Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

First Published: May 2007

Contents: Fantastic Four #111 (June 1971) to #137 (August 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, John Buscema, Ross Andru, Joe Sinnott, and others

Key First Appearances: Walter Collins, Overmind, Air-Walker, Thundra,

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Overview: Let’s set the scene here. Jack Kirby has just recently left the Fantastic Four (and Marvel). If this had happened in the last 10 years, more than likely Marvel would have cancelled the book and relaunched it the next month with a new #1. But in the 1970s, the book must go on month after month, so welcome aboard to Archie and Roy and Gerry and John. You have big shoes to fill, so let’s see how you do in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6.

To ease the transition, let’s bring in a lot of familiar faces. With Sue still caring for Franklin, Crystal and Medusa take turns as members of the Fantastic Four. Of course, if those two are around, then the Inhumans cannot be far behind. (But why is Quicksilver hanging out with Inhumans, and seems to be quite close to Crystal…)

Let’s bring in some familiar foes. Doctor Doom? Check! Galactus and his new herald Air-Walker? Check! The Frightful Four? Check! Dragon Man? Check! Diablo? Sigh, check. But we also get some new challengers, such as the Overmind. But the most treacherous foe is finally shown in Walter Collins, the constantly irate landlord of the Baxter Building. (“Johnny, what did you do with the rent check?”) Thankfully, John Byrne was finally able to have Reed write off Collins years later during his fantastic run of the 1980s.

The most interesting introduction in this volume is Thundra, who comes from the 23rd century when Earth is ruled by Femizons. She travels back to the 20th century to fight the strongest man, who happens to be Ben Grimm. Thundra will become a familiar face in the pages of Fantastic Four, working as an ally of our heroes and as an enemy as a member of the Frightful Four. She eventually develops a romantic interest in Ben, much to his chagrin.

What makes this Essential?: I want to like this more, I really do. But this volume just feels like a let down after the Lee-Kirby run. Maybe it’s not fair to compare these issues against that run, but this is the situation. The stories are decent but not dynamic. The art is very good but never breathtaking. There are some moments that rise up close to greatness, but then I wonder how Lee & Kirby would have done it. Case in point, in Fantastic Four #116, Doctor Doom leads the Fantastic Four against Overmind and Mr. Fantastic, I loved the issue, but I wanted to see Kirby draw that issue. A Fantastic Four completist should own this volume, but it is not essential for a casual Marvel fan.

Footnotes: The front and back covers to Marvel Treasury Edition #21 (1979) are included in this volume. The treasury edition reprints Fantastic Four #120 to #123, which are collected in this Essential. In addition, early versions of the covers to Fantastic Four #130 and #131 are also included in this book.

If you like this volume, try: the Inhumans mini-series from 1998. Written by Paul Jenkins with art by Jae Lee, the 12-issue series was part of the Marvel Knights launch. Several story arcs are at work in this collection: Attilan is under attack from external and internal forces. The next generation of Inhumans debate their future before entering the Terrigan Mists. And the royal family shows that they are just as dysfunctional as any other family. The tale fills in the gaps in the Inhumans history, fleshing it out into an epic story. This is one of the best Marvel stories ever, and probably needs to be read multiple times to catch everything. This has been collected repeatedly in trade paperback and hardcover editions, so it should be easy to find.

Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 2

Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 2

First Published: February 2007

Contents: Ghost Rider #21 (December 1976) to #50 (November 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, Roger McKenzie, Michael Fleisher, Don Heck, Don Perlin, Carmine Infantino, and others

Key First Appearances: Enforcer, Water Wizard, Zarathos 

Story Continues In: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 1

Story Continues From: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 3

Overview: Driving like a bat out of hell, Johnny Blaze travels the roads of the American West, looking to find peace with his demonic alter-ego, the Ghost Rider. Month after month, Blaze encounters various threats from both man and demons. He crosses paths with Dr. Strange, Professor Xavier, Hawkeye, and the Two-Gun Kid, in addition to the occasional appearances of Ghost Rider’s teammates in the Champions. One of the highlights of the book (besides it being the final comic of the volume) is issue #50, where Ghost Rider is transported into the past, where he teams up with the Phantom Rider, who made his debut in The Ghost Rider #1 (February 1967).

