally conceived as a pulp character in the 1930s, Doc Savage has been a part of pulp culture for many years. Originally designed for cheap paperback novels, Savage has also appeared in a movie, on the radio, and naturally in comics books. For this collection of magazine stories from the mid-1970s, Doc Savage and his crew cross the globe on one adventure after another. Along the way, his friends bicker among themselves, we meet Doc Savage’s cousin, who also is also equally bronze in nature, and Doc Savage triumphs over evil at every opportunity.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This is an interesting collection, which I am glad it finally got to see print. These stories benefit having been told in a magazine format. Most stories run for 50 pages or more, and the stories get a chance to develop without having to reach a cliffhanger moment every 20 pages if this was in a traditional comic book. Writer Doug Moench has a solid understanding of the characters and manages to portray Savage as a larger-than-life hero but not all-powerful like a Superman. The art from Tony DeZuniga really shines through in this format. Track this collection down if you have any interest in Doc Savage.

Meet the Fabulous Five: Doc Savage kept himself surrounded by a team of associates that would assist him on his cases. While each of the men is the best in their respective fields, you get the feeling that Doc Savage always knows more about their chosen professions.

  • Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett “Monk” Mayfair, an industrial chemist.
  • Brigadier General Theodore Marley “Ham” Brooks, an accomplished attorney.
  • Colonel John “Renny” Renwick, a construction engineer.
  • Major Thomas J. “Long Tom” Roberts, an electrical engineer.
  • William Harper “Johnny” Littlejohn, an archaeologist and geologist.

Footnotes: These Doc Savage magazines were published by Curtis Magazines, a division of Marvel. The rights have bounced around from various publishers over the years. When this collection was published in 2011, the rights were held by DC Comics. DC included Doc Savage in a then ongoing First Wave project that used a lot of pulp heroes from the 1930s.

If you like this volume, try: diving into the back issue bins to find some Doc Savage comics. The character has been published over the years by DC, Marvel, Gold Key, Millennium, and most recently Dynamite Comics. Or track down some of the pulp novels of Doc Savage, either the old original volume or new modern takes on the Man of Bronze. To explore more on everything Doc Savage, check out the Bronze Gazette website run by my friend Terry. They publish a quarterly magazine as well as cover Doc Savage conventions and other appearances of Clark Savage.

Essential Moon Knight Vol. 2

moon_knight_2First Published: October 2007

Contents: Moon Knight #11 (September 1981) to #30 (April 1983)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alan Zelenetz, Greg LaRocque, Steven Grant, and others

Key First Appearances: Morpheus, Detective Flint, Stained Glass Scarlet, Black Spectre

Story Continues From: Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Moon Knight Vol. 3

Overview: He’s back! Moon Knight returns in his second Essential volume, reprinting the stories from his first ongoing series.

During this run of issues, the Moon Knight titled transitioned into a direct market only title, meaning that fans could only find the book at comic book retailers and not on the spinner rack at your local convenience store. The direct market status came with some benefits to the discerning readers. The comics were ad-free and were eventually upgraded to a better paper quality. In addition, Marvel could start to tell somewhat more mature stories in this format.

Most of the stories are one-and-done, but there are the occasional multi-part stories. We are introduced to a pair of foes that would be regulars in Moon Knight’s rogues gallery – Morpheus and Scarlet. I think the development of the supporting characters in the book helps enhance the title character.

The best stories are found towards the end of the book, and the end of artist Bill Sienkiewicz’s run on the title. In particular, issue #26 with the “Hit It” story works on multiple levels, striking a powerful blow at the reader.

What makes this Essential?: These are really good issues, and they translate well into the black & white format. As I mentioned before, I’ve never been a fan of Moon Knight. To me, he seemed to just be Marvel’s version of Batman, albeit with multiple personalities.

But I read an interesting theory in the preparation of this review that made me rethink my position. As seen in this volume, some cover art is done by Frank Miller, who was bringing his legendary run on Daredevil to a conclusion in this time frame. Soon after, Miller started doing some work for DC, including Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. Now, the Batman that most people think of when we hear the character’s name most often is the Frank Miller-influenced Batman that came out of those two stories. And since Miller worked on Moon Knight before he worked on Batman, you could (maybe) make the case that Batman is actually DC’s version of Moon Knight. It may be a stretch, but it’s an idea I want to think some more about.

Anyway, buy this book, whether it is for the character, the Doug Moench stories, or the beautiful Bill Sienkiewicz artwork.

