Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 9

ff9First Published: August 2013

Contents: Fantastic Four #184 (July 1977) to #188 (November 1977) and #190 (January 1978) to #207 (June 1979); and Fantastic Four Annual #11 (1977) and #12 (1978)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, George Pérez, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Keith Pollard, Bob Hall, and others

Key First Appearances: Nicholas Scratch, Salem’s Seven (Bructacus, Gazelle, Hydron, Reptilla, Vakume, and Vertigo), Adora, Nova Prime

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8

Overview: This is it! The day we thought would never happen. The Fantastic Four have broken up. The Four is no more. Good thing this is the ninth and final volume of Essential Fantastic Four,.

When we left off with the last volume, the Fantastic Four was at a crossroads. Reed Richards is powerless. Now at other times when the team has been down one member, they simply recruit another member to fill the spot. Not this time. Nope, time to disband the team and go their separate ways. Let’s give up the lease on the Baxter Building and move on. Johnny tries driving race cars, Ben becomes a test pilot, Sue goes to Hollywood to star in a movie, and Reed joins a think tank. And everyone lived happily ever after, right?

As luck would have it, the individual stories eventually merge into one storyline, bringing the foursome back together. Seems like Reed has been working on a project for a mysterious benefactor that turns out to be none other than Doctor Doom. This leads to Reed being launched into space to be exposed to cosmic rays once again, leading to predictable results. Reed returns to Earth in his stretchable form and leads the team to stop Doom from taking over the world.

The volume comes to the conclusion with the start of the Skrull-Xandar war, which was also featured in the final issues of the Nova series. Unfortunately, neither Essential book contains the full storyline. You need to track down the Nova Classic Vol. 3 trade paperback to get the full story if you can’t find the individual issues.

What makes this Essential?: I admit I am very partial to this era, as I was reading the Fantastic Four on and off as these issues came out in the late 1970s. Honestly, this build-up to issue #200 is a good Doctor Doom story, a character that had not been used much in the pages of Fantastic Four for some time. Personally, I think that helped recapture some of the nostalgia of the Lee-Kirby era with this big storyline. Marv Wolfman really gets these characters and doesn’t get the credit he probably deserves for his work on Fantastic Four. This would be a near perfect collection if it didn’t force us to track down the finish to the Nova storyline.

Footnotes: Fantastic Four #189 is a reprint issue of Fantastic Four Annual #4, which was reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3. The new cover to Fantastic Four #189 is included in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: John Byrne’s legendary run from 1981 (Fantastic Four #232) to 1986 (Fantastic Four #295). Byrne did a stint as the artist on the book shortly after the end of this Essential volume, but those issues were still written by Marv Wolfman and Bill Mantlo. Byrne got a two-issue try out in #220 and #221 where he wrote and drew the issue. But beginning with issue #232, Byrne took over as the regular writer and artist on the “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine”. The book was really revitalized under Byrne’s direction and reaches new creative levels not seen since the days of Jack and Stan. This run has been collected in two Omnibus editions and multiple Visionaries volumes. If you are a fan of the Fantastic Four, you should own a set of these issues in your collection.

Essential Iron Man Vol. 5

Essential Iron Man Vol. 5

First Published: April 2013

Contents: Iron Man #62 (September 1973) to #75 (June 1975); and #77 (August 1975) to #87 (June 1976); and Iron Man Annual #3 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: Mike Friedrich, Bill Mantlo, Len Wein, Steve Gerber, George Tuska, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Michael O’Brien, Blizzard

Story Continues From: Essential Iron Man Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the fifth Essential Iron Man volume from Marvel Comics, in which our hero, Tony Stark, finally adds the one accessory to his suit that it really didn’t need – an iron nose!

This volume has several storylines that run across multiple issues at a time. Iron Man battles Doctor Spectrum from the Squadron Sinister at the Stark Industries plant in Detroit, which leads to a battle against his fellow Avenger Thor. During this battle, Happy Hogan is injured while trying to cover for Tony, and the treatment to heal him reverts Happy back to his Freak personality.

That story no sooner wraps up before Iron Man is off to southeast Asia, where he gets caught-up in a super-villain royal rumble, as the Black Lama is setting up villains to fight each other for supremacy. Enter the Yellow Claw, the Mandarin, the Unicorn, Man-Bull, Whiplash, the Melter, and others. This complex storyline, plagued by the dreaded deadline, wraps with Iron Man and Firebrand following the Black Lama to his home dimension for one last showdown. The best part of this story arc was issue #72, which found Tony grounded in San Diego for repairs, and makes a visit to the 1974 San Diego Comic Convention.