What makes this Essential?: Even in the hardest of reads, I try to find SOMETHING positive about the Essentials and Showcase Presents that I review. But I need help with this volume because I cannot find ANYTHING positive about this book. The writing and art are average at best – even with pencils from legendary talents such as Don Heck, Jim Starlin, and Carmine Infantino.  Sadly, very little is done to develop the character, either as Johnny Blaze or as the Ghost Rider. Many of his supporting cast seen in the first volume, such as Stunt Master and Roxanne Simpson, are quickly dropped. With volume 1, there was at least a purpose for the character, as he was trying to free his soul from the Devil. This book just wanders aimlessly. And don’t get me started on the over-abundance of motorcycle-riding foes in this volume. Just because Ghost Rider uses a motorcycle does not mean that everyone he fights has to be on a motorcycle. Would you want a Batman story where issue after issue, he chases after criminals in cars just because Batman uses a Batmobile?  So, if you know what was good from this book, please let me know because I sure couldn’t find it. 

If you like this volume, try: Shade The Changing Man from DC Comics. Writer Michael Fleisher, who starts a long run with Ghost Rider in this volume, was very prolific for both DC and Marvel throughout the 1970s and 1980s. One of his early works was Shade, which was done with the legendary Steve Ditko. The Shade title ran for eight issues, before it was caught up in the DC implosion of 1978. The entire series was collected in The Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol. 1 from DC in 2011.

Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1

Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1

First Published: February 2007

Contents: Ms. Marvel #1 (January 1977) to #23 (April 1979); Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10 (July 1992) and #11 (October 1992); and Avengers Annual #10 (1981)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, John Buscema, Chris Claremont, Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino, Dave Cockrum, Mike Vosburg, Michael Golden, and others

Key First Appearances: Ms. Marvel, Destructor, Frank Gianelli, Tracy Burke, Deathbird, Raven Darkholme/Mystique, Rogue

Story Continues In: Essential Avengers Vol. 8

Overview: Welcome to a new era in Marvel Comics, as we dive into the adventures of Ms. Marvel. Longtime Marvel readers should already be familiar with Carol Danvers, a security officer at a military base when Captain Marvel first landed on Earth. (It will be several months before I get around to reviewing Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 1 where we see her debut, so take my word on this.)  In Captain Marvel #18, Carol is caught up in an explosion with the Kree captain. As a result, Carol Danver’s DNA now contains Kree DNA, which means she now has the same powers as Captain Marvel – superhuman strength, endurance, the ability to fly, and a precognitive sense. When Carol blacks out, her body undergoes a transformation and appears in costume (and with a new hairdo) as Ms. Marvel.

When our book starts, Carol Danvers has left the security world behind to become a magazine editor, working for the most bombastic publisher in New York City, J. Jonah Jameson. He is wanting to launch a women’s magazine and hires Danvers to oversee the publication. Being in New York puts her right in the middle of everything going on in the Marvel Universe. She crosses paths with Spider-Man and the Avengers, eventually becoming a member of that team.

While Ms. Marvel does face off against some traditional Marvel villains such as M.O.D.O.K., the Scorpion, and Tiger Shark, she also faced off against new characters created for her book. While some were lame (Steeplejack, anyone?), two new ones would come to the plague the X-Men for years. In issue #9, we meet Deathbird, who would later be revealed to be the older sister of Princess Lilandra of the Shi’ar Empire. But the big baddie came in issue #16 when the shape-shifter Mystique is introduced. Mystique will kill Carol’s boyfriend, Dr. Michael Barnett, whose murder will not be “solved” for 13 years (see Footnotes below).

What makes this Essential?: This should be an important book, more important than how it is viewed. The Carol Danvers character has been active in the Marvel Universe since her debut in 1968. Ms. Marvel was the first of four female-led books that Marvel launched in the late 1970s/early 1980s, all of which would go on to be major characters for Marvel. Outside of the first three issues, this book is written by Chris Claremont, who has proven to be one of Marvel’s best writers ever.

So why isn’t this better received or appreciated? Well, my first thought is that she is ignored because she is a derivative character. Following the lead of DC’s Supergirl and Batgirl, Ms. Marvel is a female copy of Captain Marvel. I think a lot of readers approach derivative characters just as a money grab from the publishers, who believe that readers will follow the costume regardless who is wearing the costume. That leads to my second thought – Ms. Marvel’s costume. For her first costume, she wore full-length sleeves, but bare legs, back, and belly. Her second costume was a little better – a one-piece swimsuit with a sash, thigh-high boots, and gloves that went up past the elbow. I realize that these are just characters, primarily created by men, and the goal is to sell comics, which are primarily purchased by men and boys. But neither of these outfits was extremely practical in the heat of battle nor are they necessarily appropriate for a character billed as such a strong feminist. 

