Essential Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Vol. 1

First Published: October 2011

Contents: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 (May 1963) to #23 (October 1965); and Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Annual #1 (1965)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, George Roussos, and others

Key First Appearances: Nicholas “Nick” Fury, Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan, Isadore “Izzy” Cohen, Gabriel “Gabe” Jones, Jonathan “Junior” Juniper, Dino Manelli, Robert “Reb” Ralston, Samuel “Happy Sam” Sawyer, Pamela Hawley, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, Bull McGiveney, Percival “Pinky” Pinkerton, Captain Savage

Overview: Following the United States entry into World War II, the First Attack Squadron runs the missions that no one else wants to take. Whether it’s dropping into the Nazi territory, tracking down a Resistance spy, or conducting a daring rescue, Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos are the go-to squad for Captain Sam Sawyer. Wahoo!!

Nick Fury leads a rag-tag group of men into battle each issue, whether they are fighting in Europe, Northern Africa, or even the Pacific Islands. While Fury’s crew does not go after Adolf Hitler every month, they do attract a Nazi rival in Baron Strucker and his Blitzkrieg Squad, a team specifically assembled to stop the Commandos.

The Commandos are not on call 24/7, so they do get some leave time to go to London to relax and unwind. Fury even finds time to find the first love of his life, Pamela Hawley. She makes Fury more human and provides a reminder to Nick for what they are fighting for in Europe.

What makes this Essential?: This is an interesting book to look at and consider its merits. At the time this book started, the Marvel Age was growing by leaps and bounds. Already the Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man and Iron Man have been introduced with hints that they are all part of the same universe. Later in 1963, we would get Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men, So for Stan Lee & Jack Kirby to introduce a war book, at a time when Marvel was limited to publishing just eight titles per month, this seems like a strange move to make. Maybe Marvel wanted to keep a war comic on the racks just to stay competitive with the Distinguished Competition.

In terms of Sgt. Fury, this group of characters works well together. As with any of the ongoing war comics, you need to be less critical of the time line, knowing that the U.S. troops had a small window to be fighting in Europe. While Kirby’s art is stellar, I really believe the true hero of this book is Dick Ayers, whose art really shines in this book. The characters become more unique and distinct when lined up together. The stories are a mixed bag – Lee drops in too many anachronisms – but this is worth the read just for the art.

Meet the Commandos: In addition to Sgt Fury, the other members of the First Attack Squadron include:

  • Corporal Dum Dum Dugan serves as Fury’s right-hand man in the trenches and on furlough. Dugan lives for battle, preferring war to spending time at home with his wife and mother-in-law.
  • Private Izzy Cohen is the mechanic and explosives expert for the squadron.
  • Private Gabe Jones is an African-American serving in an integrated unit. In reality, the U.S. armed forces were not integrated until President Truman signed the orders in 1948.
  • Private Dino Manelli is a movie actor modeled after Dean Martin. Being fluent in both Italian and German, Dino is often sent on missions to impersonate Axis soldiers.
  • Private Reb Ralston is an ex-jockey from Kentucky and an avid poker player.
  • Private Junior Juniper was killed in action in just issue #4. It added a sense of realism to the book, that any of them were expendable. (However, given how many of the Commandos were also appearing in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., readers would know which ones were safe going forward.)
  • Private Pinky Pinkerton is a British soldier attached to the squadron to replace Juniper. Much like Dino was a stand-in for Dean Martin, Pinky is a stand-in for David Niven.

Footnotes: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos ran for 167 issues. Beginning with issue #80, the even-numbered issues featured a reprinted story, while the odd-numbered issues featured a new story. With issue #120, the series only reprinted stories and did not create any new stories. The title ended with issue #167 (December 1981).

If you like this volume, try: the Secret Warriors series from 2009 to 2011. Spinning out of the Dark Reign events, Nick Fury has created new teams within S.H.I.E.L.D. to respond to threats. These are various individuals with some kind of powers, such as Daisy Johnson a.k.a. Quake. The Secret Warriors team takes on those covert missions that S.H.I.E.L.D. cannot publicly handle. Many of the concepts here have been incorporated into Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tv series. One of the story-arcs in the Secret Warriors series was The Last Ride of the Howling Commandos, which can be found in issues #17-#19, and involved many of the surviving Commandos reuniting for a dinner. This was such a well-done series from Brian Michael Bendis and Jonathan Hickman.

