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 Iron Man Vol. 4

Essential Iron Man Vol. 4

First Published: April 2010

Contents: Iron Man #39 (July 1971) to #61 (August 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Mike Friedrich, Steve Gerber, Jim Starlin, and George Tuska

Key First Appearances: Guardsman, Moondragon (as Madame MacEvil), Blood Brothers, Thanos, Drax the Destroyer, Chronos, ISAAC, Mentor, Eros/Starfox

Story Continues From: Essential Iron Man Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 5

Overview: You would think that Tony Stark would have things easy by now. His company, Stark Industries, is doing well; Tony’s heart is getting stronger thanks to a pacemaker; his love interest Marianne Rodgers, really digs his thoughts; and his Iron Man armor has never been better. Life’s good, right? Um, not so much….

Tony Stark/Iron Man faces a variety of challenges – at home, in the corporate boardroom, and on the battlefield. Stark finds that with his heart healing, he can commit to a long-term relationship with Marianne, and proposes to her. However, Marianne has E.S.P. powers that constantly foretell of dangers that Iron Man will face. She can’t bear the thought of Tony dying, and stumbles down the path to insanity. Tony breaks off the engagement, as he finds that his role as Iron Man once again gets in the way of living a normal life.

At Stark Industries, Tony is facing a takeover battle by Simon Gilbert, the chairman of the board. Gilbert uses his sway to have Kevin O’Brien don the Guardsman armor, which corrupts his thinking. The Guardsman becomes a pawn for Gilbert to use against Stark. When the takeover bid fails, Gilbert takes matters into his own hands by planting a bomb in one of Stark’s construction plants. His hubris gets in the way, and Gilbert is killed in the explosion.

While in the armor, Iron Man faces a variety of foes, some familiar and some new. No book would be complete without an appearance by the Mandarin. He sneaks into the picture as Gene Kahn (think about it!), a labor organizer trying to create unions at Stark’s facilities. Firebrand returns and the revelation of his parentage explodes across the pages. And in the midst of everything, a new villain is introduced that would have far-reaching effects on the Marvel Universe as Iron Man is caught up in a fight between Drax the Destroyer and Thanos!

What makes this Essential?: Issue #55 (first appearance of Thanos) is what makes this volume of stories Essential. However, the stories preceding and following this issue seem small in comparison. You could get this volume as a cheap way to read this issue. There are other reprint collections which feature issue #55, in color, for close to the same price. Pick up one of those volumes. Get this only if you are a die-hard Iron Man fan. Even that might be a waste of money, but not as much a waste as Iron Man installing roller skates in his boots — see issue #56.

Footnotes:  While Iron Man #55 is considered to be the first appearance of Thanos, he does not truly appear in this issue. The Thanos we see is a robot, and other appearances are in flashback. The first full appearance of Thanos is Captain Marvel #27.

Iron Man #55 was also reprinted in Essential Captain Marvel Vol. #2.

If you like this volume, try: the Thanos Rising story by Jason Aaron and Simone Bianchi. I realize that I am quickly making this review into Essential Thanos Vol. 1, but bear with me. Thanos has become a major player in the Marvel Universe, and now the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the interest in the character, Aaron and Bianchi visit the origins of the demigod, explaining his childhood and how he came to power. Both creators are at their artistic peaks with this storyline, making the reader feel compassion for what is one of the most-evil villains in the Marvel library.

Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 1

Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 1

First Published: May 2008

Contents: Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967) and #13 (March 1968); Captain Marvel #1 (May 1968) to #21 (August 1970); and the Captain Marvin story from Not Brand Echh #9 (March 1981)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Don Heck, Gil Kane, Gary Friedrich, Dick Ayers, and others

Key First Appearances: Mar-Vell/Captain Marvel, Una, Yon-Rogg, Carol Danvers, Mordecai Boggs

Story Continues In: Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 2

Overview: Unbeknownst to most of the people of Earth, alien races have been keeping an eye on our home planet. One of those races, the Kree, has parked a spaceship in orbit to do a further observation of the Earthlings. Captain Mar-Vell is sent to the surface for further investigation, finding himself near a military base in Florida. Mar-Vell’s commander, Col. Yon-Rogg, despises his assignment and wants nothing more than to blast our planet to bits and return to the Kree home world. Finding himself at odds with his commander, Mar-Vell breaks ranks with the Kree and vows to protect the Earth as Captain Marvel!

