Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 4

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 4

First Published: February 2013

Contents: Marvel Team-Up #76 (December 1978) to #78 (February 1979), and #80 (April 1979) to #98 (October 1980), and Marvel Team-Up Annual #2 (1979) and #3 (1980).

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Steven Grant, Mike Vosburg, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino

Key First Appearances: Cutthroat, Mister Fear, Dansen Macabre, Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird, Alexi Vazhin

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

Overview: Living in New York City, Spider-Man has the opportunity to cross paths with many different heroes from all corners of the Marvel Universe. A casual stroll through Greenwich Village usually prompts an encounter with the mystical Dr. Strange. Being sent on a photo shoot for the Daily Globe allows Peter to meet up with the Invisible Girl. And you just never know when Howard the Duck might drive his cab from Cleveland to Manhattan.

While references are made to ongoing events in Spider-Man’s other monthly books, these stories usually follow the one-and-done format, giving the reader a complete story within the 20-plus pages per issue. These stories also tend to be more lighthearted, giving into the absurdity that brings some of these team-ups together.

What makes this Essential?: The team-up books, such as this or Marvel Two-in-One, are a good way to read a particular character, be exposed to a variety of other characters, and not get bogged down in continuity from the main character’s books (usually). While mostly one-and-done stories, there are a couple of mini-story arcs (#76, #77, #80, #81; and #82-#85) that make for more interesting stories. While this is not a must-read volume to understand Peter Parker, this is a friendly  way to introduce a new reader to the world of Spider-Man.

Footnotes: Marvel Team-Up #79 is not included in this Essential volume. That issue teamed Spider-Man up with Red Sonja. Marvel no longer holds the rights to publish Red Sonja, so it could not be included in this Essential.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
#76 – Spider-Man & Dr. Strange
#77 – Spider-Man & Ms. Marvel
#78 – Spider-Man & Wonder Man
#80 – Spider-Man & Dr. Strange and Clea / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1
#81 – Spider-Man & Satana / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1
#82 – Spider-Man & Black Widow
#83 – Spider-Man & Nick Fury
#84 – Spider-Man & Master of Kung Fu
#85 – Spider-Man & Shang-Chi, Black Widow, and Nick Fury
#86 – Spider-Man & Guardians of the Galaxy
#87 – Spider-Man & Black Panther
#88 – Spider-Man & Invisible Girl
#89 – Spider-Man & Nightcrawler
#90 – Spider-Man & Beast
#91 – Spider-Man & Ghost Rider
#92 – Spider-Man & Hawkeye
#93 – Spider-Man & Werewolf
#94 – Spider-Man & Shroud
#95 – Spider-Man & Mockingbird
#96 – Spider-Man & Howard the Duck
#97 – Hulk & Spider-Woman / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 2
#98 – Spider-Man & Black Widow
Annual #2 – Spider-Man & Hulk
Annual #3 – Hulk & Power Man, Iron Fist, and Machine Man

If you like this volume, try: the first Hawkeye mini-series from 1983. We see Hawkeye in Marvel Team-Up #92 working as the security chief for Cross Technological Enterprises (CTE). Hawkeye would work for CTE during his many leaves of absence from the Avengers. The mini-series brings the CTE storyline to a conclusion, as Hawkeye discovers that the cousin of CTE’s CEO is the villain Crossfire, who is hatching a plan to destroy all superheroes. Working with former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Mockingbird (first introduced in Marvel Team-Up #95), Hawkeye stops Crossfire’s plan. The series ends with Hawkeye and Mockingbird getting married. This series has been collected in a trade paperback and as a Marvel Premiere edition.

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 Rampaging Hulk Vol. 2

rampaginghulk2First Published: March 2010

Contents: Hulk! #16 (August 1979) to #27 (June 1981)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Ron Wilson, Gene Colan, J.M. DeMatteis, and others

Story Continues From: Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 1

Overview: This may be a short review this week, so my apologies in advance. But I’m finding it a challenge to create an overview for this collection. As we saw in the second half of the previous volume, the Hulk! magazine featured longer length stories that were not necessarily tied into continuity with the monthly comic.

Perhaps borrowing an approach from the 1970s TV series, a lot of the stories feature Banner coming into a random town, getting caught up in some evil plot, and then letting the Hulk take over and smash everything to pieces. We get a few stories that are inspired by real events. For example, in Hulk! #20, the Hulk is needed to stop a nuclear meltdown a la Three Mile Island. A lot of the stories deal with issues of that time (drug use, land rights, which still remain relevant 35 years later.

