Essential Avengers Vol. 9

First Published: September 2013

Contents: Avengers #185 (July 1979) to #206 (April 1981); Avengers Annual #9 (1979); and the Vision story from Tales to Astonish #12 (November 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Steven Grant, Mark Gruenwald, David Michelinie, Jim Shooter, Bill Mantlo, John Byrne, George Pérez, Roger Stern, Carmine Infantino, and others

Key First Appearances: Magda Lehnsherr, Taskmaster

Story Continues From: Essential Avengers Vol. 8

Overview: Did you think that Vol. 8 was incredible? Well, you are in for a special treat because Essential Avengers Vol. 9 reaches all new level of awesomeness. 

The book begins with Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch returning to Wundagore Mountain. Being used as pawns for Modred the Mystic, who was controlled himself by the demon Chthon, the rest of the Avengers come running to the rescue. Before it’s over, Wanda learns some more information about her birth mother, Magda, who apparently was married to a magnetic white-haired man who is always causing problems in the X-Men books. That’s going to make for an interesting family reunion in the future.

Once the Avengers finally make it back to the United States, after a quick stop in Russia to fight some deadly elements, the team finds itself finally free of Henry Peter Gyrich and the government restrictions. The first change has the Avengers increasing their numbers, bringing back Hawkeye and Wonder Man among others. Falcon leaves, because he never really fit in with this group and not particularly wanting to be the quota member of the team. Wasp, Yellowjacket, and guest star Ant-Man investigate the Solomon Institute, where they encounter a new villain by the name of Taskmaster. He has photographic reflexes, which allows him to replicate moves or actions from anyone he sees. Armed with a sword, shield, and bow & arrow, he becomes a worthy foe for the mighty Avengers.

We are quickly moving forward to Avengers #200. But before we can get there, the Avengers must stop Red Ronin from destroying New York City. For those not familiar with the giant robot, Red Ronin was designed by S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop Godzilla, so it’s going to take every available Avenger to stop the construct. Well, almost everyone is involved. Everyone except Ms. Marvel, who finds herself on an unplanned maternity leave. But more on that later…

Post issue #200, we finally get the one Avengers story that fans have been clamoring for – a solo Jarvis story. Jarvis takes on a neighborhood bully while visiting his mom, reminding us that he has done a lot more with his life than just serve as a butler to the Stark family. While this is going on, Ultron has returned with plans for world domination and killing his dad, Henry Pym. Some things never change!

What makes this Essential?: I wrote this for my review of Volume 8, and I will write it again: The artwork of George Pérez and John Byrne looks spectacular in black & white. It’s worth the cover price of this book just to see their artwork like this. There are interesting stories which will impact the Marvel Universe for years to come. But the reason to get this book is the art!

I got 200 problems but the cover ain’t one: So about Avengers #200…. There are positives to this book, primarily found with the outstanding art from George Pérez. But the story is a train wreck, perhaps with too many writers trying to tell a story. In issue #197, Carol Danvers a.k.a. Ms. Marvel suddenly finds herself pregnant. Over the next two issues, her pregnancy takes just days, not months, as she quickly comes to full term for issue #200. Carol gives birth to a boy, who is named Marcus. Much like the pregnancy, Marcus rapidly grows to adulthood in just hours, revealing himself to be the son of the long-time (pun intended) foe of the Avengers, Immortus. Marcus was trapped in Limbo following the death of Immortus, and his only way to escape was to be “born” in the world. So he had brought Ms. Marvel to limbo to impregnate her. As if this wasn’t bad enough, once the Avengers stop all of the time issues occurring brought on by Marcus’ equipment, Ms. Marvel volunteers to go back to Limbo with Marcus. The issue ends, and everyone seems OK with everything that has happened, right?

So, this issue gets resolved in Avengers Annual #10, which can be found in Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1. The Avengers find out that Ms. Marvel has returned from Limbo, and she has lost her powers to Rogue. When Rogue and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants have been stopped, Carol Danvers gets the chance to unload on the Avengers, who turned a blind eye to the fact that Marcus mind-controlled Carol and raped her with his actions. No one came to her defense. No one thought twice about her returning to Limbo with Marcus. Annual writer Chris Claremont was not happy with issue #200 and used this issue as a way to address, if not repair, the damage previously done.

