Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6

First Published: July 2004

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #114 (November 1972) to #137 (October 1974); Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1 (June 1974); and Giant-Size Spider-Man #1 (July 1974) and #2 (October 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gil Kane, John Romita Sr., Gerry Conway, Len Wein, and Ross Andru

Key First Appearances:  Jonas Harrow, Man-Wolf, Frank Castle/Punisher, Jackal, Tarantula, Equinox

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 7

Overview: Peter Parker is pushed to his limit physically and emotionally  in this volume. And when Peter is at his breaking point, the Amazing Spider-Man is at his best.

As if battling Doctor Octopus, the Hulk, and Dracula was not enough, Spider-Man faces down the Green Goblin, who kidnapped and killed Peter’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. Spider-Man fights Norman Osborn for what we think will be the final time, as the Green Goblin is accidentally killed by his own goblin glider. Of course, that still does not stop J. Jonah Jameson from accusing Spider-Man of murder.

Spider-Man meets up with a new set of heroes that represents the spirit of the 1970s. Hero for hire Luke Cage is retained by Jameson to bring in Spider-Man dead or alive. The Punisher places Spidey in his targets after reading one too many Daily Bugle editorials about the supposed crimes of our star. Finally, Spider-Man teams up with Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung-Fu, who uses his martial arts skills to thwart the mad schemes of his father.

This volume ends with the debut of a new Green Goblin, who is seeking revenge on Spider-Man for the death of his predecessor. Spidey quickly realizes that this new Goblin is one of his best friends, Harry Osborn, creating a whole new set of problems for Peter.

What makes this Essential?: This should be a must own for many reasons. For character introductions, we meet the Man-Wolf, the Jackal, the Tarantula, and, perhaps most importantly, the Punisher. Even though he was exaggerated to comic proportions, the mission of Frank Castle could easily be replicated in real life. At the same time, we witness the most tragic event in Peter Parker’s life since the murder of his Uncle Ben. The death of Gwen Stacy came with no warning, no lead-up, no spoilers. It changed Peter, and it changed the tone of the book. My feeling is that between the death of Gwen Stacy and the introduction of the Punisher, Marvel left the Silver Age of comics and entered the Bronze Age. These stories should be part of any collection.

Not only is he Amazing, he’s Spectacular: In 1968, Marvel entered into the magazine business when they partnered with Warren Publishing to issue a Spectacular Spider-Man magazine. Warren was known for their horror magazines at this time. Spectacular Spider-Man was a black-and-white magazine which featured new original stories from Stan Lee, John Romita, Sr., and Jim Mooney. The lead story of Spectacular Spider-Man #1 was broken up and re-used for Amazing Spider-Man #116-118, which is collected in this Essential. The lead story for Spectacular Spider-Man #2 was edited and re-used in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #9.

The magazine experiment ended with issue #2. However, in the 1970s, Marvel got back into the magazine business with their then owner Curtis Publishing. Curtis helped distribute a wide range of black-and-white horror magazines with content that might not have passed the Comics Code Authority at that time.

Footnotes: In Amazing Spider-Man #130 (March 1974), the infamous Spider-Mobile makes its debut. According to interviews with Gerry Conway, a toy executive had approached Stan Lee and suggested that all of the characters should have some kind of vehicle to use. Lee readily agreed, knowing that he wouldn’t actually have to write the story. When Conway pointed out the flaws in the idea, Lee said he didn’t care what Conway did with the car once it was introduced. As a result, the Spider-Mobile soon ended up at the bottom of the Hudson River. Despite that, Spider-Mobiles can still be found included in nearly every line of Spider-Man toys since then.

Amazing Spider-Man #129, #134, and #135 were also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: going back and looking for the Marvel Masterworks Spider-Man Vol. 7, available as both a hardcover and as a trade paperback. What makes this volume important is that it contains the two Spectacular Spider-Man magazines complete and unedited. Outside of owning the physical magazines, this is the only way to read Spectacular Spider-Man #2, as it has never been reprinted completely in any other fashion.

