Essential Moon Knight Vol. 3

First Published: February 2009

Contents: Moon Knight #31 (May 1983) to #38 (July 1984); Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu #1 (June 1985) to #6 (December 1985); Moon Knight stories from Marvel Fanfare #30 (January 1987), #38 (June 1988) and #39 (August 1988); the Moon Knight story from Solo Avengers #3 (February 1988); and the Moon Knight story from Marvel Super-Heroes #1 (May 1990)

Key Creator Credits: Doug Moench, Alan Zelenetz, Tony Isabella, Kevin Nowlan, Bo Hampton, Chris Warner, Denny O’Neill, and others

Key First Appearances: Joy Mercado

Story Continues From: Essential Moon Knight Vol. 2

Overview: Marvel’s man of the night is back with Essential Moon Knight Vol. 3. Regardless if the man under the mask is Marc Spector, Steven Grant, or Jake Lockley, Moon Knight is ready to take on any challenge, whether it’s physical, mental or mystical.

Sadly, this volume begins with the end of writer Doug Moench’s run on the title. During this run of issues, the Moon Knight titled transitioned into a direct market 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, giving us longer stories, and were eventually upgraded to a better paper quality. In addition, Marvel could start to tell somewhat more mature stories in this format.

The stories run through the various comic book possibilities – maybe Moon Knight is fighting street crime, dealing with a supernatural threat, solving a mystery, or fighting the super villain of the month. Moon Knight is often compared to Batman, and one of those reasons is the flexibility in being able to use the title character in these various stories. (By sheer coincidence, last week’s review of Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 6 featured many stories by Denny O’Neil. Many of the issues in this volume were edited by O’Neil.)

One year after the end of the direct market title, Moon Knight returned to the spinner racks with Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu. Now Marc Spector must act as an agent on Earth for Khonshu, which puts him at odds with the love of his life, Marlene. She leaves Marc, freeing up Marc (and the writer) to move about without having to check in every issue with a supporting cast. Sadly, the book lasts just six issues before it was cancelled.

This collection is rounded out by some solo Moon Knight stories that appeared in other books, such as Marvel Fanfare. Unfortunately, the sporadic nature of these tales makes it hard to have any true character development. You might have to look elsewhere to find a lengthy run with Moon Knight. See below for more details!

What makes this Essential?: Visually, these are some great stories. Sometimes you buy books just for the art, and this may be one of those. That said, Moon Knight as a character loses direction with Doug Moench leaving the character. It’s as if no one at Marvel knew what to do next with Moon Knight. I loved the start of the Fist of Khonshu series, where he had to act as a champion for Khonshu or face physical pain. But that series came to an abrupt end. Given the potential we saw with the character during the Moench/Sienkiewicz era, this volume feels like a let down in comparison.

If you like this volume, try: West Coast Avengers Omnibus Vol 2 from 2013. Shortly after the cancellation of Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu series, Moon Knight relocated to California and started hanging out with the West Coast Avengers, beginning with issue #21 of that title. Moon Knight stayed as a member of the team for almost two years, before leaving the team with issue #41. From there, Moon Knight moved back into his own title once again, named Marc Spector: Moon Knight. That ran for five years, but it doesn’t appear to have been collected yet.

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 Captain America Vol. 5

Essential Captain America Vol. 5

First Published: June 2010

Contents: Captain America and the Falcon #187 (July 1975) to #205 (January 1977); Captain America Annual #3 (1976); and Marvel Treasury Special Featuring Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles #1 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: John Warner, Frank Robbins, Sal Buscema, Tony Isabella, Jack Kirby, and others

Key First Appearances: Moonstone, Threkker, Contemplator, General Argyle Fist, Brother Inquisitor

Story Continues From: Essential Captain America Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Captain America Vol. 6

Overview: You 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 American, but decided there were too many Supers in comics those days. So he gave him the title Captain, tweaked the name, and brought in artist Jack Kirby to flesh it out. Captain America Comics #1, featuring Captain America punching out Adolf Hitler, came out in late December of 1940, nearly a full year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. So the history is there that Jack Kirby has been there since Day 1 with the adventures of Steve Rogers.

Flash forward to 1975, and Marvel re-signs Jack Kirby to a contract after a five-year run at DC. Part of the deal gave Kirby creative control of his books, so he did a lot of titles that fell on the fringes of the Marvel Universe, such as The Eternals and Devil Dinosaur. But he was also given the chance to write and draw Captain America. Kirby jumped in head first and turned the action level up to 11 with the start of his run in the monthly Cap book.

Kirby takes Captain America (and the Falcon) on a MAD run across the country in search of a BOMB. (Yes, that is a subtle plug to the main storyline, Madbomb.) In typical Kirby fashion, there are a lot of Nazis, a lot of 1950s monster references, and a lot of fist-fighting — maybe this is what Kirby was most comfortable drawing, or what he thought would sell best. Marvel really didn’t care, because it was still new art by the King.

