Essential Captain America Vol. 6

captainamerica6First Published: April 2011

Contents: Captain America and the Falcon #206 (February 1977) to #222 (June 1978); Captain America #223 (July 1978) to #230 (February 1979); Captain America Annual #4 (1977); and Incredible Hulk #232 (February 1979)

Key Creator Credits: Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Don Glut, Steve Gerber, David Anthony Kraft, Roger McKenzie, Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Arnim Zola, Primus, Wendell Vaughn/Marvel Boy (Marvel Man/Quasar), Vamp, Ameridroid

Story Continues From: Essential Captain America Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Captain America Vol. 7

Overview: Welcome back to the (sometimes) solo adventures of Captain America. He’s a soldier, a patriot, an Avenger, and most importantly an American.  u recall the creation of Captain America, right? I’m not talking about the character’s origin story in the comics. Rather, I refer to the creation of the character in 1940. Writer Joe Simon doodled out a concept called Super

This collection wraps up the end of legendary Jack Kirby run of the mid-1970s. But before he goes, Kirby gives us another of his wacky character creations with Arnim Zola, the would-be conqueror who’s mind has been transferred to a robot body, which has a TV screen in its chest displaying Zola’s face. Zola was a Nazi biochemist who escaped capture at the end of World War II. If you are a long-time reader, you know that any time Captain America comes into contact with a former Nazi, that the Red Skull cannot be far behind.

The Kirby run comes to an end with Captain America Annual #4, which has Cap facing off against another one of Kirby’s great co-creations, Magneto! Considering that one of these characters has powers of magnetism, and one of these characters carries an adamantium shield, well, it’s not looking good for our hero.

Following the obligatory reprint issue or two to recount Captain America’s origins, we are treated to a visit by Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. The spy organization has been recruiting a new team of super agents, but the squad needs a leader. Naturally, Nick believes that Steve Rogers is the man for the job, but Steve has a better suggestion. He proposes that the Falcon take on that task. He’s been working with Cap for many years and is ready to be a leader in his own right. So Captain America and the Falcon go their separate ways, but the two will find ways to reunite in the years to come.

So Captain America is once again working solo, but that doesn’t mean he is alone. We are treated to numerous appearances from the Avengers, and Sharon Carter is by Steve’s side to bridge the gap between his costumed and civilian life. The volume wraps up with a two-issue crossover with the Hulk, making for a pair of characters that we don’t normally see together. It’s a great way to bring this book to a close!

What makes this Essential?: This is an interesting transition time for Captain America. Jack Kirby’s run comes to an end. The title seems to have a rotating roster of writers before Roger McKenzie begins a two-year run. Sal Buscema returns to the book, providing some familiarity for the long-time readers. But the biggest change comes with the ending of the Captain America-Falcon partnership, both within the book as well as the title of the comic.

Despite all of the changes, this is a solid collection. The Kirby issues in this book are my favorites of his mid-1970s run. Arnim Zola may be one of, if not the last great crazy Kirby concept, who has become a mainstay in the comics and now in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Letting the book go back to its singular focus on the title character helps the book, allowing stories to go in different directions without trying to find a way to work the Falcon into the plot. That’s not to imply that I don’t like the Falcon. Just that after being partnered with the Falcon for seven years, having Steve Rogers on his own just offered up fresh takes on our hero.

Footnotes: The table of contents is incorrect in this volume, which lists Captain America Annual #4 as being located between Captain America #230 and Incredible Hulk #232 in the collection. The annual is actually found between Captain America #214 and #215, at the end of the Kirby run.

Captain America #230 and Incredible Hulk #232 are also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 7.

