Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

First Published: July 2008

Contents: Fantastic Four #138 (September 1973) to #159 (June 1975); Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 (May 1974); Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2 (August 1974) to #4 (February 1975); and Avengers #127 (September 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Ross Andru, Joe Sinnott, and others

Key First Appearances: Darkoth, Mahkizmo,  Jamie Madrox/Multiple Man,

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8

Overview: We are moving into the mid-1970s with the Fantastic Four. Not that things are ever normal around the Baxter Building, but there seems to be a set formula for most of these comics. We have the famous foursome of Marvel, with Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Medusa. Wait, what, Medusa? Don’t you mean Sue? Yeah, this is the Fantastic Four of the mid-1970s. Sit back and enjoy the ride in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7.

For starters, Sue is still caring for the youngest member of the family, Franklin Richards. There are times during this run where Sue goes multiple issues between appearances. Thankfully, Medusa of the Inhumans has stepped in to help the group live up to their team name. And speaking of the Inhumans, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers are invited to Attilan for the marriage ceremony between Quicksilver (former Avenger) and Crystal (former FF member and sister of Medusa). Sadly, there are very few Marvel weddings that go off without a hitch, and this momentous event is crashed by Ultron.

The other issues feel like echoes of the past. John Buscema and Rich Buckler both seem to embrace the Kirby style for the book, in terms of layout and characters. The writers give us a healthy dose of familiar foes, such as the Hulk, Doctor Doom, and the Frightful Four. And Thundra still shows up trying to convince Ben Grimm that they would make beautiful children together.

The highlight of the volume comes toward the end, with the final Giant-Size Fantastic Four, #4, in this collection. In a story co-written by Len Wein and Chris Claremont, Jamie Madrox (a.k.a. the Multiple Man) makes his debut. Madrox is a mutant who is able to create duplicates of himself when he is hit. The Fantastic Four was finally able to stop Madrox with the help of Professor Xavier from the X-Men. This FF comic came out right at the end of the reprint run in the X-Men book, and just three months ahead of Giant-Size X-Men #1 hitting the shelves. Wein would handle the re-introduction of the X-Men, before handing off the reins to Claremont, who would oversee the mutants for more than 15 years.

What makes this Essential?: I don’t want this to read as a negative judgment on the Fantastic Four. I have been a big fan of Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben for many years. There are times when you have the right creators on the book (Stan Lee & Jack Kirby or John Byrne comes to mind) and this is the greatest comic in the world. There are a lot of other times when you have creators on the book whose goal appears just to get a comic out each month. That’s exactly what I feel when reading most of these issues. The writers seem to have troubles scripting Sue, relegating her to motherhood and off of the main team, replaced by Medusa in most issues. There are very few new characters created during this run, as listed above, relying instead on retreading the same familiar characters from the Lee-Kirby years. Even as a die-hard FF fan, I don’t know that I would suggest other fans to grab this collection.

Footnotes: Avengers #127 and Fantastic Four #150 are also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 6.

Fantastic Four #154 is a reprint issue, with a new framing sequence. The story was originally published in Strange Tales #127, which was reprinted in Essential Human Torch Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the 2014 Fantastic Four series from James Robinson and Leonard Kirk. This series will be coming to an end in a few weeks, due more to senior editorial decisions than sales figures or story arcs. But there is still time to get caught up and finish the final story (for the foreseeable future) of Marvel’s first family. Robinson shakes things up, placing the team in red uniforms and breaking apart the group. (On a side note, if you were to read some of the actual comics collected in this Essential, you would see Johnny Storm sporting a red version of the classic Fantastic Four uniform. So take that everyone that complained about Robinson messing with the uniforms.) With the team splintered, the individual members find themselves slowly brought back together, as they find that their recent setbacks, as well as other moments from their past, have all been influenced by one person. Robinson is a master storyteller, and this has turned out to be a great run. This is one I look forward to re-reading in one sitting when the final issue comes out later this spring.

