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 Sub-Mariner Vol. 1

sub_mariner_1First Published: September 2009

Contents: Daredevil #7 (April 1965); Sub-Mariner stories from Tales to Astonish #70 (August 1965) to #101 (March 1968); Iron Man story from Tales of Suspense #80 (August 1966); Iron Man & Sub-Mariner #1 (April 1968); and The Sub-Mariner #1 (May 1968)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Roy Thomas, Bill Everett, and others

Key First Appearances: Vashti, Destiny, Walter Newell, Lord Seth

Overview: IMPERIOUS REX! Kneel before the prince of Atlantis, Namor the First, a.k.a. the Sub-Mariner! Having been a frequent foe in the pages of the Fantastic Four, Namor becomes the hero of his own feature in 1965.

The majority of this Essential collects the Sub-Mariner’s run of stories in the pages of Tales to Astonish, an anthology featuring two characters each month. So each story is roughly 10 pages, and Namor is featured on alternating covers. At this time, Namor has regained the throne of Atlantis, and must do everything in his power to protect his people from the likes of Krang, Attuma, and Byrrah, as well as the air-dwellers above the seas.

What makes this an interesting collection is we finally get to see him interacting with other heroes in the Marvel Universe. The first book in this collection, Daredevil #7, has Namor seeking counsel to represent him in a suit against mankind. Murdock & Nelson turn down the request, due to lack of evidence, and Daredevil is forced to stop the rampaging Namor. The art in this issue is done by the legendary Wally Wood.

During the TtA run, we get a team-up with Hank Pym and the Wasp, from the pages of the Avengers. A few issues later, we are treated to a team-up crossover with Iron Man, who was a co-feature in the Tales of Suspense book at that time.

Of course, when you are sharing a book with the Hulk, and both features are written by Stan Lee, it’s only natural that the two forces would cross paths multiple times. Who wins that battle? The readers of course. (It also serves as a pre-cursor for things to come, when the two become teammates in the non-team known as the Defenders.)

What makes this Essential?: Once again, this is a book that you pick up first for the art. Gene Colan’s art just leaps off the page. We get the noble Namor who is looking to protect Atlantis and the oceans from the surface-dwellers, which is just one of his many aspects. However, the stories just don’t stand out to me as memorable. Little bits of pieces of action strung together for ten pages, only to be continued in the next issue. It’s disappointing that the Essential line has ended, because I think a second volume of Sub-Mariner would have taken us into a more interesting era of the character, with a greater focus on the Atlanteans around him – not to mention the art by Buscema and Severin. Guess it’s time to hit the back issue bins!

In The Beginning….: While this collection focuses on Namor in the Silver Age of comics, the Sub-Mariner is one of the most important characters from the Golden Age of Marvel Comics. In fact, he made his first appearance in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939). Then known as Timely Publications, the company that would someday become Marvel introduced in this first issue the original Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, the Vision, the Angel, Ka-Zar and more to an audience hungry for new characters and concepts. The initial press run of Marvel Comics #1 was 80,000 books, but the popularity of the book sent it back for a reprinting. That second print run was for 800,000 copies.

Footnotes: The Sub-Mariner replaced Giant-Man as the co-feature (along with the Hulk) in Tales to Astonish #70. Following issue #101, Tales to Astonish was given over to the Hulk, keeping the numbering but changing the name (The Incredible Hulk #102).

Daredevil #7 is also reprinted in Essential Daredevil Vol. 1.

Tales of Suspense #80, Tales to Astonish #82, and Iron Man & Sub-Mariner #1 are also reprinted in Essential Iron Man Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: the 1990s Namor series by John Byrne. Following numerous runs with many of Marvel’s top characters (X-Men, Fantastic Four, Alpha Flight), Byrne turned his attention to one of Marvel’s first characters. As with any new project, one gets the opportunity to re-invent the character to fit the story. (For example, just a few years ago, Namor was re-invented as “the first mutant”, giving him a good excuse to hang out with the X-Men.) In this situation, Namor becomes a shrewd businessman with his own corporation, going head-to-head with eco-terrorists and others looking to exploit the oceans. While generally depicted as the antihero in many comics, Namor is truly a hero in this title, albeit working towards his agenda, which is not necessarily the most right or fair course of action. With Byrne at the helm, you can expect lots of cameos from the Fantastic Four, Namorita, Captain America and others. The first 18 issues have been collected into two Marvel Visionaries trade paperbacks, which are still readily available.

