Essential Thor Vol. 3

Essential Thor Vol. 3

First Published: October 2006

Contents: Thor #137 (February 1967) to #166 (July 1969)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Key First Appearances: Ulik, Orikal, Growing Man, the Enchanters, the Wrecker, Mangog, Athena

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 4

Overview: It’s time to go back to Norse Mythology 101, true believers, as we look at the third volume of the Essential Thor series. Get comfortable, because with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby telling these tales of Asgard, we are in for some incredible adventures. You will not want to put this book down

At the end of the last volume, Odin had decreed that Thor should stop his infatuation with nurse Jane Foster. A spell was cast to change Jane’s heart, and she quickly moved on to a new job and a new interest. Jane would be seen very sporadically throughout this volume and the upcoming volumes, but her story with Thor is not yet done.

Instead of Jane Foster, Odin “encourages” his son to turn his eyes upon Lady Sif, who happens to be the prettiest warrior in all of Asgard. Sif is ready to say “I do” but Thor’s heart is still heavy for the love he once had. This turn in direction is also used to start focusing more of the stories of Thor in Asgard proper, with the occasional visit to Earth.

A pair of important foes are introduced in this volume. The first is Ulik, the mightiest of the rock trolls. The trolls are always looking to expand their empire anywhere within the Nine Realms. Thankfully, Thor and his mighty hammer Mjolnir stand ready to push them back. Midway through this volume, Loki returns to confound his step-brother once more. Hiding out from his brother, a common thief known as the Wrecker breaks into Loki’s hotel room. Karnilla, the Norn Queen, casts a spell at Loki but it hit the Wrecker instead, granting him great strength and invulnerability. Definitely strong enough to go toe-to-toe with Thor.  (Years later, the Wrecker will share some of his powers with three other felons to create the Wrecking Crew.)

As the book progresses, we see Kirby’s influence on the book take control – larger panels, double-page spreads, and cosmic stories. Of course, that means another visit from Ego the Living Planet, who is at odds with Galactus, devourer of worlds. Doesn’t get much more cosmic than that, right?

What makes this Essential?: This is a must own Essential. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby hit their creative peak with the run of issues in this volume. While there are some story arcs taking place firmly on Earth (Circus of Crime, the Wrecker), we get more of Asgard and Thor’s place in the universe. Ego the Living Planet returns, and familiar faces from the pages of Fantastic Four come over for a visit, in Adam Warlock and Galactus. Kirby has moved away from the 9-panel pages to go with the larger 4-panel pages or even full page splashes, making the saga of our favorite Norse deity seem that much more grander. I say this should be a must own for the Kirby fans and/or Thor fans.

Footnotes: The Tales of Asgard stories ended in Thor #145. From issues #146 to #152, a new backup from Lee & Kirby featuring the Inhumans began, but those are not reprinted in this Essential. Finally, with Thor #153, Thor finally gets the entire issue for his continuing adventures.

If you like this volume, try:  the Thor, God of Thunder series that launched in late 2012 as part of the Marvel Now campaign. Jason Aaron helms this title, crafting incredible concepts for Thor. His approach to the majority of the stories is to tell them from three points of view from Thor’s timeline: the current Thor of today, Thor as a brash youth from a 1,000 years ago, and an elder Thor, King of Asgard. The main artist for the book is Esad Ribic, whose art reminds me of Bill Sienkiewicz, but the finished product has the grandeur of Kirby.  What I really appreciate about this title is that it has been left alone from all of the other events going on in the Marvel Universe. To date, you can read this title and not feel the need to pick up crossovers or additional miniseries. This title will be coming to an end with issue #25 later this fall, so catch this while you can, before Thor makes his (or her) next transformation. Thor, God of Thunder has been collected in hardcover and trade paperback collections and should be easy to track down.

Essential Savage She-Hulk Vol. 1

Essential Savage She-Hulk Vol. 1

First Published: July 2006

Contents: Savage She-Hulk #1 (February 1980) to #25 (February 1982)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, John Buscema, David Anthony Kraft, Mike Vosburg, and others

Key First Appearances: Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk, William Morris Walters

Overview:  Jennifer Walters is a successful lawyer in southern California. While hosting her visiting cousin, Bruce Banner, Jennifer is shot by gangsters who want to keep her from bringing a case to court. In an effort to save his cousin, Bruce Banner gives Jennifer a blood transfusion, even though his blood is radiated with the gamma energy that helps turn Bruce into the Hulk. Days later while recovering in the hospital, the gangsters return to finish the job. Jennifer finds herself getting angry, and when she does, she starts to grow and turn green, and the She-Hulk is born.