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 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 Captain Marvel Vol. 1

Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 1

First Published: May 2008

Contents: Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967) and #13 (March 1968); Captain Marvel #1 (May 1968) to #21 (August 1970); and the Captain Marvin story from Not Brand Echh #9 (March 1981)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Don Heck, Gil Kane, Gary Friedrich, Dick Ayers, and others

Key First Appearances: Mar-Vell/Captain Marvel, Una, Yon-Rogg, Carol Danvers, Mordecai Boggs

Story Continues In: Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 2

Overview: Unbeknownst to most of the people of Earth, alien races have been keeping an eye on our home planet. One of those races, the Kree, has parked a spaceship in orbit to do a further observation of the Earthlings. Captain Mar-Vell is sent to the surface for further investigation, finding himself near a military base in Florida. Mar-Vell’s commander, Col. Yon-Rogg, despises his assignment and wants nothing more than to blast our planet to bits and return to the Kree home world. Finding himself at odds with his commander, Mar-Vell breaks ranks with the Kree and vows to protect the Earth as Captain Marvel!

Captain Marvel finds that the Kree are not happy with his decision, as he is forced to face off against Yon-Rogg and Ronan the Accuser. And given that the Kree are the mortal enemies of the Skrulls, of course, the Super-Skrull has to cross paths with Captain Marvel.

In issue #17, Roy Thomas returned to script the book and brought along with Gil Kane for the art chores. Captain Marvel was given his more familiar red and blue costume, and the story starting progressing in new directions. Rick Jones, the official sidekick of the Marvel Universe, joins up with Captain Marvel, and the two find themselves bonded via the Nega-Bands. Because of that, when one is on Earth, the other is transported to the Negative Zone. (And if you know your Marvel history, if Rick Jones is around than the Hulk will soon follow!)

One of the supporting characters created for this series was Carol Danvers, a security officer at the military base during the origin issues of our hero. However, in issue #18 (November 1969), Carol is caught up in an explosion with Captain Marvel. After she has fully recovered, she later finds out that her DNA has been fused with Kree DNA, and it has given her many of the same powers as Captain Marvel. Carol’s story will continue in the pages of her own comic, which have been reviewed in Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1.

What makes this Essential?: OK, full disclosure and SPOILER warning time. I never really got into the Captain Marvel character. Want to know why? Because the first time I ever saw the character was in Marvel Graphic Novel #1: The Death of Captain Marvel. He was killed off the first time I read him! And it was a shocking move by Marvel, having a heroic character die not in battle but in a bed from cancer. So given the dramatic finale to his career, I had not desire to go back and read his adventures. In all fairness, the early 1980s still was part of the era where characters that were deceased stayed deceased. Of course, Marvel would reuse the name Captain Marvel (to protect the trademark) with later characters. But in today’s era, sometimes the best characters to use are the dead ones, and a good writer finds a way to resurrect the dead.

So I read this volume only knowing the character’s end. This is a mixed introduction to Captain Marvel. I fully believe this is a book that got much better as the story progressed, so I am looking forward to reading Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 2 sometime soon. (You can read into that if the book got better as the story progressed, then the early issues must have been a rough ride to get through.) The Gil Kane issues in the end of the book were my favorites, as the artist finds a way to make Captain Marvel feel more alive. (I’m still a big fan of Gene Colan, but these issues just didn’t do it for me. Thankfully I have plenty of Colan Daredevil and Dracula issues to enjoy!) Bottom line – I think this is worth reading, but I don’t know that this is worth owning.

Footnotes: Captain Marvel #20 and #21 are also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 3.

Read my review of Showcase Presents SHAZAM! Vol. 1 to learn about the name battle between Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel.

