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 Werewolf By Night Vol. 1

werewolf1First Published: October 2005

Contents: Marvel Spotlight #2 (February 1972) to #4 (June 1972); Werewolf by Night #1 (September 1972) to #21 (June 1979); Tomb of Dracula #18 (March 1974); Giant-Size Creatures #1 (July 1974); and Marvel Team-Up #12 (August 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Mike Friedrich, Doug Moench, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Mike Ploog, Gene Colan, Gil Kane, Tom Sutton, and others

Key First Appearances: Jack Russell/Werewolf, Lissa Russell, Phillip Russell, Buck Cowan, Tatterdemalion, Raymond Coker, Topaz, Tigra,

Story Continues In: Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 2

Overview: Jack Russell is your typical teenage boy growing up in southern California in the 1970s. He’s just turned 18, he can’t stand his stepfather, and his mom is always nagging him about something. But turning 18 brings on a change to Jack Russell, as he finds out that he carries a recessive trait thanks to his birth father, who he never really knew. Turns out dear old dad was also a lycanthrope, and now Jack is too. Not familiar with the lycanthrope term? Let me save you the time of looking it up and clue you in on the more common term – a werewolf! This is Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 1.

So now at the start of each full moon, Jack Russell undergoes a transformation into a werewolf. He retains very little of Jack’s memories and values, reverting more to a wild animal looking for the hunt and trying to escape the city for the forest. For three days, Jack must worry about the setting of the sun and the rise of the moon, when his transformation kicks in. He’s constantly looking for a cure and often falls into traps because someone offers him the solution to his monthly hairy situation.

I think we can all agree that being a werewolf is not the easiest of curses to deal with. For starters, you go through a lot of shirts – good thing you live in SoCal as the weather generally works in your favor. You try to protect your family members, like your sister. When people realize your secret, they create schemes or plans to make that work for their own personal gain.

Many of these issues are one-and-done, or they might have a story that carries across three issues with each issue covering one night of the current full moon. Right or wrong, there are a lot of foes or characters that only appear once or twice, and never appear again in any other comic.

Now, just because he is based in California doesn’t mean that he is isolated from the Marvel Universe. A trip to Europe in search of clues about his birth father leads to an encounter with Dracula in a memorable crossover between the respective books. Back in California, he meets up with Greer Nelson as she becomes Tigra for the first time. And in the craziest of meet-ups, the Werewolf meets up with Spider-Man in San Francisco, after Peter Parker is sent to the west coast to get pictures of Daredevil and Black Widow.

What makes this Essential?: There were parts of this collection that I really enjoyed. Reading individual issues were good, but reading these issues back-to-back seems to fall apart. The problem I had is that Jack Russell’s condition is triggered by the full moon, which runs for roughly three nights every 28 days, give or take. So as I am reading this, I’m curious to find out what is going on in the 3 1/2 weeks between the end of one transformation period and the start of the next transformation period. (I had this same problem with Showcase Presents Martian Manhunter Vol. 2 when he was fighting a villain that would only appear at the start of a full moon.) If I had been reading this month-to-month, I think I would have appreciated the title more. But reading this as a complete collection, I think it doesn’t hold up.

Footnotes: Werewolf By Night #15 and Tomb of Dracula #18 were also reprinted in Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1.

Marvel Team-Up #1 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1.

Giant-Size Creatures #12 featured the first appearance of Greer Nelson as Tigra. However, Greer’s first appearance in comics was in The Cat #1 (November 1972). In this short-lived series, Nelson and another woman were part of an experiment to imbue them with cat-like abilities. Greer used her abilities for good, while the other woman used hers for bad. Guess how that worked itself out? Anyway, in the Giant-Size Creatures issue, we Greer transformed yet again, this time into Tigra. Somewhere along the lines, Greer’s original Cat costume was left in the care of the Avengers. It was later claimed by Patsy Walker, who went briefly by the name of the Cat as well before settling on Hellcat.

If you like this volume, try: the Fables series from DC/Vertigo and created by Bill Willingham. The basic concept of the series is that the fables we are told as kids to teach us morals and values are all true. The characters are real and still alive. In fact, they have migrated from the Old Lands and have set up residence in Fabletown, a hidden neighborhood in New York City. In addition, there is a farm in upstate New York to host the animal characters from the fables. One of the main characters from the series is Bigby Wolf, the Big Bad Wolf from ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ or ‘The Three Little Pigs’ fame. Bigby Wolf serves as the sheriff of Fabletown, and can switch back and forth between his human, werewolf, and wolf forms. This series ran for 150 issues and is easily found in trade paperbacks and hardcovers.

Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1

tombofdracula1First Published: December 2003

Contents: The Tomb of Dracula #1 (April 1972) to #25 (October 1974); Werewolf by Night #15 (March 1974); and Giant-Size Chillers #1 (June 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Gardner Fox, and others

Key First Appearances: Dracula, Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, Taj Nital, Quincy Harker, Blade, Doctor Sun, Deacon Frost, Lilith, Hannibal King

Story Continues In: Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 2

Overview: In the early 1970s, the Comics Code Authority started relaxing its standards, opening the doors for comic book publishers to get back into the business of publishing horror titles. Having already introduced Morbius as the “Living Vampire” in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel was ready to get back into the monster business. First up was the king of the vampires with The Tomb of Dracula.