While in her She-Hulk form, she finds she is not as strong as her cousin Bruce. Conversely, she is able to retain her full intelligence while in her She-Hulk form. Jennifer finds that she is more comfortable in life as She-Hulk, and starts spending more and more time in her jade identity.

The book develops a cast of characters that help round out the stories, but do not impact the rest of the Marvel Universe. However, several familiar faces from the Marvel Universe do cross paths with the She-Hulk. Iron Man makes two appearances; Richard Rory, usually seen in the pages of Man-Thing and Defenders, makes his way to California and becomes a would-be love interest to Jennifer; and John Jameson, the astronaut-turned-Man-Wolf from Amazing Spider-Man, shows up in both of his identities.

What makes this Essential?: The creation of She-Hulk, and how she is used after the run of this title, is much more essential to the Marvel Universe than the 25 issues presented in this collection. Much like Spider-Woman before her, She-Hulk was created solely to protect Marvel from having another comic book publisher creating a character with that name, by trying to sponge off of the Hulk property. Stan Lee came in to write the first issue, with art by John Buscema, and then the title was given over to David Anthony Kraft and Mike Vosburg to handle for the next two years. The stories by Kraft & Vosburg are adequate but not memorable. Much like her cousin wearing the purple pants with each transformation, She-Hulk ends up in a torn white dress that just manages to keep the Jade Giantess’ jades covered during her transitions and battles. The villains she fights are often the run-of-the-mill B- and C-List bad guys that would later be killed off by Scourge at the Bar With No Name in the pages of Captain America. This Essential is important for the reprint of issue #1, but that can be found in other collections. If you want to read the essential She-Hulk stories from the 1980s, read her stories in Avengers, Fantastic Four, and Sensational She-Hulk.

Footnotes: The She-Hulk title ended with issue #25 (February 1982), but her story was not finished yet. David Anthony Kraft teamed up She-Hulk with the Thing in Marvel Two-In-One #88 (June 1982), which can be found in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 4. The following month, She-Hulk joined the Avengers in issue #221 (July 1982).

If you like this volume, try: reading the two She-Hulk series from Dan Slott and friends. There have been several memorable runs of She-Hulk in her own title. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, The Sensational She-Hulk, in particular, the John Byrne issues, broke the Fourth Wall to interact with the readers. And after Slott’s run on the second series from the 2000s, Peter David came on board and took her back to her superhero roots. But in between, Dan Slott had 33 issues which brought in all the various aspects and approaches to Jennifer Walters and her other identity. In these series, Jennifer joins the prestigious law firm of Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg, & Holliway located at Timely Plaza in New York City. (That would be a hidden tribute to the early days of Marvel Comics, then known as Timely Comics, published by Martin Goodman, and early pioneers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.) GLK&H specializes in superhero (and villain) cases, and their offices are filled with comic books, which are used as research material. Our title character finally finds a happy place being able to split time between both of her personalities, realizing that each one helps make the other stronger. Slott’s run has been collected in multiple trade paperbacks and hardcovers so these should be easy to track down.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

First Published: June 2006

Contents: Fantastic Four #84 (March 1969) to #110 (May 1971)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Romita, Sr., John Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Torgo, Agatha Harkness, Ebony

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 6

Overview: Welcome back to the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine, starring the Fantastic Four, although there appears to be five people running around in the blue union suits. Let’s dive into Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5!

The stories in this volume start crossing over multiple issues, running three to five issues and immediately leading into the next storyline. This volume starts out with a Doctor Doom story, followed by the Mole Man and then Torgo. Other extended arcs bring back the Inhumans, and a Sub-Mariner/Magneto multi-part story.

In between battles, we are introduced to Agatha Harkness, a witch who will serve as a nanny for young Franklin Richards. This will allow Mom and Dad to still be full-time members of the Fantastic Four. Agatha Harkness will become a fixture in the Marvel Universe for many years to come, watching over Franklin and helping to train the Scarlet Witch in the pages of The Avengers.

The highlight of this book is Fantastic Four #100. The Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master launch another attack on the Fantastic Four, by controlling nearly every past Fantastic Four foe to attack the team as they are trying to travel home. Doctor Doom, the Sentry, the Wizard, the Hate Monger, the Sub-Mariner, and many others all try but fail. The Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master have one last secret weapon in reserve, an android version of the Hulk. Only the Hulk android cannot be controlled, just like its namesake, and destroys the lab. The Fantastic Four finally catch their breath (and a plane) to make their way home.