One of the minor highlights of this volume occurs around issue #73 when Stark Industries undergoes a name change to Stark International. Tony wanted to showcase the diversity of all business aspects that the company was involved in, and he wanted to put some distance between the munitions manufacturer that his company was once branded as.

What makes this Essential?: I really was not that impressed with this volume. Some decent stories, but these are not great stories. You read this volume only if you are a die-hard fan of Iron Man. But my guess is that if you are that die-hard fan of Iron Man, you might be better off owning the original issues. Some checking of online retailers shows that most of these issues are very affordable despite being 40 years old.

Footnotes:  Iron Man #76 is a reprint issue of Iron Man #9. The cover for #76 is included in this Essential. Issue #9 was collected in Essential Iron Man Vol. 2.

Iron Man Annuals (King-Size Specials) #1 & #2 and Giant-Size Iron Man #1 were all reprints of various stories from Tales of Suspense. The covers to those issues are included in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: Iron Man: Armor Wars from the 1980s. Written by David Michelinie and Bob Layton, with art Layton, Mark Bright, and Barry Windsor-Smith, this has been collected numerous times in trade paperbacks and hardcovers. Tony Stark discovers that some of the technology used in his suits – technology that is so secret he dares not patent it – is now being used in the suits of numerous super-villains. Tony goes on an armor hunt to track down his missing technology, while at the same time updating his own armor to stay ahead of the competition. This story arc would be repeated multiple times in multiple formats, such as in comics as well as the Saturday-morning cartoon series from the 1990s.

Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 6

jla6First Published: February 2013

Contents: Justice League of America #107 (September/October 1973) to #132 (July 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, Dick Dillin, Elliot S! Maggin, Cary Bates, Gerry Conway, Martin Pasko, and others

Key First Appearances: Freedom Fighters, Libra, Golden Eagle

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 5

Overview: The Justice Leauge is back in their sixth (and sadly last) Showcase Presents volume. The run goes out with a bang, as we get multiple JLA-JSA team-ups, new character introductions, and pivotal moments in DC history.

The volume starts out with the JLA and JSA teaming up on Earth-X, with the introduction of the Freedom Fighters. While the members all date back to the Golden Age, the coming together as the Freedom Fighters on Earth-X was a brand new concept. In this world, Germany won World War II and this group of heroes (Uncle Sam, the Ray, Phantom Lady, the Human Bomb, and Doll Man) is working together to free America. Following this introduction, the Freedom Fighters would move onto their own ongoing title.

This volume gives us the second appearance ever of John Stewart as Green Lantern. Hal Jordan was out of action (he slipped on the soap in the shower and knocked himself out) so the ring went to Stewart to serve in his place. It would be three more years before we see Steward in action again. Also making his first appearance in this volume was Golden Eagle, who would go on to become a member of Teen Titans West.

We get introduced to the villain known as Libra, who’s gimmick is to steal half of a hero’s powers. After his initial appearance here, he was not used again until he came one of the main bad guys in Final Crisis in 2008.

 

While we don’t get any new members in this collection, Red Tornado does modify his appearance into his more traditional look with the stripes. Getting away from the more robotic look was the first step on his journey to becoming more human. And the volume’s most memorable moment came not in battle but with a wedding between the long-time friend of the League Adam Strange and his beloved Alanna.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This may be my favorite volume in the series, but I will also admit I am biased to these stories. These are some of the first comics I ever read, and Dick Dillin has been my definitive JLA artist for years. The writing duties seem to rotate around between Bates, Maggin, and Conway, but it works here. The stories take on a narrative quality, encouraging the reader to pick up the title each month.

Footnotes: Justice League of America #110 to #116 were 100-page books published bi-monthly. Each issue would feature a new story, a reprint of a prior JLA story, and a reprint of a Golden Age story from a Justice Society member. Only the new stories are included in this book.

If you like this volume, try: the Elseworlds story Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. This story presented a future look at DC Universe, where the characters have aged and the children have taken over roles from their parents. A new generation of heroes has developed, but they don’t hold the same moral views as the prior generation of heroes. So the older heroes, such as Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman, must don their costumes again to bring the heroes in line as well as stop yet another scheme from Lex Luthor. This is a brilliant story that almost demands multiple readings to pick up on everything. Heck, you need a second or third reading just to catch all of the Easter Eggs that Ross has left hidden in the backgrounds of every panel. If you have the chance, pick this up as an Absolute that includes the notes detailing who’s who in every panel.