Captain Marvel finds that the Kree are not happy with his decision, as he is forced to face off against Yon-Rogg and Ronan the Accuser. And given that the Kree are the mortal enemies of the Skrulls, of course, the Super-Skrull has to cross paths with Captain Marvel.

In issue #17, Roy Thomas returned to script the book and brought along with Gil Kane for the art chores. Captain Marvel was given his more familiar red and blue costume, and the story starting progressing in new directions. Rick Jones, the official sidekick of the Marvel Universe, joins up with Captain Marvel, and the two find themselves bonded via the Nega-Bands. Because of that, when one is on Earth, the other is transported to the Negative Zone. (And if you know your Marvel history, if Rick Jones is around than the Hulk will soon follow!)

One of the supporting characters created for this series was Carol Danvers, a security officer at the military base during the origin issues of our hero. However, in issue #18 (November 1969), Carol is caught up in an explosion with Captain Marvel. After she has fully recovered, she later finds out that her DNA has been fused with Kree DNA, and it has given her many of the same powers as Captain Marvel. Carol’s story will continue in the pages of her own comic, which have been reviewed in Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1.

What makes this Essential?: OK, full disclosure and SPOILER warning time. I never really got into the Captain Marvel character. Want to know why? Because the first time I ever saw the character was in Marvel Graphic Novel #1: The Death of Captain Marvel. He was killed off the first time I read him! And it was a shocking move by Marvel, having a heroic character die not in battle but in a bed from cancer. So given the dramatic finale to his career, I had not desire to go back and read his adventures. In all fairness, the early 1980s still was part of the era where characters that were deceased stayed deceased. Of course, Marvel would reuse the name Captain Marvel (to protect the trademark) with later characters. But in today’s era, sometimes the best characters to use are the dead ones, and a good writer finds a way to resurrect the dead.

So I read this volume only knowing the character’s end. This is a mixed introduction to Captain Marvel. I fully believe this is a book that got much better as the story progressed, so I am looking forward to reading Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 2 sometime soon. (You can read into that if the book got better as the story progressed, then the early issues must have been a rough ride to get through.) The Gil Kane issues in the end of the book were my favorites, as the artist finds a way to make Captain Marvel feel more alive. (I’m still a big fan of Gene Colan, but these issues just didn’t do it for me. Thankfully I have plenty of Colan Daredevil and Dracula issues to enjoy!) Bottom line – I think this is worth reading, but I don’t know that this is worth owning.

Footnotes: Captain Marvel #20 and #21 are also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 3.

Read my review of Showcase Presents SHAZAM! Vol. 1 to learn about the name battle between Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel.

If you like this volume, try: the Captain Marvel series from 2000 by Peter David and ChrisCross. This is a new Captain Marvel, Genis-Vell, who is the gentically-engineered son of the late Mar-Vell. Introduced in a 1996 Captain Marvel mini-series, the character went by the code name of Legacy. He rose in popularity when he was included in Avengers Forever maxi-series, as a future Avenger plucked from time to fight in the Destiny War. At the climax of that story, Captain Marvel finds that he must use the Nega-Band connection to save Rick Jones. Following that series, Genis-Vell moved into his own monthly book, still bonded to his father’s former side-kick. The series ran for 35 issues, before being rebooted in a Marvel promotion in 2002. The reboot, still written by Peter David, ran for another 25 issues. David is one of the best comic book writers, so any of these issues are a treat. Sadly, this is not a series that has been reprinted beyond one trade paperback, so you may need to dive into some back-issue bins to track this one down.

