Essential Captain America Vol. 3

Essential Captain America Vol. 3

First Published: December 2006

Contents: Captain America #127 (July 1970) to #133 (January 1971); Captain America and the Falcon #134 (February 1971) to #156 (December 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Gary Friedrich, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, John Romita, Sr., Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Leila Taylor, Boss Morgan, Jack Monroe/Bucky

Story Continues From: Essential Captain America Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Captain America Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Captain America and the Falcon. This volume features an all-star list of comic greats, as Stan Lee and Gene Colan wrap up their long run on the book, and familiar Marvel Bullpen creators like Steve Englehart, John Romita, Sr., and Sal Buscema get their chance to take on star-spangled superhero.

Our duo continues helping out Nick Fury, Sharon Carter, and S.H.I.E.L.D. with a variety of familiar foes, such as the Red Skull, Hydra, and the Grey Gargoyle. Heroes like Spider-Man and the Avengers make cameo appearances, as New York City is the hub for all Marvel super-heroes.

Now, one of the struggles for our title character is to find something to occupy his time when he is not in costume. Sam Wilson works as a social worker in Harlem, and now has a steady girlfriend in Leila Taylor. But what can Steve Rogers do? Well, with good intentions, he joins the New York City Police Department. He works with Police Commissioner Feingold to set it up, but they agree to tell no one of Rogers’ other identity. Of course, this leads into all kinds of crazy excuses that Rogers must come up with to explain missing his shift, much to the annoyance of Rogers’ sergeant, Brian Muldoon (who bears a solid resemblance to Jack Kirby, one of Captain America’s co-creators).

The volume concludes with a face-off with the Captain America and Bucky from the 1950s. We find out that the government tried to introduce a new Captain America during the early days of the Cold War. William Burnside is an avid Captain America fan, and while researching his hero, he discovers the super soldier formula long thought lost. He undergoes plastic surgery to have his face shaped to look like Steve Rogers. Bringing in a young Jack Monroe that shares Burnside’s beliefs, the two teamed up as Captain America and Bucky. But their version of the super soldier formula causes psychotic breakdowns in the heroes, and the government is forced to put the two into suspended animation. Reanimated in the early 1970s, the 1950s Cap and Bucky come to blows with our Cap and Falcon. Our fearless heroes triumph, and the 1950s heroes are put back on ice. (In later years, Jack Monroe would return to Captain America’s side, adopting the Nomad costume identity in the 1980s. For more on Nomad, come back for Essential Captain America Vol. 4!)

What makes this Essential?: This volume really has me on the ropes. I don’t want to write a negative review about it, but I don’t know that I can write a positive review either. Given the incredible talents of the creators involved with the volume, one might expect the stories to be more epic in nature, or even more memorable. I don’t believe they were phoning it in during this era, but this is one of those books that felt like priority 1 was to just get a book out each month. This is a very good read for the Captain America fan, but I believe the casual Marvel Universe fan will find it disappointing.

Footnotes: Captain America Special #1 (1971) and #2 (1972) are reprint issues. collecting previously published stories from Tales of Suspense and Not Brand Echh. The covers for the two issues are in this volume.

Beginning with issue #134, the title of the comic changed to Captain America and the Falcon. This remained the title until issue #222, which can be found in Essential Captain America Vol. 6.

If you like this volume, try: the Captain America movies from 2011 and 2014. In all fairness, this may seem like a cheat. Maybe I am struggling to find another book to recommend based on the events of these comics. But at this point, if you are reading Volume 3, you probably have also read Volumes 1 and 2, which gives you 8 years worth of Captain America stories. So you understand who the character is and how he should be portrayed. So jump over to the movies. The 2011 Captain America: The First Avenger film portrays our hero’s origin, using the story from Captain America #255, which is viewed as the definitive Captain America origin, during the Roger Stern-John Byrne run in 1980 (see Essential Captain America Vol. 7). Jump ahead to the 2014 Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and we see Captain America working with S.H.I.E.L.D., which we have seen a lot in these Essentials. Look at the opening to Captain America #153, as Captain America comes home and finds Nick Fury sitting in the dark. That scene was later mimicked in the movie. Chris Evans visually personifies Captain America in the flesh, even more so than Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man. The Captain America films have done an excellent job of aligning the movie character to that of the comic character, They are worth the re-watch to appreciate how faithful they were to the comics.

Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1

Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1

First Published: November 2006

Contents: Ghost Rider #1 (September 1973) and #2 (October 1973); Marvel Spotlight #12 (October 1973) to #24 (October 1975); Son of Satan #1 (December 1975) to #8 (February 1977); Marvel Two-In-One #14 (March 1976); Marvel Team-Up #32 (April 1975), #80 (April 1979), and #81 (May 1979); Satana stories from Vampire Tales #2 (October 1973) and #3 (February 1974); Satana stories from Haunt Of Horror #2 (July 1974), #4 (November 1974), and #5 (January 1975); Marvel Premiere #27 (December 1975); and Marvel Preview #7 (June 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Gary Friedrich, Herb Trimpe, Steve Gerber, Roy Thomas, Chris Claremont, John Romita, Sr., Gene Colan, Esteban Maroto, and others

Key First Appearances: Daimon Hellstrom/Son of Satan, Satana, Dr. Katherine Reynolds

Story Continues In: Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2

Overview: Are you ready for something different? If so, then dive into this volume as we follow the adventures of the offspring of Satan.

First up is Daimon Hellstrom, a learned scholar who specializes in the occult. However, when the cases get dangerous, he changes into his Son of Satan persona. Armed with a trident and possessing the power of the Darksoul, the Son of Satan fights many of the lesser demons of Hell looking to gain favor with Daimon’s father. Daimon’s story ran through Marvel Spotlight before he graduated into his own short-lived title.

Also debuting at the same time is Daimon’s sister, Satana. The two siblings were separated as kids following their mother’s death and raised completely different. Satana embraces her heritage more than her brother. Satana feeds on the souls of men, which she absorbs by kissing them. When she finishes, the man collapses dead and a butterfly is released. Satana’s story jumped around between various Marvel/Warren magazines before it comes to an end in the pages of Marvel Team-Up. Is this the end of Satana? Time will tell….

What makes this Essential?: I’ve got mixed opinions on this book. Most Essentials follow a character through the run of their book, and will include any additional appearances in other titles. So while this is titled the Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1, it could better be named as Essential Son of Satan & Satana. But I don’t know if that volume would have sold. So, for following the adventures of these two characters, this is a serviceable volume if you are fans of the characters. I found the Satana stories more interesting, being a mix of illustrated tales and prose pieces. 

But personally, after seeing the Satana stories from Vampire Tales and Haunt of Horror, I would much rather see Essential Marvel Horror collect the entire run of those magazines in a volume. There are a lot of Marvel/Warren magazines that have not been reprinted, and the Essential line would be the perfect place to present them again. 

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

Marvel Two-in-One #14 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1.

Marvel Team-Up #32 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2.

Marvel Two-in-One #80 and #81 were also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: the Rachel Rising series from Terry Moore. For me, the highlight of this entire volume is ‘The Kiss of Death’ story from Vampire Tales #3. Gerry Conway’s script is good, but the artwork by Esteban Maroto steals the show. This story is breathtaking and worth the price of the Essential just to read this story. For those unfamiliar with his work, Maroto is a Spanish artist that did a lot of work for the various horror magazines of the 1970s. He helped design the metal bikini for Red Sonja with her debut. He also did an Amethyst mini-series for DC and a story in an X-Men: Unlimited issue for Marvel. Maroto’s female forms are exquisite, ranking up there for me with the likes of George Perez, Phil Jiminez, Adam Hughes, and Terry Moore. Since the early days of Moore’s Strangers in Paradise series, his female characters have jumped off the page, laughing and loving and living. In 2012, Moore launched his first horror series with Rachel Rising, about a young woman waking up one morning dead, but she remembers who killed her. Over the series, other friends die but remain alive; deals with the devil are made, and a mystery dating back hundreds of years is slowly revealed. This is some of Moore’s best work ever, and you are missing out if you’re not picking it up every six weeks. The early issues are collected in trade paperbacks to bring you up to speed with one of the best (and creepiest) books on the market today.

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 Spider-Man Vol. 6

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6

First Published: July 2004

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #114 (November 1972) to #137 (October 1974); Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1 (June 1974); and Giant-Size Spider-Man #1 (July 1974) and #2 (October 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gil Kane, John Romita Sr., Gerry Conway, Len Wein, and Ross Andru

Key First Appearances:  Jonas Harrow, Man-Wolf, Frank Castle/Punisher, Jackal, Tarantula, Equinox

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 7

Overview: Peter Parker is pushed to his limit physically and emotionally  in this volume. And when Peter is at his breaking point, the Amazing Spider-Man is at his best.

