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 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 Thor Vol. 4

Essential Thor Vol. 4

First Published: June 2009

Contents: Thor #167 (August 1969) to #195 (January 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, John Buscema, and Gerry Conway

Key First Appearances: Hildegarde

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 5

Overview: Welcome back to the world of Asgard, home of the Norse gods. Led by all-seeing Odin and served by his dutiful son, Thor, god of thunder and protector of Midgard (Earth).

These comics expand the adventures of the thunder god to cosmic proportions. Odin sends Thor on a journey into mystery to track down the world-devourer Galactus. Later on, Odin and the Silent One travel into the universe to face Infinity, and they must call on Thor to rescue them from oblivion. As always, we see the ambitious Loki looking to take the throne of Asgard for himself, leading multiple attacks by giants and trolls.

As cosmic as this volume gets, Thor remains true to Earth as well. Deadly encounters with the Wrecker and Doctor Doom challenge Thor to his very limits. Thankfully, with his loyal friends like Balder, the Warriors Three, the Lady Sif, and even the Silver Surfer, Thor finds himself to be worthy of any task or challenge laid before him.

What makes this Essential?: For the artwork alone, this volume should be in any collection. With art by Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, and John Buscema, there is not a badly drawn issue to be found in this book. You can see the majesty of Asgard jumping off of the page; the thunderous rage of Thor; the evil manipulations of Loki. This is just a beautifully drawn book. However, this is not Stan Lee’s best writing. For all of the talk about comics of today being written for the trade paperback, Stan Lee was doing it 40+ years ago. The stories in this volume stretch out across multiple issues; ten years earlier, Stan and Jack would have the stories done in one issue, or two tops. If you can find the book, pick it up for the art.

Footnotes: This is a hard Essential to track down. Marvel published this in June of 2009, but no re-issues or second editions have been released since then. Given the character’s popularity with the movie franchise, it’s surprising that this has not been kept in print, especially given the talents who worked on these issues. If this is not currently in your collection, you may need to turn to eBay in order to find this volume.

Kirby left Thor (and Marvel) in 1970 due to contract issues, and took his services over to DC Comics. One of Kirby’s first projects at DC is what would become to be known as the Fourth World saga, with the introduction of Darkseid and the New Gods. There is enough examples to note that the New Gods’ origins came with Kirby’s work on Thor over the previous eight years. Check out Comic Book Legends Revealed #444 over at Comic Book Resources for a complete recounting of how Kirby was building the New Gods concept.

If you like this volume, try:  the incredible run on Thor by Walt Simonson. This is the ultimate run by any single creator on this title, elevating Thor and Asgard to new heights. Simonson introduced Beta Ray Bill, an alien who was just as worthy as Thor to hold Mjolnir. We witnessed Ragnarok as the great winter storms took over the world. And the mischievousness of Loki reached new lows as he turned his step-brother into a frog. This has been collected numerous times, as trade paperbacks and most recently as an oversized omnibus. However you choose to read this, the Simonson Thor should be part of every comic library.

Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3

Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3

First Published: February 2009

Contents: The X-Men #54 (March 1969) to #66 (March 1970); Amazing Spider-Man #92 (January 1971); Incredible Hulk #150 (April 1972) and #161 (March 1973); the Beast stories from Amazing Adventures #11 (March 1972) to #17 (March 1973); and Marvel Team-Up #4 (September 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, Arnold Drake, Don Heck, Neal Adams, Tom Palmer, Steve Englehart, Tom Sutton, Herb Trimpe, and others

Key First Appearances: Living Monolith, Lawrence Trask, Karl Lykos/Sauron, Savage Land Mutates (Amphibius, Barbarus, Brainchild, Equilibrius, Gaza, Lorelei, Lupo, Piper), Shiro Y0shida/Sunfire

Story Continues From: Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 1

Overview: Here we go, readers! It’s the final adventures of the original X-Men as members of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Havok, and now Polaris go on a non-stop run of adventures that take them from the sands of Egypt to the jungles of the Savage Land to the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip.

