Essential Hulk Vol. 1

Incredible Hulk Vol. 1

First Published: February 1999

Contents: Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962) to #6 (March 1963), Hulk stories from Tales to Astonish #60 (October 1964) to #91 (May 1967)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, and Gil Kane

Key First Appearances: Dr. Robert Bruce Banner/Hulk, Rick Jones, Betty Ross, General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross, Ringmaster and the Circus of Crime, Tyrannus, Major Glenn Talbot, Leader, Amphibion, Secret Empire, Boomerang, Abomination

Story Continues In: Essential Hulk Vol. 2

Overview: Dr. Bruce Banner is a research scientist studying gamma rays for the government. During a test, Banner is caught up in an explosion of gamma energy while trying to save teenager Rick Jones. Banner finds that in times of stress or when he becomes angry, his body undergoes a metamorphosis into a large, muscle-bound rampaging monster, known as the Hulk. The Hulk is a mindless creature fueled by rage and only reverts back to his Banner identity when the danger has passed.

Banner struggles to control his inner-monster so that he does not put others in danger, like the love of his life, Betty Ross. Unfortunately, Betty’s father, General Thunderbolt Ross, is bound and determined to use the full power of the U.S. Army to bring in the Hulk. And competing for Betty’s hand is the general’s right-hand man, Major Glenn Talbot.

Several classic villains with similar gamma-induced reactions are introduced in this volume: the Leader, whose intelligence is the equal of the Hulk’s strength; and the Abomination, a Russian version of the Hulk created during the heights of the Cold War. Other notable foes first featured in these issues include the Boomerang, Tyrannus, and the Ringmaster with his Circus of Crime.

This volume consists of two separate story runs: Incredible Hulk #1-6, which was issued in 1962-63 before being canceled due to low sales; and in Tales to Astonish #60-91, which were issued from late 1964 to 1967. In between the two runs, the Hulk made numerous appearances in other books, such as the Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man, and was a founding member of the Avengers. The Hulk’s growing popularity inspired Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to give the Hulk another chance, with a feature in Tales to Astonish.

What makes this Essential?: The Hulk is one of the most recognizable characters from the Marvel Universe. The Hulk was the second “major” character to be introduced by Lee and Kirby, following the introduction of the Fantastic Four. Along with Spider-Man, he was one of the first characters to really break into the mainstream consciousness of characters, crossing over into numerous TV shows, movies, toys, costumes and other material. The stories in this book provide the foundation for 50 years of Hulk stories. These are not the greatest of Hulk stories, but they should be read if you are a fan of the Hulk or an aficionado of the Marvel Silver Age of comics.

Footnotes: In the first issue of the Incredible Hulk, the Hulk was colored as a gray monster. Beginning with issue #2, the Hulk took on his more familiar green look.

In the comics, the Hulk’s alter identity is Dr. Bruce Banner. In the 1970s live-action television show, he was called Dr. David Banner. According to one story, the producer of the TV show opted to change the character’s name so that it did not feel like a comic book series, by eliminating the alliterative name of the main character, a go-to move that Stan Lee loved to use (Peter Parker, Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Happy Hogan, and others).

If you like this volume, try: a classic book such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Both of these novellas provided inspiration to Stan Lee when developing the concept of the Hulk.

Essential Avengers Vol. 1

Essential Avengers Vol. 1

Essential Avengers Vol. 1

First Published: October 1998

Contents: Avengers #1 (September 1963) to #24 (January 1966)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Don Heck

Key First Appearances: Space Phantom, Lava Men, Heinrich Zemo/Baron Zemo, Nathan Garrett/Black Knight, Masters of Evil, Kang, Simon Williams/Wonder Man, Immortus, Count Nefaria, Maggia, Jacques Duquesne/Swordsman, Erik Josten/Power Man, Princess Ravonna,

Story Continues In: Essential Avengers Vol. 2

Overview: And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes and heroines found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were born — to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand! Through the years, their roster has prospered, changing many times, but their glory has never been denied! Heed the call, then — for now, the Avengers Assemble!