Essential Avengers Vol. 6

Essential Avengers Vol. 6

Essential Avengers Vol. 6

First Published: February 2008

Contents: Avengers #120 (April 1972) to #140 (October 1975); Giant-Size Avengers #1 (August 1974) to #4 (June 1975); Captain Marvel #33 (July 1974); and Fantastic Four #150 (September 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, John Buscema, Bob Brown, George Tuska, and others

Key First Appearances: Nuklo, Bova

Story Continues From: Essential Avengers Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Avengers Vol. 7

Overview: In preparation for this review, I consider some alternatives to make my point here. My first thought would be to increase the font size to a larger style, but I hate that when other sites do it. I CONSIDERED WRITING THIS ENTIRE REVIEW IN ALL CAPS, BUT I DON’T WANT TO COME ACROSS THAT I AM YELLING AT YOU, MY LOYAL READERS. Maybe I should attach a sound file with trumpets blaring, or I figure out a way to roll out a red carpet. See, the reason for these possible changes is to help convey just how EPIC is this collection of the Essential Avengers!

Writer Steve Englehart and friends put together a series of memorable runs over multiple issues. This really felt like a heavy hitters lineup for the team, led by Thor, Iron Man, and the Vision. In this collection, the Avengers have their first encounter with Thanos; in a crossover with the Fantastic Four, we see Quicksilver and Crystal tie the knot in a ceremony delayed by Ultron; and we discover the secret origin of the Vision, in a story that goes back to the very first issue of Marvel Comics in 1939.

The highlight of this volume is the story of Mantis. In the lead-off story where the Avengers battle Zodiac, Mantis discovers that Libra is her father. She learns that she was raised by the Priests of Pama, which takes the Avengers to Viet-Nam where they encounter the Star-Stalker. From there, long-time Avengers foe Kang kidnaps Mantis and Moondragon, as both have been identified as potential candidates to become the Celestial Madonna. That leads the Avengers to travel through time and space after their teammate. During the battle with Kang, the Swordsman is killed, and Mantis realizes that he was the love of her life and not the Vision. Mantis discovers more of her origins, and finally embraces her role as the Celestial Madonna. In a ceremony overseen by Immortus, Mantis marries a Cotati reanimating the body of Swordsman, and the couple merge and depart to space. (It should be noted that the wedding was a double ceremony, as the Vision and the Scarlet Witch finally say their “I Do’s”.)

The volume concludes as some new faces become probationary members of the team in Avengers #137. Having graduated from the X-Men and moved on to a solo career, the blue-haired Beast shows up for a series of adventures, but it won’t be until the next Essential before he earns his Avengers identification card. Also, Moondragon joins the team, making for a good consolation prize for losing out on the Celestial Madonna sweepstakes.

What makes this Essential?: This volume can best be summed up with one name – Steve Englehart. The writer had taken over writing duties on the Avengers in the previous Essential volume, and this collection sees Englehart work in all of the stories that he was really wanting to tell. He uses a core line-up of Iron Man, Thor, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Mantis. (It should be noted that long-time Avenger Captain America was knee-deep in his own book at that time, and could only make the occasional appearance in the Avengers. By the way, Captain America and Falcon was being written by Englehart.) Mantis, a creation of Englehart and Don Heck, becomes the focus of the Celestial Madonna story in this volume. Towards the end of the run, Hank McCoy (a.k.a the Beast of the X-Men) Joins up, but this is the blue-furred Beast. Hank McCoy had undergone a further mutation in the pages of Amazing Adventures, written by — wait for it! — yes that’s right, it was Steve Englehart. So long story short, you need to be a big fan of Englehart and his epic vision for the Avengers to really appreciate this volume. I first read these stories out of order, as I picked up the back issues to fill out my Avengers collection over the years. Being able to re-read this story in order via the Essential allows me to better appreciate what Englehart did here.

Footnotes: Captain Marvel #33 is also reprinted in Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 2.

Avengers #127 and Fantastic Four #150 are also reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7.

If you like this volume, try: the first series of The Ultimates. Hot on the heels of the successful Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men, Marvel turned to Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch to develop an Ultimate version of the Avengers. Trimming the team down to it’s 1963 roster of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Giant Man, the Wasp, and Captain America, Millar and Hitch created an EPIC spin on the historic narrative. Yes, changes were made to make the group more contemporary – most notable is Nick Fury portrayed as an African-American that happens to look a lot like Samuel L. Jackson, long before that actor was cast in any Marvel Studios role. Conversely, The Ultimates became a template that Marvel Studios could use as they began to shape the Phase One series of movies. This initial series ran for 13 issues, albeit over two years time, and has been collected in numerous trades and hardcover collections. There have been various sequels to spin out of this, but the original story remains the best by far.

Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2

Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2

First Published: June 2007

Contents: Marvel Two-In-One #26 (April 1977) to #52 (June 1979); and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 (1977) and #3 (1978)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, John Byrne, Bill Mantlo, Jim Starlin, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Ron Wilson, and others

Key First Appearances: Machinesmith, Crossfire, Lord Chaos, Master Order

Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew, Ben Grimm, known better to the world as the Thing.

As with any team-up book, this is a very mixed collection of stories. Some stories are one-and-done, while others run across multiple issues. Sometimes editorial would step in and insert a filler issue into the run, as it had already been paid for yet not published. As a member of the Fantastic Four, Ben Grimm seems to be a nexus of events that happen in the Marvel Universe, which works to our benefit as readers!

There are some stand-out stories in this collection worth noting:

  • From issues #29 to #33, Ben Grimm and Alicia Masters travels to England, where they get caught up in the early adventures of the Jessica Drew Spider-Woman.
  • Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 is a continuation of a story started in Avengers Annual #7, with the Avengers battling Thanos. Regrettably, Marvel did not reprint the Avengers Annual in this collection, but it can be found in Essential Avengers Vol. 8 and in Essential Warlock Vol. 1.
  • Issue #47 has the Thing “teaming up” with the Yancy Street Gang, the gang which Ben was once a member of many years ago. Over the years, the gang has gone out of their way to play pranks and other tricks on Ben. But when the Thing is attacked, the Yancy Street Gang comes out of the shadows to protect one of their own.
  • Issue #50 was a fun meeting between the Thing and the Thing. Ben Grimm uses Dr. Doom’s time machine to travel back to the early days of the Fantastic Four. There he encounters himself during his lumpy clay phase. Of course, clobberin’ time ensues. This issue is written and penciled by John Byrne, marking one of his earliest encounters with a member of Marvel’s First Family of heroes. (Byrne also did the pencils on issue #43.)

What makes this Essential?: I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Team-Up Books are MUST OWN! This volume is unique with Marv Wolfman’s long run on the title. He had the chance to develop stories running across multiple issues, helping to invest the reader to return each month regardless of the guest star. There are some memorable moments that impacted the Marvel Universe – Spider-Woman’s beginnings, battle with Thanos – not normally seen in the typical team-up book. Please give this a read to understand while Ben Grimm is the idol of millions!

Footnotes: As noted in the review for Volume 1, the Fantastic Four and Alicia Masters make numerous appearances in these issues, and could be read side by side with the Fantastic Four title during this era – keep Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8 and Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 9 handy while reading this book.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
Marvel Two-In-One #26 – The Thing & Nick Fury
Marvel Two-In-One #27 – The Thing & Deathlok
Marvel Two-In-One #28 – The Thing & the Sub-Mariner
Marvel Two-In-One #29 – The Thing & Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1
Marvel Two-In-One #30 – The Thing & Spider-Woman / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1
Marvel Two-In-One #31 – The Thing & Mystery Menace (Alicia Masters) / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1
Marvel Two-In-One #32 – The Thing & Invisible Girl / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1
Marvel Two-In-One #33 – The Thing & Modred the Mystic / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2
Marvel Two-In-One #34 – The Thing & Nighthawk
Marvel Two-In-One #35 – The Thing & Skull the Slayer
Marvel Two-In-One #36 – The Thing & Mr. Fantastic
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 – The Thing & Spider-Man (with the Avengers) / Essential Avengers Vol. 8 / Essential Warlock Vol. 1
Marvel Two-In-One #37 – The Thing & Matt Murdock
Marvel Two-In-One #38 – The Thing & Daredevil
Marvel Two-In-One #39 – The Thing & the Vision
Marvel Two-In-One #40 – The Thing & Black Panther
Marvel Two-In-One #41 – The Thing & Brother Voodoo
Marvel Two-In-One #42 – The Thing & Captain America
Marvel Two-In-One #43 – The Thing & Man-Thing / Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #3 – The Thing & Nova / Essential Nova Vol. 1
Marvel Two-In-One #44 – The Thing & Hercules
Marvel Two-In-One #45 – The Thing & Captain Marvel
Marvel Two-In-One #46 – The Thing & the Incredible Hulk
Marvel Two-In-One #47 – The Thing & the Yancy Street Gang
Marvel Two-In-One #48 – The Thing & Jack of Hearts
Marvel Two-In-One #49 – The Thing & Dr. Strange
Marvel Two-In-One #50 – The Thing & the Thing
Marvel Two-In-One #51 – The Thing & the Beast, Ms. Marvel, Nick Fury, and Wonder Man
Marvel Two-In-One #52 – The Thing & Moon Knight / Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1

