Essential Iron Man Vol. 5

Essential Iron Man Vol. 5

First Published: April 2013

Contents: Iron Man #62 (September 1973) to #75 (June 1975); and #77 (August 1975) to #87 (June 1976); and Iron Man Annual #3 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: Mike Friedrich, Bill Mantlo, Len Wein, Steve Gerber, George Tuska, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Michael O’Brien, Blizzard

Story Continues From: Essential Iron Man Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the fifth Essential Iron Man volume from Marvel Comics, in which our hero, Tony Stark, finally adds the one accessory to his suit that it really didn’t need – an iron nose!

This volume has several storylines that run across multiple issues at a time. Iron Man battles Doctor Spectrum from the Squadron Sinister at the Stark Industries plant in Detroit, which leads to a battle against his fellow Avenger Thor. During this battle, Happy Hogan is injured while trying to cover for Tony, and the treatment to heal him reverts Happy back to his Freak personality.

That story no sooner wraps up before Iron Man is off to southeast Asia, where he gets caught-up in a super-villain royal rumble, as the Black Lama is setting up villains to fight each other for supremacy. Enter the Yellow Claw, the Mandarin, the Unicorn, Man-Bull, Whiplash, the Melter, and others. This complex storyline, plagued by the dreaded deadline, wraps with Iron Man and Firebrand following the Black Lama to his home dimension for one last showdown. The best part of this story arc was issue #72, which found Tony grounded in San Diego for repairs, and makes a visit to the 1974 San Diego Comic Convention.

One of the minor highlights of this volume occurs around issue #73 when Stark Industries undergoes a name change to Stark International. Tony wanted to showcase the diversity of all business aspects that the company was involved in, and he wanted to put some distance between the munitions manufacturer that his company was once branded as.

What makes this Essential?: I really was not that impressed with this volume. Some decent stories, but these are not great stories. You read this volume only if you are a die-hard fan of Iron Man. But my guess is that if you are that die-hard fan of Iron Man, you might be better off owning the original issues. Some checking of online retailers shows that most of these issues are very affordable despite being 40 years old.

Footnotes:  Iron Man #76 is a reprint issue of Iron Man #9. The cover for #76 is included in this Essential. Issue #9 was collected in Essential Iron Man Vol. 2.

Iron Man Annuals (King-Size Specials) #1 & #2 and Giant-Size Iron Man #1 were all reprints of various stories from Tales of Suspense. The covers to those issues are included in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: Iron Man: Armor Wars from the 1980s. Written by David Michelinie and Bob Layton, with art Layton, Mark Bright, and Barry Windsor-Smith, this has been collected numerous times in trade paperbacks and hardcovers. Tony Stark discovers that some of the technology used in his suits – technology that is so secret he dares not patent it – is now being used in the suits of numerous super-villains. Tony goes on an armor hunt to track down his missing technology, while at the same time updating his own armor to stay ahead of the competition. This story arc would be repeated multiple times in multiple formats, such as in comics as well as the Saturday-morning cartoon series from the 1990s.

Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 4

Legion4First Published: October 2010

Contents: Legion of Super-Heroes stories from Adventure Comics #369 (June 1968) to #380 (May 1969) and #403 (April 1971); Action Comics #378 (July 1969) to #387 (April 1970) and #389 (June 1970) to #392 (September 1970); and Superboy #172 (March 1971), #173 (April 1971), #176 (July 1971), #183 (March 1972), #184 (April 1972), #188 (July 1972), #190 (September 1972), and #191 (October 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Curt Swan, Jim Shooter, E. Nelson Bridwell, Win Mortimer, Cary Bates, Dave Cockrum, George Tuska, and others

Key First Appearances: Mordru,  Chemical King, Marte Allon, Tornado Twins (Dawn and Don Allen), the Wanderers

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 5

Overview: Welcome back to the 30th Century! In the future, everyone speaks Interlac, which makes things easier when we are meeting new alien races every other issue. The United Planets is led by President Marte Allon, and security is provided by the Science Police. But for those larger than life threats that occur on a regular basis, there is the Legion of Super-Heroes, a group of teenage heroes with unique powers and abilities.

