Essential Iron Man Vol. 5

Essential Iron Man Vol. 5

First Published: April 2013

Contents: Iron Man #62 (September 1973) to #75 (June 1975); and #77 (August 1975) to #87 (June 1976); and Iron Man Annual #3 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: Mike Friedrich, Bill Mantlo, Len Wein, Steve Gerber, George Tuska, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Michael O’Brien, Blizzard

Story Continues From: Essential Iron Man Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the fifth Essential Iron Man volume from Marvel Comics, in which our hero, Tony Stark, finally adds the one accessory to his suit that it really didn’t need – an iron nose!

This volume has several storylines that run across multiple issues at a time. Iron Man battles Doctor Spectrum from the Squadron Sinister at the Stark Industries plant in Detroit, which leads to a battle against his fellow Avenger Thor. During this battle, Happy Hogan is injured while trying to cover for Tony, and the treatment to heal him reverts Happy back to his Freak personality.

That story no sooner wraps up before Iron Man is off to southeast Asia, where he gets caught-up in a super-villain royal rumble, as the Black Lama is setting up villains to fight each other for supremacy. Enter the Yellow Claw, the Mandarin, the Unicorn, Man-Bull, Whiplash, the Melter, and others. This complex storyline, plagued by the dreaded deadline, wraps with Iron Man and Firebrand following the Black Lama to his home dimension for one last showdown. The best part of this story arc was issue #72, which found Tony grounded in San Diego for repairs, and makes a visit to the 1974 San Diego Comic Convention.

One of the minor highlights of this volume occurs around issue #73 when Stark Industries undergoes a name change to Stark International. Tony wanted to showcase the diversity of all business aspects that the company was involved in, and he wanted to put some distance between the munitions manufacturer that his company was once branded as.

What makes this Essential?: I really was not that impressed with this volume. Some decent stories, but these are not great stories. You read this volume only if you are a die-hard fan of Iron Man. But my guess is that if you are that die-hard fan of Iron Man, you might be better off owning the original issues. Some checking of online retailers shows that most of these issues are very affordable despite being 40 years old.

Footnotes:  Iron Man #76 is a reprint issue of Iron Man #9. The cover for #76 is included in this Essential. Issue #9 was collected in Essential Iron Man Vol. 2.

Iron Man Annuals (King-Size Specials) #1 & #2 and Giant-Size Iron Man #1 were all reprints of various stories from Tales of Suspense. The covers to those issues are included in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: Iron Man: Armor Wars from the 1980s. Written by David Michelinie and Bob Layton, with art Layton, Mark Bright, and Barry Windsor-Smith, this has been collected numerous times in trade paperbacks and hardcovers. Tony Stark discovers that some of the technology used in his suits – technology that is so secret he dares not patent it – is now being used in the suits of numerous super-villains. Tony goes on an armor hunt to track down his missing technology, while at the same time updating his own armor to stay ahead of the competition. This story arc would be repeated multiple times in multiple formats, such as in comics as well as the Saturday-morning cartoon series from the 1990s.

Essential Captain America Vol. 6

captainamerica6First Published: April 2011

Contents: Captain America and the Falcon #206 (February 1977) to #222 (June 1978); Captain America #223 (July 1978) to #230 (February 1979); Captain America Annual #4 (1977); and Incredible Hulk #232 (February 1979)

Key Creator Credits: Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Don Glut, Steve Gerber, David Anthony Kraft, Roger McKenzie, Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Arnim Zola, Primus, Wendell Vaughn/Marvel Boy (Marvel Man/Quasar), Vamp, Ameridroid

Story Continues From: Essential Captain America Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Captain America Vol. 7

Overview: Welcome back to the (sometimes) solo adventures of Captain America. He’s a soldier, a patriot, an Avenger, and most importantly an American.  u recall the creation of Captain America, right? I’m not talking about the character’s origin story in the comics. Rather, I refer to the creation of the character in 1940. Writer Joe Simon doodled out a concept called Super

This collection wraps up the end of legendary Jack Kirby run of the mid-1970s. But before he goes, Kirby gives us another of his wacky character creations with Arnim Zola, the would-be conqueror who’s mind has been transferred to a robot body, which has a TV screen in its chest displaying Zola’s face. Zola was a Nazi biochemist who escaped capture at the end of World War II. If you are a long-time reader, you know that any time Captain America comes into contact with a former Nazi, that the Red Skull cannot be far behind.