As if battling Doctor Octopus, the Hulk, and Dracula was not enough, Spider-Man faces down the Green Goblin, who kidnapped and killed Peter’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. Spider-Man fights Norman Osborn for what we think will be the final time, as the Green Goblin is accidentally killed by his own goblin glider. Of course, that still does not stop J. Jonah Jameson from accusing Spider-Man of murder.

Spider-Man meets up with a new set of heroes that represents the spirit of the 1970s. Hero for hire Luke Cage is retained by Jameson to bring in Spider-Man dead or alive. The Punisher places Spidey in his targets after reading one too many Daily Bugle editorials about the supposed crimes of our star. Finally, Spider-Man teams up with Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung-Fu, who uses his martial arts skills to thwart the mad schemes of his father.

This volume ends with the debut of a new Green Goblin, who is seeking revenge on Spider-Man for the death of his predecessor. Spidey quickly realizes that this new Goblin is one of his best friends, Harry Osborn, creating a whole new set of problems for Peter.

What makes this Essential?: This should be a must own for many reasons. For character introductions, we meet the Man-Wolf, the Jackal, the Tarantula, and, perhaps most importantly, the Punisher. Even though he was exaggerated to comic proportions, the mission of Frank Castle could easily be replicated in real life. At the same time, we witness the most tragic event in Peter Parker’s life since the murder of his Uncle Ben. The death of Gwen Stacy came with no warning, no lead-up, no spoilers. It changed Peter, and it changed the tone of the book. My feeling is that between the death of Gwen Stacy and the introduction of the Punisher, Marvel left the Silver Age of comics and entered the Bronze Age. These stories should be part of any collection.

Not only is he Amazing, he’s Spectacular: In 1968, Marvel entered into the magazine business when they partnered with Warren Publishing to issue a Spectacular Spider-Man magazine. Warren was known for their horror magazines at this time. Spectacular Spider-Man was a black-and-white magazine which featured new original stories from Stan Lee, John Romita, Sr., and Jim Mooney. The lead story of Spectacular Spider-Man #1 was broken up and re-used for Amazing Spider-Man #116-118, which is collected in this Essential. The lead story for Spectacular Spider-Man #2 was edited and re-used in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #9.

The magazine experiment ended with issue #2. However, in the 1970s, Marvel got back into the magazine business with their then owner Curtis Publishing. Curtis helped distribute a wide range of black-and-white horror magazines with content that might not have passed the Comics Code Authority at that time.

Footnotes: In Amazing Spider-Man #130 (March 1974), the infamous Spider-Mobile makes its debut. According to interviews with Gerry Conway, a toy executive had approached Stan Lee and suggested that all of the characters should have some kind of vehicle to use. Lee readily agreed, knowing that he wouldn’t actually have to write the story. When Conway pointed out the flaws in the idea, Lee said he didn’t care what Conway did with the car once it was introduced. As a result, the Spider-Mobile soon ended up at the bottom of the Hudson River. Despite that, Spider-Mobiles can still be found included in nearly every line of Spider-Man toys since then.

Amazing Spider-Man #129, #134, and #135 were also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: going back and looking for the Marvel Masterworks Spider-Man Vol. 7, available as both a hardcover and as a trade paperback. What makes this volume important is that it contains the two Spectacular Spider-Man magazines complete and unedited. Outside of owning the physical magazines, this is the only way to read Spectacular Spider-Man #2, as it has never been reprinted completely in any other fashion.

Essential Daredevil Vol. 1

First Published: October 2002

Contents: Daredevil #1 (April 1964) to #25 (February 1967)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Steve Ditko, Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, Jack Kirby, John Romita, and Gene Colan

Key First Appearances: Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson, Karen Page, Battlin’ Jack Murdock, Leland Owlsley/the Owl, Purple Man,  Stilt-Man, Ani-Men, Plunderer, Marauder, Gladiator, Leap-Frog

Story Continues In: Essential Daredevil Vol. 2

Overview: Following a freak accident that doused  him in radioactive waste, young Matt Murdock finds himself blind but with enhanced senses of hearing, smell, touch, and taste (not often showcased). Matt’s father, the boxer Jack Murdock, pushes his son to study hard so he doesn’t have to follow in his footsteps. When Jack refuses to take a dive in a fight, he is killed by the mob boss that had bet heavily against him. Matt vows to avenge his father, and trains his body to reach it’s peak perfection. Despite his blindness, Murdock dons a costume and takes to the rooftops of New York City as Daredevil, the man without fear!