This is an interesting transition era for our teenage heroes. Jim Shooter brings his legendary run to an end during this era, but not before introducing a few more core characters into the vast Legion universe.

  • Mordru becomes one of the Legion’s main villains – a magician intent on conquering the universe.
  • Chemical King finally joins the team in Adventure Comics #372. We were first introduced to him in Adventure Comics #354, where a memorial room to deceased Legionnaires foretold a death of a Legionnaire that did not even exist yet. finallyWho are the Legion’s most fearsome villains? Find out in this book with the debut of the Fatal Five, the Sun-Eaters, Universo, and the Dominators!
  • We meet the above-mentioned President Allon, who also happens to be the mother of Gim Allon, who we know as Colossal Boy. That connection proves to be both helpful and hurtful for the Legion in the years to come.
  • Timber Wolf officially joins the team after graduating the Legion Academy.
  • The twin children of Barry Allen and Iris West make their first appearance not in the pages of The Flash, but in the 30th Century. And they seem to have inherited their father’s abilities.

There is a lot of action going on here, either in full-length stories or eight-page back-up features. Put your Flight Ring on and dive into the future.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I wish I was more behind this book. Don’t get me wrong, I love this book. I think Jim Shooter’s take on the characters is one of the most important runs on the Legion in their 50+ year history. My hesitation for this collection is how the Legion got relegated to back-up status in the late 1960s. After a long run of being the lead or sole occupant of Adventure Comics, their run came to an end and the book was given over to Supergirl. After that, the Legion became an eight-page back-up feature in Action Comics and Superboy. Now having read ahead, I know that the Legion ends up usurping Superboy’s book, as we will see in the next Showcase Presents volume. But the eight-page stories lead to smaller casts of characters per story, as well as limited character development during this time. If you are a Legion fan, get the book. If you are a casual fan, you may get frustrated by the last 200+ pages of the book. Buyer beware!

Footnotes: Adventures Comics #403 is a giant-size reprint issue, collecting four classic Legion stories. In addition, there is a three-page feature of new costume designs for Legionnaires submitted by readers, and a two-page diagram of the Legion headquarters. Those two features and the cover are included in this collection.

Class is in session at the Legion Academy beginning in Adventures Comics #372.

If you like this volume, try: Legion of Super-Heroes animated series, which aired for two seasons on Saturday mornings from 2006 to 2008. Following parts of the storyline that we all know by now, the founding members of the Legion travel to the 21st century to recruit a young Superman* to travel with them to the future and learn how to become the greatest hero ever. The two seasons each contained 13 episodes, and many familiar stories and characters made appearances. Watching this can be a little bit of a challenge. Both seasons are available on DVD. Season 1 is available for Amazon Prime members to watch for free, but season 2 is only available to purchase by the individual episodes. For those wanting to introduce the Legion to a younger generation, this may be the gateway into the future.

* At the time this show was on the air, there was an ongoing legal dispute between DC and the Jerry Siegel estate over who owned the rights to the Superboy concept. To avoid any conflicts, Clark is always referenced as Superman.

Essential Hulk Vol. 6

Hulk6First Published: September 2010

Contents: Incredible Hulk #201 (July 1976) to #225 (July 1978); and Incredible Hulk Annual #6 (1977)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, Sal Buscema, David Anthony Kraft, Roger Stern, Herb Trimpe, George Tuska, Jim Starlin, and others

Key First Appearances: Constrictor, Quintronic Man

Story Continues From: Essential Hulk Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Hulk Vol. 7

Overview: He’s back! He’s mad! And he’s green! Do we need much more than that for an introduction to the sixth volume of Essential Hulk

There are two main names to know about this book – Len Wein and Sal Buscema. Both joined the series in the last volume, helping to provide the definitive take on the Hulk in the 1970s. At the end of this volume, Wein transitions the writing duties over to Roger Stern, who will begin a long run with our title hero.

The basic points of the story remain the same. Bruce Banner changes to the Hulk when he is angered. The US Army led by General Ross is on the hunt for the Hulk. Banner still has feelings for Ross’ daughter Betty, who married the general’s second-in-command. The Hulk still has feelings for Jarella, the green queen of a microscopic world. Finally, the Hulk once had friends, such as Rick Jones and Jim Wilson. But at the end of the day, the Hulk is a loner. That’s everything you need to know to get started with a Hulk story.