Essential Daredevil Vol. 2

Essential Daredevil Vol. 2

First Published: June 2004

Contents: Daredevil #26 (March 1967) to #48 (January 1969); Daredevil Special #1 (September 1967); and Fantastic Four #73 (April 1968)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, and others

Key First Appearances: Jester

Story Continues From: Essential Daredevil Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Daredevil Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of the Man without Fear. By day, Matt Murdock is a trial attorney, working to see that everyone has a chance to have their case heard in court. By night, Murdock dons his red fighting togs to become Daredevil.

Many of Daredevil’s foes (Stilt-Man, Ani-Men, Marauder) from the first Essential volume return for another go at our hero, but we see that circle of opponents expand out into the Marvel Universe. Daredevil crosses paths with Doctor Doom, the Beetle, the Trapster, the Cobra and Mr. Hyde. Of course, you can’t have those villains without the obligatory guest appearances by the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and Thor as well. One new foe is introduced, as the Jester makes his first appearance in these pages.

We also get a new focus on Matt’s law partner, Foggy Nelson. He is once again recruited to run for District Attorney. Matt doesn’t completely approve of this move, because the campaign pulls Foggy’s attention away from the firm. Ironically, Matt needs Foggy to be focused on the firm, because Matt’s time and attention is split by his role as Daredevil. This volume ends with Foggy winning the election, but perhaps splitting up the firm and their friendship as Murdock walks away.

What makes this Essential?: This volume is where things really start to take off for Daredevil. Stan Lee starts to stretch stories out across multiple issues, allowing the tale to develop and not feel rushed. (Sure, one could complain about the absurdity of the entire Mike Murdock storyline, which only shows how blind Foggy Nelson and Karen Page must have been.) The art by Gene Colan is simply breathtaking for the time. His characters look and feel alive within the panels. In fact, Colan’s human figures (Matt, Karen, Foggy) are much better than any of his costumed figures (Daredevil). This essential is worth picking up just for the Colan artwork. 

Footnotes: Fantastic Four #73 is also collected in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: the Daredevil: Guardian Devil storyline from Kevin Smith, Joe Quesada, and Jimmy Palmiotti from 1998. This was the first mainstream comic for the comic-fan-turned-film-director. In turn, this storyline brought in many of Smith’s fans into the world of Daredevil for the first time. In 1998, Marvel announced a project dubbed “Marvel Knights”, which would create more adult-oriented material using established Marvel characters, such as the Punisher, the Black Panther, and Daredevil. With this, Daredevil’s first series was ended with issue #380, and the series was relaunched with a new #1 issue under the Marvel Knights banner. In the story, Daredevil finds himself protecting a young baby, who might be the Messiah, or might be the Anti-Christ. This has been collected in numerous trades and hardcovers, so it should not be too hard to track down.

Essential Human Torch Vol. 1

Essential Human Torch Vol. 1

First Published: January 2004

Contents: Human Torch stories from Strange Tales #101 (October 1962) to #134 (July 1965), and Strange Tales Annual #2 (1963)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Larry Lieber, and Bob Powell

Key First Appearances: Wizard, Paste-Pot Pete, the Eel, Dorrie Evans, Plantman, the Beetle, the Fox

Overview: Welcome to the solo stories of Johnny Storm, the teenage member of the Fantastic Four. We are quite familiar by now how Johnny gained the fantastic ability to ignite himself on fire to become the Human Torch. Now we see how the youngest member of the FF deals with teenage issues, like finding a girlfriend or getting a car.

One of the key introductions in these stories is Dorrie Evans, who would become Johnny’s regular girlfriend for the early years, at least until she disappeared into limbo and was replaced by Crystal from the Inhumans. Many longtime FF villains started out as foes of Johnny, including the Wizard, the Eel, and Paste-Pot Pete. (It’s hard to strike fear in citizens with a name like Paste-Pot Pete, so he eventually changed his name over to the Trapster.)

In Strange Tales #120, the Human Torch teams up with Iceman from the X-Men, the first meeting between these two characters. This would lead to an ongoing argument within the comic community that has lasted for 50+ years as to who would win a fight between them. My feeling is they could each win in the right circumstances in a neutral setting. But generally, the edge always goes to the titular character.

Beginning with Strange Tales #123, the Thing comes on as the regular co-star of these stories with the Human Torch. This helps build the friendship between the two characters. The stories seem to repeat a lot of the friends and foes seen during Johnny’s solo stories, so we get second appearances by the Sub-Mariner, the X-Men, Paste-Pot Pete, the Wizard, and others.