The Kirby run comes to an end with Captain America Annual #4, which has Cap facing off against another one of Kirby’s great co-creations, Magneto! Considering that one of these characters has powers of magnetism, and one of these characters carries an adamantium shield, well, it’s not looking good for our hero.

Following the obligatory reprint issue or two to recount Captain America’s origins, we are treated to a visit by Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. The spy organization has been recruiting a new team of super agents, but the squad needs a leader. Naturally, Nick believes that Steve Rogers is the man for the job, but Steve has a better suggestion. He proposes that the Falcon take on that task. He’s been working with Cap for many years and is ready to be a leader in his own right. So Captain America and the Falcon go their separate ways, but the two will find ways to reunite in the years to come.

So Captain America is once again working solo, but that doesn’t mean he is alone. We are treated to numerous appearances from the Avengers, and Sharon Carter is by Steve’s side to bridge the gap between his costumed and civilian life. The volume wraps up with a two-issue crossover with the Hulk, making for a pair of characters that we don’t normally see together. It’s a great way to bring this book to a close!

What makes this Essential?: This is an interesting transition time for Captain America. Jack Kirby’s run comes to an end. The title seems to have a rotating roster of writers before Roger McKenzie begins a two-year run. Sal Buscema returns to the book, providing some familiarity for the long-time readers. But the biggest change comes with the ending of the Captain America-Falcon partnership, both within the book as well as the title of the comic.

Despite all of the changes, this is a solid collection. The Kirby issues in this book are my favorites of his mid-1970s run. Arnim Zola may be one of, if not the last great crazy Kirby concept, who has become a mainstay in the comics and now in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Letting the book go back to its singular focus on the title character helps the book, allowing stories to go in different directions without trying to find a way to work the Falcon into the plot. That’s not to imply that I don’t like the Falcon. Just that after being partnered with the Falcon for seven years, having Steve Rogers on his own just offered up fresh takes on our hero.

Footnotes: The table of contents is incorrect in this volume, which lists Captain America Annual #4 as being located between Captain America #230 and Incredible Hulk #232 in the collection. The annual is actually found between Captain America #214 and #215, at the end of the Kirby run.

Captain America #230 and Incredible Hulk #232 are also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 7.

If you like this volume, try: reading up on Quasar. From his humble origins as Marvel Boy contained in this Essential, his stature has grown over the years. He was a recurring character in Marvel Two-in-One with the Project: Pegasus storyline. He was a member of the Avengers, serving a key role in the Galactic Storm mission. He headlined his own title for 60 issues. And he was one of the featured characters in the original Annihilation story, which that event kicked off a series of events that brought “Marvel Cosmic” back into the mainstream. As a result of Annihilation, readers were given a re-introduction/re-imagining of the Guardians of the Galaxy concept which we later saw incorporated into the MCU. The early issues of his solo series were reprinted in 2012 in a Quasar Classic trade paperback. He’s an interesting character that we don’t see enough of anymore, so dive into the back issue bins to find his early adventures.

Essential Daredevil Vol. 5

Daredevil5First Published: February 2010

Contents: Daredevil #102 (August 1973) to #125 (September 1975); and Marvel Two-in-One #3 (May 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Tony Isabella, Bob Brown, Don Heck, Gene Colan, and others

Key First Appearances: Ramrod, Candace Nelson, Silver Samurai, Death Stalker, Blackwing

Story Continues From: Essential Daredevil Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Daredevil Vol. 6

Overview: For a book featuring a blind lawyer-by-day, hero-by-night lead character, Essential Daredevil Vol. 5 is all over the place, but in a good way. Sure, the story bounces back and forth between San Francisco and New York City. Yes, we get plenty of Black Widow and Foggy Nelson, as to be expected. But it’s the other stories that take you by surprise in this collection.

For starters, show of hands here, who remembers the time Daredevil led a group of heroes against Thanos? Seriously this happened! During the initial story which introduced Thanos to the Marvel Universe, he crossed paths with Daredevil, who got an assist from Captain Marvel and Moondragon. Too good to be true, you say? Check out Daredevil #107 to see it play out!