The highlight of this collection is the Roy Thomas and Neal Adams all-to-brief run on the title. Adams had been doing work for DC for about two years when he came over to do some work at Marvel. (At that time, creators generally worked for just one company at a time. If someone did work for more than one publisher, one of their jobs would be done under a pseudonym.) At the time that he came onboard with X-Men #56, the book was floundering in the sales column. Adams came in and helped plot a wild adventure ride, introducing new threats to the mutants.

While this is the most creative peak in the title’s seven-year run, it could not stop the cancellation ax. The final issue with original content was X-Men #66. Beginning with issue #67, the title ran reprints of old X-Men stories. Let this sink in for a minute. There was a time when X-Men was strictly a reprint book. It was more profitable for Marvel to re-run old stories versus commissioning new stories. Unbelievable!

Now, the title may have been in reprint mode, but the characters still existed and became free game to use in other books. So Iceman makes an appearance in Amazing Spider-Man, and Havok & Polaris show up in the pages of the Incredible Hulk.

The volume concludes with the solo adventures of Hank McCoy, who finally graduated Xavier’s school and landed a job in a Brand Corporation research lab. McCoy works on isolating the chemical cause of mutation into a liquid solution. Trying to keep his work from falling into the hands of corporate spies, McCoy swallows the formula, and his body is mutated into a furry gray Beast. (In later issues, the fur would change permanently to blue, but that’s not important for this black & white collection.) The Beast finds that he is trapped in this further-mutated body. Despite attempts to hide his mutation, Hank finally embraces his blue-furred identity. These stories are written by Steve Englehart, and he would continue the Beast’s story in the pages of The Avengers.

What makes this Essential?: In my humble opinion, this really is an essential volume to own. First, the Thomas-Adams run on this title is the first “great” story-arc in the history of the X-Men. The Sentinels are more menacing, the Savage Land is more savage, and the introduction of Sunfire opens the door for the international approach to the X-Men in the mid-1970s. In addition, by collecting the X-Men adventures in the other Marvel titles of the 1970s, it highlights how a proper Essential should be put together. The books should be reprinting the character stories, and not necessarily just within a specific title. The solo adventures of the Beast would never have been reprinted in any other Essential volume, so including them here was perfect. While some of the characters’ appearances can be found in other Essentials (see Footnotes), having these stories in one book reads so much better for the X-Men fan.

Footnotes: Amazing Spider-Man #92 is also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5.

Incredible Hulk #150 and #161 are also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 4.

Marvel Team-Up #4 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1.

Amazing Adventures #17 reprinted the origin of the Beast, originally told in backup stories from X-Men #49 to #53 (see Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2). The cover to issue #17 and new framing pages are included in this Essential.

X-Men #67 to #93 and X-Men Annual #1 & #2 reprinted classic X-Men stories from the 1960s. New covers were created for those issues, and the covers are included in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: the X-Men: Hidden Years series by John Byrne from 1999 to 2001. This series was designed to pick up the story of the original team following X-Men #66, the last original issue of the series. Byrne begins his story with what should be issue #67, but numbered as #1, and continues the adventures. Over the next two years, Byrne told new stories set in the Marvel Universe of the early 1970s, so the mutants encounter a Fantastic Four with Crystal subbing for Invisible Girl. We meet a young Ororo before she has her official first appearance as Storm in Giant-Size X-Men #1. The problem with this book is that it was written and drawn by John Byrne. Not that he necessarily did a bad job with either, but more that Byrne became a very polarizing figure in comics by the early 2000s. A new leadership team took over the reigns as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief and opted to cancel the book as the X-Men universe was too convoluted and needed to be streamlined. (Note that streamlining of the X-Men books lasted for about one month.) You can read into that the cancellation was due more to personality conflicts between Byrne and management, and not due to poor sales, poor stories, or a convoluted X-Men universe. This entire series was collected in two trade paperbacks in 2012, so it should be relatively easy to track down. If you are a Byrne fan, by all means check this series out.

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. 

Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 2

Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 2

First Published: January 2007

Contents: The Brave and The Bold #88 (February-March 1970) to #108 (August-September 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Bob Haney, Neal Adams, Ross Andru, Nick Cardy, Jim Aparo, Bob Brown, and others

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to the Batman team-ups from The Brave and the Bold. Once again, Bob Haney weaves a unique take on Batman, finding unusual ways to bring Batman together with the likes of Green Arrow, Deadman, and the Metal Men.