We see that Murdock has become a successful lawyer, sharing a firm with his best friend from college, Foggy Nelson. Add in the adorable secretary Karen Page, who has a crush on Murdock, and our cast is set.

Daredevil battles a mix of villains from issue to issue. Some are one-and-done hooded thugs, and some are costumed criminals. We see Daredevil go up against some of Spider-Man’s foes in Electro and the Ox. He even gets his own set of rogues, with introductions of the Owl, Stilt-Man, and the Gladiator.

What makes this Essential?: Daredevil is a very unique comic character created by Stan Lee and friends. A blind super-hero goes against everything we imagine a hero should be. Sure, having the enhanced senses helps make it easier for Daredevil to do what he does, but he still remains a blind man swinging between buildings in New York City.

The problem I have with endorsing this as an Essential edition is that there are a dozen different story arcs and runs of Daredevil that are much, much better than the stories in this volume. This is a case where the Silver Age stories do not hold up against the Bronze Age and modern stories. Read this only if you are a Daredevil fan.

Footnotes: Daredevil’s original costume was a red-and-yellow garish combination that could only have been designed by a blind man (pun intended!). Beginning in issue #7, Daredevil converted over to his traditional all-red costume. In the issue, Daredevil’s thoughts on the new costume read, “I’ve secretly worked for months to redesign my fighting costume – – to make it more comfortable – – more distinctive!” Yes, very distinctive, and we’ll take Matt’s word on the costume’s comfort.

Daredevil #7 is also reprinted in Essential Sub-Mariner Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: Mark Waid’s ongoing run on Daredevil. Marvel rebooted the series in 2011, bringing in veteran scribe Waid to re-invigorate the character. Waid brought in a fresh take on the characters that harkens back to the early issues of Daredevil from the 1960s. The art team (Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, Chris Samnee, and others) have been nailing the art each time out. In this current run, Murdock finds himself barred from serving as a trial lawyer, so he sets up shop as a consulting counselor, advising clients who need to represent themselves in court. This title has won multiple Eisner awards over the three-year run of the book. The entire series is collected in multiple formats (trade paperbacks, hardcovers) so it should not be hard to find. This current run will becoming to an end with issue #36, but will start over again the next month with a new #1, still led by Mark Waid.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5

First Published: March 2002

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #90 (November 1970) to #113 (October 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gil Kane, John Romita Sr., Sal Buscema, Roy Thomas, and Gerry Conway

Key First Appearances:  Arthur Stacy, Dr. Michael Morbius, Martine Bancroft, Emil Nikos, Sha Shan, the Gibbon

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6

Overview: Never let it be said that Peter Parker’s life is easy, in or out of the Spider-Man costume. This book opens with the (then) shocking death of Captain Stacy, who reveals with his dying breath that he knew Peter’s secret all along. Before he (or Gwen) can recover from that, a handful of familiar foes come back to keep Spider-Man busy, such as the Beetle, Doctor Octopus, the Green Goblin, and the Spider Slayer.

For issue #100, Peter tries to put his scientific knowledge to good use in an attempt to rid himself of the powers. In typical Parker fashion, the serum backfires, and instead causes four new limbs to appear on Peter’s body, making him a true Spider-Man. That takes Peter to call on Dr. Curt Connors, which means the Lizard is not far behind. And this story also introduces a new villain that would become a key player in the Marvel Universe: Dr Michael Morbius, who specializes in blood disorders by day, and haunts the nights as a living vampire.

What makes this Essential?: The more I revisit this book, the more I think this is truly an essential Essential. We see Stan Lee turn over the writing chores for the title to the new generation of comic writers, first to Roy Thomas and then to Gerry Conway.  We see real relevant topics pop up in the stories, such as drug abuse or the struggles of vets returning from Viet-Nam. We are introduced to Flash Thompson’s girlfriend Sha Shan, which may be one of the first interracial relationships in comics. The art in here, from Gil Kane and John Romita Sr., remains spectacular, to borrow a familiar adjective. Between this volume and the next Essential, these may be the best Spider-Man stories since the end of the Lee-Ditko run of the early 1960s.

