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 Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1

tombofdracula1First Published: December 2003

Contents: The Tomb of Dracula #1 (April 1972) to #25 (October 1974); Werewolf by Night #15 (March 1974); and Giant-Size Chillers #1 (June 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Gardner Fox, and others

Key First Appearances: Dracula, Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, Taj Nital, Quincy Harker, Blade, Doctor Sun, Deacon Frost, Lilith, Hannibal King

Story Continues In: Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 2

Overview: In the early 1970s, the Comics Code Authority started relaxing its standards, opening the doors for comic book publishers to get back into the business of publishing horror titles. Having already introduced Morbius as the “Living Vampire” in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel was ready to get back into the monster business. First up was the king of the vampires with The Tomb of Dracula.

Perhaps as an indication of the madcap rush to get the title to press as quickly as possible, Tomb of Dracula went through a long list of writers over the first six issues. Gerry Conway is credited with writing the first two issues, but the bulk of #1 was actually written by Roy Thomas and Stan Lee. Conway left after the second issue because of better writing opportunities, and Archie Goodwin took over, but only for issues #3 and #4. He was followed by Gardner Fox, who wrote issues #5 and #6. Fox was relieved of his duties on the title, and Marv Wolfman took over. It took Wolfman a few issues to get comfortable with the title character and the supporting cast introduced by the previous five writers. But once he does find his footing, the series picks up and becomes a hard book to put down.

What does remain constant is the art duties by Gene Colan, who handles all of the penciling  for the issues in this volume (as well as this series). Colan’s art is just a breath-taking as his run on Daredevil, just with less spandex.

For the story itself, after a hundred years of a stake-induced slumber, Count Dracula is revived and begins his quest to reclaim his spot in a changing world. But Dracula’s return to action does not go unnoticed, and a group of would-be vampire hunters are soon on his trail:

  • Frank Drake is a descendent of Dracula, from his days before he became a vampire. Nothing would make Drake happier than putting his forefather back in the grave.
  • Rachel Van Helsing is the granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing, the first vampire hunter. She is still in the “family business”, and is often accompanied by her mute assistant, Taj Nital
  • Quincy Harker is a wheelchair-bound expert on vampires, and has a wealth of weapons at his disposal.
  • Blade, the vampire hunter, is a living vampire who blames the monsters for the death of his mother.
  • Hannibal King is another vampire hunter and also another living vampire.

Outside of a crossover with the Werewolf, there is very little about this book that ties it into the Marvel Universe proper. In future volumes, we will see appearances by Doctor Strange and Brother Voodoo, but in general, this is not a title that you have to read a lot of the other Marvel titles in order to understand. Conversely, characters like Blade and Hannibal King will become more prominent in other titles, with Blade actually crossing the break-out success point in the 1990s to warrant his own series, a trilogy of movies, and a syndicated television show.

What makes this Essential?: Once Wolfman takes over, I really liked the book, which came as a great surprise to me. I only picked up this book a few years ago because I found it for a good price on eBay, and the collector mentality in me is obsessing to get all of the Essentials. I’ve never been a big fan of the monster concepts, either in the original novels, the classic films, or these legendary comics. So, for now at least, I am hooked on this concept, this presentation. I should have known that with my great love for Gene Colan’s work, I should have picked this book up earlier! I do think that the black-and-white format works better for this title, even though I know it was presented in color with it was first published. I like that this story feels timeless, in that this same story could be told today (albeit with slight differences such as replacing cord phones with cell phones) and still be just as effective.

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

The entire 70-issue run of The Tomb of Dracula was penciled by Gene Colan, who used the image of actor Jack Palance as his model for Dracula.

Several issues in this Essential make reference to the events in W, a black-and-white magazine that ran for 13 issues. Those magazines are collected in Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: tracking down a copy of The Curse of Dracula, a three-issue mini-series from Dark Horse Comics in 1998. This series reunited Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan on the Dracula character, but it is not officially tied to their work at Marvel with the character. Jonathan Van Helsing leads of team of vampire hunters to the fog-covered streets of San Francisco to help solve a series of mysterious murders. It was reprinted as both a hardcover and a trade paperback, but this might be a series that is easier to find in the back-issue bin.