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 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.

Essential Hulk Vol. 5

Essential Hulk Vol. 5

First Published: December 20086

Contents: Incredible Hulk #171 (January 1974) to #200 (June 1976); and Incredible Hulk Annual #5 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Tony Isabella, Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Logan/Wolverine, Hammer & Anvil, Gremlin

Story Continues From: Essential Hulk Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Hulk Vol. 6

Overview: (With apologies to Universal TV) Dr. Bruce Banner, scientist, searching for a way to tap into the hidden potentials of gamma energy. Then an accidental overdose of gamma radiation interacts with his unique body chemistry. And now, when Bruce Banner grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs. With that, I welcome you to the fifth volume in the Essential Hulk line. 

This is an interesting volume which can be divided up into three sections. Section 1 would be Incredible Hulk #171 to #179. These are your typical Hulk stories like we saw in the last Essential. There is an interesting story that ran over multiple issues involving the Hulk ending up on the High Evolutionary’s counter-Earth where he meets Adam Warlock. In fact, Warlock dies for the first time in issue #177 and is promptly resurrected in issue #178. It’s hard to keep a good Warlock down, I guess. The final issue of this section features the start of Len Wein’s run as writer on the title, which would last for 3 1/2 years.

Now, Section 2 is just two issues long, #180 and #181. Why just two issues? Well, the Hulk finds himself in Canada, where he goes up against the Wendigo. As if that was not enough for the Hulk to handle, we are introduced to Canada’s Weapon X, also known as the Wolverine! Yep, everyone’s favorite mutant makes his first humble appearance in these pages. Mind you, the Wolverine portrayed here is not as refined as the one we came to know in the pages of Uncanny X-Men and later his self-titled book. But he’s still short and hairy and feisty, and willing to cut anyone or anything with his adamantium claws. Eventually, the Wendigo is defeated, and the two heroes go their separate ways.

Section 3 picks up with issue #182 and runs until the end of the book. The stories here feel much like the stories in Section 1. We do see the end of one era and the start of the next era, both related to the art duties. Herb Trimpe ends his six-year run on the title and is followed by Sal Buscema, who begins what will be a nearly 10 year run on the title. One highlight from this run is the Incredible Hulk Annual #5, which features the Hulk battling six monsters from Marvel’s 1950s Atlas books. In fact, one of the monsters makes his second ever appearance in this book. Some guy named Groot. Wonder what Marvel ever did with that walking tree creature?

What makes this Essential?: I am amazed that Incredible Hulk #180 and #181 (first appearance of Wolverine) did not get reprinted in any other Essentials, such as in Wolverine, Classic X-Men, or X-Men. So for these two issues alone, this volume is ESSENTIAL. Outside of those two issues, the Hulk stories are decent, but not incredible (no pun intended) or memorable. Trimpe’s run on art duties comes to an end, and Sal Buscema takes over for a run that would last nearly ten years. I think a Hulk fan should definitely have this collection on their bookshelf.

Footnotes: Incredible Hulk #176 to #178 are also reprinted in Essential Warlock Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Planet Hulk collection, which collects Greg Pak’s story from 2006 & 2007. The Illuminati (Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Professor Xavier, Black Bolt, and Namor) vote to exile the Hulk to another planet rather than allow him to roam (and damage) the Earth. (This is a very similar approach to the events of Incredible Hulk #300 when Dr. Strange exiled the mindless Hulk to an alternate dimension.) However, the rocket carrying the Hulk goes off track, and lands on a different planet, Sakaar, where gladiators battle in arenas for the amusement of the emperor. The Hulk unites with a band of gladiators, who look out for each other during the fights. The Hulk and his friends eventually escape and then overthrows the Emperor. The Hulk is named the new emperor, and he takes a wife and settles down into his role. However, the rocket that brought him to Sakaar explodes, destroying the capital city and killing the Hulk’s wife. Hulk vows revenge on the Illuminati and takes his fellow gladiators back to Earth. The only way to fully describe this book is “epic”. This is one of the all-time great Hulk stories and should be a must-read for all fans.