If you like this volume, try: reading up on Quasar. From his humble origins as Marvel Boy contained in this Essential, his stature has grown over the years. He was a recurring character in Marvel Two-in-One with the Project: Pegasus storyline. He was a member of the Avengers, serving a key role in the Galactic Storm mission. He headlined his own title for 60 issues. And he was one of the featured characters in the original Annihilation story, which that event kicked off a series of events that brought “Marvel Cosmic” back into the mainstream. As a result of Annihilation, readers were given a re-introduction/re-imagining of the Guardians of the Galaxy concept which we later saw incorporated into the MCU. The early issues of his solo series were reprinted in 2012 in a Quasar Classic trade paperback. He’s an interesting character that we don’t see enough of anymore, so dive into the back issue bins to find his early adventures.

Essential Thor Vol. 4

Essential Thor Vol. 4

First Published: June 2009

Contents: Thor #167 (August 1969) to #195 (January 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, John Buscema, and Gerry Conway

Key First Appearances: Hildegarde

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 5

Overview: Welcome back to the world of Asgard, home of the Norse gods. Led by all-seeing Odin and served by his dutiful son, Thor, god of thunder and protector of Midgard (Earth).

These comics expand the adventures of the thunder god to cosmic proportions. Odin sends Thor on a journey into mystery to track down the world-devourer Galactus. Later on, Odin and the Silent One travel into the universe to face Infinity, and they must call on Thor to rescue them from oblivion. As always, we see the ambitious Loki looking to take the throne of Asgard for himself, leading multiple attacks by giants and trolls.

As cosmic as this volume gets, Thor remains true to Earth as well. Deadly encounters with the Wrecker and Doctor Doom challenge Thor to his very limits. Thankfully, with his loyal friends like Balder, the Warriors Three, the Lady Sif, and even the Silver Surfer, Thor finds himself to be worthy of any task or challenge laid before him.

What makes this Essential?: For the artwork alone, this volume should be in any collection. With art by Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, and John Buscema, there is not a badly drawn issue to be found in this book. You can see the majesty of Asgard jumping off of the page; the thunderous rage of Thor; the evil manipulations of Loki. This is just a beautifully drawn book. However, this is not Stan Lee’s best writing. For all of the talk about comics of today being written for the trade paperback, Stan Lee was doing it 40+ years ago. The stories in this volume stretch out across multiple issues; ten years earlier, Stan and Jack would have the stories done in one issue, or two tops. If you can find the book, pick it up for the art.

Footnotes: This is a hard Essential to track down. Marvel published this in June of 2009, but no re-issues or second editions have been released since then. Given the character’s popularity with the movie franchise, it’s surprising that this has not been kept in print, especially given the talents who worked on these issues. If this is not currently in your collection, you may need to turn to eBay in order to find this volume.

Kirby left Thor (and Marvel) in 1970 due to contract issues, and took his services over to DC Comics. One of Kirby’s first projects at DC is what would become to be known as the Fourth World saga, with the introduction of Darkseid and the New Gods. There is enough examples to note that the New Gods’ origins came with Kirby’s work on Thor over the previous eight years. Check out Comic Book Legends Revealed #444 over at Comic Book Resources for a complete recounting of how Kirby was building the New Gods concept.

If you like this volume, try:  the incredible run on Thor by Walt Simonson. This is the ultimate run by any single creator on this title, elevating Thor and Asgard to new heights. Simonson introduced Beta Ray Bill, an alien who was just as worthy as Thor to hold Mjolnir. We witnessed Ragnarok as the great winter storms took over the world. And the mischievousness of Loki reached new lows as he turned his step-brother into a frog. This has been collected numerous times, as trade paperbacks and most recently as an oversized omnibus. However you choose to read this, the Simonson Thor should be part of every comic library.