Showcase Presents The War That Time Forgot Vol. 1

showcase_presents_war_that_time_forgot_volume_1First Published: May 2007

Contents: Star Spangled War Stories #90 (April-May 1960), #92 (August-September 1960), #94 (December 1960-January 1961) to #125 (February-March 1966), #127 (June-July 1966), and #128 (September 1966)

Key Creator Credits: Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, Joe Kubert, Russ Heath, Gene Colan, and others

Key First Appearances: Dinosaur Island, G.I. Robot

Overview: It’s the early 1940s. The United States is fully involved in World War II. In the Pacific, the U.S. Armed Forces are fighting the enemy at sea, in the air, or on the ground of uncharted islands. But their foes do not appear to flying the flag of the Rising Sun. Instead, their enemy is a throwback to the prehistoric age, as Tyrannosaurus Rexes, Pterodactyls, and other dinosaurs are fighting our troops. This is Showcase Presents The War That Time Forgot Vol. 1.

We are introduced to a mysterious island always cloaked by a fog. As our featured characters travel through the mist, they find themselves under attack by the dinosaurs. Depending on the story, the soldiers find some way to escape the non-stop threats to escape the island and be rescued to fight again another day. Over time, this location became known as Dinosaur Island, but that comes much later beyond this title.

Now, in times of war, it is quite common for the military to invent all kinds of new weapons that they hope will speed up the end of the war, or save soldiers lives. One such invention is the very first G.I. Robot, a robot programmed to respond to thousands of combat situations. Sent to the island to test G.I. Robot, a human soldier goes along (reluctantly) to verify that the soldier responds correctly when the bullets start flying.

Another creation of the military is the introduction of the Suicide Squad. Living up to it’s name, two men are sent out on a mission that they are not expected to survive. Of course, in the military’s infinite wisdom, they often pair two soldiers who hate each other, usually because one of the soldiers killed a family member of the other soldier. Not that it should come as a surprise, but both soldiers survive without killing each other, or becoming dinner for a hungry dinosaur.

The vast majority of these issues are written by Robert Kanigher, with art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. Towards the end of this collection, we see some other familiar names appear that are recognized for their DC war comics work, such as Joe Kubert and Russ Heath. These are generally one-and-done stories. Some characters may re-appear from issue to issue, but the stories do not carry over.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This is an interesting situation that I see here. I personally don’t know that these stories should be featured based on their content. The stories are formulaic and safe. The art is good for its era, but it’s simplistic in detail. What makes these stories important is that these ideas and concepts introduced here were used by the next generation of comic creators, and the ones after them. G.I. Robot has been re-used many times. Dinosaur Island has become a go-to locale in the DC Universe for any number of stories. And you would have to be living under a rock not to know where the Suicide Squad concept has gone to over the last 40 years. For those reasons, I can understand and support featuring these comics in this collection.

Footnotes: In many of the latter stories in this collection, they feature members of the Suicide Squad – soldiers taking on assignments which they are unlikely to survive. However, this is not the first reference to the Suicide Squad by Kanigher, Andru, and Esposito. They introduced that concept in The Brave and the Bold #25 (September 1959), where a group of adventurers faced off against monsters, giants, and yes, even dinosaurs.

If you like this volume, try: Jurassic Park from Michael Crichton. Yes, the novel, not the movies or video games or anything else that spun out of this concept. It won’t hurt anyone, myself included, to put down the four-color funny books for awhile and read an actual book or two. Crichton released this novel in 1990, after working on it for numerous years. You know the story, how scientists cracked the code to bring dinosaurs back to life, and that led to a billionaire funding a dinosaur theme park, and things went down hill from there. As you can imagine, once you get past the first 50 pages with a lot of the science details, it becomes a  page turner as the dinosaurs run amuck in the park.

However, if you want to go old school, dig up a copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot. Originally published as serials in a magazine, this was collected as a novel in 1924. Set during World War I, soldiers stranded in the Antartica come across a hidden land where dinosaurs still roam the Earth. In many ways, it was this novel that inspired (or influenced) Kanigher, Andru, and Esposito with The War That Time Forgot.

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.

Essential Daredevil Vol. 5

Daredevil5First Published: February 2010

Contents: Daredevil #102 (August 1973) to #125 (September 1975); and Marvel Two-in-One #3 (May 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Tony Isabella, Bob Brown, Don Heck, Gene Colan, and others

Key First Appearances: Ramrod, Candace Nelson, Silver Samurai, Death Stalker, Blackwing

Story Continues From: Essential Daredevil Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Daredevil Vol. 6

Overview: For a book featuring a blind lawyer-by-day, hero-by-night lead character, Essential Daredevil Vol. 5 is all over the place, but in a good way. Sure, the story bounces back and forth between San Francisco and New York City. Yes, we get plenty of Black Widow and Foggy Nelson, as to be expected. But it’s the other stories that take you by surprise in this collection.