A couple of books highlight this volume in particular:

  • The Brave and the Bold #98 featured Batman meeting up with the Phantom Stranger. While that match-up, in particular, is not huge, it does mark Jim Aparo’s first take on Batman. Aparo was a rising star at DC at this time, having gained notice for his work on Aquaman and The Phantom Stranger. Aparo would then go on to handle the art on nearly 80 of the next 100 issues of The Brave and the Bold.
  • The Brave and the Bold #100 (February-March 1972) featured Batman “teaming up” with Robin, Black Canary, Green Arrow, and Green Lantern. In all actuality, Batman had been shot and needed the other heroes to solve a crime for him while he recovered. This was published around the same time as the “Hard Traveling Heroes” storyline was coming to an end in the pages of Green Lantern (see Showcase Presents Green Lantern Vol. 5 for that full story).

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I’ve said it before and I will say it again – any of the team-up books from DC (or Marvel) should be must-own for any fan. This is Batman with some of the greatest art talents of the time (Adams, Aparo, Cardy) providing covers and enticing stories to match the crazy stories being delivered to us by Bob Haney. These stories do not worry about continuity, so try not to take these too seriously. Just enjoy the absurdity of Batman teaming up with Sgt. Rock or the House of Mystery.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
#88 – Batman & Wildcat
#89 – Batman & The Phantom Stranger / Showcase Presents The Phantom Stranger Vol. 2
#90 – Batman & Adam Strange
#91 – Batman & Black Canary
#92 – Batman & The Bat-Squad
#93 – Batman & House of Mystery
#94 – Batman & Teen Titans / Showcase Presents Teen Titans Vol. 2
#95 – Batman & Plastic Man
#96 – Batman & Sgt. Rock
#97 – Batman & Wildcat
#98 – Batman & The Phantom Stranger / Showcase Presents The Phantom Stranger Vol. 2
#99 – Batman & Flash
#100 – Batman & Black Canary, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Robin
#101 – Batman & Metamorpho
#102 – Batman & Teen Titans
#103 – Batman & Metal Men
#104 – Batman & Deadman
#105 – Batman & Wonder Woman
#106 – Batman & Green Arrow
#107 – Batman & Black Canary
#108 – Batman & Sgt. Rock

If you like this volume, try: the Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series. Running on the Cartoon Network from 2008 to 2011, this was a beautiful and fun homage to the Batman team-ups of the 1960s and 1970s. While some team-ups occurred more frequently (Aquaman and Green Arrow), the creators of the series pulled team-ups from all corners of the DC Universe. You would think that the spirit of Bob Haney was supervising the writer’s room for this series. Truth be told, I think I even teared up some with Batman teaming up with the Doom Patrol at the end of that group’s career. The finale of the series tied everything together and made promises that the adventures of Batman will never end. If you have not watched them, or not watched them recently, you owe it to yourself to give this series a look. (There was a Johnny DC book released to support this cartoon as well. While it captured the look and humor of the series, part of the joy with the series is seeing the team-ups animated on the screen. Track this series down for the young Batman fan in your life.)

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1

First Published: December 2006

Contents: Man-Thing story from Savage Tales #1 (May 1971); Man-Thing stories from Astonishing Tales #12 (June 1972) and #13 (August 1972); Man-Thing stories from (Adventure into) Fear #10 (October 1972) to #19 (December 1973); Man-Thing #1 (January 1974) to #14 (February 1975); Giant-Size Man-Thing #1 (August 1974) and #2 (November 1974); and Man-Thing stories from Monsters Unleashed #5 (April 1974), #8 (October 1974), and #9 (December 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Mike Ploog, Tony Isabella, Gray Morrow, John Buscema, Neal Adams, Rich Buckler, Val Mayerik, and others

Key First Appearances: Ted Sallis/Man-Thing, Ellen Brandt, Jennifer Kale, Andy Kale, Thog, Joshua Kale, Dakimh the Enchanter, Howard the Duck, F.A. Schist, Wundar, Richard Rory, Ruth Hart, Foolkiller