For me, the highlight of this book was the final story in the collection, and not because it was the last. Written by J.M. DeMatteis with art by Gene Colan, we have the Hulk wandering into Las Vegas. The down-on-his-luck Banner is befriended by a chorus dancer and a past-his-prime lounge singer, but they all end up getting on the bad side of the casino bosses. That very well could have been a story made for the television show, but it was better produced in comic book form.

What makes this Essential?: I hate it when I come to this conclusion, but I can’t say that this book is essential. The stories are average – nothing that stands out or gets revisited later. There is some great art from Gene Colan and Ron Wilson, but I don’t know that it’s enough to warrant buying the book. Outside of one or two mentions to Betty Ross or General Thunderbolt, you really don’t know that this is part of the Marvel Universe. These stories could be told with any character that transforms into a monster of some kind. For the Hulk completist, I could justify picking this up versus undergoing the hunt to track down the original magazines. For the average fan, I don’t know that the return would justify the investment (time and money).

If you like this volume, try: the Peter David run on The Incredible Hulk. David has been linked with the Hulk since 1987, when he started a 11-year run on the title. Over that time, he told stories featuring the various versions of the Hulk – mindless brute or Banner-controlled, as well as green or gray. David was one of the first writers to turn Rick Jones into a Hulk, hinting at the role he would one day play as A-Bomb. For me, my favorite Hulk run came in the late 1980s with Mr. Fixit. At this time, Hulk was in his gray form with moderate intelligence. He could only come out at night, harkening back to the original story elements of the Hulk from Lee & Kirby. Mr. Fixit set himself up as a heavyweight enforcer in Las Vegas, a city known for living large in every way possible. David’s run has been collected in a series of Hulk Visionaries volumes. If you want to read the Mr. Fixit story, you are going to need to pick up Volumes 2-4 of that line.

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3

First Published: August 2009

Contents: Marvel Team-Up #52 (December 1976) to #73 (September 1978), and #75 (November 1978); and Marvel Team-Up Annual #1 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: Bill Mantlo, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Gardener, Arcade, Miss Locke, D’Spayre

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

Story Continues In: Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 4

Overview: In the mid-1970s, every brand new character created managed to cross paths with Spider-Man. Either Spidey would make a cameo appearance in a new book, or the character would cross paths in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, or right here with Marvel Team-Up. However, Marvel Team-Up allowed for more one-and-done stories and didn’t always have to work in the continuity as in the other two titles.

This run of issues features a lot of familiar team-ups, such as Spider-Man partnering with the Human Torch, the Hulk, Thor, and Daredevil. But this volume starts to expand the reach of the team-ups, adding those up-and-coming stars such as Ms. Marvel, Iron Fist, and Captain Britain.

There is one surprise in this collection, with Spider-Man teaming up with the all-new X-Men in Marvel Team-Up Annual #1. This came out in late 1976, during the early days of the new roster team (Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Phoenix, Banshee, and Cyclops). While the story is written by Bill Mantlo, it was co-plotted by X-Men scribe Chris Claremont. I find it amazing that this story has not been reprinted more often, given the popularity of the X-Men during this era. If you want to read this story, your choices are owning the original issue, tracking down two issues of Marvel Tales that reprinted the annual, or getting this Essential.

What makes this Essential?: This may be the best volume of the Essential Marvel Team-Up line. In particular, the run by Claremont and John Byrne in this title set a new standard for what could be done with a team-up book. Their stretch of issues (#59 to #70) were probably the best Spider-Man titles being published in that time-frame. This is a solid, ongoing narrative, with many team-ups extending over two (or more) issues. I think this Claremont/Byrne run helped establish that a team-up book could A) use the same creative team across consecutive issues, and B) that one team-up could lead into the next. This volume is definitely worth tracking down for the Claremont/Byrne issues.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
Marvel Team-Up #52 – Spider-Man & Captain America
Marvel Team-Up Annual #1 – Spider-Man & the X-Men
Marvel Team-Up #53 – Spider-Man & the Hulk
Marvel Team-Up #54 – Spider-Man & the Hulk
Marvel Team-Up #55 – Spider-Man & Warlock / Essential Warlock Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #56 – Spider-Man & Daredevil
Marvel Team-Up #57 – Spider-Man & Black Widow
Marvel Team-Up #58 – Spider-Man & Ghost Rider
Marvel Team-Up #59 – Spider-Man & Yellowjacket
Marvel Team-Up #60 – Spider-Man & the Wasp
Marvel Team-Up #61 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
Marvel Team-Up #62 – Spider-Man & Ms. Marvel
Marvel Team-Up #63 – Spider-Man & Iron Fist / Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #64 – Spider-Man & the Daughters of the Dragon / Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #65 – Spider-Man & Captain Britain
Marvel Team-Up #66 – Spider-Man & Captain Britain
Marvel Team-Up #67 – Spider-Man & Tigra
Marvel Team-Up #68 – Spider-Man & Man-Thing/ Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2
Marvel Team-Up #69 – Spider-Man & Havok
Marvel Team-Up #70 – Spider-Man & Thor
Marvel Team-Up #71 – Spider-Man & Falcon
Marvel Team-Up #72 – Spider-Man & Iron Man
Marvel Team-Up #73 – Spider-Man & Daredevil
Marvel Team-Up #75 – Spider-Man & Power Man

