Essential Killraven Vol. 1

First Published: July 2005

Contents: Amazing Adventures #18 (May 1973) to #39 (November 1976); Marvel Team-Up #45 (May 1976); Marvel Graphic Novel #7 (August 1983); and Killraven #1 (February 2001)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Don McGregor, Keith Giffen, Howard Chaykin, Herb Trimpe, P. Craig Russell, and others

Key First Appearances: Killraven, M’Shulla, Hawk, Old Skull, Carmilla Frost, Grok, Mint Julep, Volcana Ash

Overview: You remember the Martian invasion back in 2001, right? The Martians came to Earth, destroyed governments, and left the planet as a human-breeding farm to feed the growing Martian-population. Don’t worry though, in just two short years, a red-headed human will escape the slave pits to lead a revolution, to rid the Earth of Martians and reclaim the planet for the humans. Welcome to the future (or alternate) world of Killraven!

In the early 1970s, Roy Thomas and Neal Adams collaborated to find a way to work H.G. Wells classic story, The War of the Worlds, into comic book form. Rather than do a direct adaption of the original story, they instead took the situation from the book and told a story based on the Martians successfully taking over the Earth. What would the Martians do once they occupied the Earth, and how would the humans respond. From there, the character of Killraven was developed. Originally designed to be a next generation version of Doc Savage, Killraven borrows heavily from other concepts – from Conan the Barbarian to Flash Gordon and more.

Early on in the story, Killraven breaks free from the slave pits, and sets off on a mission to track down his long-lost brother. Along this journey, Killraven builds a band of followers that all look to him for leadership. Unfortunately, the Martians kept getting in the way of Killraven’s band on their haphazard travels around the country, and eventually the goal becomes more to rid the world of the Martians. (And yes, it if’s Marvel in the 1970s, you can fully expect a cameo crossover with Spider-Man along the way!)

Eventually, the band of freedom fighters find themselves in Florida at the Martian headquarters, and their Killraven finds his brother, who has betrayed his brethren and is working with the Martians directly. The rebels destroy the Martian base, crippling their hold on the humans, and Killraven parts ways with his brother in a final battle. But the battle is not over yet, and Killraven moves on to the next untold adventure to save the Earth.

What makes this Essential?: This is an interesting story, in particular when we get the creative team of Don McGregor and P. Craig Russell. Those two were definitely in sync with the direction and the flow of the book. These are some of the most creative comics that came out of this era, when compared against many of the other Essential volumes from this era that I have read. BUT… in the grand scheme of the Marvel Universe, this seems to be an isolated aspect that doesn’t get revisited much. With the bulk of these stories taking place in the (then) future, and it later being determined that it was an alternate Earth’s future that faced the Martian invasion, there hasn’t been the demand/need to go back to this story. Killraven is occasionally brought in for the rare cameo appearance in other Marvel Universe titles, but I feel that is more to keep a copyright in place rather than to continue Killraven’s story. I think this is an important volume to have for the sci-fi/fantasy fan, but I can think of multiple Marvel Universe characters that probably deserved an Essential volume ahead of Killraven.

Footnotes: Marvel Team-Up #45 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: Weirdworld, the five-issue miniseries from Marvel earlier this year that tied in with the 2015 Secret Wars event. Written by Jason Aaron with art by Mike Del Mundo, this fantasy epic touched on so many familiar elements of the Marvel Universe from the 1970s and 1980s. Arkon, a long-time foe for the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, is struggling to find his home, Polemachus. Unfortunately, he is stuck traveling through the Weirdworld zone of Battleworld in order to find his home. Along the way, he encounters the likes of Warbow, Skull the Slayer, Jennifer Kale, and others. At the same time, he finds that Morgana Le Fay is working in the background to stop him. Del Mundo’s art is spectacular in this series, giving it a dream-like appearance from page to page. This has been one of my favorite comics from 2015, and I hope you got a chance to read it too.

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug Vol. 1

First Published: March 2009

Contents: DC Comics Presents #52 (December 1982), #59 (July 1983), and #81 (May 1985); Supergirl #16 (February 1984); Ambush Bug stories from Action Comics #560 (October 1984), #563 (January 1985), and #565 (March 1985); Ambush Bug #1 (June 1985) to #4 (September 1985); Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer #1 (1986); Son of Ambush Bug #1 (July 1986) to #6 (December 1986); Ambush Bug story from Secret Origins #48 (April 1990); and Ambush Bug Nothing Special #1 (September 1992)

Key Creator Credits: Keith Giffen, Paul Kupperberg, Robert Loren Fleming, Bob Oksner, and others

Key First Appearances: Irwin Schwab/Ambush Bug, Cheeks, Argh!Yle!

Overview: Sometimes a character is introduced in the background of a story, used to help advance the plot. But sometimes, those background characters become the most interesting part of the book. Case in point, we start by looking at DC Comics Presents #52, which is listed as a team-up of Superman and the Doom Patrol. Those are the stars of the book, but the story is stolen by an odd villain character – a guy in a green bug suit that has the ability to teleport and cause some mayhem. That is how we are introduced to Ambush Bug.

Ambush Bug caught on with readers and started become a foil for the various Kryptonians located on Earth. By the time DC Comics Presents #81 came out, he had garnered enough recognition to warrant the co-star status along with Superman. From there, it’s time to move on into your own mini-series and specials.