What makes this Essential?: This is it, the end of the Lee-Kirby run on Fantastic Four. With 102 consecutive issues plus a few scattered issues after that, Stan and Jack created the definitive run on Marvel’s First Family. Everything you need to know about the FF can be found in their run. So, for that reason, I could make the argument that Essential Fantastic Four Volumes 1-5 should be in every collection. This is an interesting volume because we start to see what happens after Kirby leaves the book. Can you imagine the conversation in the Marvel Bullpen, telling John Romita, Sr., that they need him to take over Fantastic Four AFTER Kirby’s run? (Although taking over Amazing Spider-Man AFTER Steve Ditko probably gave Romita the experience that he needed.)

Footnotes: Fantastic Four Annual #7 (November 1969) and #8 (December 1970) reprinted material from earlier issues of Fantastic Four. The covers for the two annuals are reprinted in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: Jack Kirby’s Fourth World storyline from DC Comics. In 1970, Kirby’s run was coming to an end, on both Fantastic Four and Thor, as well as with this run at Marvel. The next generation of writers and artists was coming into the Marvel bullpen, and the publishing company was turning into a corporation. Kirby had been offered a new but unfavorable contract by Marvel, and refused to sign. DC immediately offered a contract, and Kirby moved back to the Distinguished Competition. Right from the start, Kirby started up a story line that was dubbed The Fourth World. He took over duties on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, and introduced three new books: The New Gods, The Forever People, and Mister Miracle. Mixing equal parts of super-hero tales with a pantheon of gods, Kirby’s Fourth World was an epic story before the concept of epic stories had been conceived. These stories have been reprinted numerous times, most recently as a Jack Kirby Omnibus collection.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 4

Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 4

First Published: June 2005

Contents: Fantastic Four #64 (July 1967) to #83 (February 1969), and Fantastic Four Annual #5 (November 1967) and #6 (November 1968)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Key First Appearances: Sentry 459, Ronan the Accuser, Supreme Intelligence, Crucible, Adam Warlock, Super-Android, Psycho-Man, Livewire, Franklin Richards, Annihilus

Story Continues From: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5

Overview: Have you caught your breath yet from Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3 yet? Hurry up, because the Lee & Kirby keep volume 4 moving at full speed. Hang on as we continue one of the greatest comic book runs of all time.

Let’s start out by going cosmic. The Fantastic Four encounter a mysterious destructive robot known as Sentry 459. We find out later that it was left there by the Kree Empire, led by the Supreme Intelligence and represented by Ronan the Accuser. We later meet the being known only as Him, who later becomes much better known as Adam Warlock.

Returning to Earth, we are treated to more adventures with the Inhumans. Crystal starts hanging out with the team more and more, and eventually earns her own blue #4 jumpsuit, as she takes Sue’s place on the team. But why would Sue be leaving the team? Reed announces to the others in Annual #5 that Sue is pregnant, and she gives birth to Franklin Richards in Annual #6.

A host of foes makes their first appearance in this volume. The Psycho-Man shows up, playing on the fears of the team. And if you thought Blastaar was the only bad guy in the Negative Zone, then let me introduce you to Annihulus. Earth is also visited for a second time by the world-devourer Galactus. Good thing the Fantastic Four have the Silver Surfer on their side.

The biggest surprise of this book? Not a single appearance by Doctor Doom! Don’t fret, as the good leader of Latveria is the main foe of issue #84, which leads off Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5. As much as we may miss Doom, there really wasn’t room to fit him into any of these classic stories by Lee & Kirby.

What makes this Essential?: This volume is very good but gets overshadowed by the volume before it. Kirby continues his creative hot streak, and Lee introduces new concepts and characters that continue to impact the Marvel Universe today. This is a volume to read when you want to impress your casual comic book friends that still slobber over the issues in the prior volume (and rightfully so). Read this and brag about the second appearance by Galactus, and how Franklin joined the team! Pick this up and enjoy the “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!”

Footnotes: Fantastic Four #73 is also reprinted in Essential Daredevil Vol. 2.