Footnotes: Marvel Team-Up #74 is not reprinted in this collection. This issue featured Spider-Man teaming up with the cast of Saturday Night Live, affectionately known as the “Not Ready For Prime Time Players,” in a battle with the Silver Samurai. While it is not included here, I did do a review of this issue for my other site, Worst. Comic. Podcast. EVER!

If you like this volume, try: the Avengers Arena series from 2013 from writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Kev Walker. I know a lot of people are quick to categorize any new book or project by comparing it against a familiar item. In this instance, everyone compared Avengers Arena to The Hunger Games (or for the more literate in your friend circles, Lord of the Flies). In this story, Arcade has captured a group of young super-heroes, including x-23 and members of the Avengers Academy and the Runaways. Arcade places them on an isolated island and tells the kids that they will kill to survive, or risk being killed. From there, the story spreads out. Some characters from alliances, believing in safety in numbers. Other characters try to strike out on their own. What surprised many readers is that characters were actually killed over the course of the 18-issue series. In the end, Hank Pym and S.H.I.E.L.D. help rescue the surviving heroes, and Arcade slips away. The entire series has been collected over three trade paperbacks and are easily available.

Essential Hulk Vol. 5

Essential Hulk Vol. 5

First Published: December 20086

Contents: Incredible Hulk #171 (January 1974) to #200 (June 1976); and Incredible Hulk Annual #5 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Tony Isabella, Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Logan/Wolverine, Hammer & Anvil, Gremlin

Story Continues From: Essential Hulk Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Hulk Vol. 6

Overview: (With apologies to Universal TV) Dr. Bruce Banner, scientist, searching for a way to tap into the hidden potentials of gamma energy. Then an accidental overdose of gamma radiation interacts with his unique body chemistry. And now, when Bruce Banner grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs. With that, I welcome you to the fifth volume in the Essential Hulk line. 

This is an interesting volume which can be divided up into three sections. Section 1 would be Incredible Hulk #171 to #179. These are your typical Hulk stories like we saw in the last Essential. There is an interesting story that ran over multiple issues involving the Hulk ending up on the High Evolutionary’s counter-Earth where he meets Adam Warlock. In fact, Warlock dies for the first time in issue #177 and is promptly resurrected in issue #178. It’s hard to keep a good Warlock down, I guess. The final issue of this section features the start of Len Wein’s run as writer on the title, which would last for 3 1/2 years.

Now, Section 2 is just two issues long, #180 and #181. Why just two issues? Well, the Hulk finds himself in Canada, where he goes up against the Wendigo. As if that was not enough for the Hulk to handle, we are introduced to Canada’s Weapon X, also known as the Wolverine! Yep, everyone’s favorite mutant makes his first humble appearance in these pages. Mind you, the Wolverine portrayed here is not as refined as the one we came to know in the pages of Uncanny X-Men and later his self-titled book. But he’s still short and hairy and feisty, and willing to cut anyone or anything with his adamantium claws. Eventually, the Wendigo is defeated, and the two heroes go their separate ways.

Section 3 picks up with issue #182 and runs until the end of the book. The stories here feel much like the stories in Section 1. We do see the end of one era and the start of the next era, both related to the art duties. Herb Trimpe ends his six-year run on the title and is followed by Sal Buscema, who begins what will be a nearly 10 year run on the title. One highlight from this run is the Incredible Hulk Annual #5, which features the Hulk battling six monsters from Marvel’s 1950s Atlas books. In fact, one of the monsters makes his second ever appearance in this book. Some guy named Groot. Wonder what Marvel ever did with that walking tree creature?