Now I mentioned Jarella earlier, the queen of her world. She reappears in the Hulk’s life, but this time by coming to his world. In the heat of a battle, Jarella is killed saving the life of a child. The Hulk does his best to save his love, going from one Doc (Samson) to another Doctor (Strange) but nothing can overcome death. Not even the Hulk.

You could make the argument that Jack of Hearts makes his first comic book appearance (Incredible Hulk #213) in this collection. He had been a character featured in the Marvel black & white magazines up to this point. I guess I could promote this as Jack of Hearts first appearance in color, but we all know the Essentials are black & white collections. Maybe we should just be excited for the inclusion of Jack of Hearts for a few issues and go with that, OK?

One of my favorite B-grade villains is introduced in this collection with the Constrictor. He wears a costumed suit with electrified adamantium alloy cables that shoot out of his wrists, creating a heavy-duty whip that he can use as an offensive weapon. He never sticks around for vey long, but I always loved the design of his costume.

As we get to the end of this collection, we find that the status quo remains much how we found it at the beginning. Bruce Banner changes to the Hulk when he is angered. General Ross and the Army still hunts for the Hulk. Banner still has feelings for Ross’ daughter Betty. The Hulk still has feelings for Jarella. And the Hulk has a few friends, such as Rick Jones and Jim Wilson. But at the end of the day, the Hulk is alone. (Well, not entirely correct there. At the end of THIS collection, we see the Hulk and Doc Samson in battle against the Leader. The book leaves us in the middle of a story arc! Stupid Marvel, I need to go read Essential Hulk Vol. 7 now!)

What makes this Essential?: I am unsure how to sum up this volume. The stories are interesting, and there are some memorable moments (particularly with Jarella) that stand out in this volume. Sal Buscema has become THE Hulk artist in this era, and visually defined who the Hulk is at a time when there were more eyes on the book as a result of the CBS TV show. But I find myself wanting just a little bit more from these comics. I get the feeling that monthly publishing schedule was more important than developing and pushing the characters forward. It’s OK to have books that meet the publishing schedule month after month, but for a book that has been around for more than 10 years (at this point), I just don’t know if we see the growth in the Hulk character compared to the growth seen in other characters in this time-period. This is a good volume, but I really want some more at this point with the Hulk.

Footnotes: The Incredible Hulk TV series debuted on CBS as a pilot movie on November 4, 1977, during the era of the books in this collection. This volume ends with issue #225 so we won’t see this until the next Essential volume, but beginning with issue #227, each cover will have a banner reading “Marvel’s TV Sensation.”

If you like this volume, try: reading up on Jack of Hearts. Visually he is so interesting to look at, although he probably induces nervous twitches in artists or colorists when his name comes up in the script. His appearance here in the Incredible Hulk is his first outside of his initial story arc in the Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu magazine. Born from a human father and an alien mother, Jack Hart discovers as he grows up that his body is developing deadly energy. His father designs a special containment suit, which just happens to maybe look like a Jack from a deck of cards. (This was the 1970s – inspiration could be found EVERYWHERE!) Over the years, Jack of Hearts would pop up in a variety of Marvel titles, sometimes embracing his cosmic heritage, other times just to provide a visually interesting character. He did land his own mini-series in the mid-1980s, but that has not been completely reprinted. He did eventually join up with the Avengers, during the Busiek and Johns eras in the late 1990s. Sadly, Jack of Hearts did not survive the roster upheaval with Avengers: Disassembled, and has been used very sparingly ever since.

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 Iron Man Vol. 3

Essential Iron Man Vol. 3

First Published: April 2008

Contents: Iron Man #12 (April 1969) to #38 (June 1971); and Daredevil #73 (February 1971)

Key Creator Credits: Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Gerry Conway, Don Heck, Allyn Brodsky, and others

Key First Appearances: Controller, Crimson Dynamo (III), Madame Masque, Eddie March, Firebrand, Kevin O’Brien, Spymaster, Marianne Rodgers

Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 4

Overview: Every hero has to have a weakness, right? Over at DC Comics, Superman must avoid Kryptonite, Green Lantern is useless against anything yellow, and Aquaman cannot be away from water for very long. At Marvel, Iron Man comes to mind, as Tony Stark has been living on borrowed time with his damaged heart. His armor has kept his heart beating for years. But for all of his money and genius, Stark has never been able to fully repair his heart – until NOW! So let’s dive into Essential Iron Man Vol. 3.

