Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6

First Published: July 2004

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #114 (November 1972) to #137 (October 1974); Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1 (June 1974); and Giant-Size Spider-Man #1 (July 1974) and #2 (October 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gil Kane, John Romita Sr., Gerry Conway, Len Wein, and Ross Andru

Key First Appearances:  Jonas Harrow, Man-Wolf, Frank Castle/Punisher, Jackal, Tarantula, Equinox

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 7

Overview: Peter Parker is pushed to his limit physically and emotionally  in this volume. And when Peter is at his breaking point, the Amazing Spider-Man is at his best.

As if battling Doctor Octopus, the Hulk, and Dracula was not enough, Spider-Man faces down the Green Goblin, who kidnapped and killed Peter’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. Spider-Man fights Norman Osborn for what we think will be the final time, as the Green Goblin is accidentally killed by his own goblin glider. Of course, that still does not stop J. Jonah Jameson from accusing Spider-Man of murder.

Spider-Man meets up with a new set of heroes that represents the spirit of the 1970s. Hero for hire Luke Cage is retained by Jameson to bring in Spider-Man dead or alive. The Punisher places Spidey in his targets after reading one too many Daily Bugle editorials about the supposed crimes of our star. Finally, Spider-Man teams up with Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung-Fu, who uses his martial arts skills to thwart the mad schemes of his father.

This volume ends with the debut of a new Green Goblin, who is seeking revenge on Spider-Man for the death of his predecessor. Spidey quickly realizes that this new Goblin is one of his best friends, Harry Osborn, creating a whole new set of problems for Peter.

What makes this Essential?: This should be a must own for many reasons. For character introductions, we meet the Man-Wolf, the Jackal, the Tarantula, and, perhaps most importantly, the Punisher. Even though he was exaggerated to comic proportions, the mission of Frank Castle could easily be replicated in real life. At the same time, we witness the most tragic event in Peter Parker’s life since the murder of his Uncle Ben. The death of Gwen Stacy came with no warning, no lead-up, no spoilers. It changed Peter, and it changed the tone of the book. My feeling is that between the death of Gwen Stacy and the introduction of the Punisher, Marvel left the Silver Age of comics and entered the Bronze Age. These stories should be part of any collection.

Not only is he Amazing, he’s Spectacular: In 1968, Marvel entered into the magazine business when they partnered with Warren Publishing to issue a Spectacular Spider-Man magazine. Warren was known for their horror magazines at this time. Spectacular Spider-Man was a black-and-white magazine which featured new original stories from Stan Lee, John Romita, Sr., and Jim Mooney. The lead story of Spectacular Spider-Man #1 was broken up and re-used for Amazing Spider-Man #116-118, which is collected in this Essential. The lead story for Spectacular Spider-Man #2 was edited and re-used in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #9.

The magazine experiment ended with issue #2. However, in the 1970s, Marvel got back into the magazine business with their then owner Curtis Publishing. Curtis helped distribute a wide range of black-and-white horror magazines with content that might not have passed the Comics Code Authority at that time.

Footnotes: In Amazing Spider-Man #130 (March 1974), the infamous Spider-Mobile makes its debut. According to interviews with Gerry Conway, a toy executive had approached Stan Lee and suggested that all of the characters should have some kind of vehicle to use. Lee readily agreed, knowing that he wouldn’t actually have to write the story. When Conway pointed out the flaws in the idea, Lee said he didn’t care what Conway did with the car once it was introduced. As a result, the Spider-Mobile soon ended up at the bottom of the Hudson River. Despite that, Spider-Mobiles can still be found included in nearly every line of Spider-Man toys since then.

Amazing Spider-Man #129, #134, and #135 were also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: going back and looking for the Marvel Masterworks Spider-Man Vol. 7, available as both a hardcover and as a trade paperback. What makes this volume important is that it contains the two Spectacular Spider-Man magazines complete and unedited. Outside of owning the physical magazines, this is the only way to read Spectacular Spider-Man #2, as it has never been reprinted completely in any other fashion.

Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 1

Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 1

First Published: January 2007

Contents: The Brave and The Bold #59 (April-May 1965), #64 (February-March 1966), #67 (August-September 1966) to #71 (April-May 1967), #74 (October-November 1967) to #87 (December 1969-January 1970)

Key Creator Credits: Bob Haney, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky, Neal Adams, Ross Andru

Key First Appearances: Time Commander, Copperhead, Hellgrammite, Bork

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 2

Overview: In the mid-1960s, Batman was reaching to new heights of popularity. Along with the weekly television show, the character could be found across a variety of titles, such as Batman, Detective Comics, World’s Finest, and the Justice League of America. So why stop there? If the Batman and Robin team-up is so great, wouldn’t a team-up with Batman and <character of the month> be just as great? Absolutely!

The Batman team-ups collected in this volume are an interesting mix. We get team-ups featuring many of his teammates from the Justice League, such as Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, and Hawkman. There are “unusual” team-ups with the supernatural characters, such as Deadman and the Spectre. And then there is the downright confusing team-ups, such as Sgt. Rock during the days of World War II.

Bob Haney wrote the majority of these stories, and seemed to be given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted within the pages of the book. These stories have often been described as taking place on Earth-B (for Bob Haney). The art features some of the best artists at DC during this era, with Mike Sekowsky, Ross Andru, and Neal Adams doing some of his earliest work for DC.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This is a fun, fun book. You see Batman in goofy pairings that would never happen with the modern dark-and-brooding Caped Crusader. This volume gives us a look at the changing DC Universe during the late 1960s. Wonder Woman’s second appearance in this volume is during her white jumpsuit, no powers Diana Prince era of stories. Neal Adams redesigns Green Arrow’s outfit into his most familiar costume and goatee in his second appearance in the book. We get one of the first encounters between Batman and the Teen Titans, which started the ongoing storyline of Dick Grayson/Robin trying to get out of Batman’s shadow and become an equal hero in his own rights. As long as you keep in mind that some of these stories should fall outside of the ongoing continuity, you will be fine!

Footnotes: The Brave and The Bold was an anthology title that started in 1955. In 1959, it became a try-out book for new characters, such as the Suicide Squad, the Justice League of America, Cave Carson, and Hawkman. Later debuts include the Teen Titans and Metamorpho. Issue #50 featured the first “team-up” with Green Arrow and the Martian Manhunter. With issue #74, Batman became the permanent host of the title, teaming him up with all kinds of characters in and out of continuity.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
#59 – Batman & Green Lantern
#64 – Batman & Eclipso
#67 – Batman & Flash
#68 – Batman & Metamorpho / Showcase Presents Metamorpho Vol. 1
#69 – Batman & Green Lantern
#70 – Batman & Hawkman / Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 2
#71 – Batman & Green Arrow / Showcase Presents Green Arrow Vol. 1
#74 – Batman & Metal Men
#75 – Batman & Spectre / Showcase Presents Spectre Vol. 1
#76 – Batman & Plastic Man
#77 – Batman & Atom
#78 – Batman & Wonder Woman and Batgirl / Showcase Presents Batgirl Vol. 1
#79 – Batman & Deadman
#80 – Batman & Creeper
#81 – Batman & Flash
#82 – Batman & Aquaman
#83 – Batman & Teen Titans / Showcase Presents Teen Titans Vol. 2
#84 – Batman & Sgt. Rock
#85 – Batman & Green Arrow / Showcase Presents Green Arrow Vol. 1
#86 – Batman & Deadman
#87 – Batman & Wonder Woman

If you like this volume, try: The Brave and the Bold Archives Vol. 1. As mentioned above, The Brave and the Bold became a team-up book with issue #50. This archive edition collects the first eight team-up issues. These issues are written by Bob Haney, with the exception of issue #52 written by Robert Kanigher. Each issue has a different artist, so this is a great example of the various art styles on DC during the early 1960s.

#50 – Martian Manhunter & Green Arrow / Showcase Presents Green Arrow Vol. 1
#51 – Aquaman & Hawkman / Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol. 2 / Showcase Presents Hawkman Vol. 1
#52 – Sgt. Rock, Lt. Cloud & Tankman Stuart / Showcase Presents Haunted Tank Vol. 1
#53 – Atom & Flash
#54 – Kid Flash, Aqualad & Robin / Showcase Presents Teen Titans Vol. 1
#55 – Metal Men & Atom / Showcase Presents Metal Men Vol. 1
#56 – Flash & Martian Manhunter
#59 – Batman & Green Lantern

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1

First Published: April 2002

Contents: Marvel Team-Up #1 (March 1972) to #24 (August 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, and Sal Buscema

Key First Appearances: Misty Knight, Man-Killer, the Orb, Basilisk, Stegron

Story Continues In: Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2

Overview: The comic industry has proven time and time again that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If a character sells well for one company, an imitation of that same character should sell just as well for a second company, or a third. In the early 1970s, DC Comics had made The Brave and the Bold a Batman team-up book. By all accounts, it was doing well, or at least well enough for Marvel to take notice and create their own team-up book featuring their marquee character, Spider-Man.