If you like this volume, try: Daredevil: Love and War from the 1980s Marvel Graphic Novel line. This is an incredible Daredevil story from Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz that often gets overlooked. The Kingpin has kidnapped a psychiatrist in hopes of helping his wife Vanessa recover. Daredevil must stop the Kingpin and rescue the psychiatrist, as well as the psychiatrist’s wife, who is being held by a psychotic killer on behalf of the Kingpin. This is a beautiful book that is best viewed as the Marvel Graphic Novel, in order to get the proper scaling for the pages. I’ve been on record that I was NOT a Sienkiewicz fan when he took over the art on New Mutants. I hated his work and only stayed with the book because I actually had a mail subscription to the title. But Love and War was 180-degree turn for me in my opinions of Sienkiewicz. I suddenly got his art and thought it was incredible. Please check out this story however you can find it.

Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1

moonknight1First Published: February 2006

Contents: Werewolf by Night #32 (August 1975) and #33 (September 1975); Marvel Spotlight #28 (June 1976) and #29 (August 1976); Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #22 (September 1978) and #23 (October 1978); Marvel Two-In-One #52 (June 1979); Moon Knight stories from The Hulk! #11 (October 1978) to #15 (June 1979), #17 (October 1979), #18 (December 1979), and #20 (April 1980); Marvel Preview #21 (May 1980); and Moon Knight #1 (November 1980) to #10 (August 1981)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Don Perlin, Bill Sienkiewicz, and others

Key First Appearances: Marc Spector/Steven Grant/Jake Lockley/Moon Knight, Frenchie, Marlene Alraune, Gena Landers, Bertrand Crawley, Samuels, Hatchet-Man/Shadowknight, Crossfire, Bushman, Khonshu, Ray Landers, Ricky Landers

Story Continues In: Essential Moon Knight Vol. 2

Overview: Introduced as the latest villain-of-the-month, mercenary Marc Spector has been hired to bring in Jack Russell, a.k.a. the Werewolf By Night. Given an armor covered in silver (the one element that’s deadly to werewolves) and armed with throwing crescents and other weapons, the Moon Knight works to bring in his prey to the Committee. From this humble beginnings, a new modern Marvel hero was born.

Following his initial appearance, Moon Knight made some scattered appearances in other titles before finally earning a regular backup feature in The Hulk magazine. With the ongoing story, writer Doug Moench was able to start fleshing out the character’s origin, tying it in with the Egyptian moon god Khonshu, as well as creating a supporting cast around Moon Knight.

As we learn more about Marc Spector, we find out that he has multiple personalities. Initially, the various identities seem to just be costumes that Moon Knight uses to solve his missions. As the stories develop more, we see that these various personalities (mercenary Marc Spector, millionaire Steven Grant, cab driver Jake Lockley) all seem to struggle for control of the body along with Moon Knight.

In response to his ever-growing popularity, Moon Knight finally graduates to his own ongoing title in 1980. The longer format allows for more detailed stories, as we get the all-new revised origin for Moon Knight. These issues also showcase the development of artist Bill Sienkiewicz’s art, as he progresses to the look that he would most be known for in the future.

What makes this Essential?: For years, I have resisted diving into the Moon Knight universe. My only interaction with the character was his brief stint with the West Coast Avengers. Add in that much of the series was as a direct market title, which made it unavailable on the spinner racks at convenience stores.

So reading this collection was truly a proper introduction to the character. I was fascinated to see the character, first introduced as a foe for the Jack Russell werewolf, go through a transformation to become a hero. Rather than just being a hired hand wearing a fancy suit, we find out in the main series that Marc Spector was “destined” to become Moon Knight by the Khonshu.

I’m going to keep moving forward with the Moon Knight volumes to see where this story goes and to marvel over the Sienkiewicz artwork.

Footnotes: Werewolf By Night #32 and #33 were also reprinted in Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 2.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #22 and #23 were also reprinted in Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1.

Marvel Two-in-One #52 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 2.

The Hulk & Moon Knight stories from Hulk! #15 are also reprinted in Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the current ongoing Moon Knight series from Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood. The two creators really “get” the Moon Knight concept, and the output is pure comic goodness. Lemire’s initial story arc plays with the multiple identities of the man wearing the Moon Knight costume, placing Marc Spector in an insane ward. But the patients around him is his familiar group of friends in Frenchie, Marlene, Bertrand and Gena. Greg’s art has gone up a level or two with this book. He is presenting creative layouts, where the design of the panels contributes to the story. His art feels like an extension of the legendary work that Bill Sienkiewicz crafted on the original run of the Moon Knight title. The first story arc just completed, and a trade paperback of it will be released in December.

Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 2

First Published: October 2007

Contents: Werewolf by Night #22 (October 1974) to #43 (March 1977); Giant-Size Werewolf #2 (October 1974) to #5 (July 1975); and Marvel Premiere #28 (February 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Don Perlin, and others

Key First Appearances: Marc Spector/Moon Knight, Frenchie

Story Continues From: Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 1

Overview: Every 28 days, give or take, the full moon rises and lights up the night sky. Some people love those three nights that the full moon is visible. For other people, like Jack Russell, those nights of the full moon are the worst days of your month. See, Jack is a lycanthrope, which means that his body transforms into a werewolf with the start of the full moon. This is Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 2.

Not much has changed since we read the last volume. Jack struggles with the transformations. His friends help him out, sometimes at great risk to their own lives. But a new threat emerges as Jack’s sister Lyssa approaches her 18th birthday. Will she be affected by the family curse? The short answer is yes. Unfortunately, during her first transformation, she is also imbued with a dark evil energy, making her a more ferocious threat. Thankfully, the group finds a cure for her condition, but Jack is still bound to the werewolf.

The highlight of this collection comes in Werewolf By Night #32 and #33, as a new villain is introduced to stop the Werewolf – the Moon Knight. It’s interesting to see mercenary Marc Spector contracted to bring in the Werewolf for a mysterious group known as the Committee, and they provide him a special suit with silver weapons to stop him. At the time, he seemed to almost be a throw-away character, as were most of the characters created in this run. But something took hold with this character, as we will see soon in a future Essential review.

What makes this Essential?: I want to like this more, but these issues just do not hold up. The two biggest items in this volume are the introduction of Moon Knight and the ability to will his transformations regardless of the moon phase. With Moon Knight, you get the full context of those issues by reading it here, but you could also just get Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1 if you want to see Marc Spector’s first appearance. The ability to revert to the werewolf at will should actually help the story-telling process, but by that point, the book had moved to bi-monthly status, and the popularity of the character appears to have been declining. For the completist, by all means, pick up this volume. I think the bookshelf would look great with two Werewolf By Night volumes, along with the four Tomb of Dracula, the Frankenstein, the Zombie, and the two Marvel Horror Essentials. I’m glad that Marvel reprinted this era of their books, but that still doesn’t make them essential.

Footnotes: Werewolf By Night #32 and #33 were also reprinted in Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1.

Giant-Size Werewolf #2 was also reprinted in Essential Monster of Frankenstein Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Legion of Monsters mini-series from Marvel in 2011. Getting a group of monsters together is not a new concept. Universal did it repeatedly with their monster films of the 1940s and 1950s. DC had their take with the Creature Commandos. We saw Marvel’s take in this collection with the Legion of Monsters story from Marvel Premiere #28. That concept was recently revisited in a story written by Dennis Hopeless. The monster hunter, Elsa Bloodstone, is on the trail of a killer… a trail which leads right to the hidden home of the monsters. But the monsters refuse to go down without a fight. Morbius, Werewolf, the Living Mummy and Manphibian defend themselves against Bloodstone in a fun romp that harkens back to so many of the monster mythos, both within Marvel Comics and in the pop culture lore.

Essential Monster of Frankenstein Vol. 1

monsteroffrankenstein1First Published: October 2004

Contents: The Monster of Frankenstein #1 (January 1973) to #5 (September 1973); The Frankenstein Monster #6 (October 1973) to #18 (September 1975); Giant-Size Werewolf #2 (October 1974); Monsters Unleashed #2 (October 1973) and #4 (February 1974) to #10 (February 1975); and Legion of Monsters #1 (September 1975)

Key Creator Credits: Gary Friedrich, Mike Ploog, Doug Moench, John Buscema, Val Mayerik, and others

Key First Appearances: Frankenstein’s Monster, Victor Frankenstein

Overview: Ripped from the pages of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein’s Monster comes to life in the Marvel Universe. This is Essential Monster of Frankenstein Vol. 1.

The book starts out by retelling Shelley’s story – how Dr. Frankenstein created new life from the remains of old bodies, but the new creature turned against his “father”. The Frankenstein Monster seeks out Victor Frankenstein, chasing him to the Arctic Circle. Following the death of Victor, and perhaps borrowing a page from Captain America’s story, the Frankenstein Monster falls into the freezing waters, and is encased in ice preserving his so-called life until he could be revived in the late twentieth century.

Joining the modern world, the Frankenstein Monster shuffles from story-to-story. Some deal with him seeking out other descendants of Victor Frankenstein. Other stories have him crossing paths with the other popular Marvel monsters, such as Dracula or Werewolf. Add in a handful of stories that involve the Frankenstein monster being used by others to further their desires.

What makes this Essential?: Marvel found a lot of success in the 1970s with the launch of the various Monster or Horror titles, such as Tomb of Dracula, Ghost Rider, or Werewolf By Night. I think Frankenstein must have been a moderate success, at least enough to warrant this Essential. But reading so many of these stories, particularly the ones from the Monsters Unleashed magazine, there is not much difference between reading these stories and many of the Rampaging Hulk stories from this era. Both were large guys with communication issues, looking to be left alone, and often finds himself in the middle of a situation he wants nothing to do with. I personally found the team-up issues, like the Legion of Monsters story, more interesting. Those stories do not rely on the Frankenstein monster to carry the story forward.

Footnotes: Frankenstein’s Monster #7  to #9 were also reprinted in Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 4.

Giant-Size Werewolf #2 was also reprinted in Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 2.

Although not collected in this collection, Marvel Team-Up #36 and #37 featured Spider-Man meeting the Frankenstein Monster. Those issues were reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: the Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. series from DC as part of the New 52 Universe. The series was written by Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt, with art by Alberto Ponticelli. In this take on the classic character, we see the version of Frankenstein’s monster that Grant Morrison developed in his Seven Soldiers series. Frankenstein and the other Creature Commandos work for a secret government agency known as S.H.A.D.E. (Super Human Advanced Defense Executive). S.H.A.D.E. is the first line for investigating and fighting supernatural threats. The series ran for seventeen issues, and it was reprinted in two trade paperbacks.

 

Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 1

werewolf1First Published: October 2005

Contents: Marvel Spotlight #2 (February 1972) to #4 (June 1972); Werewolf by Night #1 (September 1972) to #21 (June 1979); Tomb of Dracula #18 (March 1974); Giant-Size Creatures #1 (July 1974); and Marvel Team-Up #12 (August 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Mike Friedrich, Doug Moench, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Mike Ploog, Gene Colan, Gil Kane, Tom Sutton, and others

Key First Appearances: Jack Russell/Werewolf, Lissa Russell, Phillip Russell, Buck Cowan, Tatterdemalion, Raymond Coker, Topaz, Tigra,

Story Continues In: Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 2

Overview: Jack Russell is your typical teenage boy growing up in southern California in the 1970s. He’s just turned 18, he can’t stand his stepfather, and his mom is always nagging him about something. But turning 18 brings on a change to Jack Russell, as he finds out that he carries a recessive trait thanks to his birth father, who he never really knew. Turns out dear old dad was also a lycanthrope, and now Jack is too. Not familiar with the lycanthrope term? Let me save you the time of looking it up and clue you in on the more common term – a werewolf! This is Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 1.

So now at the start of each full moon, Jack Russell undergoes a transformation into a werewolf. He retains very little of Jack’s memories and values, reverting more to a wild animal looking for the hunt and trying to escape the city for the forest. For three days, Jack must worry about the setting of the sun and the rise of the moon, when his transformation kicks in. He’s constantly looking for a cure and often falls into traps because someone offers him the solution to his monthly hairy situation.

I think we can all agree that being a werewolf is not the easiest of curses to deal with. For starters, you go through a lot of shirts – good thing you live in SoCal as the weather generally works in your favor. You try to protect your family members, like your sister. When people realize your secret, they create schemes or plans to make that work for their own personal gain.

Many of these issues are one-and-done, or they might have a story that carries across three issues with each issue covering one night of the current full moon. Right or wrong, there are a lot of foes or characters that only appear once or twice, and never appear again in any other comic.

Now, just because he is based in California doesn’t mean that he is isolated from the Marvel Universe. A trip to Europe in search of clues about his birth father leads to an encounter with Dracula in a memorable crossover between the respective books. Back in California, he meets up with Greer Nelson as she becomes Tigra for the first time. And in the craziest of meet-ups, the Werewolf meets up with Spider-Man in San Francisco, after Peter Parker is sent to the west coast to get pictures of Daredevil and Black Widow.