The surprise foe of this book has to be the Mandrill, who has the ability to control women through pheromones. Certainly not due to his looks, that’s for sure. Thankfully, the Man Without Fear must dive into action to free the Black Widow and Shanna the She-Devil, as well as rescue Washington, D.C., from Mandrill’s takeover bid in Daredevil #110 to #112.

What about the time Nick Fury stops by to see if Foggy would join S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Board of Directors? Public knowledge of that would paint a huge target on Foggy’s head, putting Daredevil and Black Widow on high alert against the forces of HYDRA! See Tony Isabella’s run from Daredevil #119 to #123 to get the origins of HYDRA and Foggy’s answer.

What makes this Essential?: This was a more interesting read for me compared to the previous collection. I really like both Steve Gerber’s and Tony Isabella’s stories in this collection. (Side note – but I really believe that Gerber, Isabella, and Chris Claremont were probably Marvel’s most important writers in the 1970s.) Getting Daredevil back to New York was important, but the plot thread with Black Widow still in San Francisco dangled on for too long in my opinion.

Perhaps the most essential part of this volume is the introduction of the Silver Samurai in Daredevil #111. Created by Gerber and Bob Brown, he sat dormant for three years before Claremont started bringing him into Marvel Team-Up on a frequent basis. That lead to an appearance in Spider-Woman, again written by Claremont. Two months later, he appears in both New Mutants and Uncanny X-Men, tying him forever into the mutant books from that point forward.

Footnotes: Marvel Two-in-One #3 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Kraven’s Last Hunt storyline from the Spider-Man books in 1987. OK, yes, I know this post is a review of Essential Daredevil Vol. 5. But I find the inclusion of Kraven the Hunter in Daredevil #104 and #105 very interesting. See, Kraven was not a villain that appeared in many books that didn’t involve Spider-Man. We never saw Kraven going after the X-Men or the Fantastic Four. And it really surprised me that despite being one of the memorable creations from Lee & Ditko during that initial run on Amazing Spider-Man, Kraven really didn’t get used that much period. So to have him show up here was a surprise to me.

So in 1987, Kraven’s Last Hunt ran across the three books featuring Spider-Man (Amazing, Spectacular, and Web of) for two months. In a surprising move at that time, all six issues were written by J.M. DeMatteus and drawn by Mike Zeck. (Hindsight being 20/20, having the one team for the story arc worked out well over the years, as Kraven’s Last Hunt became one of the first trade paperback collections.) In the story, Kraven takes out Spider-Man by shooting him in the back with a dart and burying him in a shallow grave. Kraven then takes the black costume and embraces the Spider-Man totem as he hunts down Vermin, a sewer-based villain that could control rats. Eventually, Spider-Man is able to free himself and track down both Kraven and Vermin. Despondent over how things have played out, Kraven takes his own life.

The story and art are perfect for this, and it has remained in print over the years across numerous formats. If by chance you have not read it yet, stick around because we get all six issues of the story collected in Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 2.

Essential Iron Man Vol. 4

Essential Iron Man Vol. 4

First Published: April 2010

Contents: Iron Man #39 (July 1971) to #61 (August 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Mike Friedrich, Steve Gerber, Jim Starlin, and George Tuska

Key First Appearances: Guardsman, Moondragon (as Madame MacEvil), Blood Brothers, Thanos, Drax the Destroyer, Chronos, ISAAC, Mentor, Eros/Starfox

Story Continues From: Essential Iron Man Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Iron Man Vol. 5

Overview: You would think that Tony Stark would have things easy by now. His company, Stark Industries, is doing well; Tony’s heart is getting stronger thanks to a pacemaker; his love interest Marianne Rodgers, really digs his thoughts; and his Iron Man armor has never been better. Life’s good, right? Um, not so much….

Tony Stark/Iron Man faces a variety of challenges – at home, in the corporate boardroom, and on the battlefield. Stark finds that with his heart healing, he can commit to a long-term relationship with Marianne, and proposes to her. However, Marianne has E.S.P. powers that constantly foretell of dangers that Iron Man will face. She can’t bear the thought of Tony dying, and stumbles down the path to insanity. Tony breaks off the engagement, as he finds that his role as Iron Man once again gets in the way of living a normal life.

