Essential Defenders Vol. 7

First Published: May 2013

Contents: The Defenders #126 (December 1983) to #139 (January 1985); Beauty and the Beast #1 (December 1984) to #4 (June 1985); and Iceman #1 (December 1984) to #4 (June 1985)

Key Creator Credits: J.M. Dematteis, Peter Gillis, Ann Nocenti, Alan Kupperberg, Sal Buscema, Don Perlin, Mike Zeck, and others

Key First Appearances: Manslaughter, Oblivion, Dragon of the Moon

Story Continues From: Essential Defenders Vol. 6

Overview: The Defenders are dead! Long live the New Defenders! As we saw at the end of the last collection, With the core line-up (Doctor Strange, Hulk, Namor, & Silver Surfer) no longer able to work together for fear of destroying the Earth, a new team steps from the ashes to become the New Defenders. From the last run, Valkyrie, Gargoyle and Beast stick around, recruiting Angel, Iceman and Moondragon to join them in this journey.

With the new team, the dynamics between the various members make for an interesting story, sometimes more interesting than the villain of the month that they would battle each month. Who will lead the team? Is it the Beast, who has trained and studied under both Charles Xavier and Captain America? Is it the Angel, whose bank account is funding most of the team’s activities? Or is it Moondragon, who believes that everyone should bow down to the goddess that she believes herself to be?

Regardless who leads the team, we see the story moving forward with hints of things to come. We are introduced to the Dragon of the Moon, who will (SPOILER WARNING SINCE THERE IS NO ESSENTIAL DEFENDERS VOL. 8!) will become a negative influence in Moondragon’s life and lead to the eventual demise of this team (and this title).

But before then, we get lots of adventures of the new Defenders. We even get some solo mini-series involving members of the team. First up is an Iceman miniseries, which ran concurrently with Beauty and the Beast, teaming up the Beast with Dazzler (before she joined the X-Men).

What makes this Essential?: This is the most transformative era of the title that we have seen. For all of the talk about the Defenders not have a set roster, it was always some combination of the core line-up. Now just Valkyrie remains with half of the original X-Men, plus Moondragon and Gargoyle. So, for a change of pace with the characters, this is an interesting read. But it still doesn’t make this Essential. I personally would have rather seen the two mini-series dropped in favor of finding a way to get all of the remaining issues (it ran until #152) into this collection. I think J.M. DeMatteis and Peter Gillis have fun creating new adventures with these characters, with stellar art from the likes of Don Perlin and Alan Kubberberg, but these are not A-list characters to carry a book.

Footnotes: During this run of Defenders issues, the covers reflected the title The New Defenders. However, the indicia in the original issues indicated that the official title still was The Defenders. It wasn’t until issue #140 that the official name listed in the indicia was The New Defenders. Since this collection ends with issue #139, you could make the argument that Marvel collected all of the original issues in the Defenders series in this line of Essentials

Beauty and the Beast #1 to #4 are also reprinted in Essential Dazzler Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: hunting down a copy of The Gargoyle mini-series from 1985. This entire series has never been reprinted, so you will need to hit the back-issue bins to find this. Gargoyle co-creator and writer J.M. DeMatteis, along with artist Mark Badger, finally had the chance to do a solo series featuring Isaac Christians. He returns to his hometown, Christiansboro, Virginia, where Chambers is tricked into returning to his original body. Unfortunately, that allows the one of the demons to return to the Gargoyle shell and begin an attack to destroy the town. With the help of a druid, Christians’ soul is returned to the Gargoyle shell, and the Gargoyle destroys Isaac Chambers’ body so that he can’t be used like that again. This mini-series should have been collected in this volume, perhaps in place of the Beauty and the Beast series since that had been included in the Essential Dazzler Vol. 2 collection four years earlier.

Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 2

wosm2First Published: July 2012

Contents: Web of Spider-Man #19 (October 1986) to #32 (November 1987); Web of Spider-Man Annual #3 (1987); Amazing Spider-Man #293 (October 1987) and #294 (November 1987); and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #131 (October 1987) and #132 (November 1987)

Key Creator Credits: David Michelinie, Larry Lieber, Len Kaminski, J.M. Dematteis, James Owsley, Mike Zeck, Marc Silvestri, Steve Geiger, and others

Key First Appearances: Humbug, Solo

Story Continues From: Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 1

Overview: Swinging across the city and across the pond, Spider-Man is back in action with amazing adventures and spectacular scenes. This is Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 2!