Footnotes: Ms. Marvel was canceled following issue #23, despite a blurb for issue #24 (and presumed issue #25). The final stories were eventually printed in 1992 in Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine. The stories in this Essential volume are printed in story-order, so Avengers Annual #10 is printed after the Marvel Super-Heroes stories, even though it came out 10 years earlier. In addition, the cover art for issue #24 is included in this volume.

If Ms. Marvel #25 had been published, that would have been the first appearance of Rogue, Destiny, Pyro, Avalanche, and the Hellfire Club. It even establishes that Carol Danvers is friends with Wolverine. With the exception of Rogue, Chris Claremont would later introduce those other characters in the pages of Uncanny X-Men.

Avengers Annual #10 was also reprinted in Essential X-Men Vol. 3.

Prior to reading Avengers Annual #10 in this Essential, readers are advised/encouraged to read Ms. Marvel’s adventures as a member of the Avengers. In particular, Avengers #200 (which can be found in Essential Avengers Vol. 9) is a must read for the proper understanding of the events of Avengers Annual #10.

If you like this volume, try: the Ultra mini-series from Image Comics. Created by the Luna Brothers, Ultra tells the story of three super-heroines who work to protect Spring City. Pearl Penalosa aka Ultra is the main star of the title and in the city. She’s beautiful and rich, but sadly single, having thrown herself into her career. How in the world does anyone find time to meet someone, much less date, when the city is in constant danger. What stood out for me were the covers to the individual eight issues – each one was modeled after a popular magazine, such as Time, Rolling Stone, People, Wired, and others. This was the breakout debut for Josh and Jon Luna, who would go on to do other series for Image Comics such as Girls and The Sword. Ultra is still available as a trade paperback, but I believe the back issues could still be easily found in the back-issue bins.

Essential Defenders Vol. 2

Essential Defenders Vol. 2

First Published: December 2006

Contents: The Defenders #15 (September 1974) to #30 (December 1975); Giant-Size Defenders #1 (July 1974) to #5 (August 1975); Marvel Two-in-One #6 (November 1974) and #7 (January 1975); Marvel Team-Up #33 (May 1975) to #35 (July 1975); and Marvel Treasury Edition #12 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, Steve Gerber, Tony Isabella, Gerry Conway, Jim Starlin, Sal Buscema, Don Heck, and others

Key First Appearances: Supreme Serpent, Wrecking Crew (Bulldozer, Piledriver, Thunderball), Elf with a Gun, Starhawk, Aleta, Michael Korvac

Story Continues From: Essential Defenders Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Defenders Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to the ongoing adventures of Marvel’s non-team of heroes, the Defenders! The team with no rules, no charter, no membership cards, and no matching uniforms.

Core founding members Sub-Mariner and the Silver Surfer have moved on in this volume to other adventures, but will return in later Essential Defenders volumes. In their place, Valkyrie and Nighthawk team up with Doctor Strange and the Hulk to form the core members of the team in this volume. Other heroes hang out with the Defenders for a few issues in this volume, such as Power Man, Son of Satan, the Thing, and Yellowjacket.

Two story arcs in particular stand out in this issue. For issues #15 and #16, the Defenders face off against Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, a group of characters that had not been seen much with the X-Men title on hiatus. This is followed up in #17 and #18 with the debut of Wrecking Crew – three super-powered construction working villains that work with the Wrecker. The Wrecking Crew have been mainstays in the Marvel Universe since then, fighting everyone from the Avengers to Spider-Man to Wolverine, among others.

The volume concludes with a long story arc featuring the return of the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Guardians made their debut in the late 1960s, but were unused for many years until Steve Gerber brought them back to the forefront in Marvel Two-in-One #5, The story arc in Defenders introduced Starhawk to the team.

What makes this Essential?: While there are still moments where the title feels like an extension of the Doctor Strange book, the Defenders start to come into their own as an individual title, albeit an unofficial team. Steve Gerber begins his long run with the team, and we start to see Gerber’s familiar story-telling techniques which will be more prominently seen in the pages of Howard the Duck. This is an interesting read, but I just don’t know if it’s essential to read.