If you like this volume, try: the Captain Marvel series from 2000 by Peter David and ChrisCross. This is a new Captain Marvel, Genis-Vell, who is the gentically-engineered son of the late Mar-Vell. Introduced in a 1996 Captain Marvel mini-series, the character went by the code name of Legacy. He rose in popularity when he was included in Avengers Forever maxi-series, as a future Avenger plucked from time to fight in the Destiny War. At the climax of that story, Captain Marvel finds that he must use the Nega-Band connection to save Rick Jones. Following that series, Genis-Vell moved into his own monthly book, still bonded to his father’s former side-kick. The series ran for 35 issues, before being rebooted in a Marvel promotion in 2002. The reboot, still written by Peter David, ran for another 25 issues. David is one of the best comic book writers, so any of these issues are a treat. Sadly, this is not a series that has been reprinted beyond one trade paperback, so you may need to dive into some back-issue bins to track this one down.

Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 2

Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 2

Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 2

First Published: June 2007

Contents: Silver Surfer story from Epic Illustrated #1 (Spring 1980); Silver Surfer #1 (June 1982); Silver Surfer #1 (July 1987) to #18 (December 1988); Silver Surfer Annual #1 (1988); and Silver Surfer story from Marvel Fanfare #51 (June 1990)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, John Buscema, John Byrne, Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, Joe Staton, Ron Lim, and others

Key First Appearances: Contemplator, Nenora, Captain Reptyl, Clumsy Foulup. S’Byll

Story Continues From: Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 1

Overview: Free at last, free at last! The Silver Surfer is free of Earth, and spanning the galaxy in Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 2. Sit back and enjoy the ride, as our cosmic-powered hero finally goes cosmic.

Back when the Silver Surfer first appeared, he was a herald of Galactus, but rebelled against his master to protect Earth. As a result, he was punished to live out his days on Earth, inside an invisible barrier Galactus erected surrounding the planet. But leave it to the genius of Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four to figure out a loop hole, which releases the Silver Surfer from his confinement.

Once again free to roam the stars, the Silver Surfer travels back to his home planet of Zenn-La and his beloved Shalla Bal. He finds his home world caught up in the ongoing conflict between the Krees and the Skrulls. The warring races, and the political intrigue taking place behind the scenes, would provide the direction for the series. With the entire Marvel Universe at his disposal, writer Steve Englehart allows the Silver Surfer to encounter many of the cosmic beings – from Galactus and Nova to the Eternals and Mantis.

This volume also collects some assorted solo stories of the Silver Surfer that appeared in this era. Two tales written by Stan Lee, with art by John Buscema and John Byrne, start off this collection. And an unused story from Silver Surfer #1 finally sees print in 1990 in the pages of Marvel Fanfare (see Footnotes below).

What makes this Essential?: This book highlights an interesting change in the direction of the Silver Surfer character. The first Silver Surfer series from the 1960s, collected in Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 1, dealt with ethics, morality, race and other topics. The Silver Surfer was the voice of Stan Lee in the pages of the comic books, giving him a chance to wax poetic on whatever interested Lee at the time. I would contend that the Silver Surfer of this era was more of a philosopher and not a super-hero.

Now over the 1970s and early 1980s, we did see Silver Surfer used, primarily in the pages of the Defenders, but he was never the focus of that title. It’s not until the 1987 series launch, collected in this volume, where we see the Silver Surfer go back into space and become a cosmic super-hero. This Silver Surfer is more likely to dive into action versus sit on his board and think about the petals on a flower. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Bottom line, if you want an action hero, you will enjoy this volume. If you prefer the Silver Surfer seen in the first Essential volume, you may not like this edition.

Footnotes: The cover to Marvel Age #52 is included in this volume. In that issue, there was an article on the then pending release of the new Silver Surfer series, which starts in this Essential. The article is reprinted in this volume.

The Silver Surfer story from Marvel Fanfare #51 was originally intended to be the first issue of the 1987 series. Before it could be published, Marvel editorial agreed to allow the Silver Surfer to be released from his imprisonment on Earth, once again allowing him to span the galaxy. The original issue was shelved, and a new #1 was quickly put together. Not willing to let paid work go unused, Marvel later dug out the finished issue and included it in Marvel Fanfare.

