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!

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 3

First Published: March 2007

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #54 (May 1981) to #74 (January 1983); and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #3 (1981)

Key Creator Credits: Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Roger Stern, Ed Hannigan, Al Milgrom, Luke McDonnell, and others

Key First Appearances: Cloak, Dagger

Story Continues From: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS). This book remains a companion book to Amazing Spider-Man, but focuses primarily on Peter Parker and his collegiate life.

Once again, this volume breaks out into two separate sections, much like the Volume 2. The difference is we start out with the Roger Stern stories first. These stories are serviceable, but are generally one-and-done issues. The various “villain of the month” shows up to make Peter don the blue-and-red costume, with the occasional check-in with life on the ESU campus. During this run, the highlights of these issues may be the covers, as Frank Miller does many of the cover images.

The second section picks up with issue #61, as Roger Stern hands over writing duties on the title back to Bill Mantlo. (Stern gave up this title to take over the writing duties of Amazing Spider-Man.) Mantlo, working with artists such as Ed Hannigan and Jim Mooney, introduces a new tone to the title. It no longer feels like a secondary book to Amazing, but as a top-level book in its own right. Obviously, the biggest event in this volume occurs in issue #64, as Cloak and Dagger are introduced, becoming one of Marvel’s biggest surprises of the 1980s. The volume concludes with the start of a gang war between Doctor Octopus and the Owl, and it leaves us hanging with the final page return of the Black Cat.

What makes this Essential?: This may be the first volume in the series that is truly worth picking up. While there are teases to events ongoing in Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Team-Up, this book can be read as a self-contained series of issues. The writing is solid, as Bill Mantlo and Roger Stern have mastered the Spider-Man story formula. The art is decent, but not spectacular, if you will pardon the pun. My biggest complaint is that this volume ends with issue #74, which is right in the middle of the Doctor Octopus vs. Owl storyline. That story finally wrapped up in issue #79, so it might have pushed the limits to include it in here.

If you like this volume, try: the Cloak and Dagger mini-series from 1983. Written by Bill Mantlo with art by Rick Leonardi, the break-out stars from this volume of PPTSS jump over into their own four-issue series. We find our duo hiding in a church, where Father Delgado befriends the two. We get their origin – two runaways from different backgrounds arrive in New York City, They were taken into a shelter along with other runaways, and are given an experimental drug designed by the Maggia to be a replacement for heroin. The drug reacts with latent mutant genes in their bodies, mutating the two characters into the light and darkness personified. As a result, Cloak and Dagger make it their personal mission to take on the drug trade every chance they can. This series was released as a hardcover in 2009, so it should be easy to find.

Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1

Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1

First Published: February 2007

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

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

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

Story Continues In: Essential Avengers Vol. 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 1

First Published: October 2005

Contents: Marvel Spotlight #5 (August 1972) to #12 (October 1973); Ghost Rider #1 (September 1973) to #20 (October 1976); and Daredevil #138 (October 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Mike Ploog, Tom Sutton, Tony Isabella, Jim Mooney, George Tuska, Frank Robbins, Marv Wolfman, John Byrne, and others

Key First Appearances: Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, Roxanne Simpson/Katy Milner, Crash Simpson, Daimon Hellstrom/Son of Satan 

Story Continues In: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 2

Overview:  Johnny Blaze is a motorcycle daredevil with a traveling road show. When the owner of the show, Crash Simpson, announces he is dying from cancer, Blaze seeks out and strikes a deal with Devil for his soul in an attempt to save Crash. The Devil accepts, but like any deal with Satan, the deal works against Blaze. Crash is saved from cancer but still dies in a stunt accident. As part of his deal, Johnny Blaze is transformed into a mystical servant of Hell, known as the Ghost Rider.

The early stories deal with Blaze trying to free his soul from the control of Satan. This leads to the introduction of the devil’s estranged offspring, Daimon Hellstrom, who would become an anti-hero in his own right as the Son of Satan.

Eventually, Blaze gets his soul released, but he still retains the Ghost Rider abilities. Early on, his transformations occurred at dusk, but now Blaze finds that he can now control the transition for anytime day or night. He can also extend his powers to create a flaming motorcycle out of the hellfire at his control.

In the later issues, Blaze starts working in Hollywood as a stuntman on a television show, where he meets the actress Karen Page. For longtime Marvel readers, you will recall Page as the one-time secretary of lawyer Matt Murdock. So it’s only natural that Ghost Rider would cross paths with Daredevil, the man without fear, which is exactly what happens as this volume concludes.