What makes this Essential?: These stories could be considered as the first spin-off book from Marvel Comics. Even though the Human Torch is the title character for this run, these really are a secondary set of Fantastic Four stories. Reed, Sue, and Ben appear in nearly every story in this run. These stories start just 11 months after Fantastic Four #1 and served as a way to help get the characters more exposure, in particular, the teenage member of the foursome. A side benefit had to be increased sales on an anthology book that was quickly being surpassed by the popularity of the super-hero titles.

Hindsight being 20/20, maybe it would have been better to include these stories chronologically within the Essential Fantastic Four run. This Essential Human Torch came out nearly six years after the Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1, during the early days of this collection line. With most of the stories in this volume done by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Dick Ayers, you could almost consider this volume to be Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1.5. If you own the early Fantastic Four Essentials, then you should also own this one.

She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!: In Strange Tales #130, Stan Lee decided to team up the  Fantastic Four with the Fab Four. Dorrie Evans and Alicia Masters invite their boyfriends to attend a Beatles concert. When they arrive, the concert venue manager announces that they were just robbed, and would be unable to pay the Beatles. Johnny and Ben step up to recover the money. Even though these are just normal crooks, they lead the Human Torch and the Thing on a six-page chase before being captured. Johnny and Ben return the money to the box office, right as the concert ends.

The Human Torch and the Thing return the stolen box office receipts.

The Human Torch and the Thing return the stolen box office receipts.

This appears to be the first appearance of the Beatles in a Marvel comic, but not their first appearance in a comic. In 1964, Dell Comics released an oversized one-shot that was more magazine than comic.

Footnotes: Strange Tales was an anthology title that started back in 1951. When the Human Torch joined in issue #101, that began the “Marvel Universe” takeover of the title. Dr. Strange joined in issue #110. When the Human Torch (and the Thing) left the title, they were replaced by Nick Fury.

In 1974, Marvel launched an eight-issue Human Torch series. It featured reprints of Golden-Age Human Torch stories featuring Jim Hammond, as well as reprints of the early Strange Tales stories featuring Johnny Storm. Each issue had a new cover, done by the likes of John Romita, Sr., Marie Severin, and Gil Kane. It would have been nice if Marvel had included those covers in this book.

The Human Torch story in Strange Tales #127 was reprinted with a new framing sequence in Fantastic Four #154, which was reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7.

If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man/Human Torch miniseries from 2005. Written by Dan Slott and drawn by Ty Templeton, this five issue series spotlights moments shared between the two characters over their five decades in comics. This is a funny yet touching look at two friends who grew into adulthood fighting villains and aliens. This has been reprinted in the digest format and as a hardcover, but the individual issues can still be found in quarter bins. This is a must read for all ages!

Essential Daredevil Vol. 1

First Published: October 2002

Contents: Daredevil #1 (April 1964) to #25 (February 1967)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Steve Ditko, Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, Jack Kirby, John Romita, and Gene Colan

Key First Appearances: Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson, Karen Page, Battlin’ Jack Murdock, Leland Owlsley/the Owl, Purple Man,  Stilt-Man, Ani-Men, Plunderer, Marauder, Gladiator, Leap-Frog

Story Continues In: Essential Daredevil Vol. 2

Overview: Following a freak accident that doused  him in radioactive waste, young Matt Murdock finds himself blind but with enhanced senses of hearing, smell, touch, and taste (not often showcased). Matt’s father, the boxer Jack Murdock, pushes his son to study hard so he doesn’t have to follow in his footsteps. When Jack refuses to take a dive in a fight, he is killed by the mob boss that had bet heavily against him. Matt vows to avenge his father, and trains his body to reach it’s peak perfection. Despite his blindness, Murdock dons a costume and takes to the rooftops of New York City as Daredevil, the man without fear!

We see that Murdock has become a successful lawyer, sharing a firm with his best friend from college, Foggy Nelson. Add in the adorable secretary Karen Page, who has a crush on Murdock, and our cast is set.

Daredevil battles a mix of villains from issue to issue. Some are one-and-done hooded thugs, and some are costumed criminals. We see Daredevil go up against some of Spider-Man’s foes in Electro and the Ox. He even gets his own set of rogues, with introductions of the Owl, Stilt-Man, and the Gladiator.