The stories in this collection fall at either end of the scale – these are either really good or really bad. Focusing on the good tales, Peter and Joy Mercado travel to the United Kingdom, where Spider-Man must rescue Margaret Thatcher from an assassination attempt. We don’t get many political or real-world scenario stories with Spidey (generally), so these issues stand out as a change of pace.

We also get the typical New York mob story as we get the origin story of the Rose, who is the estranged son of the Kingpin. In addition, we get a wrap-up to the Ned Leeds/Hobgoblin arc that had been building for years across the various Spider-Man titles.

The volume concludes with one of the most powerful Spider-Man stories of all time, Kraven’s Last Hunt, which ran across the three monthly books for two months. Kraven takes out Spider-Man and dons his costume to replace him. Kraven buries Peter in a shallow grave. Meanwhile, Vermin is back, kidnapping people into the sewers to feast on them, and his most recent victim is Mary Jane. The storylines all converge together, and Peter must reclaim his title as Spider-Man, leaving Kraven a shattered shell of his former self. This magnificent story from J. M. Dematteis and Mike Zeck remains as one of the greatest arcs of all time.

What makes this Essential?: First, my apologies for spoiling this review. I promoted the Kraven’s Last Hunt storyline with my review of Essential Daredevil Vol. 5, not fully realizing that this storyline would be included in this collection. In all fairness, I wanted to make sure I pointed people to this story, one way or another! his is a title that I read sporadically as it came out. I just didn’t have much interest in Spider-Man at this time. The problem I have with this book, and I think Marvel has realized it at different times along the way, is that there is nothing unique to this book that distinguishes it

So, yes, the reason to own this collection is for Kraven’s Last Hunt. This is one of the most powerful Spider-Man stories of all time. This still stands up nearly 25 years later, and it should be part of any collection.

The fact that we get other Spider-Man stories is an added bonus – sort of! The stories from David Michelinie and James Owsley (Christopher Priest) are solid stories. The fill-in issues that round up this volume feel so out of place when lined up against these other tales. This might be a volume where you check the issue credits before reading the issue.

If you like this volume, try: finding two books that were never reprinted in the Essential format, but would be helpful to have read when reading this volume.

The first is Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (1987), which features the wedding of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. This was a landmark issue years in the making, as the two lovebirds finally tied the knot. The issue featured two different covers – the first had MJ and Peter, with their friends and family in the background, while the second had MJ and Spider-Man, with his enemies in the background. MJ’s dress was actually designed by real-life wedding dress designer Willie Smith. Marvel actually made it into a real event, hosting a ceremony at Shea Stadium. This has been reprinted in multiple trades including the Marvel Weddings TPB.

The second is Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1 (February 1987). This was a stand-alone special edition book that gave us the identity of Hobgoblin, a mystery that had been building for four years in the various Spider-books. Turns out that it was [SPOLIER ALERT FROM 30 YEARS AGO!] mild-mannered reporter Ned Leeds who had been tormenting Spider-Man and trying to take over the crime rackets in New York City. We get a follow-up issue of Web of Spider-Man to this special edition – too bad it wasn’t included in this collection.

Essential Defenders Vol. 5

defenders5First Published: August 2010

Contents: The Defenders #92 (February 1981) to #106 (April 1982); Marvel Team-Up #101 (January 1981), #111 (November 1981), and #116 (April 1982); and Captain America # 268 (April 1982)

Key Creator Credits: J.M. Dematteis, Don Perlin, Joe Sinnott, Herb Trimpe, Mike Zeck, and others

Key First Appearances: Isaac Christians/Gargoyle, Luann Bloom

Story Continues From: Essential Defenders Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Defenders Vol. 6

Overview: Welcome back to the Defenders, everyone’s favorite non-team in the Marvel Universe. No matching uniforms like the FF or New Mutants. No ID cards like the Avengers or Alpha Flight. No charter or official group headquarters for these heroes. Just a willingness to help out when called, or if you happen to have nothing else to do on a Tuesday night.

