Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2

Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2

First Published: May 2006

Contents: The X-Men #25 (October 1966) to #53 (February 1969); and Avengers #53 (June 1968)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, Gary Friedrich, Arnold Drake, Don Heck, George Tuska, Jim Steranko, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Sean Cassidy/Banshee, Cobalt Man, Candy Southern, Changeling, Frankenstein’s Monster, Grotesk, William Drake, Madeline Drake, Mesmero, Norton McCoy, Edna McCoy, Lorna Dane/Polaris

Story Continues From: Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. With a small enrollment, headmaster Charles Xavier is able to focus and help each student develop to the fullest extent of their abilities. Mutant abilities, that is! As all of the students are members of the X-Men, mutants working to build a world that homo-sapiens and homo-superior can live side-by-side.

In this volume, we get the first new member to join the team, as Mimic comes on board. However, he left quickly after fighting with Cyclops and losing his ability to mimic others’ abilities during a fight with the Super-Adaptoid. At this same time, future X-Man Banshee is introduced as a foe, but soon becomes a loyal friend to the X-Men. At the end of this volume, we do meet Lorna Dane, but more of her story will unfold in Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3.

Now, over the years, many people have claimed that Charles Xavier can be an ass. A story arc in this volume would be Example #1. During a battle with Grotesk, the X-Men believe that Xavier has been killed. The students bury their mentor and figure out how they will function going forward. Out of nowhere, Xavier returns alive and well. Turns out he had been hiding in a secret basement at the mansion, so he could mentally prepare to stop an alien attack. Xavier hired the reformed criminal known as Changeling to impersonate him, giving him some of his mental powers. So it was the Xavier-impersonator that died in battle with Grotesk. Trust me, this is just the first of a long list of Xavier’s foibles.

Towards the end of these issues collected, a new format was introduced into the books. The stories would run around 15 pages, and then there would be a 5-page back-up which slowly revealed the origins of the original X-Men. In this volume, we get the origins for Cyclops, Iceman, and Beast.

What makes this Essential?: I actually feel that these stories are better than those found in Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1. While I do not want to besmirch the work of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, I don’t believe the X-Men were ever their top priority. I think when writer Roy Thomas comes onboard, he is able to put his full effort into the stories, and we see the characters start to develop, becoming individuals with unique costumes and not just chess pieces controlled by Xavier. I almost think the casual X-Men fan would be better off starting with this volume first before ever reading Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1.

Footnotes: X-Men #45 and Avengers #53 are also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: Marvel Visionaries: Roy Thomas, which collects assorted issues from Thomas’ legendary career at Marvel. In the early 1960s, Stan Lee realized he needed help and hired Thomas to come in as an assistant. He was quickly promoted to writer, and one-by-one, Thomas would scribe the adventures of nearly every significant Marvel title at some point in the 1960s and 1970s. By my count, he has stories reprinted in over 35 Marvel Essentials (plus 2 DC Showcase Presents). The stories collected here give the reader some of the many highlights from Thomas’ resume – The Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, the Invaders, Dr. Strange, and Dracula.

Essential Captain America Vol. 2

Essential Captain America Vol. 2

First Published: January 2002

Contents: Captain America #103 (July 1968) to #126 (June 1970)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, and Gene Colan

Key First Appearances: Dr. Faustus, Madame Hydra, Sam Wilson/Falcon, Redwing

Story Continues From: Essential Captain America Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Captain America Vol. 3

Overview: Captain America bounces back in this second Essential volume from Marvel. We see the transition of the character in this book, as Lee & Kirby take their final run together with Steve Rogers, before handing him over to next wave of creators in the Marvel Bullpen.

While these stories feature a healthy dose of classic villains like the Red Skull and Batroc the Leaper, new villains are added to the mix that expands Cap’s rogues gallery. First up is Doctor Faustus, who uses drugs and mind-control techniques to fight Captain America in psychological battles. The other addition is Madame Hydra, the new leader of the criminal Hydra organization. Complete with her Hydra-green lipstick, Madame Hydra (later known as the Viper) becomes the female antagonist that can tempt Steve Rogers with her body, or lead Hydra in an attempt to take over the world.

Rick Jones tries donning the Bucky costume and serves as Cap’s partner for a few issues. While it does not work for either one, it does show that Cap excels with a partner. Enter Sam Wilson, Harlem social worker and the high-flying Falcon. Captain America and Falcon would partner for many years going forth, and their strong friendship continues to this day.

What makes this Essential?: Captain America starts to expand as a character in this volume, as new creators move in to take over for Lee and Kirby.  While Steve Rogers still pines for the world he left behind, he starts to accept living in the (then) modern world of the late-1960s. The creative teams start realizing the possibilities of the character, whether serving as an agent for the government or S.H.I.E.L.D., or as the leader of the Avengers. The creative art advances by Steranko and Colan make this a worthwhile edition to pick up.

Footnotes: While the Black Panther is considered to be the first black superhero, he is a prince from the African nation of Wakanda. The Falcon, who debuts in this Essential, is considered to be the first African-American superhero, created by Lee and Colan.

If you like this volume, try: the Jim Steranko run on Nick Fury, which ran in Strange Tales and in the early issues of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. These stories have been collected numerous times (but not in an Essential) so it should not be difficult to track these down. Steranko came in and took over the art duties from Kirby, and then the writing duties from Roy Thomas. Steranko’s run was part James Bond, part Andy Warhol’s pop art, and pushed the limits of the Comics Code Authority numerous times. Our perception of what S.H.I.E.L.D. should be came from these issues. Truthfully, this is a story better read in color, so pick it up any way you can.