What makes this Essential?: Daredevil is a very unique comic character created by Stan Lee and friends. A blind super-hero goes against everything we imagine a hero should be. Sure, having the enhanced senses helps make it easier for Daredevil to do what he does, but he still remains a blind man swinging between buildings in New York City.

The problem I have with endorsing this as an Essential edition is that there are a dozen different story arcs and runs of Daredevil that are much, much better than the stories in this volume. This is a case where the Silver Age stories do not hold up against the Bronze Age and modern stories. Read this only if you are a Daredevil fan.

Footnotes: Daredevil’s original costume was a red-and-yellow garish combination that could only have been designed by a blind man (pun intended!). Beginning in issue #7, Daredevil converted over to his traditional all-red costume. In the issue, Daredevil’s thoughts on the new costume read, “I’ve secretly worked for months to redesign my fighting costume – – to make it more comfortable – – more distinctive!” Yes, very distinctive, and we’ll take Matt’s word on the costume’s comfort.

Daredevil #7 is also reprinted in Essential Sub-Mariner Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: Mark Waid’s ongoing run on Daredevil. Marvel rebooted the series in 2011, bringing in veteran scribe Waid to re-invigorate the character. Waid brought in a fresh take on the characters that harkens back to the early issues of Daredevil from the 1960s. The art team (Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, Chris Samnee, and others) have been nailing the art each time out. In this current run, Murdock finds himself barred from serving as a trial lawyer, so he sets up shop as a consulting counselor, advising clients who need to represent themselves in court. This title has won multiple Eisner awards over the three-year run of the book. The entire series is collected in multiple formats (trade paperbacks, hardcovers) so it should not be hard to find. This current run will becoming to an end with issue #36, but will start over again the next month with a new #1, still led by Mark Waid.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5

First Published: March 2002

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #90 (November 1970) to #113 (October 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gil Kane, John Romita Sr., Sal Buscema, Roy Thomas, and Gerry Conway

Key First Appearances:  Arthur Stacy, Dr. Michael Morbius, Martine Bancroft, Emil Nikos, Sha Shan, the Gibbon

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6

Overview: Never let it be said that Peter Parker’s life is easy, in or out of the Spider-Man costume. This book opens with the (then) shocking death of Captain Stacy, who reveals with his dying breath that he knew Peter’s secret all along. Before he (or Gwen) can recover from that, a handful of familiar foes come back to keep Spider-Man busy, such as the Beetle, Doctor Octopus, the Green Goblin, and the Spider Slayer.

For issue #100, Peter tries to put his scientific knowledge to good use in an attempt to rid himself of the powers. In typical Parker fashion, the serum backfires, and instead causes four new limbs to appear on Peter’s body, making him a true Spider-Man. That takes Peter to call on Dr. Curt Connors, which means the Lizard is not far behind. And this story also introduces a new villain that would become a key player in the Marvel Universe: Dr Michael Morbius, who specializes in blood disorders by day, and haunts the nights as a living vampire.

What makes this Essential?: The more I revisit this book, the more I think this is truly an essential Essential. We see Stan Lee turn over the writing chores for the title to the new generation of comic writers, first to Roy Thomas and then to Gerry Conway.  We see real relevant topics pop up in the stories, such as drug abuse or the struggles of vets returning from Viet-Nam. We are introduced to Flash Thompson’s girlfriend Sha Shan, which may be one of the first interracial relationships in comics. The art in here, from Gil Kane and John Romita Sr., remains spectacular, to borrow a familiar adjective. Between this volume and the next Essential, these may be the best Spider-Man stories since the end of the Lee-Ditko run of the early 1960s.

Respect My (Comics Code) Authority: In the early 1970s, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare approached Stan Lee about doing a story in comics that showed the dangers of drug abuse. Lee agreed, and worked the story into his ongoing run on the Amazing Spider-Man. In issue #97, Peter Parker’s roommate Harry Osborn turns to drugs in an attempt to handle the pressures of life. The Comics Code Authority (CCA) rejected the story back to Marvel. Lee felt that the request from the government overruled the decision of the CCA, and published the issue without the CCA seal on the cover. The story earned great praise, and it forced the CCA to revise its guidelines.