If you like this volume, try: the Avengers/JLA mini-series from 2003, a joint collaboration between DC Comics and Marvel Comics. The crossover was originally conceived in the late 1970s, to be written by Gerry Conway and art by George Pérez. However, editorial disputes between the two companies shelved the project for nearly 20 years. When the new project was introduced, it was then Avengers writer Kurt Busiek attached the project, and Pérez was brought back for the pencils, as he had a clause in his Crossgen-exclusive contract which allowed him to do this project if it ever came to fruition. In this new series, Krona and the Grandmaster challenge each other to a wager, using the Avengers and the Justice League as their pawns. As with any crossover of this magnitude, the teams travel to the other characters’ universes, and the typical match-ups between similar characters (Flash/Quicksilver, Green Arrow/Hawkeye) live up to every fanboy’s dream. For me, as a life-long reader of each title, this is a must read if you are a fan of the Silver Age and/or Bronze Age runs of both the Avengers and the Justice League of America.

Essential Moon Knight Vol. 2

moon_knight_2First Published: October 2007

Contents: Moon Knight #11 (September 1981) to #30 (April 1983)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alan Zelenetz, Greg LaRocque, Steven Grant, and others

Key First Appearances: Morpheus, Detective Flint, Stained Glass Scarlet, Black Spectre

Story Continues From: Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Moon Knight Vol. 3

Overview: He’s back! Moon Knight returns in his second Essential volume, reprinting the stories from his first ongoing series.

During this run of issues, the Moon Knight titled transitioned into a direct market only title, meaning that fans could only find the book at comic book retailers and not on the spinner rack at your local convenience store. The direct market status came with some benefits to the discerning readers. The comics were ad-free and were eventually upgraded to a better paper quality. In addition, Marvel could start to tell somewhat more mature stories in this format.

Most of the stories are one-and-done, but there are the occasional multi-part stories. We are introduced to a pair of foes that would be regulars in Moon Knight’s rogues’ gallery – Morpheus and Scarlet. I think the development of the supporting characters in the book helps enhance the title character.

The best stories are found towards the end of the book, and the end of artist Bill Sienkiewicz’s run on the title. In particular, issue #26 with the “Hit It” story works on multiple levels, striking a powerful blow at the reader.

What makes this Essential?: These are really good issues, and they translate well into the black & white format. As I mentioned before, I’ve never been a fan of Moon Knight. To me, he seemed to just be Marvel’s version of Batman, albeit with multiple personalities.

But I read an interesting theory in the preparation of this review that made me rethink my position. As seen in this volume, some cover art is done by Frank Miller, who was bringing his legendary run on Daredevil to a conclusion in this time frame. Soon after, Miller started doing some work for DC, including Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. Now, the Batman that most people think of when we hear the character’s name most often is the Frank Miller-influenced Batman that came out of those two stories. And since Miller worked on Moon Knight before he worked on Batman, you could (maybe) make the case that Batman is actually DC’s version of Moon Knight. It may be a stretch, but it’s an idea I want to think some more about.

Anyway, buy this book, whether it is for the character, the Doug Moench stories, or the beautiful Bill Sienkiewicz artwork.

If you like this volume, try: Daredevil: Love and War from the 1980s Marvel Graphic Novel line. This is an incredible Daredevil story from Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz that often gets overlooked. The Kingpin has kidnapped a psychiatrist in hopes of helping his wife Vanessa recover. Daredevil must stop the Kingpin and rescue the psychiatrist, as well as the psychiatrist’s wife, who is being held by a psychotic killer on behalf of the Kingpin. This is a beautiful book that is best viewed as the Marvel Graphic Novel, in order to get the proper scaling for the pages. I’ve been on record that I was NOT a Sienkiewicz fan when he took over the art on New Mutants. I hated his work and only stayed with the book because I actually had a mail subscription to the title. But Love and War was a 180-degree turn for me in my opinions of Sienkiewicz. I suddenly got his art and thought it was incredible. Please check out this story however you can find it.

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 4

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 4

First Published: February 2013

Contents: Marvel Team-Up #76 (December 1978) to #78 (February 1979), and #80 (April 1979) to #98 (October 1980), and Marvel Team-Up Annual #2 (1979) and #3 (1980).

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Steven Grant, Mike Vosburg, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino

Key First Appearances: Cutthroat, Mister Fear, Dansen Macabre, Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird, Alexi Vazhin

Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3

Overview: Living in New York City, Spider-Man has the opportunity to cross paths with many different heroes from all corners of the Marvel Universe. A casual stroll through Greenwich Village usually prompts an encounter with the mystical Dr. Strange. Being sent on a photo shoot for the Daily Globe allows Peter to meet up with the Invisible Girl. And you just never know when Howard the Duck might drive his cab from Cleveland to Manhattan.

While references are made to ongoing events in Spider-Man’s other monthly books, these stories usually follow the one-and-done format, giving the reader a complete story within the 20-plus pages per issue. These stories also tend to be more lighthearted, giving into the absurdity that brings some of these team-ups together.