Tony Stark finally decides to scale back his Iron Man life and to live more outside of the armor. He has met the (current) love of his life, Janice Cord, and wants to spend as much of his time with her as possible. That means he is finally ready for that heart transplant, so he doesn’t have to be tied down to the armor so much. The transplant is a success, but circumstances always force Stark back into the armor. Shortly after his surgery, Iron Man has to face off against the Titanium Man and the new Crimson Dynamo. During that battle, Janice Cord is fatally injured, once again throwing Tony’s life into chaos.

Some new faces come into Tony Stark’s life, some more important than others. Boxer Eddie March becomes the next man to wear the Iron Man armor. His run is short-lived, but he will return in later Essential volumes in a freaky appearance. Whitney Frost, whom we met in the last Essential, is injured and forced to hide her scars behind a face plate, becoming Madame Masque. The villain Firebrand shows up for the first time, but he will have a longer (and more important) story arc in the next collection. And Kevin O’Brien is hired on at Stark Industries; in the next collection, he will don a green version of Stark’s armor and will be called Guardsman.

Perhaps the most significant addition would be Marianne Rodgers, who becomes the new romantic interest for Tony. While her first appearance is listed as Iron Man #36, some people believe that she is the “Marion” character from Tales of Suspense #40, who suggested that Iron Man paint his armor some other color besides battleship gray. When she appears in Iron Man #36, it’s implied in the story that they already know each other, Tony starts referring to her as “Honey” within three pages.

What makes this Essential?: I liked this volume, but I am struggling to give this a strong endorsement. Archie Goodwin and George Tuska dominate the first half of this book, and those are good stories. Allyn Brodsky and Gerry Conway take over the writing duties, with art by Don Heck, and I can’t really complain about that. But I keep looking through the book and I can’t imagine wanting to read this again. If I was more of an Iron Man fan, I could envision wanting to get back into these issues. So what to do, what to do….. Definitely, read this if you are a fan of Iron Man. There are some key character introductions that will play important roles in the years to come. For the casual Marvel fan, maybe just flip through this on the side.

Footnotes: Iron Man #35 & #36 and Daredevil #73 are also collected in Essential Daredevil Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: reading Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle story by David Michelinie, Bob Layton, and John Romita, Jr. Collecting Iron Man #120 to #128 from 1979, Iron Man is besieged by numerous foes, with someone attempting to take over his armor. As the pressures increase, Tony Stark turns to alcohol. Unfortunately, Stark’s compulsive personality leads him further and further down a dark path. He is forced to turn over his armor to the police, and he must step down as leader of the Avengers. Stark finally bottoms out and recognizes his problem. With the help of Bethany Cabe, Tony goes through a withdrawal and begins the long, slow climb to sobriety. At the time this was created, this wasn’t necessarily written as a long storyline; they were just attempting to tell a good story month after month. It was only after the fact that people began to refer to this story arc as “Demon in the Bottle” (which was the issue name for the final issue in Iron Man #128) In 1984, this was one of the first stories that Marvel ever collected in a trade paperback. It has been reprinted multiple times in multiple formats, and should be easy to find.

Essential Avengers Vol. 6

Essential Avengers Vol. 6

Essential Avengers Vol. 6

First Published: February 2008

Contents: Avengers #120 (April 1972) to #140 (October 1975); Giant-Size Avengers #1 (August 1974) to #4 (June 1975); Captain Marvel #33 (July 1974); and Fantastic Four #150 (September 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, John Buscema, Bob Brown, George Tuska, and others

Key First Appearances: Nuklo, Bova

Story Continues From: Essential Avengers Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Avengers Vol. 7

Overview: In preparation for this review, I consider some alternatives to make my point here. My first thought would be to increase the font size to a larger style, but I hate that when other sites do it. I CONSIDERED WRITING THIS ENTIRE REVIEW IN ALL CAPS, BUT I DON’T WANT TO COME ACROSS THAT I AM YELLING AT YOU, MY LOYAL READERS. Maybe I should attach a sound file with trumpets blaring, or I figure out a way to roll out a red carpet. See, the reason for these possible changes is to help convey just how EPIC is this collection of the Essential Avengers!