Showcase Presents DC Comics Presents: The Superman Team-Ups Vol. 2

supermanteamup2First Published: July 2013

Contents: DC Comics Presents #27 (November 1980) to #50 (October 1982); and DC Comics Presents Annual #1 (1982)

Key Creator Credits: Martin Pasko, Len Wein, Jim Starlin, Gerry Conway, Paul Levitz, Rich Buckler, Roy Thomas, Curt Swan, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Irv Novick, Paul Kupperberg, and others

Key First Appearances: Mongul, Waldo Flynn, Alexander Luthor, Lois Lane-Luthor

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents DC Comics Presents: The Superman Team-Ups Vol. 1

Overview: Superman can be a tricky character to write. As silly as that may sound, give it some thought. In the Bronze Age, Superman was an all-powerful character. Outside of magic or kryptonite, what threats are there to stop or slow down a guy like Superman? Quite honestly, given his powers and abilities, why would Superman ever need to team up with any other hero? That’s a good question, one which was answered each and every month in the pages of DC Comics Presents.

The stories in this volume are a mix of different stories, with one-and-done issues with offbeat co-stars (the Joker, the Masters of the Universe, Dial H for Hero) to multi-part stories (Shazam Family).

The highlight in this volume is the multi-issue arc that starts this collection. Superman is introduced to a new villain in the universe, Mongul, and it takes the combined help of the Martian Manhunter, Supergirl, and the Spectre to stop him. Mongul would become a mainstay in the DC Universe in the years to come and plays a key role in one of the greatest Superman stories ever, “For the Man Who Has Everything…” (Superman Annual #11).

 

One of the final issues in this collection is the first DC Comics Presents Annual, which involved the Superman of Earth-1 teaming up with the Superman of Earth-2. The two heroes must travel to Earth-3, where roles are reversed and the heroes are actually villains. So the two Supermen find themselves teaming up with the one hero of Earth-3, Alexander Luthor. This Luthor would play a key role many years later during Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Rather than have me write up some kind of reason why you should own this book, I want to throw the challenge your way, dear reader. Tell me why these stories should not be showcased? Send me a note at essentialshowcase@gmail.com. I will be the first to admit when I’m wrong, and maybe I am overlooking something here. Maybe I am blinded by my love for the team-up concept. I could read this title, along with The Brave and the Bold, Marvel Two-in-One, and Marvel Team-Up, all day long. As a cheap black & white reprint collection, this seems like a no-brainer to have on your shelf. Loan it to your friends or your kids or your friends’ kids. These books are awesome, and I stand by my opinion!

Footnotes: DC Comics Presents #46 features Superman teaming up with the Global Guardians, which were made up of heroes from other countries around the world. These heroes all made their appearance in the Super Friends comic book, which was released to support the Saturday morning cartoon. There was some debate as to whether or not that comic was part of the DC Universe proper. While it made reference to ongoing storylines in other DC books, it really wasn’t until this issue of DCCP that it was firmly considered to be part of the DC Universe. The members would go on to varying degrees of success – Green Fury would be renamed Fire and Ice Maiden would become Ice before joining Justice League International.

Who’s Who:
#27 – Superman & Martian Manhunter
#28 – Superman & Supergirl
#29 – Superman & Spectre / Showcase Presents The Spectre Vol. 1
#30 – Superman & Black Canary
#31 – Superman & Robin
#32 – Superman & Wonder Woman
#33 – Superman & Shazam
#34 – Superman & the Shazam Family
#35 – Superman & Man-Bat
#36 – Superman & Starman
#37 – Superman & Hawkgirl
#38 – Superman & the Flash
#39 – Superman & Plastic Man
#40 – Superman & Metamorpho
#41 – Superman & the Joker
#42 – Superman & the Unknown Soldier
#43 – Superman & the Legion of Super-Heroes
#44 – Superman & Dial H for Hero
#45 – Superman & Firestorm
#46 – Superman & the Global Guardians
#47 – Superman & the Masters of the Universe
#48 – Superman & Aquaman
#49 – Superman & Shazam
Annual #1 – Superman & Superman
#50 – Superman & Clark Kent

If you like this volume, try: the Superman animated series from the late 1990s. Running for 54 episodes over three seasons, Superman tied in perfectly with Batman: The Animated Series, as the two shows were set in the same universe. Many characters crossed over between the two series, and the success of both would lead to the Justice League animated series. In Superman, we were given a Man of Steel that closely resembled the John Byrne Superman post-Crisis. But the designs of the backgrounds were firmly set in the world of the Max Fleisher cartoons. There is not a better representation of Superman anywhere. DVDs of this series are readily available, so even if you missed it the first time, you can still track it down.

