Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 1

First Published: October 2005

Contents: Marvel Spotlight #5 (August 1972) to #12 (October 1973); Ghost Rider #1 (September 1973) to #20 (October 1976); and Daredevil #138 (October 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Mike Ploog, Tom Sutton, Tony Isabella, Jim Mooney, George Tuska, Frank Robbins, Marv Wolfman, John Byrne, and others

Key First Appearances: Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, Roxanne Simpson/Katy Milner, Crash Simpson, Daimon Hellstrom/Son of Satan 

Story Continues In: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 2

Overview:  Johnny Blaze is a motorcycle daredevil with a traveling road show. When the owner of the show, Crash Simpson, announces he is dying from cancer, Blaze seeks out and strikes a deal with Devil for his soul in an attempt to save Crash. The Devil accepts, but like any deal with Satan, the deal works against Blaze. Crash is saved from cancer but still dies in a stunt accident. As part of his deal, Johnny Blaze is transformed into a mystical servant of Hell, known as the Ghost Rider.

The early stories deal with Blaze trying to free his soul from the control of Satan. This leads to the introduction of the devil’s estranged offspring, Daimon Hellstrom, who would become an anti-hero in his own right as the Son of Satan.

Eventually, Blaze gets his soul released, but he still retains the Ghost Rider abilities. Early on, his transformations occurred at dusk, but now Blaze finds that he can now control the transition for anytime day or night. He can also extend his powers to create a flaming motorcycle out of the hellfire at his control.

In the later issues, Blaze starts working in Hollywood as a stuntman on a television show, where he meets the actress Karen Page. For longtime Marvel readers, you will recall Page as the one-time secretary of lawyer Matt Murdock. So it’s only natural that Ghost Rider would cross paths with Daredevil, the man without fear, which is exactly what happens as this volume concludes.

What makes this Essential?: I will be the first to admit that I have never been a Ghost Rider fan. I held off getting this book for as long as I possibly could, just out my general dislike for the character. What I found reading the early stories of Johnny Blaze is a far different Ghost Rider than the one that gained such popularity in the 1990s. This Ghost Rider seems more human, whose initial changes were brought on by the setting and rising of the sun. He’s a true anti-hero, never viewing himself as a super-hero; just much more interested in riding his bike at the next show. Based on his history in the Marvel Universe, the Ghost Rider is an important hero to read. But the Ghost Rider in these stories is much different than the Ghost Rider you picture in your head. 

Footnotes: Marvel Spotlight #12, and Ghost Rider #1 & #2 are also reprinted in Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1.

Ghost Rider #10 is a reprint of Marvel Spotlight #5. The cover to Ghost Rider #10 is included in this volume. In the letter column in Ghost Rider #11, it was revealed that the cover for issue #10 went to press before Marvel realized that the issue would not be ready in time.

Ghost Rider #19 & #20, and Daredevil #138 are also reprinted in Essential Daredevil Vol. 6.

There are two early Ghost Rider appearances that are not collected in this volume, but they can be found in other Essential volumes. Marvel Team-Up #15 (November 1973) can be found in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1, and Marvel Two-in-One #8 (March 1975) can be found in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1. In my opinion, both should have been included, given the number of references to those stories in the Ghost Rider title. In particular, the Marvel Team-Up issue features the first appearance of The Orb, who returns as a foe in Ghost Rider #14 and #15.

If you like this volume, try: Marvel’s first team of heroes in California, The Champions. Created by Tony Isabella to feature Angel, Iceman, and Black Goliath, it was retooled without Black Goliath and with the additions of Black Widow, Hercules, and Ghost Rider. Given the diverse line-up of the team, there were a lot of wild adventures during the team’s all-too-short 17 issue run. The Champions #1 (October 1975) debuted during the period covered in this Essential Ghost Rider, and several issues make references to his adventures with the team. While the entire series is collected in two Classic volumes, this is a series that shows up frequently in back issue bins. Make a point to track this series down!

Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 2

Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 2

First Published: August 2006

Contents: Power Man #28 (December 1975) to #49 (February 1978); and Power Man Annual #1 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: Don McGregor, Marv Wolfman, Chris Claremont, George Tuska, Sal Buscema, Lee Elias, Frank Robbins, Marie Severin, John Byrne, and others

Key First Appearances: Cockroach Hamilton, Goldbug

Story Continues From: Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 1 

Story Continues In: Essential Power Man & Iron Fist Vol. 1

Overview: The Hero for Hire, Luke Cage, is back for more cash in the newest Essential volume. Let’s be honest here, being a super-hero is expensive work. Not all heroes get a stipend from the Stark Foundation or live off of the royalties from the patent for unstable molecules to be used to make uniforms. Paying rent, buying food, and replacing those yellow silk shirts torn up in battle adds up quick for a struggling hero. Of course, you have to charge a fee for your services.