What makes this Essential?: The team-up books, such as this or Marvel Two-in-One, are a good way to read a particular character, be exposed to a variety of other characters, and not get bogged down in continuity from the main character’s books (usually). While mostly one-and-done stories, there are a couple of mini-story arcs (#76, #77, #80, #81; and #82-#85) that make for more interesting stories. While this is not a must-read volume to understand Peter Parker, this is a friendly  way to introduce a new reader to the world of Spider-Man.

Footnotes: Marvel Team-Up #79 is not included in this Essential volume. That issue teamed Spider-Man up with Red Sonja. Marvel no longer holds the rights to publish Red Sonja, so it could not be included in this Essential.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
#76 – Spider-Man & Dr. Strange
#77 – Spider-Man & Ms. Marvel
#78 – Spider-Man & Wonder Man
#80 – Spider-Man & Dr. Strange and Clea / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1
#81 – Spider-Man & Satana / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1
#82 – Spider-Man & Black Widow
#83 – Spider-Man & Nick Fury
#84 – Spider-Man & Master of Kung Fu
#85 – Spider-Man & Shang-Chi, Black Widow, and Nick Fury
#86 – Spider-Man & Guardians of the Galaxy
#87 – Spider-Man & Black Panther
#88 – Spider-Man & Invisible Girl
#89 – Spider-Man & Nightcrawler
#90 – Spider-Man & Beast
#91 – Spider-Man & Ghost Rider
#92 – Spider-Man & Hawkeye
#93 – Spider-Man & Werewolf
#94 – Spider-Man & Shroud
#95 – Spider-Man & Mockingbird
#96 – Spider-Man & Howard the Duck
#97 – Hulk & Spider-Woman / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 2
#98 – Spider-Man & Black Widow
Annual #2 – Spider-Man & Hulk
Annual #3 – Hulk & Power Man, Iron Fist, and Machine Man

If you like this volume, try: the first Hawkeye mini-series from 1983. We see Hawkeye in Marvel Team-Up #92 working as the security chief for Cross Technological Enterprises (CTE). Hawkeye would work for CTE during his many leaves of absence from the Avengers. The mini-series brings the CTE storyline to a conclusion, as Hawkeye discovers that the cousin of CTE’s CEO is the villain Crossfire, who is hatching a plan to destroy all superheroes. Working with former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Mockingbird (first introduced in Marvel Team-Up #95), Hawkeye stops Crossfire’s plan. The series ends with Hawkeye and Mockingbird getting married. This series has been collected in a trade paperback and as a Marvel Premiere edition.

Essential Defenders Vol. 4

Essential Defenders Vol. 4

First Published: July 2008

Contents: The Defenders #61 (July 1978) to #91 (January 1981)

Key Creator Credits: David Kraft, Sal Buscema, Ed Hannigan, Don Perlin, Herb Trimpe, Steven Grant, and others

Key First Appearances: Milton Rosenblum, Dolly Donahue

Story Continues From: Essential Defenders Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Defenders Vol. 5

Overview: Imagine if you were a leader of a team of super-heroes, and you need to add new members. How do you do that? Check online reviews, or get recommendations from the current team. What if you were a non-team, with no official rules or charter or even a leader. In that case, you air a television commercial inviting would be members out to the Long Island home of one of your members, a member who is trying to keep his identity a secret. This is what makes the Defenders such a quirky book!

As I mentioned above, the “Defenders for a Day” story kicks off this volume. Dollar Bill, a sidekick of sorts to the team, puts out a TV commercial inviting hero try-outs at the estate of Kyle (Nighthawk) Richmond. Who should show up is a B-List of Marvel heroes from the late 1970s – Ms. Marvel, Iron Fist, Hercules, Nova, Jack of Hearts, Marvel Boy, the Falcon, Captain Marvel, Havok, Black Goliath, and many, many more. Anyone who has read comics for any period of time can anticipate what happens next. Various heroes all vying for a spot on the team, a misunderstanding, and the next thing you know everyone is fighting. The story gets even better, when Iron Man shows up to share the news that a lot of villains are running rampant in New York City, claiming to be a member of the Defenders. Everyone finds a way to get back to the city and get things straightened out. Net result of all of this “Defenders for a Day”? No new members.

One highlight I found in this book was the development of the characters. We dive into the back stories for Valkryie, Nighthawk, and in particular Hellcat. Be honest, who remembers Patsy Walker being friends with Millie the Model? It is during the late run of the book that the team “changes” headquarters and sets up shop at Patsy’s house.

What makes this Essential?: Writing a review for the Defenders keeps getting harder and harder. It’s not a traditional book where there seems to be a reason for these characters to be together. If you like one of these characters, or can appreciate the humor in this quirky book, then please give this a read. But my gut feeling tells me that even if I was to loan this book to someone to read, I would feel very guilty about wasting their time reading these issues.

