Showcase Presents Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1

First Published: September 2007

Contents: Batman and the Outsiders story from The Brave and the Bold #200 (July 1983); Batman and the Outsiders #1 (August 1983) to #19 (March 1985); Batman and the Outsiders Annual #1 (September 1984); and New Teen Titans #37 (December 1983)

Key Creator Credits: Mike W. Barr, Jim Aparo,  Marv Wolfman, George Peréz, and others

Key First Appearances: Brion Markov/Geo-Force, Gabrielle Doe/Violet Harper/Halo, Tatsu Yamashiro/Katana, Baron Bedlam, Dr. Helga Jace, Masters of Disaster (Coldsnap, Dust Devil, Heatstroke, Mudslide, New Wave, Shakedown, and Windfall), Force of July (Major Victory, Lady Liberty, Mayflower, Silent Majority, and Sparkler)

Overview: Lucius Fox, who oversees Wayne Enterprises for playboy Bruce Wayne, has gone missing in Markovia during a revolution. As Batman, he goes to his friends in the Justice League asking for help – and is rejected, as the JLA has promised the State Department that they would not interfere in matters of state. Fed up with the JLA, Batman quits the League and strikes out on his own. Enlisting the help of long-time friends Metamorpho and Black Lightning, Batman works his way into Markovia to rescue his friend. Along the way, new heroes are met to aid Batman in the rescue of Fox. Realizing the need for a team, Batman organizes these heroes into a new team, the Outsiders.

Over the next 18 months of stories, the Outsiders gel as a team. Questions are answered regarding the origins of Halo and Katana. Geo-Force finds a missing sibling hanging out with the Teen Titans. Metamorpho continues to seek out a cure for his condition, which would allow him to someday finally marry Sapphire Stagg. And Batman learns along the way to trust those around him, finally revealing his identity to his teammates.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This is a fun read of Batman in the mid-1980s, before the dark and gritty Batman introduced by Frank Miller takes over the direction of the character. The new characters introduced (Geo-Force, Katana, and Halo) all continue to be part of the ongoing DC continuity, throughout multiple crisis and reboot events. These are not the greatest comics ever – in the grand scheme of things, this was definitely the #3 monthly Batman book on the shelves in this era, behind Batman and Detective Comics. That said, this is a very good run on an interesting set of new and veteran characters. Give this book a look, that can be appreciated by readers of all ages.

Footnotes: In a reversal of teacher and student roles, Batman and the Outsiders received a boost by doing a crossover with The New Teen Titans. At that time, the Teen Titans had recently added a new member in Terra, who had a similar costume and similar powers to Geo-Force. (For the record, Terra was introduced first, by about six months.) In the story, we find out that Terra is the younger step-sister of Geo-Force, and received her powers from Dr. Jace. The two teams unite to take on Dr. Light and the Fearsome Five, with Robin taking the lead in directing the heroes and Batman taking orders from his former protege. 

If you like this volume, try: the Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo hardcover collections, released in 2012 and 2013. Aparo started his career at Charlton Comics, before joining DC in the late 1960s. Although he is most closely associated with Batman, Aparo also did memorable runs on Aquaman, Spectre, and Green Arrow. Aparo had a long run on The Brave and the Bold, working on the majority of the issues between #98 and #200. Many of those issues are collected in these two volumes of Legends of the Dark Knight, as well as in Showcase Presents The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 2 and Vol. 3.

Essential Nova Vol. 1

Essential Nova Vol. 1

First Published: March 2006

Contents: Nova #1 (September 1976) to #25 (May 1979); Amazing Spider-Man #171 (August 1977); and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #3 (1978)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino, Gene Colan, Ross Andru, and others

Key First Appearances: Richard Rider/Nova, Charles Rider, Gloria Rider, Robert Rider, Ginger Jaye, Bernie Dillon, Caps Cooper, Condor, Powerhouse, Diamondhead, Corruptor, Sphinx, Blackout

Story Continues In: Sadly, Nova ended with issue #25 with plenty of plot threads unanswered. Many of those were resolved in the pages of Fantastic Four #206 to #214 and in ROM #24.

Overview:  Meet Rhomann Dey, a dying member of the Nova Corps, a police force from the planet Xander. Piloting his spaceship to Earth, Dey is pursued by the villainous Zorr the Conqueror. Knowing that he has little time left, Dey scans Earth to find a replacement to transfer his powers. So, meet Richard Rider, just your average teenager in the outskirts of New York City. Trying to enjoy an ice cream sundae with his girlfriend Ginger, Rider is struck by an energy beam from space. Rider wakes up later in the hospital to discover he can shoot energy beams from his eyes and now has incredible intelligence. When he concentrates, his outfit changes to the costume of the Nova Corps, complete with the bucket helmet. So what do you do when you’ve been given powers from an alien? You become Nova, America’s newest teenage super-hero.

Now, every good superhero needs a rogue’s gallery, and Nova finds himself trading blows with the likes of Powerhouse, Condor, Diamondhead, the Corruptor, and the Sphinx. He even crossed paths with long-standing villains, such as the Sandman and the Yellow Claw. Throw in a crossover with everyone’s favorite web-slinging hero, and the newest member of the Marvel universe is set.