If you like this volume, try: the 2014 Silver Surfer series from Dan Slott, Mike Allred, and Laura Allred. Free from Earth once again, Silver Surfer encounters an Earth woman, Dawn Greenwood, who becomes a new companion for Norrin Radd on his travels. I use the word ‘companion’ on purpose, as this title has a strong ‘Doctor Who’ feel to it, in terms of it’s timey-wimey elusiveness. This is some of Slott’s most creative writing to date, and the Allreds work feels like it is a direct descendent of Jack Kirby. The first trade paperback collection just came out in October, so rush back to your LCS to pick up a copy.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

First Published: May 2007

Contents: Fantastic Four #111 (June 1971) to #137 (August 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, John Buscema, Ross Andru, Joe Sinnott, and others

Key First Appearances: Walter Collins, Overmind, Air-Walker, Thundra,

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7

Overview: Let’s set the scene here. Jack Kirby has just recently left the Fantastic Four (and Marvel). If this had happened in the last 10 years, more than likely Marvel would have cancelled the book and relaunched it the next month with a new #1. But in the 1970s, the book must go on month after month, so welcome aboard to Archie and Roy and Gerry and John. You have big shoes to fill, so let’s see how you do in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6.

To ease the transition, let’s bring in a lot of familiar faces. With Sue still caring for Franklin, Crystal and Medusa take turns as members of the Fantastic Four. Of course, if those two are around, then the Inhumans cannot be far behind. (But why is Quicksilver hanging out with Inhumans, and seems to be quite close to Crystal…)

Let’s bring in some familiar foes. Doctor Doom? Check! Galactus and his new herald Air-Walker? Check! The Frightful Four? Check! Dragon Man? Check! Diablo? Sigh, check. But we also get some new challengers, such as the Overmind. But the most treacherous foe is finally shown in Walter Collins, the constantly irate landlord of the Baxter Building. (“Johnny, what did you do with the rent check?”) Thankfully, John Byrne was finally able to have Reed write off Collins years later during his fantastic run of the 1980s.

The most interesting introduction in this volume is Thundra, who comes from the 23rd century when Earth is ruled by Femizons. She travels back to the 20th century to fight the strongest man, who happens to be Ben Grimm. Thundra will become a familiar face in the pages of Fantastic Four, working as an ally of our heroes and as an enemy as a member of the Frightful Four. She eventually develops a romantic interest in Ben, much to his chagrin.

What makes this Essential?: I want to like this more, I really do. But this volume just feels like a let down after the Lee-Kirby run. Maybe it’s not fair to compare these issues against that run, but this is the situation. The stories are decent but not dynamic. The art is very good but never breathtaking. There are some moments that rise up close to greatness, but then I wonder how Lee & Kirby would have done it. Case in point, in Fantastic Four #116, Doctor Doom leads the Fantastic Four against Overmind and Mr. Fantastic, I loved the issue, but I wanted to see Kirby draw that issue. A Fantastic Four completist should own this volume, but it is not essential for a casual Marvel fan.

Footnotes: The front and back covers to Marvel Treasury Edition #21 (1979) are included in this volume. The treasury edition reprints Fantastic Four #120 to #123, which are collected in this Essential. In addition, early versions of the covers to Fantastic Four #130 and #131 are also included in this book.

If you like this volume, try: the Inhumans mini-series from 1998. Written by Paul Jenkins with art by Jae Lee, the 12-issue series was part of the Marvel Knights launch. Several story arcs are at work in this collection: Attilan is under attack from external and internal forces. The next generation of Inhumans debate their future before entering the Terrigan Mists. And the royal family shows that they are just as dysfunctional as any other family. The tale fills in the gaps in the Inhumans history, fleshing it out into an epic story. This is one of the best Marvel stories ever, and probably needs to be read multiple times to catch everything. This has been collected repeatedly in trade paperback and hardcover editions, so it should be easy to find.