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 Captain America Vol. 3

Essential Captain America Vol. 3

First Published: December 2006

Contents: Captain America #127 (July 1970) to #133 (January 1971); Captain America and the Falcon #134 (February 1971) to #156 (December 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Gary Friedrich, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, John Romita, Sr., Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Leila Taylor, Boss Morgan, Jack Monroe/Bucky

Story Continues From: Essential Captain America Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Captain America Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Captain America and the Falcon. This volume features an all-star list of comic greats, as Stan Lee and Gene Colan wrap up their long run on the book, and familiar Marvel Bullpen creators like Steve Englehart, John Romita, Sr., and Sal Buscema get their chance to take on star-spangled superhero.

Our duo continues helping out Nick Fury, Sharon Carter, and S.H.I.E.L.D. with a variety of familiar foes, such as the Red Skull, Hydra, and the Grey Gargoyle. Heroes like Spider-Man and the Avengers make cameo appearances, as New York City is the hub for all Marvel super-heroes.

Now, one of the struggles for our title character is to find something to occupy his time when he is not in costume. Sam Wilson works as a social worker in Harlem, and now has a steady girlfriend in Leila Taylor. But what can Steve Rogers do? Well, with good intentions, he joins the New York City Police Department. He works with Police Commissioner Feingold to set it up, but they agree to tell no one of Rogers’ other identity. Of course, this leads into all kinds of crazy excuses that Rogers must come up with to explain missing his shift, much to the annoyance of Rogers’ sergeant, Brian Muldoon (who bears a solid resemblance to Jack Kirby, one of Captain America’s co-creators).

The volume concludes with a face-off with the Captain America and Bucky from the 1950s. We find out that the government tried to introduce a new Captain America during the early days of the Cold War. William Burnside is an avid Captain America fan, and while researching his hero, he discovers the super soldier formula long thought lost. He undergoes plastic surgery to have his face shaped to look like Steve Rogers. Bringing in a young Jack Monroe that shares Burnside’s beliefs, the two teamed up as Captain America and Bucky. But their version of the super soldier formula causes psychotic breakdowns in the heroes, and the government is forced to put the two into suspended animation. Reanimated in the early 1970s, the 1950s Cap and Bucky come to blows with our Cap and Falcon. Our fearless heroes triumph, and the 1950s heroes are put back on ice. (In later years, Jack Monroe would return to Captain America’s side, adopting the Nomad costume identity in the 1980s. For more on Nomad, come back for Essential Captain America Vol. 4!)

What makes this Essential?: This volume really has me on the ropes. I don’t want to write a negative review about it, but I don’t know that I can write a positive review either. Given the incredible talents of the creators involved with the volume, one might expect the stories to be more epic in nature, or even more memorable. I don’t believe they were phoning it in during this era, but this is one of those books that felt like priority 1 was to just get a book out each month. This is a very good read for the Captain America fan, but I believe the casual Marvel Universe fan will find it disappointing.

Footnotes: Captain America Special #1 (1971) and #2 (1972) are reprint issues. collecting previously published stories from Tales of Suspense and Not Brand Echh. The covers for the two issues are in this volume.

Beginning with issue #134, the title of the comic changed to Captain America and the Falcon. This remained the title until issue #222, which can be found in Essential Captain America Vol. 6.

If you like this volume, try: the Captain America movies from 2011 and 2014. In all fairness, this may seem like a cheat. Maybe I am struggling to find another book to recommend based on the events of these comics. But at this point, if you are reading Volume 3, you probably have also read Volumes 1 and 2, which gives you 8 years worth of Captain America stories. So you understand who the character is and how he should be portrayed. So jump over to the movies. The 2011 Captain America: The First Avenger film portrays our hero’s origin, using the story from Captain America #255, which is viewed as the definitive Captain America origin, during the Roger Stern-John Byrne run in 1980 (see Essential Captain America Vol. 7). Jump ahead to the 2014 Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and we see Captain America working with S.H.I.E.L.D., which we have seen a lot in these Essentials. Look at the opening to Captain America #153, as Captain America comes home and finds Nick Fury sitting in the dark. That scene was later mimicked in the movie. Chris Evans visually personifies Captain America in the flesh, even more so than Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man. The Captain America films have done an excellent job of aligning the movie character to that of the comic character, They are worth the re-watch to appreciate how faithful they were to the comics.

Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1

Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1

First Published: November 2006

Contents: Ghost Rider #1 (September 1973) and #2 (October 1973); Marvel Spotlight #12 (October 1973) to #24 (October 1975); Son of Satan #1 (December 1975) to #8 (February 1977); Marvel Two-In-One #14 (March 1976); Marvel Team-Up #32 (April 1975), #80 (April 1979), and #81 (May 1979); Satana stories from Vampire Tales #2 (October 1973) and #3 (February 1974); Satana stories from Haunt Of Horror #2 (July 1974), #4 (November 1974), and #5 (January 1975); Marvel Premiere #27 (December 1975); and Marvel Preview #7 (June 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Gary Friedrich, Herb Trimpe, Steve Gerber, Roy Thomas, Chris Claremont, John Romita, Sr., Gene Colan, Esteban Maroto, and others

Key First Appearances: Daimon Hellstrom/Son of Satan, Satana, Dr. Katherine Reynolds

Story Continues In: Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2

Overview: Are you ready for something different? If so, then dive into this volume as we follow the adventures of the offspring of Satan.

First up is Daimon Hellstrom, a learned scholar who specializes in the occult. However, when the cases get dangerous, he changes into his Son of Satan persona. Armed with a trident and possessing the power of the Darksoul, the Son of Satan fights many of the lesser demons of Hell looking to gain favor with Daimon’s father. Daimon’s story ran through Marvel Spotlight before he graduated into his own short-lived title.

Also debuting at the same time is Daimon’s sister, Satana. The two siblings were separated as kids following their mother’s death and raised completely different. Satana embraces her heritage more than her brother. Satana feeds on the souls of men, which she absorbs by kissing them. When she finishes, the man collapses dead and a butterfly is released. Satana’s story jumped around between various Marvel/Warren magazines before it comes to an end in the pages of Marvel Team-Up. Is this the end of Satana? Time will tell….

What makes this Essential?: I’ve got mixed opinions on this book. Most Essentials follow a character through the run of their book, and will include any additional appearances in other titles. So while this is titled the Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1, it could better be named as Essential Son of Satan & Satana. But I don’t know if that volume would have sold. So, for following the adventures of these two characters, this is a serviceable volume if you are fans of the characters. I found the Satana stories more interesting, being a mix of illustrated tales and prose pieces. 

But personally, after seeing the Satana stories from Vampire Tales and Haunt of Horror, I would much rather see Essential Marvel Horror collect the entire run of those magazines in a volume. There are a lot of Marvel/Warren magazines that have not been reprinted, and the Essential line would be the perfect place to present them again. 

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

Marvel Two-in-One #14 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1.

Marvel Team-Up #32 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2.

Marvel Two-in-One #80 and #81 were also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: the Rachel Rising series from Terry Moore. For me, the highlight of this entire volume is ‘The Kiss of Death’ story from Vampire Tales #3. Gerry Conway’s script is good, but the artwork by Esteban Maroto steals the show. This story is breathtaking and worth the price of the Essential just to read this story. For those unfamiliar with his work, Maroto is a Spanish artist that did a lot of work for the various horror magazines of the 1970s. He helped design the metal bikini for Red Sonja with her debut. He also did an Amethyst mini-series for DC and a story in an X-Men: Unlimited issue for Marvel. Maroto’s female forms are exquisite, ranking up there for me with the likes of George Perez, Phil Jiminez, Adam Hughes, and Terry Moore. Since the early days of Moore’s Strangers in Paradise series, his female characters have jumped off the page, laughing and loving and living. In 2012, Moore launched his first horror series with Rachel Rising, about a young woman waking up one morning dead, but she remembers who killed her. Over the series, other friends die but remain alive; deals with the devil are made, and a mystery dating back hundreds of years is slowly revealed. This is some of Moore’s best work ever, and you are missing out if you’re not picking it up every six weeks. The early issues are collected in trade paperbacks to bring you up to speed with one of the best (and creepiest) books on the market today.