What makes this Essential?: There were parts of this collection that I really enjoyed. Reading individual issues were good, but reading these issues back-to-back seems to fall apart. The problem I had is that Jack Russell’s condition is triggered by the full moon, which runs for roughly three nights every 28 days, give or take. So as I am reading this, I’m curious to find out what is going on in the 3 1/2 weeks between the end of one transformation period and the start of the next transformation period. (I had this same problem with Showcase Presents Martian Manhunter Vol. 2 when he was fighting a villain that would only appear at the start of a full moon.) If I had been reading this month-to-month, I think I would have appreciated the title more. But reading this as a complete collection, I think it doesn’t hold up.

Footnotes: Werewolf By Night #15 and Tomb of Dracula #18 were also reprinted in Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1.

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

Giant-Size Creatures #12 featured the first appearance of Greer Nelson as Tigra. However, Greer’s first appearance in comics was in The Cat #1 (November 1972). In this short-lived series, Nelson and another woman were part of an experiment to imbue them with cat-like abilities. Greer used her abilities for good, while the other woman used hers for bad. Guess how that worked itself out? Anyway, in the Giant-Size Creatures issue, we Greer transformed yet again, this time into Tigra. Somewhere along the lines, Greer’s original Cat costume was left in the care of the Avengers. It was later claimed by Patsy Walker, who went briefly by the name of the Cat as well before settling on Hellcat.

If you like this volume, try: the Fables series from DC/Vertigo and created by Bill Willingham. The basic concept of the series is that the fables we are told as kids to teach us morals and values are all true. The characters are real and still alive. In fact, they have migrated from the Old Lands and have set up residence in Fabletown, a hidden neighborhood in New York City. In addition, there is a farm in upstate New York to host the animal characters from the fables. One of the main characters from the series is Bigby Wolf, the Big Bad Wolf from ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ or ‘The Three Little Pigs’ fame. Bigby Wolf serves as the sheriff of Fabletown, and can switch back and forth between his human, werewolf, and wolf forms. This series ran for 150 issues and is easily found in trade paperbacks and hardcovers.

Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 2

rampaginghulk2First Published: March 2010

Contents: Hulk! #16 (August 1979) to #27 (June 1981)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Ron Wilson, Gene Colan, J.M. DeMatteis, and others

Story Continues From: Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 1

Overview: This may be a short review this week, so my apologies in advance. But I’m finding it a challenge to create an overview for this collection. As we saw in the second half of the previous volume, the Hulk! magazine featured longer length stories that were not necessarily tied into continuity with the monthly comic.

Perhaps borrowing an approach from the 1970s TV series, a lot of the stories feature Banner coming into a random town, getting caught up in some evil plot, and then letting the Hulk take over and smash everything to pieces. We get a few stories that are inspired by real events. For example, in Hulk! #20, the Hulk is needed to stop a nuclear meltdown a la Three Mile Island. A lot of the stories deal with issues of that time (drug use, land rights, which still remain relevant 35 years later.

For me, the highlight of this book was the final story in the collection, and not because it was the last. Written by J.M. DeMatteis with art by Gene Colan, we have the Hulk wandering into Las Vegas. The down-on-his-luck Banner is befriended by a chorus dancer and a past-his-prime lounge singer, but they all end up getting on the bad side of the casino bosses. That very well could have been a story made for the television show, but it was better produced in comic book form.

What makes this Essential?: I hate it when I come to this conclusion, but I can’t say that this book is essential. The stories are average – nothing that stands out or gets revisited later. There is some great art from Gene Colan and Ron Wilson, but I don’t know that it’s enough to warrant buying the book. Outside of one or two mentions to Betty Ross or General Thunderbolt, you really don’t know that this is part of the Marvel Universe. These stories could be told with any character that transforms into a monster of some kind. For the Hulk completist, I could justify picking this up versus undergoing the hunt to track down the original magazines. For the average fan, I don’t know that the return would justify the investment (time and money).

If you like this volume, try: the Peter David run on The Incredible Hulk. David has been linked with the Hulk since 1987, when he started a 11-year run on the title. Over that time, he told stories featuring the various versions of the Hulk – mindless brute or Banner-controlled, as well as green or gray. David was one of the first writers to turn Rick Jones into a Hulk, hinting at the role he would one day play as A-Bomb. For me, my favorite Hulk run came in the late 1980s with Mr. Fixit. At this time, Hulk was in his gray form with moderate intelligence. He could only come out at night, harkening back to the original story elements of the Hulk from Lee & Kirby. Mr. Fixit set himself up as a heavyweight enforcer in Las Vegas, a city known for living large in every way possible. David’s run has been collected in a series of Hulk Visionaries volumes. If you want to read the Mr. Fixit story, you are going to need to pick up Volumes 2-4 of that line.