Essential Captain America Vol. 5

Essential Captain America Vol. 5

First Published: June 2010

Contents: Captain America and the Falcon #187 (July 1975) to #205 (January 1977); Captain America Annual #3 (1976); and Marvel Treasury Special Featuring Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles #1 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: John Warner, Frank Robbins, Sal Buscema, Tony Isabella, Jack Kirby, and others

Key First Appearances: Moonstone, Threkker, Contemplator, General Argyle Fist, Brother Inquisitor

Story Continues From: Essential Captain America Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Captain America Vol. 6

Overview: You recall the creation of Captain America, right? I’m not talking about the character’s origin story in the comics. Rather, I refer to the creation of the character in 1940. Writer Joe Simon doodled out a concept called Super American, but decided there were too many Supers in comics those days. So he gave him the title Captain, tweaked the name, and brought in artist Jack Kirby to flesh it out. Captain America Comics #1, featuring Captain America punching out Adolf Hitler, came out in late December of 1940, nearly a full year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. So the history is there that Jack Kirby has been there since Day 1 with the adventures of Steve Rogers.

Flash forward to 1975, and Marvel re-signs Jack Kirby to a contract after a five-year run at DC. Part of the deal gave Kirby creative control of his books, so he did a lot of titles that fell on the fringes of the Marvel Universe, such as The Eternals and Devil Dinosaur. But he was also given the chance to write and draw Captain America. Kirby jumped in head first and turned the action level up to 11 with the start of his run in the monthly Cap book.

Kirby takes Captain America (and the Falcon) on a MAD run across the country in search of a BOMB. (Yes, that is a subtle plug to the main storyline, Madbomb.) In typical Kirby fashion, there are a lot of Nazis, a lot of 1950s monster references, and a lot of fist-fighting — maybe this is what Kirby was most comfortable drawing, or what he thought would sell best. Marvel really didn’t care, because it was still new art by the King.

What makes this Essential?: If Marvel had planned things out more in advance, they could have easily made this an Essential Captain America by Jack Kirby volume. This volume contains six issues before Kirby took over the title. This Essential ends with issue #205, and Kirby’s run ends ten issues later (including Annual #4) with issue #214. So it could have been possible to get all of the Kirby run in one Essential. Alas, it did not work out that way.

Regardless, this collection is worth a look for the Kirby issues. I will be the first to admit that this is not Kirby’s greatest work. Part of the deal to get Kirby to return to Marvel required giving him more creative freedom and less editorial supervision. I’ve contended for many years that writers and/or artists should not be their own editors. The stories could have been helped some by another voice providing input and suggestions. These are action-packed stories, but there is very little character development going on here.

Footnotes: Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles #1 was initially published as an over-sized Treasury edition. Because of the size of the treasury, the page dimensions to not scale down properly for the Essential formatting, which leads to extra white space on the bottom of each page.

If you like this volume, try: the Captain America volume from 2013 by Rick Remender and John Romita, Jr. This was another re-launch with the All-New Marvel event. In this storyline, Captain America is thrown into Dimension Z, a post-apocalyptic world ruled by Arnim Zola. There is no United States or no American Dream to defend. Steve Rogers just has to be a man standing up for what is right. While this storyline ran over the course of 1 year in publishing time, the events of the story cover 10 years in Captain America’s life. Along the way, Cap gains a son, but is he the father? The story as well as the art echoes back to the frenzied approach that Jack Kirby took in the stories in this Essential. And much like the 1970s Kirby run on Captain America, this run by Remender & Romita, Jr. is either really loved or really hated. This isn’t your typical Captain America storyline, so you have to be willing to accept the character in this different environment.

Essential Thor Vol. 3

Essential Thor Vol. 3

First Published: October 2006

Contents: Thor #137 (February 1967) to #166 (July 1969)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Key First Appearances: Ulik, Orikal, Growing Man, the Enchanters, the Wrecker, Mangog, Athena

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 4

Overview: It’s time to go back to Norse Mythology 101, true believers, as we look at the third volume of the Essential Thor series. Get comfortable, because with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby telling these tales of Asgard, we are in for some incredible adventures. You will not want to put this book down

At the end of the last volume, Odin had decreed that Thor should stop his infatuation with nurse Jane Foster. A spell was cast to change Jane’s heart, and she quickly moved on to a new job and a new interest. Jane would be seen very sporadically throughout this volume and the upcoming volumes, but her story with Thor is not yet done.