Essential Thor Vol. 6

Essential Thor 6

First Published: October 2012

Contents: Thor #221 (March 1974) to #247 (May 1976)

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

Key First Appearances: Firelord, Dweller-in-Darkness, Horus, Isis, Osiris, Seth, Mimir, Servitor

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 7

Overview: Given his success in the cinematic Marvel Universe, you can fully expect Marvel to keep cranking out Essentials of the Bronze Age adventures of our favorite Norse deity, Thor.

This volume could be divided up into two sections, with the first section of 18 issues featuring stories from Gerry Conway and John Buscema. With the first issue of this volume, #221, Thor is joined on a series of adventures with his old friend, Hercules, the Demi-God from the Greek pantheon. The title becomes a “buddy cop” team-up of sorts, as the two hang-out around New York City, stumbling from one misadventure to the next.

There are several key stories during this run of Thor & Hercules: Galactus returns to Earth once again, this time with his new herald, Firelord. But Galactus is not here for dinner; rather, he needs Thor’s help in dealing with Ego, the Living Planet. Upon resolving that conflict, Thor arranges a swap with Galactus, giving Firelord his freedom on Earth, and in exchange he gives Galactus the old guardian of Asgard, the Destroyer, to animate and use as his herald.

During another adventure, the long-lost love of Thor, Jane Foster, returns but she is on the brink of death. Thor does anything he can to help prolong her life, but nothing is helping. Finally, Lady Sif sacrifices her life, and merges her soul with that of Jane Foster, reviving the former nurse. From that point forward, Thor and Jane Foster are inseparable. However, Odin feels that Thor has once again disobeyed his orders, and banishes Thor from Asgard (again!). Foster still has some of the memories of Sif, and often picks up a sword and jumps into battle with Thor.

The second section would cover the final nine issues, where Roy Thomas and then Len Wein take over the scripting duties from Conway. In this section, we meet the Egyptian pantheon of gods, such as Horus, Isis, and Osiris, as a pyramid springs up in Southern California. Thor is forced to team-up with the Egyptians to save his amnesiac father, Odin. In other issues, Thor, Jane Foster, and the Warriors Three travel to the end of time to stop the Time-Twisters from destroying the universe. And we get one final match-up with Firelord, who has been mesmerized into helping rebels trying to overthrow a democratically elected government in South America.

What makes this Essential?: I honestly had no idea of the Thor & Hercules team-up adventures that dominate the majority of this book. For those issues alone, you should track down this Essential. These are solid stories from the mid-1970s that do not get revisited often enough. The art from Buscema and friends remains stellar. Buscema’s artwork is solid enough that it works just as well, if not better, in black & white as it does in color. With the developments between Thor, Jane Foster, and Lady Sif, this is a worthy read for the advancement of the characters. 

Footnotes: When Thor #231 was published, page 14 was printed out of order. For this Essential, the pages were placed in the correct reading order.

Also in issue #231, a reference is made to an adventure that Hercules had with Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #28. That issue can be found in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2.

If Gerry Conway is writing a book in the 1970s, you can expect the title character to make a visit to see Tom Fagan, as Thor did once again in issue #232. For more information on Tom Fagan in Rutland, Vermont, see the review for Essential Avengers Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try:  the Hercules: Prince of Power Premiere Edition from 2009. This collects the two Hercules miniseries from 1982 and 1984, both done by Bob Layton. The two series each took place roughly 500 years into the future, as Hercules is traveling the galaxy. Accompanied by a Recorder, he crosses paths with the Skrulls, Starfox, and even Galactus. This is Hercules at his bombastic peak, bold and brash and looking for fun. Set so far into the future, you do not need to be deeply versed in Hercules’ history in the Marvel Universe. Track this book down – you will thank me later!

Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 5

JLA5

First Published: February 2011

Contents: Justice League of America #84 (November 1970) to #106 (July/August 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Mike Friedrich, Dick Dillin, Len Wein, Neal Adams, and others

Key First Appearances: Assemblers (Blue Jay, Silver Sorceress, Wandjina, Jack B. Quick), Merlyn, Starbreaker, Nebula Man, Kathy Sutton

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 6

Overview: With apologies to Hanna-Barbera, “In the great hall of the Justice League, there are assembled the world’s greatest heroes, created from the cosmic legends of the universe — Superman! Batman! Wonder Woman! Aquaman! Flash! Green Arrow! Green Lantern! Hawkman! Black Canary! Atom! To fight injustice, to right that which is wrong, and to serve all mankind!”