Footnotes: Amazing Spider-Man #92 is also reprinted in Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: David Hajdu’s book, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. Hajdu is a historical researcher who focuses his attention on pop culture subjects of the 20th Century. In this work, he dives deep into the world of comic books from the late 1940s to the mid 1950s. He looks at Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, and how it impacted the subsequent Senate hearings and the comic book industry. While it focuses more on Bill Gaines and his EC Comics, the impacts of this era led to the Comics Code Authority, and the self-censorship of American comics by the publishers. The faults of the Comics Code Authority is seen quite clearly in this Essential volume, with the Harry Osborn drug issues and the creation of Morbius, a “living vampire”, because undead vampires were not allowed at this time. IWhile the tide was changing in the CCA offices, these stories from Marvel certainly helped to see the CCA revise their guidelines, allowing for the classic monsters such as Frankenstein and Dracula to appear in comics, and allowing drugs use to be shown in a negative light.

Essential Ant-Man Vol. 1

Essential Ant-Man Vol. 1

First Published: February 2002

Contents: Ant-Man/Giant-Man & Wasp stories from Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962), and #35 (September 1962) to #69 (July 1965)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, and Bob Powell

Key First Appearances: Dr. Henry ‘Hank’ Pym/Ant-Man/Giant-Man, Egghead, Janet Van Dyne/Wasp, Porcupine, Human Top (Whirlwind), Nathan Garrett/Black Knight

Overview: Doctor Henry Pym is a research scientist looking to find a way to miniaturize objects. After proving that it works on objects, Pym tries his formula on himself, shrinking down to the size of an ant. Unable to defend himself from the attacking ants looking to defend their home, Pym runs for his life until he can get back to his lab to retrieve the antidote. Putting aside the formula for months, Pym revisits his project as he learns more about the ants. He converts the formula to a gas, attaches the gas canisters to a costume, dubs himself the Ant-Man, and a new hero is born.

In the issues to come, Ant-Man develops a decent rogues gallery. While many opponents in these issues were one-and-done, some of his foes such as Egghead, Porcupine, the Human Top (later renamed Whirlwind), and the first Black Knight would have long-lasting spots in the Marvel Universe.

In Tales to Astonish #44, we meet Janet Van Dyne, the daughter of a fellow scientist. When Janet’s father is murdered, she seeks help from Pym. Donning his costumed identity, Ant-Man rescues Janet and reveals his identity to her. Pym uses his current research to mutate Janet’s body, giving her the ability to shrink down to insect size while wings sprout from her back. Taking on the name of the Wasp, the duo avenges the murder of Janet’s father, and a new partnership is formed.

Shortly after joining the Avengers, Pym feels inadequate in comparison to his other teammates in Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk. Pym theorizes that what can be shrunk can also be enlarged, and Giant-Man is born. This is the first of many costume identity changes that Pym will make over his career.

What makes this Essential?: There are very few original ideas in comics. Everything is inspired by what has come before, or as an unapologetic attempt to duplicate success at a rival publisher. DC had found success by resurrecting the Atom identity with Ray Palmer in Showcase #34 (September/October 1961). Henry Pym first appeared in January 1962 and dons the Ant-Man costume and identity in September 1962. Over at DC, the Atom joined the Justice League in Justice League of America #14 (September 1962), and Pym (with Van Dyne and others) found the Avengers in November 1963. So whether Lee & Kirby were directly trying to duplicate DC’s success, or just wanting to have their own size-changing hero, the timeline that Henry Pym follows seems to mirror that of Ray Palmer, just one year behind.

Despite being founding members, Ant-Man and the Wasp often get pushed to the side in modern retellings of the early days of the Avengers. These stories help justify their place on that team. Pym is a brilliant scientist who gets overshadowed in other comics by his contemporaries in the Marvel Universe. The Wasp was not a sidekick, but a truly equal partner with Ant-Man. She earned her own ongoing backup feature, which may have been the first female-led super-hero stories at Marvel. Lee and Kirby do the bulk of the stories in this volume, but they get overlooked by all of the other legendary stories that were coming out in this era. This volume is worth taking a look!

