Posted tagged ‘Essential’

Review: Essential Amazing Spider-Man Vol.9

December 15, 2009

This volume of the Essential Spider-Man covers the issues published between 1978 and 1980, which is not a particularly well known era for the character despite a lot of significant stuff that happens here.  The Black Cat, Madame Web, Jigsaw and Calypso all make their first appearances.  Aunt May dies for a few issues, Peter quits the Daily Bugle for a few more, John Romita Jr. becomes the regular artist and their are decent confrontations with Electro, Doc Ock, Kingpin and Mysterio.  But the story here that has sort of endured is the return of the Burglar (he who shot Uncle Ben).

Everything here’s pretty average for Spider-Man, with the possible exception that Peter’s age is starting to get a little awkward on occasion.  The character’s a TA in grad school at this point and the writers are still trying to give him the occasional problems with school/work/dating issues from when he was in high school, while occasionally attempting to actually portray him as an adult.  However, what results is Peter going to C.B.G.B’s on a date and complaining about how loud the music is there.  

But besides that, this is classic, Spidey with some very competantly told stories from comics legends Marv Wolfman and Denny O’Neil.

Review: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 2

July 7, 2009

The second volume of the Essential Ghost Rider gets some major props for containing one of the craziest stories I have ever encountered.  Issues 33 and 34 by Roger McKenzie and Don Perlin are a work of genius.  Take Anthony from Jerome Bixby’s It’s a Good Life, place him in a bubble, give him a spaceship and some tortured cyborg bikers for minions and then have him battle Ghost Rider and a stereotypical (albeit psychic) prospector for 44 pages.    Oh and then throw in a random Tales from the Crypt sub-plot involving the Salem Witch trials just because there wasn’t enough going on already.

But sadly none of the other writers throughout the collection are able to master McKenzie’s over the top shtick, albeit not for lack of trying.  Michael Fleisher’s run is particularly terrible for attempting to go all but holding back in order to inject some social commentary.  Particularly bad is his issue dedicated to a cult of Death worshipers (revealed to be a pyramid scheme), that show their devotion through the time honored tradition of motorcycle jousting with flamethrowers.

So that makes 7 great issues out of 30, not a great ratio, but almost worth it.  And on a totally random note, the artists in the book can never decide whether or not Ghost Rider should be drawn with eyeballs, but whenever he is it looks ridiculous.

Review: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol.1

April 26, 2009

It was 1976, and Marvel had decided that two Spider-Man books (Amazing and Marvel Team-Up) weren’t enough anymore.  Thus the Specatcular Spider-Man was born, without much of a sense for why it needed to exist.  This sort of market saturation was new to Marvel at the time, DC had published two Superman and Batman books since the 40’s (not counting their team-up books), so I suppose it’s actually sort of surprising that Marvel took this long to try it.  Apparently it worked for them since Web of Spider-Man launched a few years later.

Anyway, the book itself isn’t bad, it just lacks its own identity.  The closest it comes to that is by having the White Tiger brought in as a supporting character.  In its first year the book has 5 different writers (Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Jim Shooter, Bill Mantlo & Chris Claremont) and nearly every issue refers back to the flagship Spidey comic in some way.  Eventually Bill Mantlo becomes the regular writer, and he begins to tell some very odd stories:

 Arkansas trucker turned hero Razorback helps Spidey battle obscure Adam Warlcok enemy Man-Beast, who in turn is disguised as the Hate Monger (replaces Hitler in the role).  

Frank Miller draws a rematch between the Masked Marauder, Spidey and Daredevil (the original took place in 1966).

Spidey and Moon Knight team up to battle the horrible French stereotype, Cyclone

The undead, clone of the Jackal (who was in turn a clone), Carrion first appears

And then there’s the Hypno Hustler.

Now I actually have a lot of fondness for the Mantlo Spidey, although his stories were never perfect.  He has a thing for creating some very high concept characters (Cloak & Dagger, the Answer, reimagining Silvermane as a cyborg) that sound great, but who no one has ever been able to write successfully.  That all starts here, probably with Carrion and his power to fly because the Earth will not let him touch it.