What makes this Essential?: I will be the first to admit that I have never been a Ghost Rider fan. I held off getting this book for as long as I possibly could, just out my general dislike for the character. What I found reading the early stories of Johnny Blaze is a far different Ghost Rider than the one that gained such popularity in the 1990s. This Ghost Rider seems more human, whose initial changes were brought on by the setting and rising of the sun. He’s a true anti-hero, never viewing himself as a super-hero; just much more interested in riding his bike at the next show. Based on his history in the Marvel Universe, the Ghost Rider is an important hero to read. But the Ghost Rider in these stories is much different than the Ghost Rider you picture in your head. 

Footnotes: Marvel Spotlight #12, and Ghost Rider #1 & #2 are also reprinted in Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1.

Ghost Rider #10 is a reprint of Marvel Spotlight #5. The cover to Ghost Rider #10 is included in this volume. In the letter column in Ghost Rider #11, it was revealed that the cover for issue #10 went to press before Marvel realized that the issue would not be ready in time.

Ghost Rider #19 & #20, and Daredevil #138 are also reprinted in Essential Daredevil Vol. 6.

There are two early Ghost Rider appearances that are not collected in this volume, but they can be found in other Essential volumes. Marvel Team-Up #15 (November 1973) can be found in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1, and Marvel Two-in-One #8 (March 1975) can be found in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1. In my opinion, both should have been included, given the number of references to those stories in the Ghost Rider title. In particular, the Marvel Team-Up issue features the first appearance of The Orb, who returns as a foe in Ghost Rider #14 and #15.

If you like this volume, try: Marvel’s first team of heroes in California, The Champions. Created by Tony Isabella to feature Angel, Iceman, and Black Goliath, it was retooled without Black Goliath and with the additions of Black Widow, Hercules, and Ghost Rider. Given the diverse line-up of the team, there were a lot of wild adventures during the team’s all-too-short 17 issue run. The Champions #1 (October 1975) debuted during the period covered in this Essential Ghost Rider, and several issues make references to his adventures with the team. While the entire series is collected in two Classic volumes, this is a series that shows up frequently in back issue bins. Make a point to track this series down!

Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 1

First Published: November 2007

Contents: Superman #123 (August 1958), #139 (August 1960), #140 (October 1960), and #144 (April 1961); Supergirl stories from Action Comics #252 (May 1959) to #282 (November 1961); Supergirl stories from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #40 (October 1959), #46 (July 1960), and #51 (March 1961); Supergirl story from Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #14 (January 1960); Supergirl story from Superboy #80 (April 1960); and Supergirl story from Adventure Comics #278 (November 1960)

Key Creator Credits: Otto Binder, Jim Mooney, Al Pastino, Curt Swan, Jerry Siegel, and others

Key First Appearances: Supergirl/Kara/Linda Lee Danvers, Zor-El, Alura, Dick Wilson Malverne, Miss Hart, Streaky, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Invisible Kid, Jerro, Bouncing Boy, Brainiac-5, Phantom Girl, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy, Triplicate Girl, Fred Danvers, Edna Danvers

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 2

Overview: Introducing the Maid of Might, Supergirl! When Krypton exploded, one of its cities, Argo, shot off into space on a solid asteroid chunk. Years later, the asteroid was slowly transforming into Kryptonite, which would kill the Kryptonians. Following instructions shared by his late brother, Zor-El launches his daughter Kara in a rocket aimed at Earth. Arriving on Earth as a teenager sporting a costume matching her cousin’s uniform, Kara quickly starts to acquire the same powers that all Kryptonians receive under a yellow sun. Dubbed Supergirl, Superman hides Supergirl in the Midvale orphanage as his secret weapon, giving her time to learn about Earth and her new abilities.

Many of these stories feel like Superboy stories that were rewritten for Supergirl, such as dealing with Kryptonite meteors, uncovering dishonest circus carnies. stopping floods, or disabling runaway robots. Likewise, she also gets counterparts to match Superman’s friends – Dick Wilson is a boy in the orphanage that thinks Linda is Supergirl, Jerro becomes Supergirl’s beau in Atlantis, and Bizarro Supergirl shows up trying to help out, but does everything wrong.