Footnotes: Marvel Two-in-One #6 and #7 are also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1.

Marvel Team-Up #33-#35 are also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2.

Marvel Treasury Edition #12 is also reprinted in Essential Howard the Duck Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers trade paperbacks from 2013. We are given a taste of the Guardians of the Galaxy in this Essential Defenders volume. But to find the origins of the original Guardians, check out these collections. Originally created by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan, but fully developed later by Steve Gerber and Al Milgrom, the Guardians come together to help save the 31st Century. Vance Astro, Martinex, Charlie-27, and Yondu form the original core, and we see Starhawk join during the appearance in Defenders. Whether you view this as Marvel’s version of the Legion of Super-Heroes, or as a future version of the Avengers, the Guardians are a fun look at one possible future for the Marvel Universe. Given the success of the summer blockbuster of the same name (but different character line-up), fans should check out these volumes to see the roots of the original Guardians of the Galaxy.

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1

First Published: December 2006

Contents: Man-Thing story from Savage Tales #1 (May 1971); Man-Thing stories from Astonishing Tales #12 (June 1972) and #13 (August 1972); Man-Thing stories from (Adventure into) Fear #10 (October 1972) to #19 (December 1973); Man-Thing #1 (January 1974) to #14 (February 1975); Giant-Size Man-Thing #1 (August 1974) and #2 (November 1974); and Man-Thing stories from Monsters Unleashed #5 (April 1974), #8 (October 1974), and #9 (December 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Mike Ploog, Tony Isabella, Gray Morrow, John Buscema, Neal Adams, Rich Buckler, Val Mayerik, and others

Key First Appearances: Ted Sallis/Man-Thing, Ellen Brandt, Jennifer Kale, Andy Kale, Thog, Joshua Kale, Dakimh the Enchanter, Howard the Duck, F.A. Schist, Wundar, Richard Rory, Ruth Hart, Foolkiller

Story Continues In: Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

Overview:  Ted Sallis is a research scientist trying to re-discover the Super Soldier formula, the long lost serum which led to the creation of Captain America in the 1940s. Working in a remote lab in the Florida Everglades, Sallis believes he has recreated the formula. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other people and governments that want that formula, some of whom would kill to get their hands on it. Confronted by spies, Sallis flees into the murk, and injects the formula into himself prior to crashing his car into the swamp. Between the formula and the swamp, Sallis’ body is transformed into what could best be described as a Man-Thing — it has the shape of a human, but made out of swamp material.

The Man-Thing has vague memories of who he once was, but nothing coherent. He reacts to the emotions of people around him, in particular fear. We quickly find out that whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch. He becomes the protector of the swamp, which also happens to contain a Nexus of All Realities, which allow travel between Earth and other dimensions. Man-Thing becomes the protector of the swamp and the Nexus, and encounters many Marvel characters passing through the Florida Everglades.

The bulk of this book is written by Steve Gerber early in his career, and the supporting characters introduced here would make numerous future appearances in later Marvel books written by Gerber. And in a book like Man-Thing, where the title character does not speak, a writer needs a good supporting cast to help advance the story. Howard the Duck is the most famous introduction made by Gerber, coming from Duckworld through the Nexus of All Realities. He would move into his own self-titled book of the 1970s. Richard Rory is a down-on-his-luck guy that can never seem to get the girl. Rory would travel with Gerber to The Defenders, before moving on to the various She-Hulk titles of the 1970s and 1980s. Finally, Jennifer Kale is a teenage girl with an affinity to magic, and makes appearances every few years in a variety of titles, from Howard the Duck to Ghost Rider.

What makes this Essential?: The release of Savage Tales #1 was Marvel’s first attempt to introduce a horror/monster book into the Marvel Universe proper. (Other appearances in that first issue of Savage Tales included Conan and Ka-Zar.) Debuting around the same time as DC’s Swamp Thing (see The First Thing below), Man-Thing remained a steady feature throughout the 1970s and 1980s. For that reason, sure these early stories could be considered as Essential. I do find that the best artwork in this volume came from the various magazines, and I will once again state my plea that Marvel should find someway to reprint the magazines in one collection. 