Writer Steve Englehart and friends put together a series of memorable runs over multiple issues. This really felt like a heavy hitters lineup for the team, led by Thor, Iron Man, and the Vision. In this collection, the Avengers have their first encounter with Thanos; in a crossover with the Fantastic Four, we see Quicksilver and Crystal tie the knot in a ceremony delayed by Ultron; and we discover the secret origin of the Vision, in a story that goes back to the very first issue of Marvel Comics in 1939.

The highlight of this volume is the story of Mantis. In the lead-off story where the Avengers battle Zodiac, Mantis discovers that Libra is her father. She learns that she was raised by the Priests of Pama, which takes the Avengers to Viet-Nam where they encounter the Star-Stalker. From there, long-time Avengers foe Kang kidnaps Mantis and Moondragon, as both have been identified as potential candidates to become the Celestial Madonna. That leads the Avengers to travel through time and space after their teammate. During the battle with Kang, the Swordsman is killed, and Mantis realizes that he was the love of her life and not the Vision. Mantis discovers more of her origins, and finally embraces her role as the Celestial Madonna. In a ceremony overseen by Immortus, Mantis marries a Cotati reanimating the body of Swordsman, and the couple merge and depart to space. (It should be noted that the wedding was a double ceremony, as the Vision and the Scarlet Witch finally say their “I Do’s”.)

The volume concludes as some new faces become probationary members of the team in Avengers #137. Having graduated from the X-Men and moved on to a solo career, the blue-haired Beast shows up for a series of adventures, but it won’t be until the next Essential before he earns his Avengers identification card. Also, Moondragon joins the team, making for a good consolation prize for losing out on the Celestial Madonna sweepstakes.

What makes this Essential?: This volume can best be summed up with one name – Steve Englehart. The writer had taken over writing duties on the Avengers in the previous Essential volume, and this collection sees Englehart work in all of the stories that he was really wanting to tell. He uses a core line-up of Iron Man, Thor, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Mantis. (It should be noted that long-time Avenger Captain America was knee-deep in his own book at that time, and could only make the occasional appearance in the Avengers. By the way, Captain America and Falcon was being written by Englehart.) Mantis, a creation of Englehart and Don Heck, becomes the focus of the Celestial Madonna story in this volume. Towards the end of the run, Hank McCoy (a.k.a the Beast of the X-Men) Joins up, but this is the blue-furred Beast. Hank McCoy had undergone a further mutation in the pages of Amazing Adventures, written by — wait for it! — yes that’s right, it was Steve Englehart. So long story short, you need to be a big fan of Englehart and his epic vision for the Avengers to really appreciate this volume. I first read these stories out of order, as I picked up the back issues to fill out my Avengers collection over the years. Being able to re-read this story in order via the Essential allows me to better appreciate what Englehart did here.

Footnotes: Captain Marvel #33 is also reprinted in Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 2.

Avengers #127 and Fantastic Four #150 are also reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7.

If you like this volume, try: the first series of The Ultimates. Hot on the heels of the successful Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men, Marvel turned to Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch to develop an Ultimate version of the Avengers. Trimming the team down to it’s 1963 roster of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Giant Man, the Wasp, and Captain America, Millar and Hitch created an EPIC spin on the historic narrative. Yes, changes were made to make the group more contemporary – most notable is Nick Fury portrayed as an African-American that happens to look a lot like Samuel L. Jackson, long before that actor was cast in any Marvel Studios role. Conversely, The Ultimates became a template that Marvel Studios could use as they began to shape the Phase One series of movies. This initial series ran for 13 issues, albeit over two years time, and has been collected in numerous trades and hardcover collections. There have been various sequels to spin out of this, but the original story remains the best by far.

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!