Essential Conan Vol. 1

Essential Conan Vol. 1

First Published: July 2000

Contents: Conan the Barbarian #1 (October 1970) to #25 (April 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Robert E. Howard, Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith, and others

Key First Appearances: Conan the Barbarian, Fafnir Hellhand, Thoth-Amon, Kulan Gath, Elric, Red Sonja

Overview: Meet Conan, a sword-for-hire from the land of Cimmeria. He wanders the southern lands looking for the next job or quest, which will pay him gold, which he uses to pay for alcohol and women. When times are tough, Conan is not against resorting to thievery to survive. But given his skills with a sword, he very rarely is looking for work – the work comes to him.

Most of these stories are based on the original tales from the 1930s by Conan-creator Robert E. Howard  and are adapted by Roy Thomas. The art duties were given to a relatively young artist, Barry Smith, who shot to fame based on this work. After two years on the title, Smith left the book, with the art being handed off to John Buscema. Smith would take a break from comics, trying to put himself into the fine art world. (It was at this point that he added Windsor to his name.) Windsor-Smith would eventually return to comics in the 1980s.

In the issues collected in this volume, there are two additional characters that stand out to me from their initial debut:

  • Kulan Gath was a magician who crossed paths with Conan. Because he was created by Marvel, and did not come from the work of Robert E. Howard, Kulan Gath was incorporated into the Marvel Universe. I first encountered Kulan Gath when he battled Spider-Man and the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men #189 to #191, which can be found in Essential X-Men Vol. 5.
  • Red Sonja was created based off of a Howard character, Red Sonya. Red Sonja quickly became the female counterpart to Conan, one who could stand on her own against the Barbarian. Red Sonja would later move into her own title, and eventually even be featured in a movie. While the Conan rights are currently held by Dark Horse Comics, the Red Sonja rights are held by Dynamite Entertainment. (And to make things even more confusing, a version of Kulan Gath has appeared in the current Red Sonja title.)

What makes this Essential?: OK, full disclosure, I am not a big fan of the sword & sorcery stories. Never. I remember a next door neighbor of mine growing up was a huge fan of the Conan comics and the Elric novels by Michael Moorcock. Steve was always trying to get me to read them, but I would politely decline and ask if I could read some more of his Iron Man and Avengers issues. Maybe I should have tried them back then, or maybe I was better off sticking to what I knew and liked then. Reading through this very-hard-to-find Essential (check out the Dark Horse Comics Chronicles of Conan reprint books if you can’t track down this Marvel book!), I enjoyed the art from Barry Smith, as he went by in those days. I know that a lot of these stories came over from the Marvel black & white magazines of the time (edited to hide the nudity, naturally), so their inclusion in the Essential series makes them look spectacular. I haven’t read the original stories from Robert E. Howard which Roy Thomas used quite faithfully to develop this book, but it’s my understanding he did well with the adaption. I think what makes this “Essential” is that the comic book look of Conan came to be the definitive look of the character going forward. Prior to the comics, the cover images from Howard’s Conan collection show a more fully clothed man holding a sword with short hair. The comic book look of Conan helped inspire the movie franchise of the 1980s. Anyway, this is worth reading for a Conan fan, and from a historical perspective. But for me, I would rather get back to reading about heroes in capes.

Footnotes: Conan the Barbarian #22 is a reprint of Conan the Barbarian #1. The cover to issue #22 is included in this volume.

If you like this volume, try: the 2013 Red Sonja series from Dynamite Entertainment. I recommend this solely on the basis that Gail Simone is writing it. A lot of people will say that Simone is the best female writer in comics. Other people will say that Simone is the best writer of female characters in comics. Personally, I say Simone is one of the best writers period. Do not define her by her gender. No one cites Kurt Busiek as one of the best male writers in comics, or recognizes Chris Claremont as one of the best writers of male characters in comics. Anyway, back to Red Sonja. This is a fun, adventurous romp featuring the early adventures of the She-Devil with a Sword. If you are a fan of good comics, you need to be reading this title.

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.