Respect My (Comics Code) Authority: In the early 1970s, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare approached Stan Lee about doing a story in comics that showed the dangers of drug abuse. Lee agreed, and worked the story into his ongoing run on the Amazing Spider-Man. In issue #97, Peter Parker’s roommate Harry Osborn turns to drugs in an attempt to handle the pressures of life. The Comics Code Authority (CCA) rejected the story back to Marvel. Lee felt that the request from the government overruled the decision of the CCA, and published the issue without the CCA seal on the cover. The story earned great praise, and it forced the CCA to revise its guidelines.

Footnotes: Amazing Spider-Man #92 is also reprinted in Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: David Hajdu’s book, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. Hajdu is a historical researcher who focuses his attention on pop culture subjects of the 20th Century. In this work, he dives deep into the world of comic books from the late 1940s to the mid 1950s. He looks at Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, and how it impacted the subsequent Senate hearings and the comic book industry. While it focuses more on Bill Gaines and his EC Comics, the impacts of this era led to the Comics Code Authority, and the self-censorship of American comics by the publishers. The faults of the Comics Code Authority is seen quite clearly in this Essential volume, with the Harry Osborn drug issues and the creation of Morbius, a “living vampire”, because undead vampires were not allowed at this time. IWhile the tide was changing in the CCA offices, these stories from Marvel certainly helped to see the CCA revise their guidelines, allowing for the classic monsters such as Frankenstein and Dracula to appear in comics, and allowing drugs use to be shown in a negative light.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4 (second edition)

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4 (second edition)

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4 (third edition)

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4 (third edition)

First Published: December 2000

Contents: First and Second Editions: Amazing Spider-Man #69 (February 1969) to #89 (October 1970), and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4 (1967) and #5 (1968); Third Edition: Amazing Spider-Man #66 (November 1968) to #89 (October 1970), and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5 (1968)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, John Romita Sr., John Buscema, Jim Mooney

Key First Appearances:  Vanessa Fisk, Martha Robertson, Silvermane, Man-Mountain Marko, Hobie Brown/Prowler, Richard Fisk/Schemer/Rose, Mary Parker, Richard Parker

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5

Overview: Spider-Man swings into the 1970s with this Essential volume. Still battling traditional foes like the Lizard, Doctor Octopus, and the Kingpin, new foes are introduced with Silvermane and the Prowler. We see more of the real-world social issues of the era creeping into the pages of the comics, as student protests are the norm across the Empire State University campus. Other characters from across the Marvel Universe, such as Quicksilver and the Black Widow, get caught up in Spider-Man’s webs. For those occasions when he is out of costumer, Peter has a daily challenge to balance the demands on his time – from Aunt May to Gwen Stacy, from college classes to freelance photographer.

What makes this Essential?: After five plus years of publication, Stan Lee had developed a predictable formula with his stories in Amazing Spider-Man. The art team, which rotated between John Romita, Sr., John Buscema, and Jim Mooney (with a touch of Gil Kane for good measure) perform admirably in their assignments. But the story structure doesn’t seem to alter much. Most stories end with the villain being defeated, but rather than celebrating his victory, Peter laments about how bad his life is – troubles with Gwen, overdue college papers, and he forgot to take photos for the Daily Bugle. The supporting characters introduced flesh out the storylines, but they don’t advance it along either. If you are a Spider-Man completist, look for this volume if you don’t already own the original issues. For the average Marvel fan, your collection will not suffer with this Essential not being on your shelf.

Footnotes: Please note that there are different content listings between the first and second editions and the third edition of this Essential. Volume #4 had different content listings between the editions, due to the placement of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4.

If you like this volume, try: the original Ultimate Spider-Man HC collection from 2002. This collects the first 13 issues of the Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley series that launched in late 2000. Marvel’s Ultimate line was introduced as a fresh way to look at the characters, without the 40+ years of continuity behind them. With the Ultimate Spider-Man title, Peter Parker works on the Daily Bugle website after school. We get to see the true relationship between Peter and his Uncle Ben, tearing at the reader’s emotions as we all know how the story is going to play out. Issue #13 stands out as one of the best single-issue stories involving Peter Parker, finding a new confidant in Mary Jane Watson. Bendis & Bagley created an incredible legacy with this book, often putting out as many as 18 issues per year during their seven-year run on the book together. While the Ultimate Spider-Man title had a tremendous run, this first collection contains the best issues of the series.