If you like this volume, try: tracking down a copy of Fantastic Four (vol. 3) #61 (November 2002). In this story by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo, Ben Grimm is once again the victim of the Yancy Street Gang – or so he thinks! Turns out that most of the pranks he has fallen for over the years were masterminded by Ben’s teammate, Johnny Storm. Finding a receipt for the shop that sent him the latest prank (a pie in the face), Ben stomps off in a mad rage, ready to clobberin’ time the guilty party. Johnny flies after Ben, trying to slow him down and get him to cool off. Ben finally reaches the address on the receipt to find a completely empty lot. He lumbers off, puzzled by how there could be a completely empty lot in the middle of New York City. Only after the fact does he realize it must have been the Invisible Girl hiding the business, saving the Fantastic Four a costly damage bill from another of Ben’s rampages. Waid proves once again why he is a master storyteller, and the energetic art from Wieringo – gone too soon – just leaps off the page. This is a fun story and worth the hunt in the back-issue bin.

Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 2

Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 2

Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 2

First Published: June 2007

Contents: Silver Surfer story from Epic Illustrated #1 (Spring 1980); Silver Surfer #1 (June 1982); Silver Surfer #1 (July 1987) to #18 (December 1988); Silver Surfer Annual #1 (1988); and Silver Surfer story from Marvel Fanfare #51 (June 1990)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, John Buscema, John Byrne, Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, Joe Staton, Ron Lim, and others

Key First Appearances: Contemplator, Nenora, Captain Reptyl, Clumsy Foulup. S’Byll

Story Continues From: Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 1

Overview: Free at last, free at last! The Silver Surfer is free of Earth, and spanning the galaxy in Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 2. Sit back and enjoy the ride, as our cosmic-powered hero finally goes cosmic.

Back when the Silver Surfer first appeared, he was a herald of Galactus, but rebelled against his master to protect Earth. As a result, he was punished to live out his days on Earth, inside an invisible barrier Galactus erected surrounding the planet. But leave it to the genius of Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four to figure out a loop hole, which releases the Silver Surfer from his confinement.

Once again free to roam the stars, the Silver Surfer travels back to his home planet of Zenn-La and his beloved Shalla Bal. He finds his home world caught up in the ongoing conflict between the Krees and the Skrulls. The warring races, and the political intrigue taking place behind the scenes, would provide the direction for the series. With the entire Marvel Universe at his disposal, writer Steve Englehart allows the Silver Surfer to encounter many of the cosmic beings – from Galactus and Nova to the Eternals and Mantis.

This volume also collects some assorted solo stories of the Silver Surfer that appeared in this era. Two tales written by Stan Lee, with art by John Buscema and John Byrne, start off this collection. And an unused story from Silver Surfer #1 finally sees print in 1990 in the pages of Marvel Fanfare (see Footnotes below).

What makes this Essential?: This book highlights an interesting change in the direction of the Silver Surfer character. The first Silver Surfer series from the 1960s, collected in Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 1, dealt with ethics, morality, race and other topics. The Silver Surfer was the voice of Stan Lee in the pages of the comic books, giving him a chance to wax poetic on whatever interested Lee at the time. I would contend that the Silver Surfer of this era was more of a philosopher and not a super-hero.

Now over the 1970s and early 1980s, we did see Silver Surfer used, primarily in the pages of the Defenders, but he was never the focus of that title. It’s not until the 1987 series launch, collected in this volume, where we see the Silver Surfer go back into space and become a cosmic super-hero. This Silver Surfer is more likely to dive into action versus sit on his board and think about the petals on a flower. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Bottom line, if you want an action hero, you will enjoy this volume. If you prefer the Silver Surfer seen in the first Essential volume, you may not like this edition.

Footnotes: The cover to Marvel Age #52 is included in this volume. In that issue, there was an article on the then pending release of the new Silver Surfer series, which starts in this Essential. The article is reprinted in this volume.