What makes this Essential?: I am amazed that Incredible Hulk #180 and #181 (first appearance of Wolverine) did not get reprinted in any other Essentials, such as in Wolverine, Classic X-Men, or X-Men. So for these two issues alone, this volume is ESSENTIAL. Outside of those two issues, the Hulk stories are decent, but not incredible (no pun intended) or memorable. Trimpe’s run on art duties comes to an end, and Sal Buscema takes over for a run that would last nearly ten years. I think a Hulk fan should definitely have this collection on their bookshelf.

Footnotes: Incredible Hulk #176 to #178 are also reprinted in Essential Warlock Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Planet Hulk collection, which collects Greg Pak’s story from 2006 & 2007. The Illuminati (Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Professor Xavier, Black Bolt, and Namor) vote to exile the Hulk to another planet rather than allow him to roam (and damage) the Earth. (This is a very similar approach to the events of Incredible Hulk #300 when Dr. Strange exiled the mindless Hulk to an alternate dimension.) However, the rocket carrying the Hulk goes off track, and lands on a different planet, Sakaar, where gladiators battle in arenas for the amusement of the emperor. The Hulk unites with a band of gladiators, who look out for each other during the fights. The Hulk and his friends eventually escape and then overthrows the Emperor. The Hulk is named the new emperor, and he takes a wife and settles down into his role. However, the rocket that brought him to Sakaar explodes, destroying the capital city and killing the Hulk’s wife. Hulk vows revenge on the Illuminati and takes his fellow gladiators back to Earth. The only way to fully describe this book is “epic”. This is one of the all-time great Hulk stories and should be a must-read for all fans.

Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 1

Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 1

First Published: May 2008

Contents: The Rampaging Hulk #1 (January 1977) to #9 (June 1978); Hulk! #10 (August 1978) to #15 (June 1979); and part of a story from Incredible Hulk #269 (March 1982)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Walt Simonson, Keith Pollard, Ron Wilson, and others

Key First Appearances: Bereet, Krylorians

Story Continues In: Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 2

Overview: Throughout the 1970s, Marvel Comics had been releasing black & white magazines through their parent company, Curtis Magazines. Most magazines featured more adult topics than what could be printed in a comic (and approved by the Comics Code Authority). The magazines tended to feature characters that were not currently featured in the Marvel Comics, although there were some exceptions along the way. In 1976, Marvel changed that up with the launch of the Rampaging Hulk magazine.

The magazine can be broken up into two eras, as clearly defined by the title change of the magazine. When the magazine launched, the stories were set in the 1960s, picking up on the Hulk’s adventures following the cancellation of his title in Incredible Hulk #6. The Hulk and Rick Jones are on the run from the Army, and travel to Europe to escape their pursuers. There they encounter the alien Bereet, who is also being pursued by her race, the Krylorians. While they claim that Bereet is an escaped fugitive, the Krylorians actually intend to take over the Earth.

During the course of these adventures, the Hulk, Rick Jones, and Bereet encounter numerous familiar faces from the Silver Age of Marvel Comics. The original X-Men and the Sub-Mariner cross paths with the rampaging Hulk. To stop the final phase of the Krylorians invasion, our heroes return to the New York City, where the Hulk encounters Iron Man, Thor, Ant Man, and the Wasp well before they team up to form the Avengers. The Krylorians realize that their plans are useless, and flee the Earth.

Beginning with issue #10, the magazine goes in a new direction. The title changes to the Hulk!, and the stories are now told in “Marvelcolor”. The stories now take place in current Marvel time, and take an approach similar to the popular Incredible Hulk TV show of this same time. Bruce Banner is on the road in search of a cure for his condition. Each issue, Banner stumbles into some odd job (miner, circus carny, etc.) and some incident occurs that leads to his change into the Hulk.

A Bobby Ewing Shower situation!: In Incredible Hulk #269 (March 1982), it was revealed that the stories in Rampaging Hulk #1-9 were not “in continuity” but rather a fictionalized film created by the artist Bereet to entertain her fellow Krylorians. Bereet then traveled to Earth, where she became a companion of sorts for the Hulk during the time that he maintained his intelligence while he was the Hulk. She appeared in stories throughout 1982 and 1983, before disappearing into the character limbo.