At Stark Industries, Tony is facing a takeover battle by Simon Gilbert, the chairman of the board. Gilbert uses his sway to have Kevin O’Brien don the Guardsman armor, which corrupts his thinking. The Guardsman becomes a pawn for Gilbert to use against Stark. When the takeover bid fails, Gilbert takes matters into his own hands by planting a bomb in one of Stark’s construction plants. His hubris gets in the way, and Gilbert is killed in the explosion.

While in the armor, Iron Man faces a variety of foes, some familiar and some new. No book would be complete without an appearance by the Mandarin. He sneaks into the picture as Gene Kahn (think about it!), a labor organizer trying to create unions at Stark’s facilities. Firebrand returns and the revelation of his parentage explodes across the pages. And in the midst of everything, a new villain is introduced that would have far-reaching effects on the Marvel Universe as Iron Man is caught up in a fight between Drax the Destroyer and Thanos!

What makes this Essential?: Issue #55 (first appearance of Thanos) is what makes this volume of stories Essential. However, the stories preceding and following this issue seem small in comparison. You could get this volume as a cheap way to read this issue. There are other reprint collections which feature issue #55, in color, for close to the same price. Pick up one of those volumes. Get this only if you are a die-hard Iron Man fan. Even that might be a waste of money, but not as much a waste as Iron Man installing roller skates in his boots — see issue #56.

Footnotes:  While Iron Man #55 is considered to be the first appearance of Thanos, he does not truly appear in this issue. The Thanos we see is a robot, and other appearances are in flashback. The first full appearance of Thanos is Captain Marvel #27.

Iron Man #55 was also reprinted in Essential Captain Marvel Vol. #2.

If you like this volume, try: the Thanos Rising story by Jason Aaron and Simone Bianchi. I realize that I am quickly making this review into Essential Thanos Vol. 1, but bear with me. Thanos has become a major player in the Marvel Universe, and now the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the interest in the character, Aaron and Bianchi visit the origins of the demigod, explaining his childhood and how he came to power. Both creators are at their artistic peaks with this storyline, making the reader feel compassion for what is one of the most-evil villains in the Marvel library.

Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2

Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2

First Published: November 2008

Contents: Supernatural Thrillers #5 (August 1973), and #7 (June 1974) to #15 (October 1975); Brother Voodoo introduction from Tales of the Zombie #2 (October 1973), #6 (July 1974), and #10 (March 1975); Strange Tales #169 (September 1973) to #174 (June 1974), #176 (October 1974) and #177 (December 1974); Marvel Team-Up #24 (August 1974); Haunt of Horror #2 (July 1974) to #5 (January 1975); Monsters Unleashed #11 (April 1975); Marvel Two-In-One #11 (September 1975), #18 (August 1976), and #33 (November 1977); Marvel Chillers #1 (October 1975) and #2 (December 1975); Dead of Night #11 (August 1975); and Marvel Spotlight #26 (February 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Tony Isabella, Len Wein, Doug Moench, Mike Friedrich, Bill Mantlo, John Warner, Scott Edelman, Val Mayerik, Gene Colan, Tony Dezuniga, Sonny Trinidad, Billy Graham, and others

Key First Appearances: Living Mummy, Elementals (Hellfire, Hydron, Magnum, Zephyr), Asp, Jericho Drumm/Brother Voodoo, Daniel Drumm, Damballah, Black Talon, Gabriel/Devil-Hunter, Modred the Mystic, Chthon, Scarecrow (Straw Man)

Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1

Overview: Welcome back to more marvelous debuts of characters from the horror-themed titles of the 1970s. This volume features the first appearances of six characters of varying degrees of success.