Instead of Jane Foster, Odin “encourages” his son to turn his eyes upon Lady Sif, who happens to be the prettiest warrior in all of Asgard. Sif is ready to say “I do” but Thor’s heart is still heavy for the love he once had. This turn in direction is also used to start focusing more of the stories of Thor in Asgard proper, with the occasional visit to Earth.

A pair of important foes are introduced in this volume. The first is Ulik, the mightiest of the rock trolls. The trolls are always looking to expand their empire anywhere within the Nine Realms. Thankfully, Thor and his mighty hammer Mjolnir stand ready to push them back. Midway through this volume, Loki returns to confound his step-brother once more. Hiding out from his brother, a common thief known as the Wrecker breaks into Loki’s hotel room. Karnilla, the Norn Queen, casts a spell at Loki but it hit the Wrecker instead, granting him great strength and invulnerability. Definitely strong enough to go toe-to-toe with Thor.  (Years later, the Wrecker will share some of his powers with three other felons to create the Wrecking Crew.)

As the book progresses, we see Kirby’s influence on the book take control – larger panels, double-page spreads, and cosmic stories. Of course, that means another visit from Ego the Living Planet, who is at odds with Galactus, devourer of worlds. Doesn’t get much more cosmic than that, right?

What makes this Essential?: This is a must own Essential. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby hit their creative peak with the run of issues in this volume. While there are some story arcs taking place firmly on Earth (Circus of Crime, the Wrecker), we get more of Asgard and Thor’s place in the universe. Ego the Living Planet returns, and familiar faces from the pages of Fantastic Four come over for a visit, in Adam Warlock and Galactus. Kirby has moved away from the 9-panel pages to go with the larger 4-panel pages or even full page splashes, making the saga of our favorite Norse deity seem that much more grander. I say this should be a must own for the Kirby fans and/or Thor fans.

Footnotes: The Tales of Asgard stories ended in Thor #145. From issues #146 to #152, a new backup from Lee & Kirby featuring the Inhumans began, but those are not reprinted in this Essential. Finally, with Thor #153, Thor finally gets the entire issue for his continuing adventures.

If you like this volume, try:  the Thor, God of Thunder series that launched in late 2012 as part of the Marvel Now campaign. Jason Aaron helms this title, crafting incredible concepts for Thor. His approach to the majority of the stories is to tell them from three points of view from Thor’s timeline: the current Thor of today, Thor as a brash youth from a 1,000 years ago, and an elder Thor, King of Asgard. The main artist for the book is Esad Ribic, whose art reminds me of Bill Sienkiewicz, but the finished product has the grandeur of Kirby.  What I really appreciate about this title is that it has been left alone from all of the other events going on in the Marvel Universe. To date, you can read this title and not feel the need to pick up crossovers or additional miniseries. This title will be coming to an end with issue #25 later this fall, so catch this while you can, before Thor makes his (or her) next transformation. Thor, God of Thunder has been collected in hardcover and trade paperback collections and should be easy to track down.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

First Published: June 2006

Contents: Fantastic Four #84 (March 1969) to #110 (May 1971)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Romita, Sr., John Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Torgo, Agatha Harkness, Ebony

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Overview: Welcome back to the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine, starring the Fantastic Four, although there appears to be five people running around in the blue union suits. Let’s dive into Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5!

The stories in this volume start crossing over multiple issues, running three to five issues and immediately leading into the next storyline. This volume starts out with a Doctor Doom story, followed by the Mole Man and then Torgo. Other extended arcs bring back the Inhumans, and a Sub-Mariner/Magneto multi-part story.

In between battles, we are introduced to Agatha Harkness, a witch who will serve as a nanny for young Franklin Richards. This will allow Mom and Dad to still be full-time members of the Fantastic Four. Agatha Harkness will become a fixture in the Marvel Universe for many years to come, watching over Franklin and helping to train the Scarlet Witch in the pages of The Avengers.