What makes this Essential?: If Marvel had planned things out more in advance, they could have easily made this an Essential Captain America by Jack Kirby volume. This volume contains six issues before Kirby took over the title. This Essential ends with issue #205, and Kirby’s run ends ten issues later (including Annual #4) with issue #214. So it could have been possible to get all of the Kirby run in one Essential. Alas, it did not work out that way.

Regardless, this collection is worth a look for the Kirby issues. I will be the first to admit that this is not Kirby’s greatest work. Part of the deal to get Kirby to return to Marvel required giving him more creative freedom and less editorial supervision. I’ve contended for many years that writers and/or artists should not be their own editors. The stories could have been helped some by another voice providing input and suggestions. These are action-packed stories, but there is very little character development going on here.

Footnotes: Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles #1 was initially published as an over-sized Treasury edition. Because of the size of the treasury, the page dimensions to not scale down properly for the Essential formatting, which leads to extra white space on the bottom of each page.

If you like this volume, try: the Captain America volume from 2013 by Rick Remender and John Romita, Jr. This was another re-launch with the All-New Marvel event. In this storyline, Captain America is thrown into Dimension Z, a post-apocalyptic world ruled by Arnim Zola. There is no United States or no American Dream to defend. Steve Rogers just has to be a man standing up for what is right. While this storyline ran over the course of 1 year in publishing time, the events of the story cover 10 years in Captain America’s life. Along the way, Cap gains a son, but is he the father? The story as well as the art echoes back to the frenzied approach that Jack Kirby took in the stories in this Essential. And much like the 1970s Kirby run on Captain America, this run by Remender & Romita, Jr. is either really loved or really hated. This isn’t your typical Captain America storyline, so you have to be willing to accept the character in this different environment.

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 Hulk Vol. 5

Essential Hulk Vol. 5

First Published: December 20086

Contents: Incredible Hulk #171 (January 1974) to #200 (June 1976); and Incredible Hulk Annual #5 (1976)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Tony Isabella, Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Logan/Wolverine, Hammer & Anvil, Gremlin

Story Continues From: Essential Hulk Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Hulk Vol. 6

Overview: (With apologies to Universal TV) Dr. Bruce Banner, scientist, searching for a way to tap into the hidden potentials of gamma energy. Then an accidental overdose of gamma radiation interacts with his unique body chemistry. And now, when Bruce Banner grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs. With that, I welcome you to the fifth volume in the Essential Hulk line. 

This is an interesting volume which can be divided up into three sections. Section 1 would be Incredible Hulk #171 to #179. These are your typical Hulk stories like we saw in the last Essential. There is an interesting story that ran over multiple issues involving the Hulk ending up on the High Evolutionary’s counter-Earth where he meets Adam Warlock. In fact, Warlock dies for the first time in issue #177 and is promptly resurrected in issue #178. It’s hard to keep a good Warlock down, I guess. The final issue of this section features the start of Len Wein’s run as writer on the title, which would last for 3 1/2 years.

Now, Section 2 is just two issues long, #180 and #181. Why just two issues? Well, the Hulk finds himself in Canada, where he goes up against the Wendigo. As if that was not enough for the Hulk to handle, we are introduced to Canada’s Weapon X, also known as the Wolverine! Yep, everyone’s favorite mutant makes his first humble appearance in these pages. Mind you, the Wolverine portrayed here is not as refined as the one we came to know in the pages of Uncanny X-Men and later his self-titled book. But he’s still short and hairy and feisty, and willing to cut anyone or anything with his adamantium claws. Eventually, the Wendigo is defeated, and the two heroes go their separate ways.

Section 3 picks up with issue #182 and runs until the end of the book. The stories here feel much like the stories in Section 1. We do see the end of one era and the start of the next era, both related to the art duties. Herb Trimpe ends his six-year run on the title and is followed by Sal Buscema, who begins what will be a nearly 10 year run on the title. One highlight from this run is the Incredible Hulk Annual #5, which features the Hulk battling six monsters from Marvel’s 1950s Atlas books. In fact, one of the monsters makes his second ever appearance in this book. Some guy named Groot. Wonder what Marvel ever did with that walking tree creature?

What makes this Essential?: I am amazed that Incredible Hulk #180 and #181 (first appearance of Wolverine) did not get reprinted in any other Essentials, such as in Wolverine, Classic X-Men, or X-Men. So for these two issues alone, this volume is ESSENTIAL. Outside of those two issues, the Hulk stories are decent, but not incredible (no pun intended) or memorable. Trimpe’s run on art duties comes to an end, and Sal Buscema takes over for a run that would last nearly ten years. I think a Hulk fan should definitely have this collection on their bookshelf.