Perhaps as an indication of the madcap rush to get the title to press as quickly as possible, Tomb of Dracula went through a long list of writers over the first six issues. Gerry Conway is credited with writing the first two issues, but the bulk of #1 was actually written by Roy Thomas and Stan Lee. Conway left after the second issue because of better writing opportunities, and Archie Goodwin took over, but only for issues #3 and #4. He was followed by Gardner Fox, who wrote issues #5 and #6. Fox was relieved of his duties on the title, and Marv Wolfman took over. It took Wolfman a few issues to get comfortable with the title character and the supporting cast introduced by the previous five writers. But once he does find his footing, the series picks up and becomes a hard book to put down.

What does remain constant is the art duties by Gene Colan, who handles all of the penciling  for the issues in this volume (as well as this series). Colan’s art is just a breath-taking as his run on Daredevil, just with less spandex.

For the story itself, after a hundred years of a stake-induced slumber, Count Dracula is revived and begins his quest to reclaim his spot in a changing world. But Dracula’s return to action does not go unnoticed, and a group of would-be vampire hunters are soon on his trail:

  • Frank Drake is a descendent of Dracula, from his days before he became a vampire. Nothing would make Drake happier than putting his forefather back in the grave.
  • Rachel Van Helsing is the granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing, the first vampire hunter. She is still in the “family business”, and is often accompanied by her mute assistant, Taj Nital
  • Quincy Harker is a wheelchair-bound expert on vampires, and has a wealth of weapons at his disposal.
  • Blade, the vampire hunter, is a living vampire who blames the monsters for the death of his mother.
  • Hannibal King is another vampire hunter and also another living vampire.

Outside of a crossover with the Werewolf, there is very little about this book that ties it into the Marvel Universe proper. In future volumes, we will see appearances by Doctor Strange and Brother Voodoo, but in general, this is not a title that you have to read a lot of the other Marvel titles in order to understand. Conversely, characters like Blade and Hannibal King will become more prominent in other titles, with Blade actually crossing the break-out success point in the 1990s to warrant his own series, a trilogy of movies, and a syndicated television show.

What makes this Essential?: Once Wolfman takes over, I really liked the book, which came as a great surprise to me. I only picked up this book a few years ago because I found it for a good price on eBay, and the collector mentality in me is obsessing to get all of the Essentials. I’ve never been a big fan of the monster concepts, either in the original novels, the classic films, or these legendary comics. So, for now at least, I am hooked on this concept, this presentation. I should have known that with my great love for Gene Colan’s work, I should have picked this book up earlier! I do think that the black-and-white format works better for this title, even though I know it was presented in color with it was first published. I like that this story feels timeless, in that this same story could be told today (albeit with slight differences such as replacing cord phones with cell phones) and still be just as effective.

Footnotes: Werewolf By Night #15 and Tomb of Dracula #18 are also reprinted in Essential Werewolf by Night Vol. 1.

The entire 70-issue run of The Tomb of Dracula was penciled by Gene Colan, who used the image of actor Jack Palance as his model for Dracula.

Several issues in this Essential make reference to the events in W, a black-and-white magazine that ran for 13 issues. Those magazines are collected in Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: tracking down a copy of The Curse of Dracula, a three-issue mini-series from Dark Horse Comics in 1998. This series reunited Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan on the Dracula character, but it is not officially tied to their work at Marvel with the character. Jonathan Van Helsing leads of team of vampire hunters to the fog-covered streets of San Francisco to help solve a series of mysterious murders. It was reprinted as both a hardcover and a trade paperback, but this might be a series that is easier to find in the back-issue bin.

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.

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.

Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Vol. 1

Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Vol. 1

First Published: August 2008

Contents: The House of Secrets #81 (August-September 1969) to #98 (June-July 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Sergio Aragonés, Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Alex Toth, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Dick Dillin, Michael William Kaluta, Gray Morrow, and others

Key First Appearances: Swamp Thing

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Vol. 2

Overview: Do you dare enter the House of Secrets? It’s a strange house, filled with locked rooms, dusty corridors, a musty basement, and a mysterious attic. It also inspires a lot of stories of ghosts, demons, and witches.

Not to sound like I am repeating myself here, but the origins of this title are the same as The House of Mystery. In 1968, industry veteran Joe Orlando was brought in from EC Comics to take over the editor duties of numerous books at DC, including the horror line. The content took a darker tone, as Orlando introduced the EC-story style which was pushing the boundaries of the Comics Code Authority. The House of Secrets was revived as a title to serve alongside The House of Mystery.