The Silver Surfer story from Fantastic Four Annual #5 is also reprinted in Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: an all-new Fantastic Four team from the early 1990s. Writer Walt Simonson and artist Art Adams were the creative team on the Fantastic Four book, and introduced a new team to take the place of Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben. The new team featured Spider-Man, Hulk, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider. It was a fun and popular take on the Fantastic Four concept and the back issues were in high demand at one point. The easiest way to track this story down is by finding the Fantastic Four Visionaries: Walt Simonson Vol. 3, which will give you the entire story arc, plus a few more stories featuring Marvel’s first family.

Essential Thor Vol. 2

Essential Thor Vol. 2

First Published: June 2005

Contents: Journey Into Mystery #113 (February 1965) to #125 (February 1966); Journey Into Mystery Annual #1 (1965); Thor #126 (March 1966) to #136 (January 1967); and Thor Annual #2 (September 1966)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Key First Appearances: Absorbing Man, Destroyer, Warriors Three (Fandrall, Hogun, and Volstagg), Olympus, Hercules, Zeus, Hippolyta, Pluto, Ares, Artemis, Hephaestus, Hera, Hermes, Cerberus, Tana Nile, Ego the Living Planet, Recorder #211, Count Tagar, High Evolutionary, New Men, Knights of Wundagore, Dr. Keith Kincaid

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 3

Overview: Take a journey into mystery, by following the Rainbow Bridge to the fabled world of Asgard, led by the all-father Odin, and represented by the prince to the throne, Thor, god of thunder and protector of Earth.

In the continuation of the Norse god’s adventures, Thor faces off against stronger foes, such as the Grey Gargoyle and the Absorbing Man. Thor is tested to his limits as the Asgardian Destroyer is let loose. Loki’s schemes get more nefarious in his attempts to steal the throne of Asgard away from Odin, only to be thwarted by Thor.

The Norse gods cross paths with the Greek gods, as Hercules, Prince of Power, faces off against Thor in a memorable introduction. Hercules and the other Greeks would appear many times in this volume, and the popularity of Hercules would lead to his inclusion in the Avengers title.

Finally, the scope of Thor and his book expands as he takes a journey into space, where he encounters one of his greatest challenges to date when Thor faces off against Ego, the Living Planet! Following his return to Earth, Thor meets the High Evolutionary on the peak of Wundagore Mountain, which will be a thorn in the side of many Marvel heroes for years to come.

The Tales of Asgard stories continue throughout this volume, giving the reader insights and backstory into many of the supporting characters in the Asgardian mythos.

What makes this Essential?: This is a much better volume of Thor stories than the first volume. While I don’t believe Lee & Kirby hit their creative peak with Thor until volume 3, we see the seeds of grandeur starting to show in the stories. The introduction of Hercules, Zeus, and the Olympian pantheon creates counterparts to the Norse gods and gives Thor a friendly rival to go up against. Add in the introduction of the Warriors Three, the Absorbing Man, and Ego the Living Planet, and this could be considered a better starting point for a new Thor reader.

If you like this volume, try:  the Incredible Hercules series from 2008-2010. Following the events of the World War Hulk storyline, Hercules took over the Incredible Hulk title, with it being renamed in issue #113.  Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, the story is a humorous look into the adventures of the Greek demigod partnered with Amadeus Cho, a teenage super-genius. Hercules finds himself caught up in awkward situations, usually due to his womanizing ways or by the actions of his rival Ares. These issues have been collected in hardcover and trade paperback collections and should be easy to track down.

Essential Hulk Vol. 3

Essential Hulk Vol. 3

First Published: May 2005

Contents: Incredible Hulk #118 (August 1969) to #142 (August 1971); Captain Marvel #20 (June 1970) and #21 (August 1970); and Avengers #88 (May 1971)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe, Stan Lee, Gil Kane, and Harlan Ellison

Key First Appearances: Glob, Barbara Norriss, Jack Norriss, Jim Wilson, Golem, Jarella, Doc Samson

Story Continues From: Essential Hulk Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Hulk Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the smashing adventures of the Hulk. Our misunderstood monster has moved into the 1970s, still hounded by the army but now facing new challenges from friends and foes alike. 

Hulk faces off against his familiar gamma-radiated foes in the Leader and the Abomination. But now he starts branching out to be threatened by the Rhino, the Absorbing Man, Maximus, and the Mole Man – all villains generally associated with other Marvel heroes. Speaking of which, the heroes themselves get matched up against the Hulk, as the Avengers and the Fantastic Four cross paths with the Hulk in an attempt to subdue him. Note the use of the word attempt, because no one stops the Hulk.