Where Supergirl differs, making the biggest jump in her character story, is her encounters with the Legion of Super-Heroes. It takes a couple of visits before she can finally join the team, in Action Comics #276. At the end of this volume, Linda Lee is adopted by Fred and Edna Danvers, moving her out of the orphanage and creating a new set of stories to be told in Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 2.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Well, my opinion of the majority of the DC Silver Age should be pretty clear by now. That said, I like these stories. These read better than the various Superman, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane stories of the same era. I also find these more interesting than the Wonder Woman stories of the time. This is a good introduction to a female character, albeit one created as a female duplicate of a popular male character. It will take some time before Supergirl can move out of the large shadow cast by her cousin. This is one volume I look forward to sharing with my daughter soon!

Footnotes: Superman #123 and the Supergirl story from Action Comics #252 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 1.

The “Mighty Maid” story from Action Comics #260; the “Old Man of Metropolis” story from Action Comics #270; the “Untold Story of Red Kryptonite” story from Superman #139; Superman #140; and the “Orphans of Space!” story from Superman #144 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 2.

The “War Between Supergirl and the Superman Emergency Squad!” story from Action Comics #276 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 3.

The “Three Super-Heroes” story from Action Comics #267 and the “Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends!” story from Action Comics #276 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1.

The “Lois Lane’s Secret Romance!” story from Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #14 and the “Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl’s Pal!” story from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #40 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 3.

The “Jimmy Olsen, Orphan” story from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #46 and the “Girl with Green Hair!” story from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #51 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents Superman Family Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: tracking down Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade miniseries from 2009. This has been collected as a trade paperback, but it might be easier to find these six comics in a back issue bin. Written by Landry Walker with art by Eric Jones, this is a fun look at the origins of Supergirl, told for the Johnny DC audience. Once again, Kara travels to Earth, where she discovers that her cousin is Superman, protector of the planet. Kara is enrolled in middle school, so she can learn about her new home. She becomes best friends with Lena Thorul, who is secretly the sister of Lex Luthor. Of course, if you wear a big red S on your chest, you should also expect visits from Bizarro and Mr. Mxyzptlk, only in Kara’s case, she still has to contend with homework and middle school drama. This is a fun read for all ages and genders!

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2

First Published: August 2006

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

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

Key First Appearances: Jean DeWolff, Wraith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

First Published: February 2005

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #32 (July 1979) to #53 (April 1981); Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 (1979) and #2 (1980); Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13 (1979); and Fantastic Four #218 (May 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Roger Stern, John Romita, Jr., Mike Zeck, Marie Severin, and others

Key First Appearances: Marcy Kane, Dr. Morris Sloan, Steve Hopkins, Roderick Kingsley (Hobgoblin), Nathan Lubensky

Story Continues From: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS). This book remains a companion book to Amazing Spider-Man, but focuses primarily on Peter Parker and his collegiate life.

This volume breaks out into two separate sections – the first is written by Bill Mantlo, continuing the stories he started in Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1. Mantlo wraps up the Carrion storyline, but not before bringing in the Lizard, the Iquana, and the Swarm. Following another appearance by Morbius, Mantlo concludes this run of PPTSS with a crossover with Fantastic Four, another title he was writing at the time.

The second section picks up with issue #43, as Roger Stern takes over writing duties on the title. Stern brings back the Vulture and the White Tiger, and introduces two new characters into Peter Parker’s life – Nathan Lubensky would become a long-time tenant at Aunt May’s boarding house, and Roderick Kingsley, a background character in PPTSS, but will don the Hobgoblin costume when Stern moves over to Amazing Spider-Man.

What makes this Essential?: I really want to give this a strong recommendation. I do. I like to think of PPTSS as the little book that could. But, the simple fact remains that this title plays second fiddle to every other book that Spider-Man appears in each month. You need to be a hard-core Spider-Man fan to want this volume. The stories are not bad, per se. Some of them are quite good. But each issue just reminds the reader that there are other stories you should be reading, which can be found in the Essential Spider-Man and Essential Marvel Team-Up books.

Footnotes: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13 were also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man 9.

If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man newspaper comic strip, which started in January of 1977. Originally done by Stan Lee and John Romita, Sr., this was a syndicated comic strip that told stand-alone stories not set in the continuity of the Marvel Universe. Other comic notables, such as Larry Lieber, Paul Ryan, Alex Saviuk, Joe Sinnott, and Roy Thomas, have helped out on the strip over the years. There have been a few collections of the early years of the newspaper strip. If your local newspaper does not carry the strip, it can still be read online at several websites.