The Silver Surfer story from Marvel Fanfare #51 was originally intended to be the first issue of the 1987 series. Before it could be published, Marvel editorial agreed to allow the Silver Surfer to be released from his imprisonment on Earth, once again allowing him to span the galaxy. The original issue was shelved, and a new #1 was quickly put together. Not willing to let paid work go unused, Marvel later dug out the finished issue and included it in Marvel Fanfare.

If you like this volume, try: the 2014 Silver Surfer series from Dan Slott, Mike Allred, and Laura Allred. Free from Earth once again, Silver Surfer encounters an Earth woman, Dawn Greenwood, who becomes a new companion for Norrin Radd on his travels. I use the word ‘companion’ on purpose, as this title has a strong ‘Doctor Who’ feel to it, in terms of it’s timey-wimey elusiveness. This is some of Slott’s most creative writing to date, and the Allreds work feels like it is a direct descendent of Jack Kirby. The first trade paperback collection just came out in October, so rush back to your LCS to pick up a copy.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

First Published: May 2007

Contents: Fantastic Four #111 (June 1971) to #137 (August 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, John Buscema, Ross Andru, Joe Sinnott, and others

Key First Appearances: Walter Collins, Overmind, Air-Walker, Thundra,

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Overview: Let’s set the scene here. Jack Kirby has just recently left the Fantastic Four (and Marvel). If this had happened in the last 10 years, more than likely Marvel would have cancelled the book and relaunched it the next month with a new #1. But in the 1970s, the book must go on month after month, so welcome aboard to Archie and Roy and Gerry and John. You have big shoes to fill, so let’s see how you do in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6.

To ease the transition, let’s bring in a lot of familiar faces. With Sue still caring for Franklin, Crystal and Medusa take turns as members of the Fantastic Four. Of course, if those two are around, then the Inhumans cannot be far behind. (But why is Quicksilver hanging out with Inhumans, and seems to be quite close to Crystal…)

Let’s bring in some familiar foes. Doctor Doom? Check! Galactus and his new herald Air-Walker? Check! The Frightful Four? Check! Dragon Man? Check! Diablo? Sigh, check. But we also get some new challengers, such as the Overmind. But the most treacherous foe is finally shown in Walter Collins, the constantly irate landlord of the Baxter Building. (“Johnny, what did you do with the rent check?”) Thankfully, John Byrne was finally able to have Reed write off Collins years later during his fantastic run of the 1980s.

The most interesting introduction in this volume is Thundra, who comes from the 23rd century when Earth is ruled by Femizons. She travels back to the 20th century to fight the strongest man, who happens to be Ben Grimm. Thundra will become a familiar face in the pages of Fantastic Four, working as an ally of our heroes and as an enemy as a member of the Frightful Four. She eventually develops a romantic interest in Ben, much to his chagrin.

What makes this Essential?: I want to like this more, I really do. But this volume just feels like a let down after the Lee-Kirby run. Maybe it’s not fair to compare these issues against that run, but this is the situation. The stories are decent but not dynamic. The art is very good but never breathtaking. There are some moments that rise up close to greatness, but then I wonder how Lee & Kirby would have done it. Case in point, in Fantastic Four #116, Doctor Doom leads the Fantastic Four against Overmind and Mr. Fantastic, I loved the issue, but I wanted to see Kirby draw that issue. A Fantastic Four completist should own this volume, but it is not essential for a casual Marvel fan.

Footnotes: The front and back covers to Marvel Treasury Edition #21 (1979) are included in this volume. The treasury edition reprints Fantastic Four #120 to #123, which are collected in this Essential. In addition, early versions of the covers to Fantastic Four #130 and #131 are also included in this book.

If you like this volume, try: the Inhumans mini-series from 1998. Written by Paul Jenkins with art by Jae Lee, the 12-issue series was part of the Marvel Knights launch. Several story arcs are at work in this collection: Attilan is under attack from external and internal forces. The next generation of Inhumans debate their future before entering the Terrigan Mists. And the royal family shows that they are just as dysfunctional as any other family. The tale fills in the gaps in the Inhumans history, fleshing it out into an epic story. This is one of the best Marvel stories ever, and probably needs to be read multiple times to catch everything. This has been collected repeatedly in trade paperback and hardcover editions, 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 Man-Thing Vol. 1