Footnotes: Incredible Hulk #176 to #178 are also reprinted in Essential Warlock Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Planet Hulk collection, which collects Greg Pak’s story from 2006 & 2007. The Illuminati (Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Professor Xavier, Black Bolt, and Namor) vote to exile the Hulk to another planet rather than allow him to roam (and damage) the Earth. (This is a very similar approach to the events of Incredible Hulk #300 when Dr. Strange exiled the mindless Hulk to an alternate dimension.) However, the rocket carrying the Hulk goes off track, and lands on a different planet, Sakaar, where gladiators battle in arenas for the amusement of the emperor. The Hulk unites with a band of gladiators, who look out for each other during the fights. The Hulk and his friends eventually escape and then overthrows the Emperor. The Hulk is named the new emperor, and he takes a wife and settles down into his role. However, the rocket that brought him to Sakaar explodes, destroying the capital city and killing the Hulk’s wife. Hulk vows revenge on the Illuminati and takes his fellow gladiators back to Earth. The only way to fully describe this book is “epic”. This is one of the all-time great Hulk stories and should be a must-read for all fans.

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.

Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 1

First Published: October 2005

Contents: Marvel Spotlight #5 (August 1972) to #12 (October 1973); Ghost Rider #1 (September 1973) to #20 (October 1976); and Daredevil #138 (October 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Mike Ploog, Tom Sutton, Tony Isabella, Jim Mooney, George Tuska, Frank Robbins, Marv Wolfman, John Byrne, and others

Key First Appearances: Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, Roxanne Simpson/Katy Milner, Crash Simpson, Daimon Hellstrom/Son of Satan 

Story Continues In: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 2

Overview:  Johnny Blaze is a motorcycle daredevil with a traveling road show. When the owner of the show, Crash Simpson, announces he is dying from cancer, Blaze seeks out and strikes a deal with Devil for his soul in an attempt to save Crash. The Devil accepts, but like any deal with Satan, the deal works against Blaze. Crash is saved from cancer but still dies in a stunt accident. As part of his deal, Johnny Blaze is transformed into a mystical servant of Hell, known as the Ghost Rider.

The early stories deal with Blaze trying to free his soul from the control of Satan. This leads to the introduction of the devil’s estranged offspring, Daimon Hellstrom, who would become an anti-hero in his own right as the Son of Satan.

Eventually, Blaze gets his soul released, but he still retains the Ghost Rider abilities. Early on, his transformations occurred at dusk, but now Blaze finds that he can now control the transition for anytime day or night. He can also extend his powers to create a flaming motorcycle out of the hellfire at his control.

In the later issues, Blaze starts working in Hollywood as a stuntman on a television show, where he meets the actress Karen Page. For longtime Marvel readers, you will recall Page as the one-time secretary of lawyer Matt Murdock. So it’s only natural that Ghost Rider would cross paths with Daredevil, the man without fear, which is exactly what happens as this volume concludes.

What makes this Essential?: I will be the first to admit that I have never been a Ghost Rider fan. I held off getting this book for as long as I possibly could, just out my general dislike for the character. What I found reading the early stories of Johnny Blaze is a far different Ghost Rider than the one that gained such popularity in the 1990s. This Ghost Rider seems more human, whose initial changes were brought on by the setting and rising of the sun. He’s a true anti-hero, never viewing himself as a super-hero; just much more interested in riding his bike at the next show. Based on his history in the Marvel Universe, the Ghost Rider is an important hero to read. But the Ghost Rider in these stories is much different than the Ghost Rider you picture in your head. 

Footnotes: Marvel Spotlight #12, and Ghost Rider #1 & #2 are also reprinted in Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1.

Ghost Rider #10 is a reprint of Marvel Spotlight #5. The cover to Ghost Rider #10 is included in this volume. In the letter column in Ghost Rider #11, it was revealed that the cover for issue #10 went to press before Marvel realized that the issue would not be ready in time.

Ghost Rider #19 & #20, and Daredevil #138 are also reprinted in Essential Daredevil Vol. 6.

There are two early Ghost Rider appearances that are not collected in this volume, but they can be found in other Essential volumes. Marvel Team-Up #15 (November 1973) can be found in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1, and Marvel Two-in-One #8 (March 1975) can be found in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1. In my opinion, both should have been included, given the number of references to those stories in the Ghost Rider title. In particular, the Marvel Team-Up issue features the first appearance of The Orb, who returns as a foe in Ghost Rider #14 and #15.

If you like this volume, try: Marvel’s first team of heroes in California, The Champions. Created by Tony Isabella to feature Angel, Iceman, and Black Goliath, it was retooled without Black Goliath and with the additions of Black Widow, Hercules, and Ghost Rider. Given the diverse line-up of the team, there were a lot of wild adventures during the team’s all-too-short 17 issue run. The Champions #1 (October 1975) debuted during the period covered in this Essential Ghost Rider, and several issues make references to his adventures with the team. While the entire series is collected in two Classic volumes, this is a series that shows up frequently in back issue bins. Make a point to track this series down!