For starters, show of hands here, who remembers the time Daredevil led a group of heroes against Thanos? Seriously this happened! During the initial story which introduced Thanos to the Marvel Universe, he crossed paths with Daredevil, who got an assist from Captain Marvel and Moondragon. Too good to be true, you say? Check out Daredevil #107 to see it play out!

The surprise foe of this book has to be the Mandrill, who has the ability to control women through pheromones. Certainly not due to his looks, that’s for sure. Thankfully, the Man Without Fear must dive into action to free the Black Widow and Shanna the She-Devil, as well as rescue Washington, D.C., from Mandrill’s takeover bid in Daredevil #110 to #112.

What about the time Nick Fury stops by to see if Foggy would join S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Board of Directors? Public knowledge of that would paint a huge target on Foggy’s head, putting Daredevil and Black Widow on high alert against the forces of HYDRA! See Tony Isabella’s run from Daredevil #119 to #123 to get the origins of HYDRA and Foggy’s answer.

What makes this Essential?: This was a more interesting read for me compared to the previous collection. I really like both Steve Gerber’s and Tony Isabella’s stories in this collection. (Side note – but I really believe that Gerber, Isabella, and Chris Claremont were probably Marvel’s most important writers in the 1970s.) Getting Daredevil back to New York was important, but the plot thread with Black Widow still in San Francisco dangled on for too long in my opinion.

Perhaps the most essential part of this volume is the introduction of the Silver Samurai in Daredevil #111. Created by Gerber and Bob Brown, he sat dormant for three years before Claremont started bringing him into Marvel Team-Up on a frequent basis. That lead to an appearance in Spider-Woman, again written by Claremont. Two months later, he appears in both New Mutants and Uncanny X-Men, tying him forever into the mutant books from that point forward.

Footnotes: Marvel Two-in-One #3 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Kraven’s Last Hunt storyline from the Spider-Man books in 1987. OK, yes, I know this post is a review of Essential Daredevil Vol. 5. But I find the inclusion of Kraven the Hunter in Daredevil #104 and #105 very interesting. See, Kraven was not a villain that appeared in many books that didn’t involve Spider-Man. We never saw Kraven going after the X-Men or the Fantastic Four. And it really surprised me that despite being one of the memorable creations from Lee & Ditko during that initial run on Amazing Spider-Man, Kraven really didn’t get used that much period. So to have him show up here was a surprise to me.

So in 1987, Kraven’s Last Hunt ran across the three books featuring Spider-Man (Amazing, Spectacular, and Web of) for two months. In a surprising move at that time, all six issues were written by J.M. DeMatteus and drawn by Mike Zeck. (Hindsight being 20/20, having the one team for the story arc worked out well over the years, as Kraven’s Last Hunt became one of the first trade paperback collections.) In the story, Kraven takes out Spider-Man by shooting him in the back with a dart and burying him in a shallow grave. Kraven then takes the black costume and embraces the Spider-Man totem as he hunts down Vermin, a sewer-based villain that could control rats. Eventually, Spider-Man is able to free himself and track down both Kraven and Vermin. Despondent over how things have played out, Kraven takes his own life.

The story and art are perfect for this, and it has remained in print over the years across numerous formats. If by chance you have not read it yet, stick around because we get all six issues of the story collected in Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 2.

Essential Sub-Mariner Vol. 1

sub_mariner_1First Published: September 2009

Contents: Daredevil #7 (April 1965); Sub-Mariner stories from Tales to Astonish #70 (August 1965) to #101 (March 1968); Iron Man story from Tales of Suspense #80 (August 1966); Iron Man & Sub-Mariner #1 (April 1968); and The Sub-Mariner #1 (May 1968)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Roy Thomas, Bill Everett, and others

Key First Appearances: Vashti, Destiny, Walter Newell, Lord Seth

Overview: IMPERIOUS REX! Kneel before the prince of Atlantis, Namor the First, a.k.a. the Sub-Mariner! Having been a frequent foe in the pages of the Fantastic Four, Namor becomes the hero of his own feature in 1965.