The First Thing: Man-Thing was originally conceived by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas; Thomas fleshed out the character’s story, then handed the story to Gerry Conway to plot. As a result, Thomas and Conway, along with artist Gray Morrow, are credited for the creation of Man-Thing in Savage Tales #1 (May 1971). A second story was done by Len Wein, but Savage Tales was cancelled after just the one issue. It was a year before the story saw print, incorporated into the Ka-Zar story in Astonishing Tales #12 (June 1972). Meanwhile, down the street at the DC Comics offices, the first Swamp Thing story appeared in House of Secrets #92 (July 1971). This Swamp Thing (originally Alex Olsen) took place in the early 1900s. The next Swamp Thing appeared in Swamp Thing #1 (October-November 1972), this time featuring Alec Holland becoming the Swamp Thing. Both of the Swamp Thing stories were written by Len Wein. While there are a lot of similarities in the origins between Man-Thing and Swamp Thing, Len Wein has stated in interviews that they are two distinct characters. The story paths for both characters have followed different paths, taking them further and further away from a very familiar origin story.

Footnotes: Parts of (Adventure into) Fear #19 and Man-Thing #1 are also reprinted in Essential Howard the Duck Vol. 1.

This Essential does carry a Parental Advisory warning, but it is buried on the lower portion of the back cover. This is definitely not an all-ages book.

If you like this volume, try: looking into the life and career of Gray Morrow, the artistic co-creator of Man-Thing. Over the course of his long career, Morrow did work in nearly every genre for nearly every publisher at some point – Classics Illustrated, horror magazines and comics, newspaper strip, among others – but he was most closely associated with the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. Start your search with the retrospective Gray Morrow: Visionary, which was released in 2001 as his career was coming to an end.

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 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.

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2

First Published: August 2006

Contents: Marvel Team-Up #25 (September 1974) to #51 (November 1976); and Marvel Two-in-One #17 (July 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema, Ron Wilson, and others

Key First Appearances: Jean DeWolff, Wraith

Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3

Overview: As a New York City-based character, Spider-Man continues to be the center of attention in the Marvel Universe, and in the pages of Marvel Team-Up, as seen in this second Essential volume.

As with the first volume, Marvel Team-Up partners the various Marvel characters with their most recognizable hero in Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man. While most of these stories are one-and-done, we do see some multiple-issue story arcs. Spider-Man moves from one team-up to the next, all as part of the same story. For example, see the Defenders story in issues #33-#35; a multi-part story focusing on the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in issues #41-#44; and the Iron Man arc from issues #48-#51. This last story arc introduced NYPD Captain Jean DeWolff, one of the few officers that recognize Spider-Man as a hero working with the police, and Jean’s brother-turned-villain, the Wraith.

The Human Torch makes the last of his appearances as the lead feature in Marvel Team-Up #36 in this Essential. However, the Human Torch would still cross paths three more times with Spider-Man in this title over the run of the book.

What makes this Essential?: Is this really an Essential title? Absolutely not, when looking at the significant moments of the characters’ life stories. However, this title, as well as the other team-up books from Marvel and DC, is the perfect way to introduce a new reader to a world of characters. From this volume, a reader could go explore the adventures of Iron Man, Thor, The Fantastic Four, The Defenders, The Avengers, Doctor Strange, Killraven, and many others. So give this a read and see what interests you next!

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
Marvel Team-Up #25 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
Marvel Team-Up #26 – Human Torch & Thor
Marvel Team-Up #27 – Spider-Man & the Hulk
Marvel Team-Up #28 – Spider-Man & Hercules
Marvel Team-Up #29 – Human Torch & Iron Man
Marvel Team-Up #30 – Spider-Man & Falcon
Marvel Team-Up #31 – Spider-Man & Iron Fist
Marvel Team-Up #32 – Human Torch & the Son of Satan / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #33 – Spider-Man & Nighthawk / Essential Defenders Vol. 2
Marvel Team-Up #34 – Spider-Man & Valkyrie / Essential Defenders Vol. 2
Marvel Team-Up #35 – Human Torch & Doctor Strange / Essential Defenders Vol. 2
Marvel Team-Up #36 – Spider-Man & the Frankenstein Monster
Marvel Team-Up #37 – Spider-Man & Man-Wolf
Marvel Team-Up #38 – Spider-Man & the Beast
Marvel Team-Up #39 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
Marvel Team-Up #40 – Spider-Man & the Sons of the Tiger
Marvel Team-Up #41 – Spider-Man & Scarlet Witch
Marvel Team-Up #42 – Spider-Man & the Vision
Marvel Team-Up #43 – Spider-Man & Doctor Doom
Marvel Team-Up #44 – Spider-Man & Moondragon
Marvel Team-Up #45 – Spider-Man & Killraven / Essential Killraven Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #46 – Spider-Man & Deathlok
Marvel Two-In-One #17 – The Thing & Spider-Man / Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #47 – Spider-Man & the Thing / Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #48 – Spider-Man & Iron Man
Marvel Team-Up #49 – Spider-Man & Iron Man 
Marvel Team-Up #50 – Spider-Man & Doctor Strange
Marvel Team-Up #51 – Spider-Man & Iron Man