In an attempt to gain revenge against his step-brother, Loki creates a plot to force the Hulk to fight Thor. Along the way, Iron Man, Ant Man, and the Wasp join with Thor, before they realize that their true enemy is not the Hulk but rather Loki. From that point, the five heroes vow to ban together to form an unbeatable team. The Wasp suggests the Avengers name, and the rest is history.

Subsequent early issues will have the Hulk leaving the team and Captain America, the now living legend of World War II, joining the team, establishing a tradition of an ever-changing Avengers line-up. This is dramatically shown in issue #16, when the remaining founders take leave from the team and are replaced by a team of reformed criminals in Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch (dubbed Cap’s Quirky Quartet).

Several long-time Avenger foes are introduced with Kang, Immortus, and Baron Zemo and the changing lineup of his Masters of Evil. Future Avenger members Wonder Man (initially a villain, but reforms years later following his resurrection) and Swordsman make appearances in this volume.

What makes this Essential?: As much as the Fantastic Four title was in response to DC’s success with the Justice League of America title, the Avengers is the more comparable doppelganger to the JLA. The original members of the Avengers (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Ant Man and Wasp, Captain America) all were featured in other anthology books at the time. The Avengers gave the characters a second monthly appearance each month. The events in this title impacted the individual character’s stories in the anthology books, thereby building up the Marvel continuity in a unified comic universe. If Iron Man or Thor was absent from an issue, an editor’s note would drop a hint to the reader to check out that other book to see what was going on.

Also, given the success of recent movie franchise, this is a worthy look at the humble beginnings of the Avengers. While small details were changed, the basic idea of a band of heroes uniting to stop Loki remains the same.

If you like this volume, try: the Avengers Assemble Vol. 1 HC from Kurt Busiek and George Perez. This collection contains the first year of the 1998 relaunch of the Avengers title. While other individual Avengers stories may be more memorable, this series by Busiek-Perez is one of the greatest runs of Avengers stories. The story kicks off with reuniting all previous Avengers to stop Morgana Le Fay from remaking the Earth. The team then slims down to a more manageable line-up, with traditional mainstays (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch) and introducing new Avengers (Firestar, Justice, Triathalon).

Showcase Presents Green Arrow Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Green Arrow Vol. 1

First Published: January 2006

Contents: Green Arrow stories from Adventure Comics #250 (July 1958) to #269 (February 1960), Green Arrow stories from World’s Finest Comics #95 (July-August 1958) to #134 (June 1963), #136 (September 1963), #138 (October 1963), and #140 (March 1964), Justice League of America #4 (April-May 1961), and The Brave and The Bold #50 (October-November 1963), #71 (April-May 1967), and #85 (August-September 1969),

Key Creator Credits: Jack Schiff, Ed Herron, Gardner Fox, Bob Haney, Jack Kirby, Lee Elias, George Papp, Mike Sekowsky, and Neal Adams

Key First Appearances: William Tockman/Clock King, Bonnie King/Miss Arrowette

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Green Lantern Vol. 5

Overview: This Showcase volume collects the Silver Age stories of the Emerald Archer from Star City. Green Arrow was introduced in 1941 in More Fun Comics #73 (Aquaman also debuted in that same issue!). For the next 25 years, Green Arrow (Oliver Queen) and his sidekick Speedy (Roy Harper) fought crime in offbeat adventures that are clearly products of their times.

In many ways, Green Arrow was a duplicate version of Batman during this era. Green Arrow was a millionaire playboy who takes on a young ward to share his life fighting crime. Green Arrow had an ArrowCave, an ArrowPlane, and an ArrowCar. The local police would summon Green Arrow by launching a flaming green arrow into the night sky. Green Arrow’s trick arrows, such as the Boxing Glove arrow or the Net Arrow, were the equivalent of Batman’s utility belt. Many stories contained here feel like rewrites of Batman stories. For example, the “Batman of All Nations” story (Detective Comics #215, January 1955) appears to be the inspiration for “The Green Arrows of the World” story (Adventure Comics #250, July 1958).