Essential Hulk Vol. 4

Essential Hulk Vol. 4

Essential Hulk Vol. 4

First Published: September 2006

Contents: Incredible Hulk #143 (September 1971) to #170 (December 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart, Herb Trimpe, Gary Friedrich, Dick Ayers, Gerry Conway, and others

Key First Appearances: Dr. Peter Corbeau, Hulkbusters, Shaper of Worlds, Wendigo, Gremlin, Zzzax, Bi-Beast

Story Continues From: Essential Hulk Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Hulk Vol. 5

Overview: OK, this is the fourth volume in the Essential Hulk line. Do you still need a proper introduction? We all know by heart how Dr. Bruce Banner was exposed to gamma radiation, and as a result becomes a green monster known as the Hulk when he gets angry. I think we can skip the introduction and just get into the story. 

The Hulk is still on the run from the Army. General Ross reveals a new plan to battle our hero with the introduction of the Hulkbusters. Initially designed as aircraft that could attach the Hulk from a distance, the Hulkbusters would morph over time into a full military assault unit with a weapons cabinet that would make the Punisher giddy with excitement.

At one point, the Hulk is finally captured, and is brought to trial for his numerous crimes against humanity. Of course, the Hulk keeps attorney Matt Murdock on retainer, so he is represented in court by the man without fear. The case does not go the Hulk’s way, and Mr. Fantastic finds a way to help the Hulk get out of the courts, even if he remains on the run.

During this era (1972-73), the X-Men title was in reprint mode, so those characters were able to make appearances in other books. At one point, the Hulk encounters Havok and Polaris, as the Hulk is confused by the green hair of Lorna Dane and mistakes her for Jarella. Later on, the Hulk crosses paths with the Beast and Mimic. Sadly, one of those three does not walk away from the fight. Given that we still have three more Essential Hulk volumes to cover, and this is well before the Beast has joined the Avengers, the Defenders, and X-Factor, I think you can figure out the ending of that story.

As if his life is not complicated enough, Bruce and the Hulk have conflicting issues with their girlfriends. Hulk wants to return to Jarella’s side in the sub-atomic world, while Bruce struggles to find a way to stay with Betty Ross. Unfortunately, during one of his periods where Bruce and the Hulk were off-Earth, Betty accepted a proposal and married Glenn Talbot. Later on after the Hulk’s return, the arch-fiend MODOK transforms Betty into the Harpy, the half-bird/half-woman character from Greek mythology. The last thing the Hulk needs is his best girl harping on him for all of his faults, whether it’s his anger control issues or his two-timing with Jarella.

What makes this Essential?: I’m not for sure what to think of this volume. The stories are interesting, but I am not a fan of Herb Trimpe’s art during this era. His Hulk looks more brutish, but does not appear to be much larger than a normal man. Personally, I prefer my Hulk to be overwhelming in size and anger, and I do not get that Hulk in this volume. The new characters introduced in this volume stick around or make a bigger impact with other characters, such as Wendigo with Wolverine and Alpha Flight. This is a volume for a die-hard Hulk fan. As a casual Marvel fan, I don’t think this is essential to own.

Footnotes: The back-up story from Incredible Hulk #147 is also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 2.

Incredible Hulk #161 is also reprinted in Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: the Hulk Visionaries: John Byrne collection, which reprints Byrne’s brief run on Incredible Hulk in the mid-1980s. Flashback to 1985, as John Byrne was wrapping up his run on Alpha Flight. At that same time, Bill Mantlo and Mike Mignola were finishing up a year-long story in Incredible Hulk that had our hero jumping around in other dimensions. Marvel essentially traded the creative teams between the two books. Beginning in Incredible Hulk #314, Byrne takes control of the title, and the Hulk is back on Earth, hounded by General Ross and his Hulkbusters. Doc Samson has figured out a way to separate Bruce Banner from the Hulk, but it leaves the jade giant a mindless monster. Free of the Hulk, Bruce Banner and Betty Ross are finally able to be married. And suddenly, Byrne was off of the book, due to creative differences with then Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter. This volume also collects two other Byrne Hulk stories from this era, an Incredible Hulk Annual #14 and a Hulk feature from Marvel Fanfare #29. This Hulk Visionaries was released in trade paperback in 2008, and should still be easily found.