If you like this volume, try: the Ultimate Marvel Team-Up series from 2001 & 2002. The Ultimate universe was created by Marvel in the early 2000s as a way to tell stories featuring their most popular characters without the 40+ years of continuity weighing them down. The stories mirrored many of the original character stories but told to match the modern society. For example, teenage Peter Parker did get a job at the Daily Bugle, but he was helping out on the paper’s website.  For Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, the entire series (16 issues and one special) is written by Brian Michael Bendis, with art from a variety of artists. These issues serve as a way to introduce many Marvel characters into the Ultimate Universe, so the first appearances of Ultimate Hulk, Ultimate Iron Man, Ultimate Daredevil, etc. My personal favorite was issue #14, where Spider-Man crossed paths with the Ultimate version of Black Widow. The art is done by Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise) who was the perfect choice to show teenage awkwardness of Peter against the sleek beauty of Natasha. The entire series has been reprinted multiple times in multiple formats, so it should not be a challenge to track these issues down.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 7

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 7

First Published: October 2005

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #138 (November 1974) to #160 (September 1976); Amazing Spider-Man Annual #10 (1976); and Giant Size Spider-Man #4 (April 1975) and #5 (July 1975)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Len Wein, Ross Andru, Sal Buscema, Gil Kane, and others

Key First Appearances:  Mindworm, Grizzly, Mamie Muggins, Mysterio (II), Glory Grant, Cyclone, Ben Reilly/Spider-Man clone, Mirage, Human Fly, Moses Magnum,

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 8

Overview: So, picture you are Gerry Conway. You’ve just written the storyline that killed off Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, which shocked the world in an era with no spoilers or Previews magazine. How the heck are you going to top that storyline? By bringing Gwen back to life. What?!?! With that, let’s dive into Essential Spider-Man Vol. 7.

There are 25 comics collected in this volume, and a lot of great 1970s villains show up here, such as the Grizzly, Cyclone, and Mirage. We get classic returns by Doctor Octopus (still hoping to wed Aunt May), the Sandman, and the Shocker. But this volume is dominated by the first clone saga, which runs through the first half of this book.

We find out that Professor Miles Warren, introduced back during the Lee-Ditko run, is secretly the super-villain known as the Jackal. He also has been secretly in love with Gwen Stacy. Overcome by grief following her death, Warren develops clones of both Gwen and Peter Parker, and as a result, discovers the secret of Peter’s other identity. Blaming Spider-Man for Gwen’s death, he uses the clones to attack Peter and Spider-Man, tormenting him on multiple levels. The Spider-Man clone revolts against his programming, and teams with our hero to defeat the Jackal. One of the Spider-Men is killed when the Jackal is stopped, and we are led to believe that it was the clone that was killed. (In the 1990s, this story is revisited, when the question is asked whether or not it really was the clone that died in that battle, which led to a mega storyline that dominated that decade. And there is not enough rum in the world for me to properly discuss that fiasco.)

Many new characters join the Peter Parker universe in this volume. Glory Grant is introduced to us as a neighbor of Peter’s in his apartment building. She is a would-be model looking for work, and Peter helps her get a job at the Daily Bugle as J. Jonah Jameson’s secretary. Also at his new apartment, Mamie Muggins is the landlord, who would constantly torment Peter for his past-due rent.

What makes this Essential?: This volume is a love-it-or-hate-it edition – no trying to straddle the line with this collection. This Essential is dominated by the first clone saga, which would influence the biggest Spider-Man storylines in the 1990s. That 1990s story is extremely polarizing among all comics fans from that era. If you liked Ben Reilly and the new direction of Spider-Man in the 1990s, then this Essential is a must own. If you abhor all things about the clone storyline, then you may want to skip this collection.