Marvel Team-Up ran from 1972-1985, with 150 issues plus seven annuals. Spider-Man was the lead co-feature in all but nine issues, which were shared between the Human Torch and the Hulk. So this is generally considered a Spider-Man book. The title ran bi-monthly for the first year before adjusting to become a monthly book.

Outside of the initial story arc with Spider-Man and the Human Torch, these are one-and-done stories featuring Spider-Man teaming up with a variety of characters. Some of these are characters who have recently debuted in other books, such as the Cat, Werewolf, or Ghost Rider. Other times it was to just keep the characters active, such as the X-Men team-up in issue #4. (Hard to believe now, but there was a period in the early 1970s where Marvel was not publishing any new X-Men stories on a regular basis.)

What makes this Essential?: I really like the team-up books. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Marvel had two titles (Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One), and DC had two titles (The Brave & the Bold and DC Comics Presents) that allowed for a wide variety of characters to meet up. This Essential volume features some incredible creative talents, with art by Gil Kane and Ross Andru. The stories are written by Gerry Conway and Len Wein, two of Marvel’s key writers of the 1970s. This is a gateway book — a good way to introduce a reader to the Marvel Universe. In the grand scheme of things, this is probably not truly an essential book to own, but it is a great book to bring someone into the world of comics.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
#1 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
#2 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
#3 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
#4 – Spider-Man & the X-Men / Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3
#5 – Spider-Man & the Vision
#6 – Spider-Man & the Thing
#7 – Spider-Man & Thor
#8 – Spider-Man & the Cat
#9 – Spider-Man & Iron Man
#10 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
#11 – Spider-Man & the Inhumans
#12 – Spider-Man & the Werewolf / Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 1
#13 – Spider-Man & Captain America
#14 – Spider-Man & the Sub-Mariner
#15 – Spider-Man & Ghost Rider
#16 – Spider-Man & Captain Marvel
#17 – Spider-Man & Mr. Fantastic
#18 – Human Torch & the Hulk
#19 – Spider-Man & Ka-Zar
#20 – Spider-Man & Black Panther
#21 – Spider-Man & Doctor Strange
#22 – Spider-Man & Hawkeye
#23 – Human Torch & Iceman
#24 – Spider-Man & Brother Voodoo / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2

If you like this volume, try: the Fearless Defenders comic from 2013 by Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney. Of the handful of characters that made their debut in this Essential, Misty Knight is the most recognizable of the list. She has been a supporting character for 40 years, most often appearing alongside Power Man and Iron Fist in the Heroes for Hire books. In 2013, Misty Knight and Valkyrie were tasked to pull together the Valkyrior, an all-female team of heroes. A team is assembled that crosses all sections of the Marvel Universe. The book told good stories featuring strong female characters, while not taking itself too seriously. The covers by Mark Brooks were incredible, with homages to other sources from the world of pop culture. Sadly, low sales forced this title to be cancelled at issue #12. This title is available in trade paperback collections: Volume 1 came out in September 2013, and Volume 2 will be released at the end of February 2014.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5

First Published: March 2002

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #90 (November 1970) to #113 (October 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gil Kane, John Romita Sr., Sal Buscema, Roy Thomas, and Gerry Conway

Key First Appearances:  Arthur Stacy, Dr. Michael Morbius, Martine Bancroft, Emil Nikos, Sha Shan, the Gibbon

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6

Overview: Never let it be said that Peter Parker’s life is easy, in or out of the Spider-Man costume. This book opens with the (then) shocking death of Captain Stacy, who reveals with his dying breath that he knew Peter’s secret all along. Before he (or Gwen) can recover from that, a handful of familiar foes come back to keep Spider-Man busy, such as the Beetle, Doctor Octopus, the Green Goblin, and the Spider Slayer.