Avengers #221

If you like this volume, try: the I Am An Avenger trade paperbacks from 2010. Yes, this is a review of the Defenders and not the Avengers, but the Defenders have not been collected as often. Maybe if the Defenders were a “real” team… but I digress. These two trade paperbacks collect many of the Avengers issues where new members were asked to join the team. Specifically, in the first collection, Avengers #221 is reprinted, which is one of the first issues of Avengers that I bought off of the spinner rack. In that issue, the Avengers roster is down to just four members: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Wasp. They each go out to seek out new recruits to join the team. Numerous heroes are asked, and most politely decline. Spider-Man turns them down, but then has second thoughts when he finds out that active members on the team receive a weekly stipend. In the end, the Avengers add Hawkeye and She-Hulk to their active roster. The cover to this issue stood out, as it featured a mug-shot line-up of the various potential recruits featured in the story. This is definitely a step-up from the “Defender for a Day” story that started this collection. With any team book – Defenders, Avengers, X-Men, Justice League, etc. – the books thrive on the rotating line-ups, and the “Old Order Changeth!” issues are some of the most memorable moments.

Essential Punisher Vol. 1

First Published: March 2004

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #129 (February 1974), #134 (July 1974), #135 (August 1974), #161 (October 1976), #162 (November 1976), #174 (November 1977), #175 (December 1977), #201 (February 1980), and #202 (March 1980); Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 (1981); Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 (April 1975); Marvel Preview #2 (July 1975); Marvel Super Action #1 (January 1976); Captain America #241 (January 1980); Daredevil #182 (May 1982) to #184 (July 1982); Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #81 (August 1983) to #83 (October 1983); and Punisher #1 (January 1986) to #5 (May 1986)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Frank Miller, Steven Grant, Ross Andru, Mike Zeck, Bill Mantlo

Key First Appearances: Frank Castle/Punisher, Jackal, Moses Magnum, Tarantula, Jigsaw, the Trust, Bruno Costa, Huntress

Story Continues In: Essential Punisher Vol. 2

Overview: After watching his family slain by mobsters, war veteran Frank Castle starts a one-man war against crime by any means necessary, including murder, kidnapping, extortion, coercion, threats of violence, and torture.

One of the Punisher’s early targets was Spider-Man, based on the fair and balanced reporting from the Daily Bugle. The Punisher tangles multiple times with Spidey before working out an uneasy alliance – they both realize they are working towards the same goals, but their individual methods go against each other’s principles. The Punisher’s vendetta also crosses paths along with way with Captain America and Daredevil.

The Punisher, being of questionable mind and judgment, reasons that the majority of the criminals he needs to target are already in prison. He surrenders himself to authorities and ends up being sentenced to prison, much to his delight and the sheer panic of the other prisoners.

What makes this Essential?: I will admit, I have a strong dislike of this character. Comics have always been an escape for me, into worlds with Kryptonian aliens or a teenager bitten by a radioactive spider. At the end of the day, I know characters like Superman and Spider-Man are not real. However, the Punisher can be real. We see too many instances in reality where someone becomes their own version of the Punisher, wanting to deliver judgment on those that did them wrong. By my thinking, heroes should bring the villains to justice, but not administer justice.

So, trying my best to be objective and only think of Frank Castle as a truly fictional character, the Punisher does play a prominent role in the Marvel Universe. He is arguably the second most important or influential character created by Marvel in the 1970s, behind Wolverine. He’s been the subject of numerous comic series and multiple movies. A lot of the comics in this collection are hard to come by, so this is a great way to read about the first decade of the character. If you are a fan of the Punisher, you should own this Essential if you do not own the issues.

Footnotes: Early editions of this Essential misspelled Frank Miller’s name on the cover as “Millar”.

Amazing Spider-Man #129, #134, and #135 were also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6.

Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 was also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 7.

Amazing Spider-Man #161, #162, #174, and #175 were also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 8.

Amazing Spider-Man #201 and #202 were also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 9.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 was also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 10.

Captain America #241 was also reprinted in Essential Captain America Vol. 7.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #81, #82, and #83 were also reprinted in Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: the one Punisher comic I wholeheartedly endorse is The Punisher Meets Archie from 1994. In a joint venture between Marvel Comics and Archie Comics, the comic was released by both companies. Each company had a separate cover, but the inside contents were identical. John Buscema drew the Marvel characters, and Stan Goldberg drew the Archie characters. The Punisher is contracted by the government to bring in a drug lord by the name of Red, who is hiding in the small community of Riverdale. Castle infiltrates the school as a P.E. teacher and targets Archie Andrews who bears an uncanny resemblance to Red. The Punisher eventually finds his target, and takes him alive, much to his chagrin. Sadly, this book has never been reprinted, so you will need to dive into some back issue bins to track down this title.