This volume can be broken down into two sections, based on the two writers (Mike Friedrich and Len Wein) who script all but one of the stories in this collection. We saw in the last volume that Dick Dillin took over the art duties, which began one of the longest runs of any artist on a Justice League title. Artist Neal Adams does most of the cover work in this collection, helping to set the tone for each issue before the book is even opened.

Mike Friedrich was a fresh face in the industry in the 1970s. He was a long-time letter page writer who leveraged his ongoing correspondence with editor Julie Schwartz to start selling short stories and fill-in stories. Justice League of America was Friedrich’s first ongoing assignment for DC. His stories tended to stay in the formula long-established by Gardner Fox and then Denny O’Neil and utilized the roster put in place by O’Neil. Friedrich did make some addition to the cast of characters in the DC Universe. In his second JLA issue, he introduced the Assemblers, a group of heroes that seemed to resemble Marvel’s Avengers. (Call it an homage, seeing that Marvel had already introduced in the pages of the Avengers the Squadron Sinister/Supreme, which those characters were an homage back to the Justice League.) He also introduced the villain archer Merlyn, who would be a minor character for many years until being brought to the forefront with the Arrow TV show in the last few years.

The addition of Wein takes the title to new heights. Beginning with issue #100, he starts a three-part JLA-JSA team-up that also brings back the legendary Seven Soldiers of Victory, who have been trapped in limbo for years. The heroes are revived, but not before a hero makes a final sacrifice. How do you follow that epic? Easily, you send the Justice League to Rutland, Vermont, for the annual Halloween parade. For good measure, Len Wein writes himself, along with his wife Glynis and future JLA writers Gerry Conway and Steve Englehart, into the story. If Rutland sounds familiar, it became a nexus between comic book companies in the 1970s. (Check out my write-up for Essential Avengers Vol. 4 for more details.)

As with previous volumes, one of the highlights is seeing the new members elected into the JLA. Towards the end of this volume, we see the Elongated Man, a long-time friend of the Flash, and the Red Tornado, re-assembled and now living on Earth-1, join the league. There was one other vote in this collection, as the heroes debated and finally agreed to offer a spot to the Phantom Stranger, who makes his first appearance in this title. Only the Phantom Stranger didn’t stick around to hear the results of the vote. The Phantom Stranger would make numerous appearances in the title in the years to come, helping the League out of a tough situation or by just providing ominous warnings.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This is a hodge-podge collection of issues, but it really does work. I think it is in this era, particularly when writer Len Wein takes over, that the full potential of this title takes hold, and this truly does feel like a book worthy of the plug, “World’s Greatest Super-Heroes!” Everything that you want to see in a JLA collection is here – new members joining the team, new villains being introduced, and multiple JLA-JSA team-ups. We also get to the point in the series where it stops being a collection of one-and-done stories, and there is more of an ongoing narrative that continues from issue to issue.

Footnotes: Justice League of America #85 and #93 are Giant-size reprint issues. collecting previously published stories. The covers for these two issues are in this volume.

Justice League of America #91 and #92 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents Robin Vol. 1.

Justice League of America #103 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents The Phantom Stranger Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice original graphic novel from 2002. Released in late 2002, writers David Goyer and Geoff Johns (who were then writing the monthly JSA book) craft a fresh story bringing the two legendary teams together for the first time in the modern age. (Remember, the JLA-JSA team-up tradition came to an end with Crisis!). Artists Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino make the characters jump out from the page, truly capturing the individual personalities of each of the characters. The two teams have gathered together for a Thanksgiving dinner, but suddenly find many of their teammates possessed by the embodiments of the Seven Deadly Sins. The unaffected members of the two teams must work together to free their friends as well as figure out who is the true foe they are going up against. This was originally released as a hardcover book, and the softcover edition came out the following year. The complete story was recently included in JSA Omnibus Vol. 1, which came out in 2014.