What makes this Essential?: While I wouldn’t say that any of these stories are truly essential, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this volume. Sure, most of these stories fall outside of any continuity, but sometimes those make for better stories. The writing, done almost all by Doug Moench, is good for the era and the intended audience. The art is great, but there are times when the pages look awkward due to the smaller size of the Essential page compared to that of the original magazine. If you are a fan of the Hulk or interested in the Marvel magazines, then give this a look.

Footnotes: The Hulk & Moon Knight stories from Hulk! #15 are also reprinted in Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: watching (or re-watching for my older readers) the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk series from the 1970s. The series is available on DVD, and can be found on both Netflix and Hulu Plus. As familiar as we (the comic book readers) are with the Hulk and his origins, for many people this television series was their introduction to the green-skinned giant. Dr. David Bruce Banner is exposed to a deadly dose of gamma radiation, which leads to a startling transformation when he becomes emotional. Hounded by a news reporter chasing a story, David Banner goes on the run around the country in search of a cure to his green issues. The success of this show helped inspire the change of direction with the Hulk! magazine. Any Hulk fan should watch this. If I find out that you haven’t watched this, I will be so angry. To quote an often used line from the show, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Essential Defenders Vol. 3

Essential Defenders Vol. 3

First Published: July 2007

Contents: The Defenders #31 (January 1976) to #60 (June 1978); and Defenders Annual #1 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Roger Slifer, David Kraft, Gerry Conway, Keith Giffen, Sal Buscema, Klaus Janson, Jim Mooney, Carmine Infantino, and others

Key First Appearances: Ruby Thursday, Red Guardian, Max Fury, Dollar Bill, Presence

Story Continues From: Essential Defenders Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Defenders Vol. 4

Overview: Full disclosure people – this may be a short review! When dealing with a non-team of heroes, with no official headquarters or leader or matching uniforms, what is there to talk about? But that is what makes the Defenders the most unique collection of heroes in comic books. So here we go with Essential Defenders Vol. 3.

Let’s start with the line-up. Doctor Strange, the Hulk, Valkyrie, and Nighthawk remain the core of the team. But some new faces stop by for their time with the un-team. The female version of the Soviet hero Red Guardian “joins” the team in issue #35. Hellcat wanders over from Avengers Mansion in Defenders #44, and would become a constant with the team for the next 80+ issues. The Devil-Slayer stops by for the final story-arc in this volume, but he will not be seen again until Essential Defenders Vol. 5. Finally, Clea could be considered a “member” of the team, but she always feels like Doctor Strange’s sidekick who is along for the ride just because of Stephen.

The book is overseen primarily by two writers. Steve Gerber continues his story from Essential Defenders Vol. 2, covering the first third of this book. Towards the middle of this volume, David Kraft comes on board and becomes the regular writer for the foreseeable future. He continues with the absurdists stories started by Gerber, but sprinkles in more Blue Öyster Cult jokes along the way. (Think I’m joking? Google “Defenders Blue Öyster Cult” and peruse the results.)

What makes this Essential?: Wow, where to start…… Hmmm, being quite honest, I found this a very forgettable volume. I know I read this at some point, but I am struggling to recall much of what happened in this collection. This should be a more important book, with the end of the brilliant Steve Gerber’s run on the title, and the start of the creative run by David Kraft. But I just can’t give this a thumb’s up. If you are a fan of the quirky stories of the mid-1970s, then track down a copy of this volume. But I don’t think you would be missing out on much if this is not part of your personal library.

If you like this volume, try: the second volume of The Order from Matt Fraction and Barry Kitson. Following the events of Civil War, Tony Stark was named director of S.H.I.E.L.D. One of his roll-outs to make things safer for all Americans was the 50-State Initiative, which was a plan to place a team of super-heroes in all states. For California, the team was named the Order. (Side note, the series was originally solicited as The Champions, until it was determined that Marvel did not own the trademark for The Champions any longer. Oops!) The Order was made up of 10 heroes which all loosely resembled the Greek pantheon of gods. Each character had their own feature over the 10 issues of the series, which ended when Matt Fraction felt the story had been told. This has been collected in two trade paperbacks, but I’m sure the individual issues can still be found in the back issue bins. It’s worth a read for the Kitson art and the Fraction story.

As to why I make this recommendation, I started to recommend the 2001 Defenders/Order series, but recalled that I already put it out there win my review of Essential Defenders Vol. 1. Personally, I think this Fraction/Kitson version of The Order is more interesting, so give it a look!