Essential Spider-Man Vol. 11

spiderman11First Published: June 2012

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #231 (August 1982) to #248 (January 1984); and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (1982) and #17 (1983)

Key Creator Credits: Roger Stern, Bill Mantlo, John Romita Jr., Bob Hall, Ron Frenz, Ed Hannigan, and others

Key First Appearances: Monica Rambeau/Captain Marvel, Hobgoblin

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 10

Overview: OK, if you have been following along at home, so far I have written five reviews for Essential Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, four volumes of Essential Marvel Team-Up, and this will be the eleventh volume of Essential Spider-Man, highlighting the run in Amazing Spider-Man. So on the off-chance I repeat myself at any point in this review, just understand that there is a good reason why I might re-use a joke or line. Because if comics has taught me anything, it’s that you re-use whatever works best as many times as you can!

As we left off with the last collection, these issues are primarily done by writer Roger Stern and artist John Romita Jr. For as many good teams that have worked on Spider-Man over the years, this may be one of my favorite creator teams to ever work on Amazing Spider-Man. In these stories, Peter Parker is focusing on his photo-journalism work for the Daily Bugle. In his personal life, we see Mary Jane Watson becoming more of a potential romantic interest for Peter, but she’s not the only one.

The highlight of this volume has to be the introduction of the Hobgoblin. Someone has discovered one of Norman Osborn’s secret labs and has modified the Green Goblin identity for his own purposes. It makes for an intriguing storyline (not really seen since the time the Green Goblin was first introduced) as Peter (and the readers) try to unravel the identity of this new costumed villain. The Hobgoblin became a break-out star in the Spider-Man books, building up over a year’s time to a fiery conclusion.

Another character introduction comes with a familiar name, as Roger Stern and the John Romitas (Sr. and Jr.) gave us Monica Rambeau, the new Captain Marvel. Obviously, Marvel did this as a way to maintain the rights to Captain Marvel, keeping it away from DC Comics. This Captain Marvel was able to transform into any form of energy and developed into a strong character even after she ceded the Captain Marvel name, becoming first Photon and then Pulsar. While introduced in the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, Stern would bring her onto the Avengers team during his five-year run on that title.

One of my all-time favorite Spider-Man stories comes at the end of this collection, with “The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man” from Amazing Spider-Man #248. This came during Marvel’s infamous Assistant Editor’s Month when many titles decided to have fun with issues that month. But we get an incredibly touching backup story from Roger Stern and Ron Frenz. Spider-Man pays a visit to a young boy named Tim, who claims to be Spider-Man’s biggest fan. Peter shows off for Tim, answers some questions, and then shares with Tim his secret identity. It’s only an 11-page story, but I still tear up every time I read this.

What makes this Essential?: I really enjoyed this volume. Obviously, the introduction of Hobgoblin was significant at the time, but it seems diminished now looking back on it more than 30 years later. John Romita Jr’s art really shines in the black and white format, and I believe Roger Stern is a criminally underrated writer who doesn’t get the proper recognition he deserves. Stern helps usher in a new era to Spider-Man and Peter Parker in particular, moving his away from his graduate studies and focusing more on his photojournalism work.

If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin trade paperback. My biggest complaint is that this collection stopped three issues too short. This book needed to include Amazing Spider-Man #249 to #251, which would have wrapped up not only the Hobgoblin storyline (for now) but also the red-and-blue costume era as the black symbiote costume is introduced in #252. The Hobgoblin story had been building for a year, causing a lot of speculation as to the identity of the villain. If you can’t track down the individual issues, find this trade paperback to complete the story.

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 Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1

Essential Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1

Essential Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1

First Published: January 2008

Contents: Power Man and Iron Fist #50 (April 1978) to #72 (August 1981), #74 (October 1981), and #75 (November 1981)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Ed Hannigan,  Jo Duffy, Kerry Gammill, Trevor von Eeden, and others

Key First Appearances: Harmony Young, Jennie Royce, El Aguila,

Story Continues From: Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 2 and Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Power Man & Iron Fist Vol. 2

Overview: There are a lot of things in life that just seem to go together naturally. Like peanut butter and jelly, or Scooby Doo and Shaggy. In the world of Marvel Comics, we get the super-hero pairing of Power Man and Iron Fist, as the two street-level heroes come together with their business partnership, Heroes for Hire.

What makes this book stand out is the supporting cast surrounding the heroes. Characters were brought in from the two solo books, plus new characters such as receptionist Jennie Royce and Power Man’s love interest Harmony Young. The large cast made for all kinds of storylines and interactions between the characters, to a fault. So much of each story was spent developing the characters that it left little time (or pages) for super hero fighting!