Essential Captain America Vol. 3

Essential Captain America Vol. 3

First Published: December 2006

Contents: Captain America #127 (July 1970) to #133 (January 1971); Captain America and the Falcon #134 (February 1971) to #156 (December 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Gary Friedrich, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, John Romita, Sr., Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Leila Taylor, Boss Morgan, Jack Monroe/Bucky

Story Continues From: Essential Captain America Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Captain America Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Captain America and the Falcon. This volume features an all-star list of comic greats, as Stan Lee and Gene Colan wrap up their long run on the book, and familiar Marvel Bullpen creators like Steve Englehart, John Romita, Sr., and Sal Buscema get their chance to take on star-spangled superhero.

Our duo continues helping out Nick Fury, Sharon Carter, and S.H.I.E.L.D. with a variety of familiar foes, such as the Red Skull, Hydra, and the Grey Gargoyle. Heroes like Spider-Man and the Avengers make cameo appearances, as New York City is the hub for all Marvel super-heroes.

Now, one of the struggles for our title character is to find something to occupy his time when he is not in costume. Sam Wilson works as a social worker in Harlem, and now has a steady girlfriend in Leila Taylor. But what can Steve Rogers do? Well, with good intentions, he joins the New York City Police Department. He works with Police Commissioner Feingold to set it up, but they agree to tell no one of Rogers’ other identity. Of course, this leads into all kinds of crazy excuses that Rogers must come up with to explain missing his shift, much to the annoyance of Rogers’ sergeant, Brian Muldoon (who bears a solid resemblance to Jack Kirby, one of Captain America’s co-creators).

The volume concludes with a face-off with the Captain America and Bucky from the 1950s. We find out that the government tried to introduce a new Captain America during the early days of the Cold War. William Burnside is an avid Captain America fan, and while researching his hero, he discovers the super soldier formula long thought lost. He undergoes plastic surgery to have his face shaped to look like Steve Rogers. Bringing in a young Jack Monroe that shares Burnside’s beliefs, the two teamed up as Captain America and Bucky. But their version of the super soldier formula causes psychotic breakdowns in the heroes, and the government is forced to put the two into suspended animation. Reanimated in the early 1970s, the 1950s Cap and Bucky come to blows with our Cap and Falcon. Our fearless heroes triumph, and the 1950s heroes are put back on ice. (In later years, Jack Monroe would return to Captain America’s side, adopting the Nomad costume identity in the 1980s. For more on Nomad, come back for Essential Captain America Vol. 4!)

What makes this Essential?: This volume really has me on the ropes. I don’t want to write a negative review about it, but I don’t know that I can write a positive review either. Given the incredible talents of the creators involved with the volume, one might expect the stories to be more epic in nature, or even more memorable. I don’t believe they were phoning it in during this era, but this is one of those books that felt like priority 1 was to just get a book out each month. This is a very good read for the Captain America fan, but I believe the casual Marvel Universe fan will find it disappointing.

Footnotes: Captain America Special #1 (1971) and #2 (1972) are reprint issues. collecting previously published stories from Tales of Suspense and Not Brand Echh. The covers for the two issues are in this volume.

Beginning with issue #134, the title of the comic changed to Captain America and the Falcon. This remained the title until issue #222, which can be found in Essential Captain America Vol. 6.

If you like this volume, try: the Captain America movies from 2011 and 2014. In all fairness, this may seem like a cheat. Maybe I am struggling to find another book to recommend based on the events of these comics. But at this point, if you are reading Volume 3, you probably have also read Volumes 1 and 2, which gives you 8 years worth of Captain America stories. So you understand who the character is and how he should be portrayed. So jump over to the movies. The 2011 Captain America: The First Avenger film portrays our hero’s origin, using the story from Captain America #255, which is viewed as the definitive Captain America origin, during the Roger Stern-John Byrne run in 1980 (see Essential Captain America Vol. 7). Jump ahead to the 2014 Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and we see Captain America working with S.H.I.E.L.D., which we have seen a lot in these Essentials. Look at the opening to Captain America #153, as Captain America comes home and finds Nick Fury sitting in the dark. That scene was later mimicked in the movie. Chris Evans visually personifies Captain America in the flesh, even more so than Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man. The Captain America films have done an excellent job of aligning the movie character to that of the comic character, They are worth the re-watch to appreciate how faithful they were to the comics.