Luke Cage remains a hero of the people, working out of his office above a Times Square movie theater. He fights a lot of run of the mill one-and-done villains created specifically for this title. Outside of a fight against Moses Magnum in Power Man Annual #1, his villains do not make many, if any, appearances in any other books.

As the book comes to an end, Cage finds a lot of familiar faces from his past coming back to confront him. Crossing paths with the kung-fu hero, Iron Fist, Luke Cage is finally able to clear his name, making him a free man for the first time in many years. The two agree that working together benefits both of them, and a new super-hero duo is formed. But like any other story, that is a tale to be continued….

What makes this Essential?: This book is a step up from the first volume, but not nearly as good as it will become with Essential Power Man & Iron Fist Vol. 1, The second half of the book, under the direction of first Marv Wolfman and then Chris Claremont, starts to finally find it’s place focusing on an urban hero and not just an urban black hero. The art is serviceable, but not memorable by any means. If you are a fan of Luke Cage, this is worth the read. But I would not consider it essential to have in your collection.

Footnotes: Power Man #36 is a reprint of a story originally featured in Hero for Hire #12. The new cover for #36 is included in this Essential

Giant-Size Power Man #1 (1975) is a reprint collection of stories originally featured in Hero for Hire #14 to #16. The cover is included in this Essential.

Power Man #48 and #49 are also reprinted in Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the New Avengers books from the last decade. When Brian Michael Bendis relaunched the Avengers in the mid-2000s, he brought in a new line-up (Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and others) to fill the spots around Captain America and Iron Man. At that time, Luke Cage had become a peripheral character in the Marvel Universe, brought to an event to help fill out the background of a large super-hero crowd scene. Over the run of the New Avengers title, Luke Cage became one of the core members of this line-up, to a point where he became the team leader. New Avengers ruffled the feathers of a lot of long-time Avengers readers, but the non-traditional line-up allowed for some interesting storylines. This has been collected multiple times in trade paperbacks, hardcovers, and omnibus editions, so it should be easy to find these stories.

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.

Showcase Presents The Unknown Soldier Vol. 1

Showcase Presents The Unknown Soldier Vol. 1

First Published: November 2006

Contents: Star Spangled War Stories #151 (June-July 1970) to #188 (June 1975)

Key Creator Credits: Joe Kubert, Bob Haney, Robert Kanigher, Archie Goodwin, Jack Sparling, Gerry Talaoc, Frank Robbins, David Michelinie, and others

Key First Appearances: The Unknown Soldier

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents The Unknown Soldier Vol. 2

Overview: Two brothers from a Kansas farm enlist in the Army at the onset of World War II, and are assigned to the same unit serving in the Philippines. Trapped in a foxhole, one brother jumps on a live grenade to protect his sibling. While the grenade killed the first brother, the second brother is horribly disfigured. Given the option of a medical discharge, the disfigured soldier turns it down, wishing to remain on duty. His late brother had made a comment that one man in the right place can affect the outcome of a battle or a war. He takes on the designation of The Unknown Soldier, and returns to the front lines, undertaking special missions.

These stories are generally one-and-done stories, which alternate between the European and Pacific fronts. The stories follow a predictable formula, all the way down to the page layouts to start each story. Towards the end of this volume, we get two multi-issue stories. Otherwise, these stories could be read in any order.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This is an interesting volume. From a historical perspective, these stories should be showcased. Anything that Joe Kubert worked on should be reprinted, and his art shines brighter in the black & white format. My concern is that I don’t think this is Kubert’s best work in the medium. I think you need to read his Sgt. Rock stories to really experience a Kubert war comic.

Footnotes: Star Spangled War Stories #157 reprints a Sgt. Rock story where Easy Company encounters an unknown soldier but not “The Unknown Soldier”. That original story, from Our Army At War #168, was reprinted in Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: Joe Kubert’s book, Fax from Sarajevo: A Story of Survival. Based on communication from European comics agent Ervin Rustemagić, Kubert put together a disturbingly real look at what modern warfare looks like, detailing the Serbian takeover of the agent’s homeland. Rustemagić and his family survive for nearly two years before finally escaping Sarajevo for good in 1993. During this time, Rustemagić would communicate with the outside world via a fax machine, giving updates of the situation. One of the recipients of the faxes was Kubert, who later worked with Rustemagić to turn this into a graphic novel. Released in 1996 by Dark Horse Comics, Fax from Sarajevo received multiple awards both within the comics industry as well as within the publishing industry.