  • First up is the Living Mummy. Awakened after 3,000 years, the Living Mummy finds himself adapting to the world of 1973, whether in the streets of New York City or in the deserts of Egypt.
  • Next up is Brother Voodoo, perhaps the most successful of the characters featured in this collection. Jericho Drumm returns to his home in Haiti. Caught up in a spiritual war, Drumm learns the secrets of the Loa and becomes Brother Voodoo. With the spirit of his deceased brother Daniel living in him, Brother Voodoo challenges zombies, ghosts, vampires, and villains.
  • Gabriel, Devil Hunter comes to us from the pages of the horror magazines. With one good eye, the former priest conducts exorcisms to draw out the demons inhabiting innocent souls.
  • Golem hearkens back to Jewish folklore, as a clay figure comes to life, powered by love. The Marvel Comics’ Golem has very few appearances. (If you are interested in reading a great story about a Golem, check out Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001.)
  • Modred the Mystic comes to us from King Arthur’s court. Modred was to become an apprentice to Merlin, but that tended to be red-shirt situation, if you catch my drift. He embarks on a path to explore the Darkhold, which casts him into suspended animation until he is revived in the 1970s.
  • Finally, the Scarecrow jumps out of a portrait to battle demons. (When he appeared later, he was renamed as Straw Man, to differentiate himself from the Silver Age villain known as Scarecrow.) I really want to write more about him, but there is not a lot to work with here.

What makes this Essential?: This is a book that can go either way — it’s a must-own book or it’s a do not own book. It’s all dependent on your personal tastes. I found that the Living Mummy and the Brother Voodoo stories worked the best, as we were given multiple issues to really dive into the characters. The other four characters each get 3-5 issues, which in most cases is not enough to really get a solid or favorable position on the character.

Personally, I might have preferred seeing more established Marvel Universe characters in this volume. For example, Greer Nelson debuted in the pages of The Cat in 1972. In 1974, she became Tigra in Giant-Size Creatures #1, followed up by a run in Marvel Chillers. She would later have stints in Fantastic Four and The Avengers (see the later Essential volumes of those titles), and has remained a fairly active character in the Marvel Universe since her introduction. This would have been a perfect showcase (pardon the use) for a female character, in a volume that is very male-centric to begin with. 

If any of the six featured characters interest you, then pick it up. If these characters do not interest you, stay far away from this book.

Footnotes: Marvel Two-in-One #11 and #18 were also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1.

Marvel Two-in-One #33 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2 and Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1.

Marvel Team-Up #24 was also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the 1980s Elementals series from Comico. The idea of characters with powers representing the basic elements is nothing new in comics. The argument could be made that the Fantastic Four is the best representation of this concept. In the Living Mummy stories in this collection, we see an actual team of adversaries called the Elementals. Over at DC Comics, a team of Elementals was introduced (but never used again) in the pages of Super Friends – see Showcase Presents Super Friends Vol. 1. But the greatest use of the concept came in 1984 at Comico, when Elementals #1 hit the comic book racks. The four characters that would comprise the Elementals (Vortex, Morningstar, Fathom, and Monolith) actually made their debut in the Justice Machine Annual #1 from 1983.  The basic set-up for Elementals is that the four element spirits find physical hosts (who have each recently died in that element) to help bring balance back to the universe due to the actions of the evil sorcerer Lord Saker. The book was written and drawn by Bill Willingham, many years before he became the grand storyteller of the Fables series. This is a really great series that sadly is not easily available today. Comico went through ownership changes and bankruptcy courts, and these characters have remained in limbo since the late 1990s. Comico released a trade paperback in 1988 collecting the initial story arc, but again, that is more than 25 years ago and its no longer in print. You might have to go to eBay or a really good back issue dealer to find these comics, but it’s well worth the hunt.

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2

First Published: September 2008

Contents: Man-Thing #15 (March 1975) to #22 (October 1975); Giant-Size Man-Thing #3 (February 1975) to #5 (August 1975); Man-Thing story from Rampaging Hulk #7 (February 1978); Marvel Team-Up #68 (April 1978); Marvel Two-in-One #43 (September 1978); Man-Thing #1 (November 1979) to #11 (July 1981); and Doctor Strange #41 (June 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Jim Mooney, Ed Hannigan, John Byrne, Don Perlin, Michael Fleisher, and others

Key First Appearances: Scavenger, D’Spayre, Sheriff John Daltry

Story Continues From: Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1

Overview: The Man-Thing is back! Still based out his swamp in the Florida Everglades, the spirit of Ted Sallis still propels the monster forward, as he seeks out human emotion. But make sure to feel some happy thoughts. That last thing you want to do is show fear because whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!