What makes this Essential?: Nova is an interesting character, first conceived by Wolfman and Wein in the mid-1960s. Finally seeing publication in the mid-1970s, the character of Nova was tweaked to be a new version of Spider-Man: a teenage super-hero in the suburbs of New York with an alliterative name (Peter Parker, meet Richard Rider). Given his own set of re-occurring villains, Nova had to juggle the demands on his time – completely homework, hiding his dual identity from his family, and saving the world at least once a week. And yes, his origin does owe a tip of the hat to the Silver Age Green Lantern.

Like many other titles that debuted in this era, Nova may not have been the commercial success out of the gate like Amazing Spider-Man was a decade earlier, but the character did connect with a fan base. As some of those members of the fan base entered the comic book industry, they brought back into focus the characters they grew up with, leading to the Nova revival in the 1990s and 2000s.

So, the stories in this volume are adequate. A lot of them do feel like a rehash of the Lee-Ditko Amazing Spider-Man issues of years past. What makes this Essential, and why it should be read, is the legacy it built for the next generation of comic book creators and readers.

Footnotes: Nova #12 and Amazing Spider-Man #171 were also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 8.

Marvel Two-in-One Annual #3 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: the new Nova series by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. Based on the Nova character introduced in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, Sam Alexander is a young teenager growing up in Carefree, Arizona. His father has been missing for years; maybe he was out on another drunken binge, or maybe he was serving in the galactic Nova Corps. Sam’s life is turned upside down when he receives a visit from Rocket and Gamora from the Guardians of the Galaxy, offering Sam his dad’s Nova Corps helmet. Suddenly, Sam is a teenage super=hero. This is a fun book that works for all ages. I have been reading this book to my kids each month, and my son is a big “Buckethead” fan. This has been collected in hardcover and trade paperback, making it easily accessible however you choose to read it.

Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1

Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1

First Published: December 2005

Contents: Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977); Marvel Two-In-One #29 (July 1977) to #33 (November 1977); Spider-Woman #1 (April 1978) to #25 (April 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, Mark Gruenwald, Archie Goodwin, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino, Jim Mooney, Ron Wilson, and others

Key First Appearances: Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman, Jonathan Drew, Merriam Drew, Jerry Hunt, Magnus, Brothers Grimm, Madame Doll, Needle, Gypsy Moth, Lindsay McCabe, Scotty McDowell 

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 2

Overview:  Living with her parents near Wundagore Mountain, young Jessica Drew becomes deathly ill from uranium poisoning. Jessica’s father injects her with an experimental serum based on irradiated spiders’ blood to save her life, but it puts her into suspended animation while her body heals. When she comes out of it as a young adult, she finds that she has powers similar to that of a spider – climbing walls, gliding on wind currents, and a venom blast. Recruited by Hydra, Jessica Drew takes on the name of Spider-Woman and is assigned a task to kill Nick Fury. So begins the adventures of Marvel’s newest superhero!

Jessica eventually flips sides, and works for S.H.I.E.L.D. as a double agent, spying on Hydra. She gets involved in a convoluted adventure with the Thing in Marvel Two-In-One, which lead into Jessica getting her own title and returning back to the United States.

Early on in the series, Spider-Woman battles an assortment of macabre characters, such as Magnus, Morgana le Fay, and the Brothers Grimm. She develops a friendship with actress Lindsey McCabe, who would become a long-time companion even after this title ended. She also opens an investigation agency with Scotty McDowell, who does the office work from his wheelchair while Jessica does the leg work on the streets.

What makes this Essential?: My personal opinion is that this collection (and character) is a train wreck. “Spider-Woman” was created solely to protect Marvel from having an another comic book publisher creating a character with that name, by trying to sponge off of the Spider-Man property. (To protect other possible trademark infringement, other debuts in this era also include She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel.) Originally, Spider-Woman was to be a spider that had been evolved into a human – thankfully that origin went away. Despite the namesake, writers Marv Wolfman and Mark Gruenwald avoided using Spider-Man in a cameo appearance, although he finally did show up in issue #20 towards the end of Gruenwald’s run. Even though she wore a costume, this title felt more like a horror or monster book, along with the lines of Werewolf By Night or Tomb of Dracula. Despite all of these handicaps, the Spider-Woman character has survived and flourished over the years, most notably under the direction of Brian Michael Bendis in the pages of New Avengers.  If you are a big fan of Jessica Drew, consider getting this just to understand how far the character has come since she first debuted.

Footnotes: Marvel Two-In-One #29 to #32 are also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2.

Marvel Two-In-One #33 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2 and Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: reading the Alias series from Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos. Jessica Jones is a superhero turned private investigator. She went to high school with Peter Parker. As the superhero Jewel, she was once an Avenger. Now, life is just scraping by from one assignment to the next. Her circle of friends includes Luke Cage, Carol Danvers, and Jessica Drew. This series was part of the Marvel MAX line, which was designed to tell R-rated stories set within the Marvel Universe. The series ran for 28 issues and was replaced by the short-lived title The Pulse, which really was Alias without the MAX heading. Alias has been collected in multiple formats, including an Omnibus. Jessica Jones is one of the featured characters in the Marvel/Netflix deal, so catch up on Alias now.