We get some interesting appearances in this book, such as a meeting with the X-Men to battle the Living Monolith. Sabretooth makes his second-ever appearance in comics in issue #66. (Hard to believe that he was an Iron Fist villain for nine years before he first crossed paths with Wolverine.) Sadly, there is one crossover missing, when Power Man and Iron Fist meet ROM (See Footnotes below). The book concluded with our heroes traveling to K’un-Lun, the magical city where Danny Rand received his training to become Iron Fist.

What makes this Essential?: This is an interesting collaboration. Previous Marvel titles that added a character to the title (Captain America and the Falcon, Daredevil and the Black Widow) still were at the core a book with a title character and a supporting character. With Power Man & Iron Fist, both characters come into the book as equals, having been the stars of their own books. This combination makes for one of the first ongoing true team-up titles. In the grand scheme of things, this is not one of the most Essential Marvel titles of all time. But it’s still a solid read with a unique approach to the title characters as business partners.

Footnotes: Power Man and Iron Fist #73 is not included in this collection. The story features our heroes teaming up with ROM, a licensed property from the late 1970s. Marvel no longer has the rights to ROM to reprint his appearances. 

Power Man and Iron Fist #50 is also reprinted in Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the C.O.W.L. series from Image Comics. Launched earlier this year, C.O.W.L. stands for the Chicago Organized Workers League, the world’s first super-hero union. Set in the 1960s, C.O.W.L. has a contract with the city of Chicago, but they are in negotiations. The heroes are ready to go on strike, but the city refuses to give into their demands. At the same time, there is political infighting within their organization, as some heroes refuse to retire quietly. This is a very intriquing and complex book set in a fully developed world – think Watchmen meets Mad Men set in Astro City. The book is a long-time-in-development project from Kyle Higgins, with an assist by co-writer Alec Siegel and art by Rod Reis. The first trade paperback collecting the initial five issues was released at the end of October, so this is a perfect way to jump onboard.

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 3

First Published: March 2007

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #54 (May 1981) to #74 (January 1983); and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #3 (1981)

Key Creator Credits: Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Roger Stern, Ed Hannigan, Al Milgrom, Luke McDonnell, and others

Key First Appearances: Cloak, Dagger

Story Continues From: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS). This book remains a companion book to Amazing Spider-Man, but focuses primarily on Peter Parker and his collegiate life.

Once again, this volume breaks out into two separate sections, much like the Volume 2. The difference is we start out with the Roger Stern stories first. These stories are serviceable, but are generally one-and-done issues. The various “villain of the month” shows up to make Peter don the blue-and-red costume, with the occasional check-in with life on the ESU campus. During this run, the highlights of these issues may be the covers, as Frank Miller does many of the cover images.

The second section picks up with issue #61, as Roger Stern hands over writing duties on the title back to Bill Mantlo. (Stern gave up this title to take over the writing duties of Amazing Spider-Man.) Mantlo, working with artists such as Ed Hannigan and Jim Mooney, introduces a new tone to the title. It no longer feels like a secondary book to Amazing, but as a top-level book in its own right. Obviously, the biggest event in this volume occurs in issue #64, as Cloak and Dagger are introduced, becoming one of Marvel’s biggest surprises of the 1980s. The volume concludes with the start of a gang war between Doctor Octopus and the Owl, and it leaves us hanging with the final page return of the Black Cat.

What makes this Essential?: This may be the first volume in the series that is truly worth picking up. While there are teases to events ongoing in Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Team-Up, this book can be read as a self-contained series of issues. The writing is solid, as Bill Mantlo and Roger Stern have mastered the Spider-Man story formula. The art is decent, but not spectacular, if you will pardon the pun. My biggest complaint is that this volume ends with issue #74, which is right in the middle of the Doctor Octopus vs. Owl storyline. That story finally wrapped up in issue #79, so it might have pushed the limits to include it in here.

If you like this volume, try: the Cloak and Dagger mini-series from 1983. Written by Bill Mantlo with art by Rick Leonardi, the break-out stars from this volume of PPTSS jump over into their own four-issue series. We find our duo hiding in a church, where Father Delgado befriends the two. We get their origin – two runaways from different backgrounds arrive in New York City, They were taken into a shelter along with other runaways, and are given an experimental drug designed by the Maggia to be a replacement for heroin. The drug reacts with latent mutant genes in their bodies, mutating the two characters into the light and darkness personified. As a result, Cloak and Dagger make it their personal mission to take on the drug trade every chance they can. This series was released as a hardcover in 2009, so it should be easy to find.