The highlight of this book is Fantastic Four #100. The Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master launch another attack on the Fantastic Four, by controlling nearly every past Fantastic Four foe to attack the team as they are trying to travel home. Doctor Doom, the Sentry, the Wizard, the Hate Monger, the Sub-Mariner, and many others all try but fail. The Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master have one last secret weapon in reserve, an android version of the Hulk. Only the Hulk android cannot be controlled, just like its namesake, and destroys the lab. The Fantastic Four finally catch their breath (and a plane) to make their way home.

What makes this Essential?: This is it, the end of the Lee-Kirby run on Fantastic Four. With 102 consecutive issues plus a few scattered issues after that, Stan and Jack created the definitive run on Marvel’s First Family. Everything you need to know about the FF can be found in their run. So, for that reason, I could make the argument that Essential Fantastic Four Volumes 1-5 should be in every collection. This is an interesting volume because we start to see what happens after Kirby leaves the book. Can you imagine the conversation in the Marvel Bullpen, telling John Romita, Sr., that they need him to take over Fantastic Four AFTER Kirby’s run? (Although taking over Amazing Spider-Man AFTER Steve Ditko probably gave Romita the experience that he needed.)

Footnotes: Fantastic Four Annual #7 (November 1969) and #8 (December 1970) reprinted material from earlier issues of Fantastic Four. The covers for the two annuals are reprinted in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: Jack Kirby’s Fourth World storyline from DC Comics. In 1970, Kirby’s run was coming to an end, on both Fantastic Four and Thor, as well as with this run at Marvel. The next generation of writers and artists was coming into the Marvel bullpen, and the publishing company was turning into a corporation. Kirby had been offered a new but unfavorable contract by Marvel, and refused to sign. DC immediately offered a contract, and Kirby moved back to the Distinguished Competition. Right from the start, Kirby started up a story line that was dubbed The Fourth World. He took over duties on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, and introduced three new books: The New Gods, The Forever People, and Mister Miracle. Mixing equal parts of super-hero tales with a pantheon of gods, Kirby’s Fourth World was an epic story before the concept of epic stories had been conceived. These stories have been reprinted numerous times, most recently as a Jack Kirby Omnibus collection.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 4

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 4

First Published: June 2005

Contents: Fantastic Four #64 (July 1967) to #83 (February 1969), and Fantastic Four Annual #5 (November 1967) and #6 (November 1968)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Key First Appearances: Sentry 459, Ronan the Accuser, Supreme Intelligence, Crucible, Adam Warlock, Super-Android, Psycho-Man, Livewire, Franklin Richards, Annihilus

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

Overview: Have you caught your breath yet from Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3 yet? Hurry up, because the Lee & Kirby keep volume 4 moving at full speed. Hang on as we continue one of the greatest comic book runs of all time.

Let’s start out by going cosmic. The Fantastic Four encounter a mysterious destructive robot known as Sentry 459. We find out later that it was left there by the Kree Empire, led by the Supreme Intelligence and represented by Ronan the Accuser. We later meet the being known only as Him, who later becomes much better known as Adam Warlock.

Returning to Earth, we are treated to more adventures with the Inhumans. Crystal starts hanging out with the team more and more, and eventually earns her own blue #4 jumpsuit, as she takes Sue’s place on the team. But why would Sue be leaving the team? Reed announces to the others in Annual #5 that Sue is pregnant, and she gives birth to Franklin Richards in Annual #6.

A host of foes makes their first appearance in this volume. The Psycho-Man shows up, playing on the fears of the team. And if you thought Blastaar was the only bad guy in the Negative Zone, then let me introduce you to Annihulus. Earth is also visited for a second time by the world-devourer Galactus. Good thing the Fantastic Four have the Silver Surfer on their side.

The biggest surprise of this book? Not a single appearance by Doctor Doom! Don’t fret, as the good leader of Latveria is the main foe of issue #84, which leads off Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5. As much as we may miss Doom, there really wasn’t room to fit him into any of these classic stories by Lee & Kirby.