This volume shows us a different side of the Hulk as well. He picks up a new sidekick in Jim Wilson, who does his best to help his new jade friend. We also meet Jarella, the princess of a sub-atomic world that is a mix of high-tech and sorcery. Jarella becomes the love of the Hulk’s life, although Bruce Banner still remains true to Betty Ross.

What makes this Essential?: I really enjoyed this volume. Roy Thomas takes over as writer from Stan Lee, and moves the character away from being on the constant run from the army. Instead, we get more match-ups against foes who could test the Hulk’s strength, such as the Thing, Absorbing Man, the Rhino, and others. He is built up as the misunderstood monster who wants nothing more than to be left alone. We meet Jarella for the first time, and see the sensitive side of the Hulk, showing he has other emotions other than anger. This is a great volume to own if you are a fan of the Hulk. For the casual Marvel fan, it’s worth a read, but it may not be essential.

Footnotes: Incredible Hulk #126 is also reprinted in Essential Defenders Vol. 1 and Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 2.

Avengers #88 and Incredible Hulk #140 were also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 4.

Captain Marvel #20 and #21 are also reprinted in Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the 2008 Hulk series by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness.  Following the events of the World War Hulk storyline, the Incredible Hulk title was renamed to the Incredible Hercules and given to the Greek Avenger. The Hulk moved into a new adjective-less title and a new take was presented with the character. A mysterious Red Hulk was introduced, which led to months of speculation as to who that might be. McGuinness’ art is perfect for the Hulk and his supporting cast, and Loeb was having fun with the stories. This has been collected multiple ways, so it should be easy to find.

Essential Iron Man Vol. 2

First Published: November 2004

Contents: Iron Man stories from Tales of Suspense #73 (January 1966) to #99 (March 1968); Sub-Mariner story from Tales to Astonish #82 (August 1966); Iron Man & Sub-Mariner #1 (April 1968); and Iron Man #1 (May 1968) to #11 (March 1969)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, and Johnny Craig

Key First Appearances: Ultimo, Whiplash, Whitney Frost/Countess Giulietta Nefaria, Janice Cord

Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to the world of Iron Man! Tony Stark is a man of many roles — inventor, businessman, playboy, and Avenger. Whether holding off another scheme by the Mandarin, or testifying before Congress, Tony Stark balances the many demands and threats on his life with the charm and suave that makes men jealous and women swoon.

In this volume, we see more of Tony’s ties with Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division). Tony’s best friend, Happy Hogan, undergoes some freakish changes. And the villain known as Whiplash makes his debut; however, he will rename himself Blacklash in later issues.

Some new ladies come into Tony Stark’s life. First up is Whitney Frost, a.k.a. the Countess Nefaria, the heiress to the Maggia crime family. This puts her at odds with Tony Stark, in and out of his armor. In the next Essential, we see Frost injured in a place crash, forcing her to don a mask to hide her disfigurement and adopt a new identity of Madame Masque. Another character introduced was Janice Cord, Tony’s girlfriend and the daughter of the CEO of Cord Industries, a rival to Stark Industries. Unfortunately, being the girlfriend of a Marvel hero is a hazardous occupation, as we see in Essential Iron Man Vol. 3.

What makes this Essential?:This collection explodes off the page as Gene Colan replaces Don Heck as the Iron Man artist in Tales of Suspense. These stories read quickly, as the stories cram a lot of events into 12 pages of stories. Colan would stay with the character for the remainder of the Tales of Suspense run. (It was also in this era that Colan took over the art duties on Daredevil.) The end of Tales of Suspense marked a lot of changes for the character. Iron Man moved into his own title, and Archie Goodwin replaced Stan Lee as the Iron Man writer. New artists take over from Colan at the same time. Because of the art, I consider this to be a better volume than Essential Iron Man Vol. 1, but so much gets introduced in that first volume that it still remains an essential read.

Footnotes: Tales to Astonish #82 and Tales of Suspense #80 were reprinted in Essential Sub-Mariner Vol. 1

If you like this volume, try: reading S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver. This series from 2010 explored the history of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, with roots back to Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton. While the story jumps around in different eras, the characters from the most current era of the story are Howard Stark (future father of Tony Stark) and Nathaniel Richards (future father of Reed Richards). Hickman creates a wondrous history of an organization designed to protect humanity, and Weavers illustrations are majestic in the scope of the story. Easter eggs are scattered throughout the issues, sure to delight long-time Marvel readers. Hickman and Weaver keep promising to finish up the second volume of S.H.I.E.L.D., so hopefully we will see that later this year.