Also included in this volume is Justice League of America #4, when Green Arrow joins the league, becoming one of the most regular members of the team for the next 25 years. The best highlight of the book is the final issue, The Brave and the Bold #85 when artist Neal Adams redesigned Green Arrow’s costume and introduced Ollie’s trademark goatee.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Green Arrow has always been one of my favorite characters, and I have a certain fondness for his original Silver Age costume. These stories are fun, but not great. Better Green Arrow stories can be found in the Denny O’Neil/Neil Adams run on Green Lantern when Ollie lost his money and found a political voice.

Footnotes: Green Arrow is one of the five DC Comics characters that was continuously published from the Golden Age of Comics to the Silver Age of Comics. The other characters are Superman, Batman (and Robin), Wonder Woman, and Aquaman.

Adventure Comics #250 is considered as the first issue of the “Earth-1” Green Arrow. Anything published before that is considered to be adventures of the “Earth-2” Green Arrow, who served as a member of the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

If you like this volume, try: Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell. Issued in 1987 as a prestige format miniseries, Grell redefined Green Arrow into a more realistic character. The trick arrows were put away, the hooded costume was introduced, and Green Arrow relocated to the Pacific Northwest. While this series gets overshadowed by Moore & Gibbons’ Watchmen or Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, both of those stories took place outside of DC continuity. Longbow Hunters took place in the current DC Universe, and its changes were felt in other books. This miniseries served as a launching pad to give Green Arrow (under the continuing direction of Grell) his own ongoing monthly comic book.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1

First Published: October 1998

Contents: Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961) to #20 (November 1963), and Fantastic Four Annual #1 (1963)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Key First Appearances: Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Susan Storm (Richards)/Invisible Girl, Johnny Storm/Human Torch, Ben Grimm/The Thing, Mole Man, Skrulls, the Baxter Building, Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom, Alicia Masters, Phillip Masters/The Puppet Master, the Impossible Man, Willie Lumpkin, Ivan Kragoff/The Red Ghost, Super-Apes, Uatu/The Watcher, Mad Thinker, Awesome Android, Super Skrull, Rama-Tut, Owen Reece/Molecule Man, Krang

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 2

Overview: In a race to beat the communists to space, scientist Reed Richards leads his best friend, Ben Grimm; his girlfriend, Susan Storm; and her brother, Johnny Storm; in an unshielded rocket to the stars. Cosmic rays bombard their spacecraft, forcing the quartet to return to Earth. They soon discover that the cosmic rays have changed all of them. Reed’s body has become elastic, and takes the name of Mr. Fantastic. Susan now has the ability to disappear at will, and becomes the Invisible Girl. Johnny bursts into flames, and adopts the moniker of the Human Torch (a nod to a Golden Age hero). And Ben Grimm becomes a misshapen lump of clay, soon to become rock-like, and dubs himself The Thing. So begins the Fantastic Four!

The team quickly adopts matching uniforms, made out of “unstable molecules”, and take up residence in New York City’s Baxter Building. Another nod to Marvel’s Golden Age came in issue #4, as Johnny discovered Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, sitting in a boarding house. (Lee and Kirby would complete their trip down Golden Age memory lane in Avengers #4, when the Sub-Mariner’s actions helped bring back Captain America, who everyone thought had perished at the end of World War II.)

Each month, a new villain would appear on the scene, and it would take the combined efforts of the Fantastic Four to halt the latest menace. From shape-changing Skrulls from outer-space to the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes in outer-space, and from the controlling mind of the Mad Thinker to the mind controlling of the Puppet Master, the Fantastic Four faced all challenges head on. Perhaps the greatest villain in Marvel Comics was introduced in issue #5, when the FF came face-to-face with Dr. Doom, monarch of Latveria, who wants nothing more in life than to exact his revenge on Richards and his family.

What makes this Essential?: This is the cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. If this title had not succeeded, we probably would not have seen Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and everyone else that came after the launch of the Fantastic Four. Consider these 21 comics as Marvel’s Declaration of Independence, that told the comic book marketplace that they could do the same books as DC, and they can do them better. The Marvel heroes are real people, with their own character faults and issues. They may bicker and fight, but in the end, they stand together to make things right. Maybe Lee and Kirby were borrowing the challenge issued by then President Kennedy who had proclaimed earlier in 1961 that the U.S. would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Lee and Kirby put the Fantastic Four on the moon by issue #13.

