Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

First Published: July 2008

Contents: Fantastic Four #138 (September 1973) to #159 (June 1975); Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 (May 1974); Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2 (August 1974) to #4 (February 1975); and Avengers #127 (September 1974)

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

Key First Appearances: Darkoth, Mahkizmo,  Jamie Madrox/Multiple Man,

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 8

Overview: We are moving into the mid-1970s with the Fantastic Four. Not that things are ever normal around the Baxter Building, but there seems to be a set formula for most of these comics. We have the famous foursome of Marvel, with Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Medusa. Wait, what, Medusa? Don’t you mean Sue? Yeah, this is the Fantastic Four of the mid-1970s. Sit back and enjoy the ride in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7.

For starters, Sue is still caring for the youngest member of the family, Franklin Richards. There are times during this run where Sue goes multiple issues between appearances. Thankfully, Medusa of the Inhumans has stepped in to help the group live up to their team name. And speaking of the Inhumans, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers are invited to Attilan for the marriage ceremony between Quicksilver (former Avenger) and Crystal (former FF member and sister of Medusa). Sadly, there are very few Marvel weddings that go off without a hitch, and this momentous event is crashed by Ultron.

The other issues feel like echoes of the past. John Buscema and Rich Buckler both seem to embrace the Kirby style for the book, in terms of layout and characters. The writers give us a healthy dose of familiar foes, such as the Hulk, Doctor Doom, and the Frightful Four. And Thundra still shows up trying to convince Ben Grimm that they would make beautiful children together.

The highlight of the volume comes toward the end, with the final Giant-Size Fantastic Four, #4, in this collection. In a story co-written by Len Wein and Chris Claremont, Jamie Madrox (a.k.a. the Multiple Man) makes his debut. Madrox is a mutant who is able to create duplicates of himself when he is hit. The Fantastic Four was finally able to stop Madrox with the help of Professor Xavier from the X-Men. This FF comic came out right at the end of the reprint run in the X-Men book, and just three months ahead of Giant-Size X-Men #1 hitting the shelves. Wein would handle the re-introduction of the X-Men, before handing off the reins to Claremont, who would oversee the mutants for more than 15 years.

What makes this Essential?: I don’t want this to read as a negative judgment on the Fantastic Four. I have been a big fan of Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben for many years. There are times when you have the right creators on the book (Stan Lee & Jack Kirby or John Byrne comes to mind) and this is the greatest comic in the world. There are a lot of other times when you have creators on the book whose goal appears just to get a comic out each month. That’s exactly what I feel when reading most of these issues. The writers seem to have troubles scripting Sue, relegating her to motherhood and off of the main team, replaced by Medusa in most issues. There are very few new characters created during this run, as listed above, relying instead on retreading the same familiar characters from the Lee-Kirby years. Even as a die-hard FF fan, I don’t know that I would suggest other fans to grab this collection.

Footnotes: Avengers #127 and Fantastic Four #150 are also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 6.

Fantastic Four #154 is a reprint issue, with a new framing sequence. The story was originally published in Strange Tales #127, which was reprinted in Essential Human Torch Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the 2014 Fantastic Four series from James Robinson and Leonard Kirk. This series will be coming to an end in a few weeks, due more to senior editorial decisions than sales figures or story arcs. But there is still time to get caught up and finish the final story (for the foreseeable future) of Marvel’s first family. Robinson shakes things up, placing the team in red uniforms and breaking apart the group. (On a side note, if you were to read some of the actual comics collected in this Essential, you would see Johnny Storm sporting a red version of the classic Fantastic Four uniform. So take that everyone that complained about Robinson messing with the uniforms.) With the team splintered, the individual members find themselves slowly brought back together, as they find that their recent setbacks, as well as other moments from their past, have all been influenced by one person. Robinson is a master storyteller, and this has turned out to be a great run. This is one I look forward to re-reading in one sitting when the final issue comes out later this spring.

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.

Essential Avengers Vol. 5

Essential Avengers Vol. 5

First Published: January 2006

Contents: Avengers #98 (April 1972) to #119 (March 1972); Daredevil #99 (May 1973); and Defenders #8 (September 1973) to #11 (December 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Steve Englehart, Barry Windsor-Smith, Rich Buckler, Don Heck, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, and others

Key First Appearances: Imus Champion, Mantis

Story Continues From: Essential Avengers Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Avengers Vol. 6

Overview: In the aftermath of the Kree-Skrull war, the Avengers have returned to Earth to find that one of their members is missing. Tracking down the Warhawks, the Avengers are reunited with Clint Barton, who has dropped the Goliath act and is now back to the bow and arrows of Hawkeye. With him, they find another former Avenger, Hercules, confused and disoriented. What a way to start the next volume of Essential Avengers!

The disoriented Hercules leads into a storyline that leads into #100 anniversary issue, which brought back every former Avengers – including the Hulk – in a battle between Earth, Asgard, and Olympus. Following that, the Avengers face numerous familiar foes, including the Grim Reaper, the Sentinels, the Space Phantom, and Magneto.

The highlight of this volume is the Avengers-Defenders War, which crossed over between the two titles, both scripted by Steve Englehart. Loki, the step-brother of Thor, and Dormammu, long-time foe of Doctor Strange, manipulate the two super-teams into battle. This has been reprinted multiple times, including in the Essential Defenders books.

The volume concludes as the Avengers make another return to Rutland, Vermont, for the annual Halloween parade. Once again, chaos ensues as the Collector shows up trying to complete a set of Avengers.

What is interesting with this volume is Englehart advancing the characters into relationships, bordering on a soap opera. The Scarlet Witch and the Vision start a relationship, much to Quicksilver’s chagrin. Mantis shows up, and wants to claim the Vision as her own. The Swordsman has fallen head over heels in love with Mantis, but can’t get the time of day from her. All of this gets resolved in the next volume.

What makes this Essential?: We see another transition in the Avengers title as Roy Thomas steps down as writer, and Steve Englehart comes in as the new scribe of the book. The X-Men – friend and foes – make numerous appearances during a time when their book was strictly a reprint title. Englehart scripts one of the first multi-part crossovers between the Avengers and the Defenders. With the introduction of Mantis, we start approaching the Celestial Madonna storyline that will dominate Essential Avengers Vol. 6. The downside to this volume is the art, which suffers from a lack of consistency. If you liked Essential Avengers Vol. 4, you should probably have this volume as well to continue the run.

Footnotes: Avengers #111 and Daredevil #99 was also reprinted in Essential Daredevil Vol. 4.

Avengers #115-#118 and Defenders #8-#11 are also reprinted in Essential Defenders Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: Avengers: Under Siege by Roger Stern and John Buscema. Running in Avengers #270-#277, the Masters of Evil are back with a vengeance, taking down the Avengers one-by-one. During the onslaught, Hercules is beaten within inches of his life; control of the Avengers Mansion falls over to the bad guys; and even the butler Jarvis is caught up and injured. But falling back to the group’s origins, the Wasp rallies the troops, calling in Thor and Captain America to defeat the Masters of Evil. When fans are asked to name the best Avengers stories, this is easily in the top five for everyone, if not the top choice. This has been collected multiple times and remains in print nearly 30 years after it initially ran in the monthly book.