The first half of this book finishes the Steve Gerber run of the character. Picking up where things left off in Volume 1, the Man-Thing trudges from one adventure to the next, befriended along the way by Richard Rory, Jennifer Kale, and Howard the Duck, among others. As with any other of his other work, the reader feels like Gerber is using the comics as a social commentary on the events of the era. (I realize Gerber passed away in 2008, but I do wonder what it would have been like to have seen and interacted with Gerber in today’s social media world. Like it or love it, it would be entertaining regardless!)

Following the end of the Gerber run, the Man-Thing spent some time in character limbo. He made various guest appearances in other Marvel Comics of the time, some of which are collected in this volume. In late 1979, the Man-Thing once again moved back into his own monthly title. It was initially written by Michael Fleisher, but then Chris Claremont took over during a cross-over with Doctor Strange. This volume of Man-Thing feels more like a “super-hero” comic book, and not a social diatribe. A new supporting character is introduced, John Daltry, who is the local sheriff outside the swamp in Florida. Despite the more traditional approach, the title came to an end with issue #11.

And here is an interesting twist to close the book. Man-Thing has had two different series with his name on the masthead, and the final issues for both series are contained in this Essential. In Man-Thing #22 (October 1975), writer Steve Gerber writes himself into the story, going on an adventure with Man-Thing to wrap up as many story threads as possible from the last four years. If you have read other works by Gerber, you know that Gerber has no qualms about including himself in the stories – in particular, see my review for Essential Howard the Duck Vol. 1. Now, let’s jump ahead six years. In Man-Thing #11 (July 1981), writer Chris Claremont writes himself into the story, going on an adventure with Man-Thing to wrap up the story threads from the last two years. While Claremont has “appeared” in comics in the past, this is the only time when he was an active participant in the story. If I’m wrong, I trust one of you out there to correct me!

What makes this Essential?: This may be an unpopular stance, but I don’t believe these issues are essential. In fact, I would suggest that Man-Thing should never be a title character. He’s great in a back-up or supporting role, but he should not be the star of the book. Now hear me out before you get the rope and look for a tall tree branch. He’s a speechless, mindless character. For writers, you need some kind of supporting characters around him in order to advance the story. Richard Rory and John Daltry just did not work for me in that role. For artists, this is a love/hate character. Sure, you don’t have a detailed costume to replicate panel after panel, but you still have to detail the bulky character with his key facial features. So bottom line, I really believe Man-Thing is best used as a supporting character. His appearances in Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-in-One are the highlights of this book for me. 

Footnotes: Marvel Team-Up #68 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3.

Marvel Two-in-One #43 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 2.

Man-Thing #4 and Doctor Strange #41 are also reprinted in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: diving into the back issue bins to find the first 12 issues of Marvel Comics Presents. This was a new anthology title that launched in 1988 as a bi-weekly book. Story arcs would carry over from one issue to the next, and when a story finished, a new character would start a different story in the next issue. Over the first 12 issues, Steve Gerber and Tom Sutton did a Man-Thing story titled Elements of Terror. This has never been collected, so you need to find the back issues. Gerber is back with another Gerber-esque story arc, which touches on the Iran-Contra affair (with the government trying to arm rebels in Doctor Doom’s Latvia), Satanism, and whatever other thoughts happened to be dominating Steve’s mind at the time. Gerber is definitely a unique voice in the world of comics, one that you either get & appreciate, or one that you avoid. It’s taken awhile, but I have grown to enjoy the Gerber stories through readings of his work on Man-Thing, Defenders, and Howard the Duck.

Essential Captain America Vol. 4

Essential Captain America Vol. 4

Essential Captain America Vol. 4

First Published: January 2008

Contents: Captain America and the Falcon #157 (January 1973) to #186 (June 1975)

Key Creator Credits: Steve Englehart, Stever Gerber, Tony Isabella, Mike Friedrich, John Warner, Sal Buscema, Alan Weiss, Frank Robbins, Herb Trimpe, and others

Key First Appearances: Viper (I), Solarr, Deadly Nightshade, Helmut Zemo/Phoenix (I), Moonstone (I), Roscoe Simons/Captain America (V), Viper (II) (Madame Hydra), Nomad (Steve Rogers)

Story Continues From: Essential Captain America Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Captain America Vol. 5

Overview: Just a word of warning before we get too deep into this review. You may want to take some notes along the way, because this one might get confusing. In this book, we have two Captain Americas; we have two Vipers; we have the first appearance of Phoenix, but it’s not THAT Phoenix that you are thinking about. Likewise, we meet Moonstone for the first time, but it’s not THAT Moonstone that you are thinking about. I’ll do my best to keep things clear, but your best bet might be to pick up a copy of Essential Captain America Vol. 4 and follow along with me.