Footnotes: Even though Fantastic Four #1 was the birth of the Marvel Age of comics, Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1 was the 11th Essential released by Marvel, nearly two years after the first edition hit bookshelves.

If you like this volume, try: Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby Volume 1. This is the first of two Kirby volumes in the Visionaries collection, with a scattering of Kirby’s Marvel work from the early 1940s to the late 1970s. Kirby’s early work on Captain America is showcased, along with an assortment of sci-fi and western stories. Other stories featured include the previously mentioned Avengers #4; an early Spider-Man back-up; a three-issue arc on Thor; and arguably Kirby’s best four-month stretch on any book of his entire career, Fantastic Four #48 to #51, featuring the debut of the Silver Surfer, Galactus, and “This Man… This Monster.”

Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 1

Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 1

First Published: March 1998

Contents: Silver Surfer #1 (August 1968) to #18 (September 1970), Silver Surfer story from Fantastic Four Annual #5 (1967)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, John Buscema, Jack Kirby

Key First Appearances: Shalla Bal, Mephisto

Story Continues In: Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 2

Overview: At the creative peak of the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby run on Fantastic Four in the mid-1960s, new characters and concepts were introduced including the Inhumans, the Black Panther, Galactus and his herald, the Silver Surfer. Imbued with the power cosmic, the Silver Surfer roamed the galaxy seeking out planets that his master could consume to sustain his own life. When the Silver Surfer reached Earth and encountered humanity, he rebelled against Galactus and fought side-by-side with the Fantastic Four. Faced with the threat of the Ultimate Nullifier, Galactus vowed to leave Earth but punished the Silver Surfer for his betrayal by placing an invisible barrier around the planet, keeping the Silver Surfer confined to Earth.

In this volume, the Silver Surfer explores Earth, trying to find ways to break the barrier. On his journey, he encounters many Earthlings that befriend and challenge the Silver Surfer. We discover his past as Norrin Radd, who gave up himself to serve Galactus in exchange for leaving his home planet of Zenn-La alone and saving his true love Shalla Bal. The malevolent Mephisto, Marvel’s incarnation of the Devil, is introduced and tempts the Silver Surfer multiple times. The series ends with issue #18, which left the reader on a cliff-hanger with the Silver Surfer vowing revenge on humanity. But #19 was never released, and it would be more than 25 years before the Silver Surfer received his own monthly comic again.

What makes this Essential?: I find two points that make this collection an Essential volume. The first is the breath-taking artwork by Buscema. While the Silver Surfer title had a sporadic publishing schedule during it’s run, Buscema was also providing art on the monthly Avengers and Sub-Mariner titles. The quality of the artwork, given his other monthly responsibilities, places Buscema on a peak of artistic greatness. His panels truly show the strength of the power cosmic.

A second point to make this collection an Essential volume is the moralities raised in these issues. Science fiction has often been used to introduce moral discussions without trying to offend the audience because the stories take place in a different world than our own reality. The Star Trek television series led the way in the 1960s, touching on topics such as racial differences and gender roles. Lee uses this title to start addressing moral topics, such as war, love, good and evil. The next wave of writers, such as Denny O’Neil, Roy Thomas, and Steve Englehart, would take on these topics via their monthly comics.

Footnotes: Even though this volume was released in 1998, the Silver Surfer’s first appearance in Fantastic Four #48 was finally collected in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3, released in 2001.

The Silver Surfer story from Fantastic Four Annual #5 is also reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: the Silver Surfer-Superman crossover from 1996. In the 1990s, Marvel and DC published multiple books teaming up characters from their respective universes. This volume teams up two similar characters in Silver Surfer and Superman. Both are exiles on Earth; both find themselves in the same power class; and are somber serious characters. The two team up to battle the team-up of Impossible Man and Mr. Mxyxptlk, two alien beings looking for a good time and a funny joke. Written by George Perez with art by Ron Lim, this was a highlight of the Marvel-DC crossovers.