However, with those mini-series and specials, the approach takes a 90-degree turn, towards the fourth wall. Within the stories, Ambush Bug is now considered a hero of sorts, trying to find his place in the DC Universe. But at the same time, Ambush Bug starts interacting with the reader, as well as the comic book creators themselves. Conversations are had with Keith Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming, and Bob Oksner via word balloons. Even longtime DC editor Julie Schwartz gets into the action and the stories as a disembodied head inserted into tales.

Along the way, we find out parts of his origin – we think! We meet Ambush Bug’s sidekick/best friend, Cheeks. We meet the personification of Johnny DC in the stories. and we come across the most nefarious of villains ever conceived, Argh!Yle!, who happens to be a sentient sock. Yes, a sock. Trust me, this book is just one pun after another. You should expect nothing less when dealing with one of the most offbeat characters in the DC Universe.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Giffen has been a mainstay at DC for years and has contributed greatly to the history of the DC Universe with his work on Legion of Super-Heroes, Justice League, and, yes, even Ambush Bug. (And yes, he’s had his share of issues over that time as well.) Depending how long the Showcase Presents line runs, we may eventually see his work in LSH. I could also see DC skipping ahead and starting a Showcase Presents Justice League line, to go along with their other collections from the 1980s. Until either of those happen, this will serve as Giffen’s contribution to the Showcase Presents line. At his peak, Ambush Bug was a very popular character in the 1980s, so yes it should be showcased like this.

Footnotes: Several times in this book, scripter Robert Loren Fleming makes reference to a previous DC Comics series of his, Thriller, which ran for 12 issues in 1983 and 1984. Thriller was a direct-market only book, meaning that it could only be found in comic book stores. This series has never been collected, so you will need to dive into some back issue bins to track this one down.  

If you like this volume, try: the issues of The Tick from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Created by Ben Edlund to serve as a mascot for his local comic book store, the Tick soon moved into his own comic strip and then his own book. The Tick served as a spoof of the superhero comic industry, mocking the latest trends with exaggerated caricatures. Like Ambush Bug, the Tick would often break the fourth wall to interact with the reader. His popularity earned him a Saturday morning cartoon series from 1994 to 1997, and later a live-action TV series from 2001. These issues have been collected multiple times in trade paperbacks and omnibus editions, so they should be easy to track down.

Essential Defenders Vol. 3

Essential Defenders Vol. 3

First Published: July 2007

Contents: The Defenders #31 (January 1976) to #60 (June 1978); and Defenders Annual #1 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Roger Slifer, David Kraft, Gerry Conway, Keith Giffen, Sal Buscema, Klaus Janson, Jim Mooney, Carmine Infantino, and others

Key First Appearances: Ruby Thursday, Red Guardian, Max Fury, Dollar Bill, Presence

Story Continues From: Essential Defenders Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Defenders Vol. 4

Overview: Full disclosure people – this may be a short review! When dealing with a non-team of heroes, with no official headquarters or leader or matching uniforms, what is there to talk about? But that is what makes the Defenders the most unique collection of heroes in comic books. So here we go with Essential Defenders Vol. 3.

Let’s start with the line-up. Doctor Strange, the Hulk, Valkyrie, and Nighthawk remain the core of the team. But some new faces stop by for their time with the un-team. The female version of the Soviet hero Red Guardian “joins” the team in issue #35. Hellcat wanders over from Avengers Mansion in Defenders #44, and would become a constant with the team for the next 80+ issues. The Devil-Slayer stops by for the final story-arc in this volume, but he will not be seen again until Essential Defenders Vol. 5. Finally, Clea could be considered a “member” of the team, but she always feels like Doctor Strange’s sidekick who is along for the ride just because of Stephen.

The book is overseen primarily by two writers. Steve Gerber continues his story from Essential Defenders Vol. 2, covering the first third of this book. Towards the middle of this volume, David Kraft comes on board and becomes the regular writer for the foreseeable future. He continues with the absurdists stories started by Gerber, but sprinkles in more Blue Öyster Cult jokes along the way. (Think I’m joking? Google “Defenders Blue Öyster Cult” and peruse the results.)

What makes this Essential?: Wow, where to start…… Hmmm, being quite honest, I found this a very forgettable volume. I know I read this at some point, but I am struggling to recall much of what happened in this collection. This should be a more important book, with the end of the brilliant Steve Gerber’s run on the title, and the start of the creative run by David Kraft. But I just can’t give this a thumb’s up. If you are a fan of the quirky stories of the mid-1970s, then track down a copy of this volume. But I don’t think you would be missing out on much if this is not part of your personal library.

If you like this volume, try: the second volume of The Order from Matt Fraction and Barry Kitson. Following the events of Civil War, Tony Stark was named director of S.H.I.E.L.D. One of his roll-outs to make things safer for all Americans was the 50-State Initiative, which was a plan to place a team of super-heroes in all states. For California, the team was named the Order. (Side note, the series was originally solicited as The Champions, until it was determined that Marvel did not own the trademark for The Champions any longer. Oops!) The Order was made up of 10 heroes which all loosely resembled the Greek pantheon of gods. Each character had their own feature over the 10 issues of the series, which ended when Matt Fraction felt the story had been told. This has been collected in two trade paperbacks, but I’m sure the individual issues can still be found in the back issue bins. It’s worth a read for the Kitson art and the Fraction story.

As to why I make this recommendation, I started to recommend the 2001 Defenders/Order series, but recalled that I already put it out there win my review of Essential Defenders Vol. 1. Personally, I think this Fraction/Kitson version of The Order is more interesting, so give it a look!