Now, if you were to make a list of Captain America’s most fearsome foes, we probably would put Baron Zemo on that list. The problem there is which Baron Zemo. There’s been at least a dozen Baron Zemos. One dies, and the next crazy Zemo takes on the costume and title and rushes off to face Cap. In this volume, we meet Helmut Zemo, who works under the Phoenix identity. He won’t become Baron Zemo for another 100 issues, but we are more familiar with him as Citizen V in The Thunderbolts.

This volume is a slow build up to the Secret Empire storyline. We met the Secret Empire years ago, as an offshoot of Hydra. Remember Hydra – cut off one limb, two more rise up! So it turns out that the Secret Empire has been inserting agents into the highest offices in the United States government. And not just the highest offices, but the oval offices too, if you catch my drift. With the help of the Falcon, members of the Avengers, and the X-Men, Captain America is able to uncover and take down the Secret Empire (for now).

Following the battle with the Secret Empire, Steve Rogers finds that he is questioning everything he thought he knew. He finds that he can no longer wear the costume of Captain America, and walks away from the role. Nature abhors a vacuum, and several volunteers step up to assume the mantle of Captain America. The most notable of those was Roscoe Simons, who finds an outfit and tries to partner up with the Falcon. Unfortunately for Roscoe, the pair encounter the Red Skull, who is not happy that his most hated foe is no longer wearing the Captain America uniform. He beats Roscoe senseless, hopefully teaching him a lesson.

Meanwhile, Steve Rogers has adopted a new identity in Nomad, the man without a country. Nomad discovers the beaten Roscoe Simons, and realizes he still has a responsibility. He can represent the American people and the American spirit, even if he does not always represent the American government. Steve Rogers returns to the Captain America identity, and the hunt is on to track down the Red Skull.

What makes this Essential?: This is an intriguing collection. While I personally do not care for many of the stories here, I recognize that they are important to the history of the Marvel Universe. The Secret Empire/Nomad story came out during the Watergate era in Washington, D.C. Coupled with the Vietnam war, many people were disillusioned with the United States government. It makes complete sense that Steve Rogers would walk away from the uniform and his government. The story appealed to a lot of readers at the time, and Sal Buscema and Steve Englehart have indicated in interviews that this run put Captain America into the top ten books sold during this era. So from a historical perspective, I think this is worth reading.

Footnotes: During the Secret Empire story arc, the X-Men were working alongside Cap. During this era, the X-Men comic was reprinting issues from the 1960s. The only way readers could keep up with their favorite mutants was following their adventures in other titles, such as Captain America, Avengers, Marvel Team-Up, and the Incredible Hulk.

If you like this volume, try: Avengers Forever by Kurt Busiek, Carlos Pacheco, and Roger Stern. Originally published as a 12-issue mini-series, this is the ultimate Avengers time-travel story. Immortus is targeting Rick Jones, who uses the Destiny Force to bring Avengers from different eras to help him out. One of those Avengers is the disillusioned Captain America that we saw at the end of the Secret Empire story. This Cap is still strong enough to inspire his fellow Avengers, but he doesn’t take over the book. Captain America and the other Avengers (current day Wasp and Giant Man; a Hawkeye from right after the Kree-Skrull war; Yellowjacket post-breakdown but pre-marriage to Jan; a future Captain Marvel; and an alternate universe Songbird) go toe-to-toe with Immortus across time and space. This is an epic story that only a master storyteller like Busiek could have pulled off. This story initially came out 15 years ago, but I still pull it off of the shelf every couple of years to re-read and marvel (pun intended) at how well done this book is. You can find this in both trade paperback and hardcover, as it has stayed in print over the years.