For issue #100, Peter tries to put his scientific knowledge to good use in an attempt to rid himself of the powers. In typical Parker fashion, the serum backfires, and instead causes four new limbs to appear on Peter’s body, making him a true Spider-Man. That takes Peter to call on Dr. Curt Connors, which means the Lizard is not far behind. And this story also introduces a new villain that would become a key player in the Marvel Universe: Dr Michael Morbius, who specializes in blood disorders by day, and haunts the nights as a living vampire.

What makes this Essential?: The more I revisit this book, the more I think this is truly an essential Essential. We see Stan Lee turn over the writing chores for the title to the new generation of comic writers, first to Roy Thomas and then to Gerry Conway.  We see real relevant topics pop up in the stories, such as drug abuse or the struggles of vets returning from Viet-Nam. We are introduced to Flash Thompson’s girlfriend Sha Shan, which may be one of the first interracial relationships in comics. The art in here, from Gil Kane and John Romita Sr., remains spectacular, to borrow a familiar adjective. Between this volume and the next Essential, these may be the best Spider-Man stories since the end of the Lee-Ditko run of the early 1960s.

Respect My (Comics Code) Authority: In the early 1970s, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare approached Stan Lee about doing a story in comics that showed the dangers of drug abuse. Lee agreed, and worked the story into his ongoing run on the Amazing Spider-Man. In issue #97, Peter Parker’s roommate Harry Osborn turns to drugs in an attempt to handle the pressures of life. The Comics Code Authority (CCA) rejected the story back to Marvel. Lee felt that the request from the government overruled the decision of the CCA, and published the issue without the CCA seal on the cover. The story earned great praise, and it forced the CCA to revise its guidelines.

Footnotes: Amazing Spider-Man #92 is also reprinted in Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: David Hajdu’s book, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. Hajdu is a historical researcher who focuses his attention on pop culture subjects of the 20th Century. In this work, he dives deep into the world of comic books from the late 1940s to the mid 1950s. He looks at Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, and how it impacted the subsequent Senate hearings and the comic book industry. While it focuses more on Bill Gaines and his EC Comics, the impacts of this era led to the Comics Code Authority, and the self-censorship of American comics by the publishers. The faults of the Comics Code Authority is seen quite clearly in this Essential volume, with the Harry Osborn drug issues and the creation of Morbius, a “living vampire”, because undead vampires were not allowed at this time. IWhile the tide was changing in the CCA offices, these stories from Marvel certainly helped to see the CCA revise their guidelines, allowing for the classic monsters such as Frankenstein and Dracula to appear in comics, and allowing drugs use to be shown in a negative light.

Showcase Presents Green Lantern Vol. 1

First Published: October 2005

Contents: Showcase #22 (September-October 1959) to #24 (January-February 1960), Green Lantern  #1 (July-August 1960) to #17 (December 1962)

Key Creator Credits: John Broome, Gil Kane

Key First Appearances: Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, Abin Sur, Carol Ferris/Star Sapphire, Guardians of the Universe, Qwardians, Tom Kalmaku, Hector Hammond, Tomar-Re, Sinestro, Sonar, Zamarons

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Green Lantern Vol. 2

Overview:In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power, Green Lantern’s light.” With that oath, test pilot Hal Jordan is given a power ring from a dying alien and joins the intergalactic police force known as the Green Lantern Corps.

Green Lantern debuted in Showcase, which was DC’s “try-out” book for new characters before giving them their own book. Green Lantern quickly moved into his own title, as well as becoming a founding member of the Justice League of America.

This volume collects the early adventures, introducing us to the Guardians and their Green Lantern Corps; Hal’s girlfriend (and boss) Carol Ferris; and numerous villains, such as the Qwardians, Hector Hammond, and Sinestro.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I am torn on this volume. As a legacy character, I do believe that these stories should be collected and available in multiple formats. But when your feature character has a color in his/her name, such as Green Lantern, and his one weakness is anything colored yellow, reading the stories in black & white lessens the impact of the stories. Also, the best Green Lantern stories come much later.

Footnotes: Showcase Presents Green Lantern Vol. 1 was the first Showcase volume published by DC Comics in 2005. This edition and the next three released Showcase volumes were priced at $9.99. All other Showcases have been priced at $14.99 or higher.

If you like this volume, try: Green Lantern: Rebirth, which collects the six issue mini-series from 2004 by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver. This story arc brought Hal Jordan back into the mainstream DC Universe as the Green Lantern from Sector 2814. This story started Johns eight-year run with Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps.