Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 4

marvel2i1vol4First Published: January 2012

Contents: Marvel Two-In-One #78 (August 1981) to #98 (April 1983), and #100 (June 1983); and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #6 (1981) and #7 (1982)

Key Creator Credits: Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, David Anthony Kraft, Alan Kupperberg, David Michelinie, John Byrne, and others

Key First Appearances: American Eagle, Champion

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

Overview: He’s the hero of millions, but still the #1 target of the Yancy Street Gang. That’s right, we’re back with another collection of adventures of Ben Grimm, better known as the Thing. This is Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 4.

As we have seen in multiple team-up collections, the hero of the book (The Thing) meets up with another character that they generally would not be interacting with much in order to stop a villain that they generally would not be interacting with much. That’s how we get issues such as Thing + Machine Man vs. Ultron, or Thing + Captain America vs. MODOK, or my favorite Thing + Sandman vs. Miller Lite.

The issues in this book are mostly one-and-done. We do get a couple of multi-part stories, as well as plenty of references to events going on over in the Fantastic Four book. But this book can easily be read without needing to consult dozens of other comics from this era.

Sadly, Marvel Two-in-One came to an end during this volume. For the oversized final issue, creator John Byrne came in to revisit a favorite story he did more than four years ago, in Marvel Two-in-One #50. In that issue, the Thing teamed up with the Thing (on an alternate Earth). For issue #100, the Thing revisits that alternate Earth and teams up with Ben Grimm. It made for a nice character study to say goodbye (but not for long) to the Thing’s team-up title.

What makes this Essential?: My rule with this blog has been that all of the team-up collections are must reads. I stand by that statement, but…. I’m a little disappointed with this collection. It’s still very good and enjoyable, but it doesn’t match the quality level that we found in Volume 3. The stories seem rather average here when looking back to the Project Pegasus and Serpent Society stories. We do get some memorable issues, but no great stories. 

Footnotes: Marvel Two-in-One #99 is not reprinted in this collection. This issue features a team-up with the ROM, who Marvel no longer controls the publishing rights for to include in reprints.

Who’s Who:
Marvel Two-In-One #78 – The Thing & Wonder Man
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #6 – The Thing & American Eagle
Marvel Two-In-One #79 – The Thing & Blue Diamond
Marvel Two-In-One #80 – The Thing & Ghost Rider / Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 3.
Marvel Two-In-One #81 – The Thing & Sub-Mariner
Marvel Two-In-One #82 – The Thing & Captain America
Marvel Two-In-One #83 – The Thing & Sasquatch
Marvel Two-In-One #84 – The Thing & Alpha Flight
Marvel Two-In-One #85 – The Thing & Spider-Woman  
Marvel Two-In-One #86 – The Thing & Sandman
Marvel Two-In-One #87 – The Thing & Ant-Man
Marvel Two-In-One #88 – The Thing & She-Hulk
Marvel Two-In-One #89 – The Thing & the Human Torch
Marvel Two-In-One #90 – The Thing & Spider-Man
Marvel Two-In-One #91 – The Thing & the Sphinx
Marvel Two-In-One #92 – The Thing & Jocasta
Marvel Two-In-One #93 – The Thing & Machine Man
Marvel Two-In-One #94 – The Thing & Power Man and Iron Fist
Marvel Two-In-One #95 – The Thing & the Living Mummy
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #7 – The Thing & Champion
Marvel Two-In-One #96 – The Thing & the Marvel Universe
Marvel Two-In-One #97 – The Thing & Iron Man 
Marvel Two-In-One #98 – The Thing & Franklin Richards
Marvel Two-In-One #100 – The Thing & Ben Grimm

If you like this volume, try: The Thing series that started following the cancellation of Marvel Two-in-One. John Byrne, who was overseeing the Fantastic Four title during this era, was asked to take on Marvel Two-in-One. While Byrne found Ben Grimm to be an interesting character, the stories he had in mind did not necessarily need a guest star each month. So the decision was made to bring Marvel Two-in-One to an end, and relaunch the book as The Thing with a #1 issue. The series ran for 36 issues and can be broken down into three arcs. The first arc covered the first ten issues, looking into Ben’s past and his relationships with his teammates and Alicia. The second arc went from issue #11 to #22, as Ben chose to stay on Battleworld following the end of the original Secret Wars. The final arc from #23 to #36 has Ben back on Earth, but not part of the Fantastic Four. Instead, he spends time traveling around the country and spends some time as a professional wrestler. The first and second arcs have been recently reprinted in The Thing Classic trade paperbacks, although many of the original issues should be easily found in back-issue bins.

Essential Avengers Vol. 8

avengers8First Published: April 2012

Contents: Avengers #164 (October 1977) to #184 (June 1979); Avengers Annual #7 (1977) and #8 (1978); and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (1977)

Key Creator Credits: Jim Shooter, John Byrne, Jim Starlin, Joe Rubinstein, George Pérez, Sal Buscema, David Michelinie, Tom DeFalco, Jim Mooney, and others

Key First Appearances: Henry Peter Gyrich, Django Maximoff, Lord Chaos, Master Order

Story Continues From: Essential Avengers Vol. 7

Story Continues In: Essential Avengers Vol. 9

Overview: Get comfortable, loyal readers! It doesn’t get much more essential than Essential Avengers Vol. 8!

The book starts out with a bang with the return of Count Nefaria, last seen taking on the “All-New All-Different” X-Men, which led to the death of Warpath. Nefaria has hired a team of scientists to increase his powers to a level where he can go toe-to-toe with Thor. However, he finds out that the increase in his powers comes at a price, as he starts to age at an aggressive rate. The team is stretched to the limits to defeat Nefaria but the battle ends with the Avengers facing a new threat – government agent Henry Peter Gyrich. We’ll get back to him soon enough.

Next up is an epic battle that crosses over between two annuals, where the combined forces of the Avengers, Captain Mar-Vel, Warlock, the Thing, and Spider-Man must take on Thanos. This famous story by Jim Starline and Joe Rubinstein has been reprinted many times, including multiple Essential volumes as noted below.

We then find ourselves slowly building up to the next great Avengers epic. The Guardians of the Galaxy have traveled to Earth in search of Korvac, their foe with god-like powers. While this is going on, members of the Avengers start disappearing. Are the two stories linked? This is a great story that builds up over 10 issues to an explosive conclusion.

Now I mentioned Gyrich earlier. Seems he has a problem with the Avengers. Lack of security to get into the mansion. Too many people coming in and out of the line-up. Gyrich lays down the law with the team, placing new guidelines on the team in order to keep their government clearance. Gyrich not only imposes a limit of seven active members on the team, he also takes it upon himself to name the new line-up: Iron Man, Vision, Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Beast, Wasp, and the Falcon. Wait, the Falcon? We remember Captain America’s former partner, but he’s never been an Avenger before. But the government demands equal opportunities for minorities. The Falcon begrudgingly joins the team, and when the Scarlet Witch is forced to take a medical leave, she is replaced by Ms. Marvel. This gives us the new line-up for the team heading into Essential Avengers Vol. 9 and the epic Avengers #200 in the near-future.

What makes this Essential?: I just love this era of the Avengers! This has to be a must-own book for numerous reasons – the stories, the artwork, the character development, and more. The introduction of Henry Peter Gyrich opens the door for the concept that the government has some control over the Avengers. The Korvac Saga storyline may be one of the best multi-issue arcs since the Kree-Skrull War. The artwork of George Pérez and John Byrne looks spectacular in black & white. Please do yourself a favor and track down this collection!

Footnotes: Avengers Annual #7 was also reprinted in Essential Warlock Vol. 1.

Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 were also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2 and Essential Warlock Vol. 1.

Even though he is announced as a new member of the team in issue #181, the Falcon does not actually join the team until Avengers #183.

If you like this volume, try: the 1990s Guardians of the Galaxy series, with the first half of the series done by Jim Valentino. For many years, the Guardians had been those interesting backup group of characters, who never got the chance to really shine in their own feature. The Korvac storyline in this Essential is one of the longest appearances of the team until the launch of their own series in 1990. Along with The New Warriors, the new GotG title kicked off a new wave of youthful superheroes at Marvel. Valentino left after issue #29 to become one of the founders of Image Comics, but the Guardians title ran until issue #62. The Valentino issues were recently reprinted in three trade paperbacks, so they should be readily available to track down.

Essential Captain America Vol. 7

Essential Captain America Vol. 7

First Published: July 2013

Contents: Captain America #231 (March 1979) to #257 (May 1981)

Key Creator Credits: Roger McKenzie, Roger Stern, Sal Buscema, John Byrne, and others

Key First Appearances: Bernie Rosenthal, Joe Chapman/Union Jack (III), Kenneth Crichton/Baron Blood (III)

Story Continues from: Essential Captain America Vol. 6

Overview: Captain America continues his patriotic duty to his country. The first half of this volume has several one-and-done stories with a variety of creative teams. Beginning with #247, Stern and Byrne take over, pushing the title in a new direction. Over the next nine issues, Captain America battles MachineSmith; considers a run for the presidency; and battles Baron Blood to the death. The final issue of the Stern/Byrne run, #255, gives us the definitive origin story which is still in use, for the most part, to this day.

Other highlights from the book include Steve Rogers moving to Brooklyn to start establishing his own identity. He gets to know the other tenants in his apartment building, including Bernie Rosenthal, a law student that would be a key player in the Captain America stories of the 1980s. With no mention of his Avengers stipend, Rogers goes to work as a free-lance artist for magazines and other publications. His artist portfolio was large enough to hold his shield, to allow for quick changes into the Captain America costume as necessary.

What makes this Essential?: IBy definition, you should consider this Essential-worthy just to get the Stern-Byrne run on Captain America. BUT, those issues can be found together in various collections, usually under the Captain America: War and Remembrance title, in both hardcover and softcover, and always in color. I would be hard-pressed to name a better run of Captain America issues, so find a way to read them in full color. You’ll thank me later!

Footnotes: Captain America #241 was also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

On a personal note, this volume was the 100th Essential edition read by this reviewer. Finishing this volume is what prompted me to start the Essential Showcase blog back in 2013.

If you like this volume, try: the first Mark Waid and Ron Garney run on Captain America. Following Mark Gruenwald’s long run on the title, the stories (as well as the character) were feeling a little stale. The Waid/Garney run began with #444 (October 1995) and breathed new life into both Steve Rogers and Captain America. Going from #443 to #444 really felt like going from #246 to #247 with Stern/Byrne. The run came to an end with #454, so that the title could be included in the Heroes Reborn launch with WildStorm. The Waid/Garney issues have been collected into a Marvel Premiere Edition titled Captain America: Operation Rebirth, and, most recently, these issues were included in a Captain America Epic collection.

Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 3

Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 3

First Published: July 2009

Contents: Marvel Two-In-One #53 (July 1979) to #76 (June 1981); and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #4 (1979) and #5 (1980)

Key Creator Credits: Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, John Byrne, George Perez, Ron Wilson, Jerry Bingham, and others

Key First Appearances: Grapplers (Letha, Poundcakes, Screaming Mimi, Titania), Serpent Society (Anaconda, Black Mamba, Death Adder, Sidewinder), Deathurge, Maelstrom,

Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 4

Overview: Let’s be honest as we start this review. This should not be called a Marvel Two-in-One book. Rather, it should be called Marvel Thing-and-Everyone, as most everyone in the Marvel Universe seems to cross paths with Ben Grimm in the pages of this Essential. With team-ups featuring the Avengers, the Inhumans, the Guardians of the Galaxy and more, you are getting way more than two heroes per book in this series.

This book is notable for the two main story arcs that developed under the leadership of co-writers Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio. The first story arc became known as the Project: Pegasus Saga. The government facility was introduced in the prior Essential (in issues written by Macchio) as an energy research center. The Thing is brought in to help with security, as one of the items in the facility is the Cosmic Cube. (For those of you only familiar with Marvel from the cinematic universe, the Cosmic Cube would be the Tesseract!) As you can imagine, a plethora of foes come through with the intent of claiming the Cosmic Cube, and it is up to the Thing, Quasar, Giant-Man, Thundra and others to keep the facility safe and the cube in place. This story arc introduced a new set of villains known as the Grapplers. Two of the members would become quite prominent later on, as Titania became a feature foe in Secret Wars, and Screaming Mimi would change her name to Songbird and become part of the Thunderbolts and Avengers Forever.

The other story arc that developed was the Serpent Crown Affair. The Serpent Crown has long been floating around between the pages of The Avengers and The Defenders. Worlds have been destroyed over this crazy piece of headwear. This should come as no surprise to anyone at this point, but Ben Grimm finds himself caught up in the middle of it all. Thankfully, this is a team-up book, so he gets help from some of his friends along the way, such as Stingray, Triton, Hyperion, and the Scarlet Witch. And once again, this story arc introduced a new set of villains known as the Serpent Society. Gruenwald would bring back these characters quite often during his legendary run on Captain America.

In addition to these longer story arcs, there are still the traditional one-and-done stories scattered throughout the book. Two of my favorites came towards the end of this book. Issue #75 featured the Thing and the Avengers traveling to the Negative Zone to battle Annihilus and Blastaar. The outcome of this story set up the Negative Zone storyline from John Byrne in the pages of Fantastic Four two years later. The next issue, #76, featured the Thing and Iceman meeting up to stop the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime. This was a back-issue purchase for me when I first started collecting. I’m showing my age here, but I was a big fan of the Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends Saturday morning show. When 12-year-old me saw this issue, I just had to have it because Iceman was featured in the book. I was a little disappointed when I realized later that neither Spider-Man nor, more importantly, Firestar would be making an appearance.

What makes this Essential?: This is a unique collection. First, as a team-up book, yes it should be essential to own. All of the team-up books from the 1970s and 1980s should be must own. Second, the approach to the comics in this collection is totally turned around. Generally, the team-up book is a one-and-done story, and the creative team may vary from issue to issue. Sometimes, an inventory story is used just to go ahead and clear the files. But with issue #53, Gruenwald and Macchio take over the book as co-writers. They developed an ongoing storyline that stayed within this book, creating multi-issue storylines that would continue to be referenced after the story arc had finished. Their first arc, the Project: Pegasus Saga, was so popular, it was reissued as a trade paperback in 1988. Mind you, at that time, trades were not the standard. They were few and far between back then. Give this collection a look!

Who’s Who:
Marvel Two-In-One #53 – The Thing & Quasar
Marvel Two-In-One #54 – The Thing & Deathlok
Marvel Two-In-One #55 – The Thing & Giant-Man
Marvel Two-In-One #56 – The Thing & Thundra
Marvel Two-In-One #57 – The Thing & Wundarr
Marvel Two-In-One #58 – The Thing & Aquarian 
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #4 – The Thing & Black Bolt
Marvel Two-In-One #59 – The Thing & Human Torch
Marvel Two-In-One #60 – The Thing & Impossible Man  
Marvel Two-In-One #61 – The Thing & Starhawk
Marvel Two-In-One #62 – The Thing & Moondragon
Marvel Two-In-One #63 – The Thing & Warlock
Marvel Two-In-One #64 – The Thing & Stingray
Marvel Two-In-One #65 – The Thing & Triton
Marvel Two-In-One #66 – The Thing & Scarlet Witch
Marvel Two-In-One #67 – The Thing & Hyperion
Marvel Two-In-One #68 – The Thing & the Angel
Marvel Two-In-One #69 – The Thing & the Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel Two-In-One #70 – The Thing & the Yancy Street Gang
Marvel Two-In-One #71 – The Thing & Mr. Fantastic 
Marvel Two-In-One #72 – The Thing & the Inhumans 
Marvel Two-In-One #73 – The Thing & Quasar
Marvel Two-In-One #74 – The Thing & the Puppet Master
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #5 – The Thing & the Hulk
Marvel Two-In-One #75 – The Thing & the Avengers
Marvel Two-In-One #76 – The Thing & Iceman
Marvel Two-In-One #77 – The Thing & Man-Thing

If you like this volume, try: the Squadron Supreme mini-series from 1985. The 12-issue series was written by Mark Gruenwald, with art by Bob Hall and Paul Ryan. The Squadron Supreme was first introduced in the early 1960s as a Justice League analog to fight the Avengers, then known as the Squadron Sinister. Later, a new Squadron Supreme was introduced as living on a parallel earth to the traditional Marvel Universe. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, the Squadron was brought in anytime a writer needed a JLA-type group for a story. In 1985, Gruenwald pitched a concept that would become his most famous work. The Squadron Supreme mini-series had the team of heroes decide that they needed to take over the world in order to rebuild their war-ravaged planet (yes, they had issues with the Serpent Crown here). The majority of the heroes vote to create the perfect Utopia, even if it means that some citizens must sacrifice their personal liberties. However, even the best of intentions can fall short. The Batman analog, Nighthawk, opposed the Utopia plan, and left the team, eventually building his own team (of former villains) to oppose the Squadron. The Green Arrow analog, Golden Archer, abused the power available to him to get a teammate to love him. The series finishes with the two sides in an all-out war to decide the future of Earth. Overall, this is an intriguing look at what could happen if the superheroes were real. This came out in the same era as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, helping to change how superhero stories could be told. Squadron Supreme has remained in print over the years, in various trade paperback, hardcover, and omnibus collections. This should be a must-read for any comic fan.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 9

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 9

First Published: May 2009

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #186 (November 1978) to #210 (November 1980); Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13 (1979) and #14 (1980); and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 (1979)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, Denny O’Neil, Keith Pollard, John Byrne, Sal Buscema, John Romita Jr., and others

Key First Appearances:  Felecia Hardy/Black Cat, Deb Whitman, Calypso, Cassandra Webb/Madame Web

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 8

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 10

Overview: With this publishing of this post, this will be the 14th Essential that features Peter Parker as Spider-Man. I think we all know the “Great Power, Great Responsibility” origin that got Peter into the costume business. Let’s skip the recap and get right into learning about Essential Spider-Man Vol. 9.

We all know that Peter Parker is a free-lance photographer for one of New York City’s most distinguished newspapers, the Daily Globe. Wait, what’s that? What happened to the Daily Bugle? Well, once again, J. Jonah Jameson fired Peter Parker due to a missed assignment. But before he could be hired back, Peter took his services and photos over to the Daily Globe. Setting Peter up in a new newsroom gave Peter a whole new set of characters to interact with.

Speaking of new characters, Peter gets a pair of new women in his life that are stretching him in all directions. First, there is Deb Whitman, a fellow student at Empire State that has the dreamy eyes for Peter Parker. She makes a great lab partner, but she just can’t take the hint when Peter’s spider-sense starts tingling. On the opposite side, we meet Felicia Hardy, a.k.a. the Black Cat. Is she a villain? Is she a misunderstood hero at heart? What makes this romance interesting is that the Black Cat has the dreamy eyes for Spider-Man and only Spider-Man. In fact, she finds Peter Parker to be very boring. She just wants her Spider in costume and has a hard time respecting the secret identity that Peter does his best to maintain.

The last volume ended with a large complex Green Goblin story so that villain goes into limbo for awhile. So we get some good appearances from Doctor Octopus, Electro, Mysterio, Mesmero, and more. And with Amazing Spider-Man still being the core title of the Marvel Universe, you can count on numerous guest appearances, such as Dazzler, the Human Fly, and the Punisher.

What makes this Essential?: Change is good, right? EMBRACE CHANGE, PEOPLE! OK, these are some of the most creative issues of Amazing Spider-Man since some guy named Stan Lee wrote the book. Not a knock on anyone that has written the book between then and now, but writer Marv Wolfman was not afraid to try new things with Peter Parker and his costumed alter-ego. The new employer, new love interests, both in and out of costume. And while we are boldly moving forward in new directions, Wolfman takes us back to the very beginning, questioning why the burglar would even be wanting to invade Ben and May Parker’s home all those years ago in Amazing Fantasy #15. When Wolfman ends his two-year run on the title, he hands over the duties to Denny O’Neil, who knows a thing or two about telling a good comic story. And if you need yet another reason to pick this up, we get the start of the John Romita, Jr. run with Spider-Man, that would run throughout the early 1980s and be picked back up again in the late 1990s. You would be hard pressed to find a bad Spider-Man book that has a Romita (Sr. or Jr.) attached to it.

Footnotes: Amazing Spider-Man #201 and #202 were also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

Amazing Spider-Man #203 was also reprinted in Essential Dazzler Vol. 1.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13 and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 were also reprinted in Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #12 (1978) was not reprinted in this Essential or the previous volume. Annual #12 featured reprints of Amazing Spider-Man #119 and #120, which can be found in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6.

If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man: Brand New Day storyline from 2008. OK, I know that a lot of fans were not happy with how Marvel was handling the Spider-Man books in this era. The previous storyline, One More Day, magically ended the Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage, which proved to be a jumping off point for a lot of readers. Following that event, Marvel retooled the Spider-Man line of books. Sensational Spider-Man and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man were canceled, and Amazing Spider-Man started coming out three times per month. Marvel formed a creative team (Dan Slott, Marc Guggenheim, Bob Gale, & Zeb Wells) to provide the direction for Peter Parker. In this new reality, Peter Parker’s identity is a secret to the world once again; he’s single and living with his Aunt May. The Daily Bugle is struggling financially, and a new investor buys out J. Jonah Jameson and turns the paper into a tabloid. Spider-Man fights a mix of new and returning villains in these issues. Reading the Brand New Day story arc really reminded me of the Spider-Man era reprinted in this Essential — a lot of energy in the title, a mix of old and new, and willingness to take chances by changing the status quo. The Brand New Day story has been reprinted in numerous collections, so it should not be hard to track down.

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

First Published: September 2008

Contents: Man-Thing #15 (March 1975) to #22 (October 1975); Giant-Size Man-Thing #3 (February 1975) to #5 (August 1975); Man-Thing story from Rampaging Hulk #7 (February 1978); Marvel Team-Up #68 (April 1978); Marvel Two-in-One #43 (September 1978); Man-Thing #1 (November 1979) to #11 (July 1981); and Doctor Strange #41 (June 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Jim Mooney, Ed Hannigan, John Byrne, Don Perlin, Michael Fleisher, and others

Key First Appearances: Scavenger, D’Spayre, Sheriff John Daltry

Story Continues From: Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1

Overview: The Man-Thing is back! Still based out his swamp in the Florida Everglades, the spirit of Ted Sallis still propels the monster forward, as he seeks out human emotion. But make sure to feel some happy thoughts. That last thing you want to do is show fear because whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!

The first half of this book finishes the Steve Gerber run of the character. Picking up where things left off in Volume 1, the Man-Thing trudges from one adventure to the next, befriended along the way by Richard Rory, Jennifer Kale, and Howard the Duck, among others. As with any other of his other work, the reader feels like Gerber is using the comics as a social commentary on the events of the era. (I realize Gerber passed away in 2008, but I do wonder what it would have been like to have seen and interacted with Gerber in today’s social media world. Like it or love it, it would be entertaining regardless!)

Following the end of the Gerber run, the Man-Thing spent some time in character limbo. He made various guest appearances in other Marvel Comics of the time, some of which are collected in this volume. In late 1979, the Man-Thing once again moved back into his own monthly title. It was initially written by Michael Fleisher, but then Chris Claremont took over during a cross-over with Doctor Strange. This volume of Man-Thing feels more like a “super-hero” comic book, and not a social diatribe. A new supporting character is introduced, John Daltry, who is the local sheriff outside the swamp in Florida. Despite the more traditional approach, the title came to an end with issue #11.

And here is an interesting twist to close the book. Man-Thing has had two different series with his name on the masthead, and the final issues for both series are contained in this Essential. In Man-Thing #22 (October 1975), writer Steve Gerber writes himself into the story, going on an adventure with Man-Thing to wrap up as many story threads as possible from the last four years. If you have read other works by Gerber, you know that Gerber has no qualms about including himself in the stories – in particular, see my review for Essential Howard the Duck Vol. 1. Now, let’s jump ahead six years. In Man-Thing #11 (July 1981), writer Chris Claremont writes himself into the story, going on an adventure with Man-Thing to wrap up the story threads from the last two years. While Claremont has “appeared” in comics in the past, this is the only time when he was an active participant in the story. If I’m wrong, I trust one of you out there to correct me!

What makes this Essential?: This may be an unpopular stance, but I don’t believe these issues are essential. In fact, I would suggest that Man-Thing should never be a title character. He’s great in a back-up or supporting role, but he should not be the star of the book. Now hear me out before you get the rope and look for a tall tree branch. He’s a speechless, mindless character. For writers, you need some kind of supporting characters around him in order to advance the story. Richard Rory and John Daltry just did not work for me in that role. For artists, this is a love/hate character. Sure, you don’t have a detailed costume to replicate panel after panel, but you still have to detail the bulky character with his key facial features. So bottom line, I really believe Man-Thing is best used as a supporting character. His appearances in Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-in-One are the highlights of this book for me. 

Footnotes: Marvel Team-Up #68 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3.

Marvel Two-in-One #43 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2.

Man-Thing #4 and Doctor Strange #41 are also reprinted in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: diving into the back issue bins to find the first 12 issues of Marvel Comics Presents. This was a new anthology title that launched in 1988 as a bi-weekly book. Story arcs would carry over from one issue to the next, and when a story finished, a new character would start a different story in the next issue. Over the first 12 issues, Steve Gerber and Tom Sutton did a Man-Thing story titled Elements of Terror. This has never been collected, so you need to find the back issues. Gerber is back with another Gerber-esque story arc, which touches on the Iran-Contra affair (with the government trying to arm rebels in Doctor Doom’s Latvia), Satanism, and whatever other thoughts happened to be dominating Steve’s mind at the time. Gerber is definitely a unique voice in the world of comics, one that you either get & appreciate, or one that you avoid. It’s taken awhile, but I have grown to enjoy the Gerber stories through readings of his work on Man-Thing, Defenders, and Howard the Duck.

Essential Dazzler Vol. 1

Essential Dazzler Vol. 1

Essential Dazzler Vol. 1

First Published: August 2007

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #130 (February 1980) and #131 (March 1980); Amazing Spider-Man #203 (April 1980); and Dazzler #1 (March 1981) to #21 (November 1982)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Tom DeFalco, John Romita, Jr., Frank Springer, Danny Fingeroth, and others

Key First Appearances: Alison Blaire/Dazzler, Blue Shield

Story Continues In: Essential Dazzler Vol. 2

Overview: Alison Blaire wants nothing more in her life than to sing. Whether it’s for one person or 20,000, Alison wants to take to the stage and sing her heart out. What most people don’t know is that Alison is a mutant, being able to absorb sound and transform it into light. All things considered, that’s a pretty good mutant power to have if you want to be a performer. Taking the stage under the name Dazzler, Alison is ready for her time in the spotlight.

Unfortunately, trouble seems to find Dazzler wherever she goes. Whether it’s the X-Men fighting the Hellfire Club or the Enchantress crashing an audition or Bruce Banner getting upset at a college campus where Dazzler is performing, she finds herself having to user her powers like a superhero, something she truly does not want to be.

In addition to our title character, we meet the members of her band, along with her agent and road manager. We also meet her father Carter Blaire, a lawyer who wants his daughter to follow his career path. Alison’s missing mother was a singer, but disappeared when Alison was an infant. But like any good dangling plot thread, we eventually find Alison’s mother at the conclusion of this volume.

Along the way, Dazzler crosses paths with many Marvel heroes. She meets She-Hulk in Los Angeles and Spider-Woman in San Francisco during a west coast tour. From the X-Men, the Angel develops a crush on her, and does everything he can to woo her over. And she gets the opportunity to jam with the Fantastic Four, with Johnny on guitar and Ben on sax. Seriously! I could not make this stuff up if I tried.

The Origins of Dazzler – The Story Behind the Story: In the late 1970s, Casablanca Records signed a deal to co-produce a character with Marvel Comics. Given the success of Marvel’s KISS comics, the goal was to have a comic to go along with a new recording artist that would perform under the name Dazzler. The long-range goal was to develop a movie around Dazzler. Marvel came up with conceptual designs and scheduled appearances for Dazzler in three of their most popular titles – Uncanny X-Men, Amazing Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four. (Fantastic Four #217 is not reprinted in this issue, but it does show the first meeting between Dazzler and Johnny Storm.)

The plan was to release Dazzler #1 to coincide with the album release. But Casablanca dropped the project and never released the album. Marvel went ahead and finally released the title nearly a year after her last appearance, and the series ran for nearly five years. The first year was one guest star (or villain) after another, in an effort to build up the fan base for the title — Spider-Man, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Dr. Doom, the Hulk, and even Galactus!

What makes this Essential?: OK, we can make a lot of jokes about “Essential Dazzler” being an oxymoron. Trust me, I made a lot of the jokes myself early on. That said, this is an important book in terms of female Marvel characters. In the late 1970s, Marvel introduced four titles focused on female heroes – Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and Dazzler. The first three are just female analogs of their male counterparts. Dazzler was the only female character featured that was unique in her own right. Although these books were not the best sellers, Marvel remained committed to publishing the characters, long enough to warrant six Essential volumes from these four characters.

Need more convincing? Consider this thought — Dazzler was the first Marvel mutant character to have their own solo book. Before Wolverine and Gambit and Cable, Dazzler had her own monthly book. Dazzler! (And yes, while modern Marvel writers are trying to spin the narrative and make Namor the first mutant, I’m not buying that argument.)

Now, as much as I want to praise Dazzler as a character, Dazzler as a monthly comic was not that great. There are times when the story felt more like a romance book – does Alison want to date the ER doctor or her lawyer? And will she ever receive her father’s blessing for her career choice? While the art is serviceable, there are too many panels showing Alison changing clothes. That may be appealing to the young male reader, but it’s not necessary to show that scene in that panel to advance the story. EVER!

Footnotes: Uncanny X-Men #130 and #131 are also reprinted in Essential X-Men Vol. 2.

Amazing Spider-Man #203 is also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 9.

If you like this volume, try: Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. by Geoff Johns and Lee Moder from 1999. I know I am crossing the streams here between Marvel and DC, but hear me out. Courtney Whitmore’s teenage life just gets worse and worse. Her mom has just remarried, and she now has a creepy stepbrother to deal with; her family has moved to small town Blue Valley; and then she finds out that her stepdad used to be a super-hero. Using a cosmic belt first developed by Starman and later used by the Star-Spangled Kid, Courtney becomes a modern day Star-Spangled Kid, fighting the surprising number of super-villains based in her small town. The series only ran for a little more than a year. Where I see the parallels with Dazzler is her post-title career. Using the new codename Stargirl, Courtney became a member of the reformed Justice Society, becoming a key member for many years. Her popularity led to Stargirl being used on the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, and she continues to thrive in the new DC 52 universe. Following her title cancellation, Dazzler ended up joining the X-Men, and became a key member throughout the 1990s. She still remains a member of one of the many X-Men teams today. The entire Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. series is available in two trade paperbacks.