This is an interesting collection of stories, as writer J.M DeMatteis uses the opportunity to have his stories here cross over into other books that he was writing at the time, such as Marvel Team-Up and Captain America. We also get the introduction of two new characters to the Defenders unofficial line-up. The first is a brand new character in Gargoyle, who was once Isaac Christians, a man in his late 80s. In an effort to save his declining Virginia town, Christians makes a deal with Avarrish to serve him. His first assignment is to slay Hellcat. Gargoyle eventually turns on Avarrish and sides with the Defenders in their battle against the Six-Fingered Hand. Unfortunately, Christians finds he is trapped permanently inside the body of the Gargoyle. With no place else to go, the Gargoyle joins the Defenders.

Another familiar face makes his first appearance with this would-be team. Hank McCoy, a.k.a. the Beast finds himself working alongside our heroes. As a founding member of the X-Men and a one-time card-carrying member of the Avengers, the Beast is very much into the team dynamics, something this group of heroes is sorely lacking. But that story takes a little longer to develop, so stick around for Essential Defenders Vol. 6.

Not that this book has any one star above the others, but it seems like for this set of issues the focus falls on Nighthawk. As the Batman-analog on this team, Nighthawk always seems to be right in the middle of things, whether it is in his costumed identity or his wealthy playboy life as Kyle Richmond. Following that battle with the Six-Fingered Hand, Nighthawk finds himself confined to a wheelchair during the day but is at full strength at night. He quits the team for awhile but returns again in time for the title’s 100th issue, which brought back every former member in a battle against Satan. Soon after, Nighthawk finds himself at odds with his ex-girlfriend, Mindy Williams, who is a telepath leading an attack against the Soviet Union. With the help of the Defenders and Captain America, Nighthawk is able to stop the telepaths, but the cost appears to be Kyle sacrificing his life. (Do not fear — he gets better! Keep reading!)

What makes this Essential?: I really want to rate this higher. I think this title became more interesting in this era, as it featured less of the four core “non-members” (Doctor Strange, Hulk, Namor, and/or Silver Surfer) and more of the extended members (Valkyrie, Nighthawk, Hellcat, Gargoyle, and Beast). However, despite the change of focus, I didn’t find much about this collection that remained memorable. I read this a few years ago, but I honestly have no recollection of many of these stories. If that’s the case, I can’t honestly believe that this is essential. For the Defenders completist, I can justify having this in your collection – provided you didn’t already have the issues. But I just can’t give this a “go-out-and-buy” this book recommendation.

If you like this volume, try: the Nighthawk mini-series from 1998. While it appears that Nighthawk perished in the explosion at the end of Defenders #106. Turns out he actually did survive, but he’s been in a hospital in a coma for many months. Nighthawk’s soul makes a deal to perform various tasks in order to fully return to the living. Unfortunately, the tasks come with ulterior motives, and Nighthawk must overcome his saviors in order to return to normal, thanks in part to the timely assist by Daredevil. This is just a three issue mini-series, written by Jim Krueger with art by Richard Case. It has never been reprinted, so you will need to dive into the back issue bins to track this one down.

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

First Published: February 2005

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #32 (July 1979) to #53 (April 1981); Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 (1979) and #2 (1980); Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13 (1979); and Fantastic Four #218 (May 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Roger Stern, John Romita, Jr., Mike Zeck, Marie Severin, and others

Key First Appearances: Marcy Kane, Dr. Morris Sloan, Steve Hopkins, Roderick Kingsley (Hobgoblin), Nathan Lubensky

Story Continues From: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS). This book remains a companion book to Amazing Spider-Man, but focuses primarily on Peter Parker and his collegiate life.

This volume breaks out into two separate sections – the first is written by Bill Mantlo, continuing the stories he started in Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1. Mantlo wraps up the Carrion storyline, but not before bringing in the Lizard, the Iquana, and the Swarm. Following another appearance by Morbius, Mantlo concludes this run of PPTSS with a crossover with Fantastic Four, another title he was writing at the time.

The second section picks up with issue #43, as Roger Stern takes over writing duties on the title. Stern brings back the Vulture and the White Tiger, and introduces two new characters into Peter Parker’s life – Nathan Lubensky would become a long-time tenant at Aunt May’s boarding house, and Roderick Kingsley, a background character in PPTSS, but will don the Hobgoblin costume when Stern moves over to Amazing Spider-Man.

What makes this Essential?: I really want to give this a strong recommendation. I do. I like to think of PPTSS as the little book that could. But, the simple fact remains that this title plays second fiddle to every other book that Spider-Man appears in each month. You need to be a hard-core Spider-Man fan to want this volume. The stories are not bad, per se. Some of them are quite good. But each issue just reminds the reader that there are other stories you should be reading, which can be found in the Essential Spider-Man and Essential Marvel Team-Up books.