The majority of this Essential collects the Sub-Mariner’s run of stories in the pages of Tales to Astonish, an anthology featuring two characters each month. So each story is roughly 10 pages, and Namor is featured on alternating covers. At this time, Namor has regained the throne of Atlantis, and must do everything in his power to protect his people from the likes of Krang, Attuma, and Byrrah, as well as the air-dwellers above the seas.

What makes this an interesting collection is we finally get to see him interacting with other heroes in the Marvel Universe. The first book in this collection, Daredevil #7, has Namor seeking counsel to represent him in a suit against mankind. Murdock & Nelson turn down the request, due to lack of evidence, and Daredevil is forced to stop the rampaging Namor. The art in this issue is done by the legendary Wally Wood.

During the TtA run, we get a team-up with Hank Pym and the Wasp, from the pages of the Avengers. A few issues later, we are treated to a team-up crossover with Iron Man, who was a co-feature in the Tales of Suspense book at that time.

Of course, when you are sharing a book with the Hulk, and both features are written by Stan Lee, it’s only natural that the two forces would cross paths multiple times. Who wins that battle? The readers of course. (It also serves as a pre-cursor for things to come, when the two become teammates in the non-team known as the Defenders.)

What makes this Essential?: Once again, this is a book that you pick up first for the art. Gene Colan’s art just leaps off the page. We get the noble Namor who is looking to protect Atlantis and the oceans from the surface-dwellers, which is just one of his many aspects. However, the stories just don’t stand out to me as memorable. Little bits of pieces of action strung together for ten pages, only to be continued in the next issue. It’s disappointing that the Essential line has ended, because I think a second volume of Sub-Mariner would have taken us into a more interesting era of the character, with a greater focus on the Atlanteans around him – not to mention the art by Buscema and Severin. Guess it’s time to hit the back issue bins!

In The Beginning….: While this collection focuses on Namor in the Silver Age of comics, the Sub-Mariner is one of the most important characters from the Golden Age of Marvel Comics. In fact, he made his first appearance in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939). Then known as Timely Publications, the company that would someday become Marvel introduced in this first issue the original Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, the Vision, the Angel, Ka-Zar and more to an audience hungry for new characters and concepts. The initial press run of Marvel Comics #1 was 80,000 books, but the popularity of the book sent it back for a reprinting. That second print run was for 800,000 copies.

Footnotes: The Sub-Mariner replaced Giant-Man as the co-feature (along with the Hulk) in Tales to Astonish #70. Following issue #101, Tales to Astonish was given over to the Hulk, keeping the numbering but changing the name (The Incredible Hulk #102).

Daredevil #7 is also reprinted in Essential Daredevil Vol. 1.

Tales of Suspense #80, Tales to Astonish #82, and Iron Man & Sub-Mariner #1 are also reprinted in Essential Iron Man Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: the 1990s Namor series by John Byrne. Following numerous runs with many of Marvel’s top characters (X-Men, Fantastic Four, Alpha Flight), Byrne turned his attention to one of Marvel’s first characters. As with any new project, one gets the opportunity to re-invent the character to fit the story. (For example, just a few years ago, Namor was re-invented as “the first mutant”, giving him a good excuse to hang out with the X-Men.) In this situation, Namor becomes a shrewd businessman with his own corporation, going head-to-head with eco-terrorists and others looking to exploit the oceans. While generally depicted as the antihero in many comics, Namor is truly a hero in this title, albeit working towards his agenda, which is not necessarily the most right or fair course of action. With Byrne at the helm, you can expect lots of cameos from the Fantastic Four, Namorita, Captain America and others. The first 18 issues have been collected into two Marvel Visionaries trade paperbacks, which are still readily available.

Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 4

Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 4

First Published: July 2009

Contents: Doctor Strange #30 (August 1978) to #56 (December 1982); Man-Thing #4 (May 1980); and back-up story from Chamber of Chills #4 (May 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Roger Stern, Ralph Macchio, Tom Sutton, Chris Claremont, Gene Colan, Marshall Rogers, and others

Key First Appearances: Sara Wolfe, Madeleine Saint-Germaine, Morgana Blessing

Story Continues From: Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 3

Overview: You’ll have to pardon me here. I’ve read a lot of Doctor Strange issues over the last couple of years, and I think I am getting the feel for some of these spells. Let me practice a few of them as we go through this review for Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 4.