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1

First Published: December 2006

Contents: Man-Thing story from Savage Tales #1 (May 1971); Man-Thing stories from Astonishing Tales #12 (June 1972) and #13 (August 1972); Man-Thing stories from (Adventure into) Fear #10 (October 1972) to #19 (December 1973); Man-Thing #1 (January 1974) to #14 (February 1975); Giant-Size Man-Thing #1 (August 1974) and #2 (November 1974); and Man-Thing stories from Monsters Unleashed #5 (April 1974), #8 (October 1974), and #9 (December 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Mike Ploog, Tony Isabella, Gray Morrow, John Buscema, Neal Adams, Rich Buckler, Val Mayerik, and others

Key First Appearances: Ted Sallis/Man-Thing, Ellen Brandt, Jennifer Kale, Andy Kale, Thog, Joshua Kale, Dakimh the Enchanter, Howard the Duck, F.A. Schist, Wundar, Richard Rory, Ruth Hart, Foolkiller

Story Continues In: Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

Overview:  Ted Sallis is a research scientist trying to re-discover the Super Soldier formula, the long lost serum which led to the creation of Captain America in the 1940s. Working in a remote lab in the Florida Everglades, Sallis believes he has recreated the formula. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other people and governments that want that formula, some of whom would kill to get their hands on it. Confronted by spies, Sallis flees into the murk, and injects the formula into himself prior to crashing his car into the swamp. Between the formula and the swamp, Sallis’ body is transformed into what could best be described as a Man-Thing — it has the shape of a human, but made out of swamp material.

The Man-Thing has vague memories of who he once was, but nothing coherent. He reacts to the emotions of people around him, in particular fear. We quickly find out that whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch. He becomes the protector of the swamp, which also happens to contain a Nexus of All Realities, which allow travel between Earth and other dimensions. Man-Thing becomes the protector of the swamp and the Nexus, and encounters many Marvel characters passing through the Florida Everglades.

The bulk of this book is written by Steve Gerber early in his career, and the supporting characters introduced here would make numerous future appearances in later Marvel books written by Gerber. And in a book like Man-Thing, where the title character does not speak, a writer needs a good supporting cast to help advance the story. Howard the Duck is the most famous introduction made by Gerber, coming from Duckworld through the Nexus of All Realities. He would move into his own self-titled book of the 1970s. Richard Rory is a down-on-his-luck guy that can never seem to get the girl. Rory would travel with Gerber to The Defenders, before moving on to the various She-Hulk titles of the 1970s and 1980s. Finally, Jennifer Kale is a teenage girl with an affinity to magic, and makes appearances every few years in a variety of titles, from Howard the Duck to Ghost Rider.

What makes this Essential?: The release of Savage Tales #1 was Marvel’s first attempt to introduce a horror/monster book into the Marvel Universe proper. (Other appearances in that first issue of Savage Tales included Conan and Ka-Zar.) Debuting around the same time as DC’s Swamp Thing (see The First Thing below), Man-Thing remained a steady feature throughout the 1970s and 1980s. For that reason, sure these early stories could be considered as Essential. I do find that the best artwork in this volume came from the various magazines, and I will once again state my plea that Marvel should find someway to reprint the magazines in one collection. 

The First Thing: Man-Thing was originally conceived by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas; Thomas fleshed out the character’s story, then handed the story to Gerry Conway to plot. As a result, Thomas and Conway, along with artist Gray Morrow, are credited for the creation of Man-Thing in Savage Tales #1 (May 1971). A second story was done by Len Wein, but Savage Tales was cancelled after just the one issue. It was a year before the story saw print, incorporated into the Ka-Zar story in Astonishing Tales #12 (June 1972). Meanwhile, down the street at the DC Comics offices, the first Swamp Thing story appeared in House of Secrets #92 (July 1971). This Swamp Thing (originally Alex Olsen) took place in the early 1900s. The next Swamp Thing appeared in Swamp Thing #1 (October-November 1972), this time featuring Alec Holland becoming the Swamp Thing. Both of the Swamp Thing stories were written by Len Wein. While there are a lot of similarities in the origins between Man-Thing and Swamp Thing, Len Wein has stated in interviews that they are two distinct characters. The story paths for both characters have followed different paths, taking them further and further away from a very familiar origin story.

Footnotes: Parts of (Adventure into) Fear #19 and Man-Thing #1 are also reprinted in Essential Howard the Duck Vol. 1.

This Essential does carry a Parental Advisory warning, but it is buried on the lower portion of the back cover. This is definitely not an all-ages book.