Footnotes: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13 were also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man 9.

If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man newspaper comic strip, which started in January of 1977. Originally done by Stan Lee and John Romita, Sr., this was a syndicated comic strip that told stand-alone stories not set in the continuity of the Marvel Universe. Other comic notables, such as Larry Lieber, Paul Ryan, Alex Saviuk, Joe Sinnott, and Roy Thomas, have helped out on the strip over the years. There have been a few collections of the early years of the newspaper strip. If your local newspaper does not carry the strip, it can still be read online at several websites.

Essential Punisher Vol. 1

First Published: March 2004

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #129 (February 1974), #134 (July 1974), #135 (August 1974), #161 (October 1976), #162 (November 1976), #174 (November 1977), #175 (December 1977), #201 (February 1980), and #202 (March 1980); Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 (1981); Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 (April 1975); Marvel Preview #2 (July 1975); Marvel Super Action #1 (January 1976); Captain America #241 (January 1980); Daredevil #182 (May 1982) to #184 (July 1982); Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #81 (August 1983) to #83 (October 1983); and Punisher #1 (January 1986) to #5 (May 1986)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Frank Miller, Steven Grant, Ross Andru, Mike Zeck, Bill Mantlo

Key First Appearances: Frank Castle/Punisher, Jackal, Moses Magnum, Tarantula, Jigsaw, the Trust, Bruno Costa, Huntress

Story Continues In: Essential Punisher Vol. 2

Overview: After watching his family slain by mobsters, war veteran Frank Castle starts a one-man war against crime by any means necessary, including murder, kidnapping, extortion, coercion, threats of violence, and torture.

One of the Punisher’s early targets was Spider-Man, based on the fair and balanced reporting from the Daily Bugle. The Punisher tangles multiple times with Spidey before working out an uneasy alliance – they both realize they are working towards the same goals, but their individual methods go against each other’s principles. The Punisher’s vendetta also crosses paths along with way with Captain America and Daredevil.

The Punisher, being of questionable mind and judgment, reasons that the majority of the criminals he needs to target are already in prison. He surrenders himself to authorities and ends up being sentenced to prison, much to his delight and the sheer panic of the other prisoners.

What makes this Essential?: I will admit, I have a strong dislike of this character. Comics have always been an escape for me, into worlds with Kryptonian aliens or a teenager bitten by a radioactive spider. At the end of the day, I know characters like Superman and Spider-Man are not real. However, the Punisher can be real. We see too many instances in reality where someone becomes their own version of the Punisher, wanting to deliver judgment on those that did them wrong. By my thinking, heroes should bring the villains to justice, but not administer justice.

So, trying my best to be objective and only think of Frank Castle as a truly fictional character, the Punisher does play a prominent role in the Marvel Universe. He is arguably the second most important or influential character created by Marvel in the 1970s, behind Wolverine. He’s been the subject of numerous comic series and multiple movies. A lot of the comics in this collection are hard to come by, so this is a great way to read about the first decade of the character. If you are a fan of the Punisher, you should own this Essential if you do not own the issues.

Footnotes: Early editions of this Essential misspelled Frank Miller’s name on the cover as “Millar”.

Amazing Spider-Man #129, #134, and #135 were also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6.

Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 was also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 7.

Amazing Spider-Man #161, #162, #174, and #175 were also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 8.

Amazing Spider-Man #201 and #202 were also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 9.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 was also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 10.

Captain America #241 was also reprinted in Essential Captain America Vol. 7.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #81, #82, and #83 were also reprinted in Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: the one Punisher comic I wholeheartedly endorse is The Punisher Meets Archie from 1994. In a joint venture between Marvel Comics and Archie Comics, the comic was released by both companies. Each company had a separate cover, but the inside contents were identical. John Buscema drew the Marvel characters, and Stan Goldberg drew the Archie characters. The Punisher is contracted by the government to bring in a drug lord by the name of Red, who is hiding in the small community of Riverdale. Castle infiltrates the school as a P.E. teacher and targets Archie Andrews who bears an uncanny resemblance to Red. The Punisher eventually finds his target, and takes him alive, much to his chagrin. Sadly, this book has never been reprinted, so you will need to dive into some back issue bins to track down this title.