Footnotes: Henry Pym was just one of the tenants in Tales to Astonish during the 1960s. Initially, the book was a science-fiction anthology title. When the super-hero movement took off, Pym became the lead feature each month with various backup stories. Starting in issue #50, the Wasp was given her own solo story feature, giving the book two super-hero stories per issue going forward. With #60, the Wasp feature ended and her space was given their former Avenger colleague, the Hulk. In 1965, the Giant-Man feature was replaced by Namor, the Sub-Mariner, beginning in #70.

If you like this volume, try: the Mighty Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest collection, available as both a hard cover or a trade paperback. Following the events of Secret Invasion, Henry Pym has once again adopted a new costumed identity, this time as the Wasp. Pym’s ex-wife was believed to have sacrificed her life in stopping the Skrull invasion of Earth, and Pym wants to honor her memory by keeping the Wasp name alive. A new Avengers team is formed, by what appears to be the long missing Scarlet Witch. Can this new team of Avengers come together to help save the Earth? This is one of the best story lines involving Henry Pym and the Avengers. Pym is confident in his abilities, he steps up as a leader of gods and warriors, and he proves that his intellect is just as great as Reed Richards and Tony Stark. Over the last 10 years, this was the one Avengers title that felt most like the Avengers of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1

Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1

First Published: January 2002

Contents: Doctor Strange stories from Strange Tales #110 (July 1963) to #111 (August 1963) and #114 (November 1963) to #168 (May 1968)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Roy Thomas, Denny O’Neil, Bill Everett, Marie Severin, Dan Adkins, Herb Trimpe, and Jim Lawrence

Key First Appearances: Dr. Stephen Strange, Ancient One, Wong, Nightmare, Baron Mordo, Victoria Bentley, Clea, Dormammu, G’uranthic Guardian, Mindless Ones, Eternity, Kaluu, Umar, Living Tribunal, Yandroth

Story Continues In: Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 2

Overview: Doctor Stephen Strange was a brilliant surgeon, whose skills in the operating room were only surpassed by his greed and ego. After a horrendous car accident, Strange finds that the nerve damage he suffered no longer give him the motor skills to perform surgeries. Strange burns through his fortune, traveling the world looking for a cure. One name keeps coming up in his search – that of the Ancient One. Tracking him down, the Ancient One is unable to heal Strange’s body, but does offer to train him in the ways of the mystic arts. Strange stops the Ancient One’s assistant, Baron Mordo, from stealing the power from his master, and he realizes that maybe he has a new calling in life. So begins the adventures of Doctor Strange, master of the mystic arts.

Stan Lee and Steve Ditko place the building blocks that will dominate Marvel’s mystical world. Besides Baron Mordo, Doctor Strange battles a cadre of mystical beings intent on defeating Strange so that they could take over the earth, such as Nightmare and Dormammu. With his faithful servant Wong, and the romantic interests of Victoria Bentley, a normal human with passing skills in magic, and Clea, a sorceress from another dimension, Doctor Strange is prepared to defend Earth from any threat, magical or otherwise.

What makes this Essential?: Doctor Strange has been one of the mainstays of Marvel Comics from the earliest days. Lee and Ditko were more than creators; they were architects, building the framework that would become the Marvel Universe. Any work by Ditko in this era is worthy of being collected as an Essential. Like many stories from this era, the plot points may not stand up, but they are still worth a read.

Footnotes: Doctor Strange  was just one of the tenants in Strange Tales during the 1960s. Initially, Doctor Strange shared the book with the Human Torch from the Fantastic Four. In 1965, the Human Torch feature was replaced by Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

If you like this volume, try: Marvel Visionaries: Steve Ditko. Nearly any comic book fan could tell you that Steve Ditko was the co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. A comic aficionado could tell you that Ditko left Marvel Comics in 1966, and split time between Charlton and DC Comics, with memorable creations like The Question, the Creeper, and Shade the Changing Man. It would take a die-hard Ditko fan, or a reading of this Visionaries volume, to know that Ditko returned to Marvel in the 1980s, with runs on The Incredible Hulk and ROM, and co-creating modern characters like Speedball and Squirrel Girl. For years, Ditko has declined interview requests, preferring to let his work speak for itself. Consider this a brilliant interview reviewing the many highlights of Ditko’s many years at Marvel Comics.