If you like this volume, try: looking into the life and career of Gray Morrow, the artistic co-creator of Man-Thing. Over the course of his long career, Morrow did work in nearly every genre for nearly every publisher at some point – Classics Illustrated, horror magazines and comics, newspaper strip, among others – but he was most closely associated with the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. Start your search with the retrospective Gray Morrow: Visionary, which was released in 2001 as his career was coming to an end.

Essential Savage She-Hulk Vol. 1

Essential Savage She-Hulk Vol. 1

First Published: July 2006

Contents: Savage She-Hulk #1 (February 1980) to #25 (February 1982)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, John Buscema, David Anthony Kraft, Mike Vosburg, and others

Key First Appearances: Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk, William Morris Walters

Overview:  Jennifer Walters is a successful lawyer in southern California. While hosting her visiting cousin, Bruce Banner, Jennifer is shot by gangsters who want to keep her from bringing a case to court. In an effort to save his cousin, Bruce Banner gives Jennifer a blood transfusion, even though his blood is radiated with the gamma energy that helps turn Bruce into the Hulk. Days later while recovering in the hospital, the gangsters return to finish the job. Jennifer finds herself getting angry, and when she does, she starts to grow and turn green, and the She-Hulk is born.

While in her She-Hulk form, she finds she is not as strong as her cousin Bruce. Conversely, she is able to retain her full intelligence while in her She-Hulk form. Jennifer finds that she is more comfortable in life as She-Hulk, and starts spending more and more time in her jade identity.

The book develops a cast of characters that help round out the stories, but do not impact the rest of the Marvel Universe. However, several familiar faces from the Marvel Universe do cross paths with the She-Hulk. Iron Man makes two appearances; Richard Rory, usually seen in the pages of Man-Thing and Defenders, makes his way to California and becomes a would-be love interest to Jennifer; and John Jameson, the astronaut-turned-Man-Wolf from Amazing Spider-Man, shows up in both of his identities.

What makes this Essential?: The creation of She-Hulk, and how she is used after the run of this title, is much more essential to the Marvel Universe than the 25 issues presented in this collection. Much like Spider-Woman before her, She-Hulk was created solely to protect Marvel from having another comic book publisher creating a character with that name, by trying to sponge off of the Hulk property. Stan Lee came in to write the first issue, with art by John Buscema, and then the title was given over to David Anthony Kraft and Mike Vosburg to handle for the next two years. The stories by Kraft & Vosburg are adequate but not memorable. Much like her cousin wearing the purple pants with each transformation, She-Hulk ends up in a torn white dress that just manages to keep the Jade Giantess’ jades covered during her transitions and battles. The villains she fights are often the run-of-the-mill B- and C-List bad guys that would later be killed off by Scourge at the Bar With No Name in the pages of Captain America. This Essential is important for the reprint of issue #1, but that can be found in other collections. If you want to read the essential She-Hulk stories from the 1980s, read her stories in Avengers, Fantastic Four, and Sensational She-Hulk.

Footnotes: The She-Hulk title ended with issue #25 (February 1982), but her story was not finished yet. David Anthony Kraft teamed up She-Hulk with the Thing in Marvel Two-In-One #88 (June 1982), which can be found in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 4. The following month, She-Hulk joined the Avengers in issue #221 (July 1982).

If you like this volume, try: reading the two She-Hulk series from Dan Slott and friends. There have been several memorable runs of She-Hulk in her own title. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, The Sensational She-Hulk, in particular, the John Byrne issues, broke the Fourth Wall to interact with the readers. And after Slott’s run on the second series from the 2000s, Peter David came on board and took her back to her superhero roots. But in between, Dan Slott had 33 issues which brought in all the various aspects and approaches to Jennifer Walters and her other identity. In these series, Jennifer joins the prestigious law firm of Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg, & Holliway located at Timely Plaza in New York City. (That would be a hidden tribute to the early days of Marvel Comics, then known as Timely Comics, published by Martin Goodman, and early pioneers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.) GLK&H specializes in superhero (and villain) cases, and their offices are filled with comic books, which are used as research material. Our title character finally finds a happy place being able to split time between both of her personalities, realizing that each one helps make the other stronger. Slott’s run has been collected in multiple trade paperbacks and hardcovers so these should be easy to track down.

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 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.