The comic is hosted by Abel, the caretaker of the house, who introduces a lot of the stories and talks to his imaginary friend Goldie. (Abel’s brother Cain was the host for The House of Mystery.) The stories range from 4-12 pages, so each issue has 4-5 features each month. There is no continuity between the stories, so these can be read in any order.

The highlight of this book is issue #92 (July 1971), in which the Swamp Thing makes his first appearance in comics. This Swamp Thing is Alex Olsen; the more recognizable Alec Holland Swamp Thing would debut in 1972  in Swamp Thing #1.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: For these anthology titles, it’s hard to strongly recommend or strongly downplay this collection. Given the wide variety of stories, there is probably something in this volume that a reader will really enjoy and something in this volume that will bore a reader. It’s worth a look given the incredible talents working on this book. I don’t know that this is a must-own volume, but I don’t think you will be disappointed if you do own it.

Cover Girl: The cover to The House of Secrets #92 is used for the cover of this Showcase Presents. The cover by Bernie Wrightson shows the Swamp Thing approaching a young woman. That young woman was modeled by Louise Jones, who would later become the popular Marvel writer and editor Louise Simonson.

Footnotes: The House of Secrets was not always a home just for horror tales. In the issues prior to those collected in this Showcase Presents edition, The House of Secrets was an anthology title, including a long run of Eclipso stories from issue #61 to #80 (reprinted in Showcase Presents Eclipso Vol. 1). The House of Secrets was canceled with issue #80 in 1966 but was revived three years later, keeping the same issue numbering, as a horror title.

“The Day After Doomsday…” stories from The House of Secrets #86, #95, and #97 were also reprinted in Showcase Presents The Great Disaster Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: researching the career of artist Alex Toth, who has some stories collected in this Showcase Presents. Toth is a legendary artist from the Golden and Silver Age of comics but is perhaps more recognized for his work done with tv animation. Toth was involved in the creation of Space Ghost, the Herculoids, Birdman, and even Super Friends. His comic career spanned multiple decades, which included stops at DC, Marvel, Dell, Gold Key, Standard, and Warren Publishing. While Toth did do some superhero stories, the bulk of his comic book resume was spent working on horror, romance, war and other genres which interested him. Although Toth passed away in 2006, his art still lives on. IDW has been publishing a series of books (Genius, Isolated in 2011; Genius, Illustrated in 2013; and Genius, Animated in 2014) showcasing the legacy of Alex Toth. 

Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 3

First Published: December 2007

Contents: Doctor Strange #1 (June 1974) to #29 (June 1978); Doctor Strange Annual #1 (1976); and The Tomb of Dracula #44 (May 1976) and #45 (June 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Englehart, Marv Wolfman, Gene Colon, Frank Brunner, Jim Starlin, Roger Stern, Tom Sutton, and others

Key First Appearances: Silver Dagger, Gaea, Domini

Story Continues From: Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 4

Overview: As a part of the Marvel Universe for over 10 years, Doctor Strange served as the co-star of Strange Tales, which was later renamed (but not renumbered) as Doctor Strange; he was the focus of attention in Marvel Feature and Marvel Premiere; and he helped found a non-team in the Defenders. But it took until 1974 for Doctor Strange to finally get what every hero craves – a #1 issue!

Having finished his run in Marvel Premiere, Doctor Strange once again got his own bi-monthly title with the same creative team of Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner. But the title really picks up when Gene Colon returns to the title with issue #6.

There are some interesting stories in this volume. Doctor Strange becomes the last man alive, as the Earth is destroyed and then replaced with an exact duplicate. Doctor Strange travels to Boston where he encounters Dracula to save Wong from becoming a vampire. And who else could defeat Doctor Strange but a Doctor Stranger. Thankfully, Doctor Strange still has friends like Clea, the Ancient One, and Nighthawk to stand by his side as he faces down these new challenges.

What makes this Essential?: I do try to be original for each one of these reviews. But I run the risk of repeating myself with this review. So, I’m still not a big fan of Doctor Strange. But the art of this volume, in particular that of Gene Colan, is simply spectacular. I think that the black & white format actually enhances the art. This volume could serve as a primer for aspiring artists looking to understand page layouts and characters forms. The stories seem rather average against the artwork – for all of the talk about current writers stretching out stories for the trades, they should read some of these stories.

Footnotes: Doctor Strange #3 contains reprints of Doctor Strange stories from Strange Tales #126 and #127, framed with new pages. These Strange Tales stories were previously reprinted in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1.

Doctor Strange #14 and The Tomb of Dracula #44 and #45 were also reprinted in Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 2.

Doctor Strange #21 is a reprint of Doctor Strange #169, which retells the origin of Doctor Strange. This story was previously reprinted in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: exploring the works of P. Craig Russell. Serving as the artist of Doctor Strange Annual #1 in this volume was one of Russell’s earliest jobs in comics. Over the years, he has been a modern master of the art, which a very distinct look and creative layouts. Russell is known for incorporating operatic themes into his work across multiple publishers and decades. He had a memorable run with Killraven, which can be found in Essential Killraven Vol. 1. Russell’s most recent work includes a two-volume graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.