What makes this Essential?: This volume is very good but gets overshadowed by the volume before it. Kirby continues his creative hot streak, and Lee introduces new concepts and characters that continue to impact the Marvel Universe today. This is a volume to read when you want to impress your casual comic book friends that still slobber over the issues in the prior volume (and rightfully so). Read this and brag about the second appearance by Galactus, and how Franklin joined the team! Pick this up and enjoy the “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!”

Footnotes: Fantastic Four #73 is also reprinted in Essential Daredevil Vol. 2.

The Silver Surfer story from Fantastic Four Annual #5 is also reprinted in Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: an all-new Fantastic Four team from the early 1990s. Writer Walt Simonson and artist Art Adams were the creative team on the Fantastic Four book, and introduced a new team to take the place of Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben. The new team featured Spider-Man, Hulk, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider. It was a fun and popular take on the Fantastic Four concept and the back issues were in high demand at one point. The easiest way to track this story down is by finding the Fantastic Four Visionaries: Walt Simonson Vol. 3, which will give you the entire story arc, plus a few more stories featuring Marvel’s first family.

Essential Thor Vol. 2

Essential Thor Vol. 2

First Published: June 2005

Contents: Journey Into Mystery #113 (February 1965) to #125 (February 1966); Journey Into Mystery Annual #1 (1965); Thor #126 (March 1966) to #136 (January 1967); and Thor Annual #2 (September 1966)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Key First Appearances: Absorbing Man, Destroyer, Warriors Three (Fandrall, Hogun, and Volstagg), Olympus, Hercules, Zeus, Hippolyta, Pluto, Ares, Artemis, Hephaestus, Hera, Hermes, Cerberus, Tana Nile, Ego the Living Planet, Recorder #211, Count Tagar, High Evolutionary, New Men, Knights of Wundagore, Dr. Keith Kincaid

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 3

Overview: Take a journey into mystery, by following the Rainbow Bridge to the fabled world of Asgard, led by the all-father Odin, and represented by the prince to the throne, Thor, god of thunder and protector of Earth.

In the continuation of the Norse god’s adventures, Thor faces off against stronger foes, such as the Grey Gargoyle and the Absorbing Man. Thor is tested to his limits as the Asgardian Destroyer is let loose. Loki’s schemes get more nefarious in his attempts to steal the throne of Asgard away from Odin, only to be thwarted by Thor.

The Norse gods cross paths with the Greek gods, as Hercules, Prince of Power, faces off against Thor in a memorable introduction. Hercules and the other Greeks would appear many times in this volume, and the popularity of Hercules would lead to his inclusion in the Avengers title.

Finally, the scope of Thor and his book expands as he takes a journey into space, where he encounters one of his greatest challenges to date when Thor faces off against Ego, the Living Planet! Following his return to Earth, Thor meets the High Evolutionary on the peak of Wundagore Mountain, which will be a thorn in the side of many Marvel heroes for years to come.

The Tales of Asgard stories continue throughout this volume, giving the reader insights and backstory into many of the supporting characters in the Asgardian mythos.

What makes this Essential?: This is a much better volume of Thor stories than the first volume. While I don’t believe Lee & Kirby hit their creative peak with Thor until volume 3, we see the seeds of grandeur starting to show in the stories. The introduction of Hercules, Zeus, and the Olympian pantheon creates counterparts to the Norse gods and gives Thor a friendly rival to go up against. Add in the introduction of the Warriors Three, the Absorbing Man, and Ego the Living Planet, and this could be considered a better starting point for a new Thor reader.

If you like this volume, try:  the Incredible Hercules series from 2008-2010. Following the events of the World War Hulk storyline, Hercules took over the Incredible Hulk title, with it being renamed in issue #113.  Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, the story is a humorous look into the adventures of the Greek demigod partnered with Amadeus Cho, a teenage super-genius. Hercules finds himself caught up in awkward situations, usually due to his womanizing ways or by the actions of his rival Ares. These issues have been collected in hardcover and trade paperback collections and should be easy to track down.