“By the Ruby Rings of Raggadorr!” OK, in terms of content, this book gives us a nice, uninterrupted run of full-length stories from the pages of Doctor Strange. The majority of this book is helmed by either Roger Stern or Chris Claremont, with art by a rotating crew of legendary and upcoming artists, such as Gene Colan, tom Sutton, Marshall Rogers, Brent Anderson, Michael Golden, and Paul Smith. While most stories remain one-and-done, we do get a couple of multi-issue story arcs, including one by Claremont that crossed over with another title he was writing, Man-Thing.

“By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!” While a lot of random threats pop up from time to time to challenge the good Doctor, we do get a lot of Baron Mordo, Nightmare, and Dormammu throughout the collection. We get a fun time-travel story – consider that Strange usuals travels between dimensions, not time – that sends Strange back to World War II (where he encounters Sgt. Nick Fury and the Howling Commandoes) and ancient Egypt (where he inadvertently gets involved in one of the earliest adventures of the Fantastic Four.)

“By the Vapors of the Vishanti!” For many years, Doctor Strange has had a tight circle of friends. For some characters like Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four, I could fill up a blog post just listing their friends, family, and close associates. For Doctor Strange, you have Wong, Clea, and Victoria Bentley. That’s the list. However, in this volume, we see three new women enter the picture.

First up is Sara Wolfe, a Greenwich Village neighbor who starts working for Strange as an office manager of sorts, to handle the bills and accounts for the household. Then there is Madeleine Saint-Germaine, a former paramour of Stephen’s youth, who re-enters his life during a consultation that leads into a multi-issue arc traveling from England to the Florida Evergreens.

Finally, there came a point where Stephen realizes his relationship with Clea is not working. He can’t serve as a mentor to Clea, while being in a romantic relationship with her. So he puts that relationship on hold, so they can focus on her training. That opens the door for Morgana Blessing to come into the picture. She seems to be mystically-inclined, able to see through Strange’s spells. She also becomes a pawn for Baron Mordo, who disguises himself as Morgana’s missing cat in order to attack Strange when his defenses are down. Seriously! Going to go out on a limb here and just say that Mordo doesn’t win this battle!

What makes this Essential?: Want to know the sign that this was a good Essential? As soon as I finished this volume, I started searching for Doctor Strange #57 and subsequent issues to keep the story going. I’ve never been a big fan of Doctor Strange, as I have noted in these previous reviews, and generally, it has only been the art by the likes of Colan to keep me with the book. But this volume, written primarily by Stern, was a dramatic turn for me. Stern made this character his own, and a much more intriguing one at that. While a lot of the stories still remain one-and-done, there is an ongoing narrative that develops, as we see more and more about Stephen’s life when he is not being called to defend the Earth.

In some ways, Doctor Strange has become very much like DC’s Superman, in that as the strongest and best at what he does, the threats it takes to overcome him become greater and greater, and generally more and more absurd. To get away from that, a good writer has to reverse the direction and keep that title character more human with definite limitations. You create situations where the character has to not use their skill sets, but rather go in the opposite direction. For Superman, that means using his head more than his fists. For Doctor Strange, it would be the exact opposite, making him more physically involved in the action, versus standing safely in the background and recanting spells. Stern does a good job of getting Strange into the action, and showing that despite all of his talents, he is still a man with flaws and issues. Issues which I now want to keep reading about.

Footnotes: Man-Thing #4 and Doctor Strange #41 are also reprinted in Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: the 2009 story arc from New Avengers, Search for the Sorcerer Supreme, from Brian Michael Bendis, Billy Tan, and Chris Bachalo. Within this volume, we saw Dr. Strange and the mysterious Brother Voodoo cross paths in issue #48, and given the nature of their line of work, it would not be their only encounter. Following the events of World War Hulk, where Dr. Strange was forced to use dark magic to stop his ally from the days of the Defenders, Stephen renounces his title as Sorcerer Supreme and protector of the dimension. The Eye of Agamotto leads the “new” Avengers on a search for a suitable replacement throughout the world, before leading them to New Orleans and giving the title to Brother Voodoo. Of course, what is not known at this time is that there really was a character by the name of Agamotto, and not only does he want his eye back, but he wants to take over our dimension. Dr. Voodoo and the other Avengers are able to keep that from happening. I know a lot of people have mixed reactions to Bendis’ run with the Avengers, but I found stories like this one to be fun “What If”-type stories actually occurring in ongoing big picture narrative of the Marvel Universe.