Story Continues In: Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

Overview:  Ted Sallis is a research scientist trying to re-discover the Super Soldier formula, the long lost serum which led to the creation of Captain America in the 1940s. Working in a remote lab in the Florida Everglades, Sallis believes he has recreated the formula. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other people and governments that want that formula, some of whom would kill to get their hands on it. Confronted by spies, Sallis flees into the murk, and injects the formula into himself prior to crashing his car into the swamp. Between the formula and the swamp, Sallis’ body is transformed into what could best be described as a Man-Thing — it has the shape of a human, but made out of swamp material.

The Man-Thing has vague memories of who he once was, but nothing coherent. He reacts to the emotions of people around him, in particular fear. We quickly find out that whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch. He becomes the protector of the swamp, which also happens to contain a Nexus of All Realities, which allow travel between Earth and other dimensions. Man-Thing becomes the protector of the swamp and the Nexus, and encounters many Marvel characters passing through the Florida Everglades.

The bulk of this book is written by Steve Gerber early in his career, and the supporting characters introduced here would make numerous future appearances in later Marvel books written by Gerber. And in a book like Man-Thing, where the title character does not speak, a writer needs a good supporting cast to help advance the story. Howard the Duck is the most famous introduction made by Gerber, coming from Duckworld through the Nexus of All Realities. He would move into his own self-titled book of the 1970s. Richard Rory is a down-on-his-luck guy that can never seem to get the girl. Rory would travel with Gerber to The Defenders, before moving on to the various She-Hulk titles of the 1970s and 1980s. Finally, Jennifer Kale is a teenage girl with an affinity to magic, and makes appearances every few years in a variety of titles, from Howard the Duck to Ghost Rider.

What makes this Essential?: The release of Savage Tales #1 was Marvel’s first attempt to introduce a horror/monster book into the Marvel Universe proper. (Other appearances in that first issue of Savage Tales included Conan and Ka-Zar.) Debuting around the same time as DC’s Swamp Thing (see The First Thing below), Man-Thing remained a steady feature throughout the 1970s and 1980s. For that reason, sure these early stories could be considered as Essential. I do find that the best artwork in this volume came from the various magazines, and I will once again state my plea that Marvel should find someway to reprint the magazines in one collection. 

The First Thing: Man-Thing was originally conceived by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas; Thomas fleshed out the character’s story, then handed the story to Gerry Conway to plot. As a result, Thomas and Conway, along with artist Gray Morrow, are credited for the creation of Man-Thing in Savage Tales #1 (May 1971). A second story was done by Len Wein, but Savage Tales was cancelled after just the one issue. It was a year before the story saw print, incorporated into the Ka-Zar story in Astonishing Tales #12 (June 1972). Meanwhile, down the street at the DC Comics offices, the first Swamp Thing story appeared in House of Secrets #92 (July 1971). This Swamp Thing (originally Alex Olsen) took place in the early 1900s. The next Swamp Thing appeared in Swamp Thing #1 (October-November 1972), this time featuring Alec Holland becoming the Swamp Thing. Both of the Swamp Thing stories were written by Len Wein. While there are a lot of similarities in the origins between Man-Thing and Swamp Thing, Len Wein has stated in interviews that they are two distinct characters. The story paths for both characters have followed different paths, taking them further and further away from a very familiar origin story.

Footnotes: Parts of (Adventure into) Fear #19 and Man-Thing #1 are also reprinted in Essential Howard the Duck Vol. 1.

This Essential does carry a Parental Advisory warning, but it is buried on the lower portion of the back cover. This is definitely not an all-ages book.

If you like this volume, try: looking into the life and career of Gray Morrow, the artistic co-creator of Man-Thing. Over the course of his long career, Morrow did work in nearly every genre for nearly every publisher at some point – Classics Illustrated, horror magazines and comics, newspaper strip, among others – but he was most closely associated with the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. Start your search with the retrospective Gray Morrow: Visionary, which was released in 2001 as his career was coming to an end.