One thing I will say in defense of this volume: It’s in these issues that we see Peter Parker start to develop a romantic relationship with Mary Jane Watson. For years, she had been the cute girl-next-door that was a good friend to Peter, but they were always romantically attached to others. Following the events in the last Essential volume, we see Peter and Mary Jane spending more time together as a couple.

Footnotes: Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 is also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: tracking down a copy of Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man from 1976. This is the first official inter-company crossover between Marvel and DC, initially released as an oversized tabloid edition for the lofty sum of $2.00. (It has been reprinted in at least two of the Crossover Classics collections.) Having worked on both title characters in the past, writer Gerry Conway and artist Ross Andru were tasked with bringing the two icons together in one story. Following another defeat which lands him back in prison, Lex Luthor meets Doctor Octopus, and the two team up to escape their captivity and get revenge on their nemeses. Through the convenient misunderstanding, Superman and Spider-Man find themselves facing off against each other, before realizing the mistake and directing their energies against the true foes. This really was a huge event at the time, and it should hold a place in some format in your collection.

Essential Daredevil Vol. 3

Essential Daredevil Vol. 3

First Published: August 2005

Contents: Daredevil #49 (February 1969) to #74 (March 1971); and Iron Man #35 (March 1971) and #36 (April 1971)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, Barry Windsor-Smith, Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Don Heck, and others

Key First Appearances: Starr Saxon/Mister Fear (Machinesmith), Stunt-Master, Turk Barrett, Thunderbolt,

Story Continues From: Essential Daredevil Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Daredevil Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Daredevil, the Man without Fear. In this volume, we say goodbye to writer Stan Lee, as he gives up the reigns to Rascally Roy Thomas and, later, Gerry Conway. Most of the art in this volume comes from the talented Gene Colan, although we do get a taste of early Barry Windsor-Smith in this collection.

This volume starts off with Matt suffering from a crisis of conscience. Foggy Nelson has been elected District Attorney and has gone his separate ways from Matt. Matt wants to ditch his red union suit and try to settle down into a reasonably normal life with Karen Page. Sadly, circumstances force Matt back into costume, as Daredevil has a city to protect.

One of the early villains introduced is Star Saxon, a genius who builds killer robots. (Saxon later appears in this same volume as Mister Fear, but his fame would eventually peak when he takes the name Machinesmith, being a foil for Daredevil, Captain America, Spider-Man, and others.) Long time foes Gladiator and Jester make return appearances to take on Daredevil, as well as Cobra and Mr. Hyde coming over from the pages of Thor.

The volume concludes with a crossover between Iron Man and Daredevil, as they battle the Zodiac. It makes for a nice change of pace to see Don Heck’s take on Daredevil for these issues.

What makes this Essential?: Once again, the artwork steals the show with this volume. I’ve praised Gene Colan’s talents many times in this blog, and there is not much else I can say to convince you on his art. This volume is no exception. In terms of the stories themselves, the tales in here are generally forgettable, quite honestly. This feels like a time in the character’s history where the primary concern was just to get a monthly book out, and any character development was a secondary concern. By all means, get this volume for Colan’s art. Just don’t get your hopes up if you are getting this for the Daredevil stories.

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

If you like this volume, try: the Daredevil run from Frank Miller. In the late 1970s, Miller came onto the book as the artist and eventually took over the writing chores as well. During his run, Miller took a throwaway character introduced in Daredevil #69, Turk Barrett. Turk made that one appearance and then did not appear again for nearly 10 years until the Miller run. Turk was a two-bit thug that had dreams of bigger jobs with greater rewards, but he always seems to make the wrong choice. Daredevil would crash into whatever bar Turk was drowning his sorrows in, smash everything (and everyone) up, and then question Turk, who would squeal and give Daredevil whatever info he was needing.

Notwithstanding the use of Turk, the Miller run on Daredevil is the first one mentioned when people talk about the best Daredevil runs. Miller pushed the boundaries for a monthly newsstand comic and helped set the tone for comics to come in the 1980s. This has been collected numerous times as both hardcovers and trade paperbacks. If you haven’t read this yet, you are missing out on one of the all-time great Daredevil stories.