Essential Hulk Vol. 6

Hulk6First Published: September 2010

Contents: Incredible Hulk #201 (July 1976) to #225 (July 1978); and Incredible Hulk Annual #6 (1977)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, Sal Buscema, David Anthony Kraft, Roger Stern, Herb Trimpe, George Tuska, Jim Starlin, and others

Key First Appearances: Constrictor, Quintronic Man

Story Continues From: Essential Hulk Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Hulk Vol. 7

Overview: He’s back! He’s mad! And he’s green! Do we need much more than that for an introduction to the sixth volume of Essential Hulk

There are two main names to know about this book – Len Wein and Sal Buscema. Both joined the series in the last volume, helping to provide the definitive take on the Hulk in the 1970s. At the end of this volume, Wein transitions the writing duties over to Roger Stern, who will begin a long run with our title hero.

The basic points of the story remain the same. Bruce Banner changes to the Hulk when he is angered. The US Army led by General Ross is on the hunt for the Hulk. Banner still has feelings for Ross’ daughter Betty, who married the general’s second-in-command. The Hulk still has feelings for Jarella, the green queen of a microscopic world. Finally, the Hulk once had friends, such as Rick Jones and Jim Wilson. But at the end of the day, the Hulk is a loner. That’s everything you need to know to get started with a Hulk story.

Now I mentioned Jarella earlier, the queen of her world. She reappears in the Hulk’s life, but this time by coming to his world. In the heat of a battle, Jarella is killed saving the life of a child. The Hulk does his best to save his love, going from one Doc (Samson) to another Doctor (Strange) but nothing can overcome death. Not even the Hulk.

You could make the argument that Jack of Hearts makes his first comic book appearance (Incredible Hulk #213) in this collection. He had been a character featured in the Marvel black & white magazines up to this point. I guess I could promote this as Jack of Hearts first appearance in color, but we all know the Essentials are black & white collections. Maybe we should just be excited for the inclusion of Jack of Hearts for a few issues and go with that, OK?

One of my favorite B-grade villains is introduced in this collection with the Constrictor. He wears a costumed suit with electrified adamantium alloy cables that shoot out of his wrists, creating a heavy-duty whip that he can use as an offensive weapon. He never sticks around for vey long, but I always loved the design of his costume.

As we get to the end of this collection, we find that the status quo remains much how we found it at the beginning. Bruce Banner changes to the Hulk when he is angered. General Ross and the Army still hunts for the Hulk. Banner still has feelings for Ross’ daughter Betty. The Hulk still has feelings for Jarella. And the Hulk has a few friends, such as Rick Jones and Jim Wilson. But at the end of the day, the Hulk is alone. (Well, not entirely correct there. At the end of THIS collection, we see the Hulk and Doc Samson in battle against the Leader. The book leaves us in the middle of a story arc! Stupid Marvel, I need to go read Essential Hulk Vol. 7 now!)

What makes this Essential?: I am unsure how to sum up this volume. The stories are interesting, and there are some memorable moments (particularly with Jarella) that stand out in this volume. Sal Buscema has become THE Hulk artist in this era, and visually defined who the Hulk is at a time when there were more eyes on the book as a result of the CBS TV show. But I find myself wanting just a little bit more from these comics. I get the feeling that monthly publishing schedule was more important than developing and pushing the characters forward. It’s OK to have books that meet the publishing schedule month after month, but for a book that has been around for more than 10 years (at this point), I just don’t know if we see the growth in the Hulk character compared to the growth seen in other characters in this time-period. This is a good volume, but I really want some more at this point with the Hulk.

Footnotes: The Incredible Hulk TV series debuted on CBS as a pilot movie on November 4, 1977, during the era of the books in this collection. This volume ends with issue #225 so we won’t see this until the next Essential volume, but beginning with issue #227, each cover will have a banner reading “Marvel’s TV Sensation.”

If you like this volume, try: reading up on Jack of Hearts. Visually he is so interesting to look at, although he probably induces nervous twitches in artists or colorists when his name comes up in the script. His appearance here in the Incredible Hulk is his first outside of his initial story arc in the Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu magazine. Born from a human father and an alien mother, Jack Hart discovers as he grows up that his body is developing deadly energy. His father designs a special containment suit, which just happens to maybe look like a Jack from a deck of cards. (This was the 1970s – inspiration could be found EVERYWHERE!) Over the years, Jack of Hearts would pop up in a variety of Marvel titles, sometimes embracing his cosmic heritage, other times just to provide a visually interesting character. He did land his own mini-series in the mid-1980s, but that has not been completely reprinted. He did eventually join up with the Avengers, during the Busiek and Johns eras in the late 1990s. Sadly, Jack of Hearts did not survive the roster upheaval with Avengers: Disassembled, and has been used very sparingly ever since.