I also have to give a brief shout out to the art here.  The great majority of this book is drawn by Sal Buscema at his best.  Buscema is the artist who first introduced me to the character, during the later J.M. Dematteis run.  He tends not to get much attention, mostly having a rep for simply being prolific at Marvel.  But he draws some of Spidey’s best battles, really having a knack for capturing the villains in particular.  His Vulture is the definitive take on the character to my mind, and his Morbius and Hate Monger issues in the collection are particular high points.

Review: Essential Captain Marvel Vol.1

February 24, 2009

The Essential Captain Marvel collects the first two attempts by Marvel to utilize the trademark they were able to nab from Fawcett.  

The first try, while interesting at times, is pretty much as bad as it sounds given its reason for existence.  In these issues Mar-Vell (yes that’s his name) is an alien scout for a race that may want to conquer the Earth, but who winds up sympathizing with the human race.  The first few issues by Roy Thomas work out OK with the concept (Gene Colan’s art helps a lot), but then Arnold Drake takes over and has no idea what to do with the character.  He shifts things into slightly more traditional superhero fare, but can’t quite jettison enough of the book’s origins to allow it to make any sense.  

Which brings about the character’s first revamp, thanks to Roy Thomas (again) and the amazing Gil Kane on art.  This time everything that made the character somewhat unique is discarded in favor of creating a totally a standard superhero comic.  Mar-Vell even gets saddled with perennial sidekick Rick Jones in order to make things seem even more derivative.  But there is Gil Kane so it’s not all bad.

Review: Essential Incredible Hulk Vol.4

November 15, 2008

Of all the superheroes out there, the Hulk is probably the one I like the least.  The concept of the character is decent, Mr. Hyde essentially, but it’s not one that I’ve ever felt could support a series for the last 46 years.  The writer’s involved with the series at various times seem to struggle with the same basic issues, which is why the character has never had a firm status quo.  From month to month he’s grey, or green, or red; smart or stupid; unwilling to hurt a fly or working for the mob in Vegas.  

He’s also too damn powerful to be interesting.  Every fight he has ever been in has amounted to waiting for the Hulk to get angry enough that he becomes invincible.  Thus his battles are never very interesting (and let’s face it all the Hulk is good for is hitting things) and his enemies come off looking completely incompetent (which is doubly awful when his arch foe is the US army).

So by that standard vol. 4 of the Essential Hulk is actually decent.  Of particular not is when Steve Englehart takes over the book and starts a long running sub plot in which Betty Ross finally gives up on Bruce Banner and marries someone else.  Of course this being a comic she swiftly gets widowed, institutionalized due to her grief, brainwashed by everyone’s favorite giant head M.O.D.O.K., and turned into giant, green harpy that shoots “Hellbolts”.  And this was nearly 20 years prior to the women in refridgerators debacle.  

There’s also one of my favoite bits of science gone wrong in a comic, the Infra-world of Captain Omen.  Omen is a mad scientist who decides to claim the ocean floor as a soverign nation.  His plan hinges on breeding a race of men adapted to life at 5,000 fathoms (somehow accomplished through evolution in a single generation) and using them to plant underwater flags across the world.  Omen himself seems to take the underwater pressure fine, simply developing a hunchback.  The Hulk gets involved, inspires Omen’s undersea race to rebel, and then everyone goes to the surface where the swiftly explode due to their incredibly high blood pressure.  Oh and this all occurs in the course of a single issue.  Gotta love 70’s comics.

I’m not sure I can really recommend this collection besides as a decent representation of what the Hulk was like for his first 20 or so years.  During that era it’s probably one of the better runs, but it’s still suffers the same faults as nearly every Hulk comic, there’s not much that can be done with the character.

Review: Essential Doctor Strange Vol.3

October 3, 2008

Doctor Strange is the best character in superhero comics that no one has been able to figure out what to do with, and that unfortunate tradition continues in this volume.

There are a number of reasons the Strange has proven a difficult character to work with.  First of all magic based characters have always been a problem in superhero comics (for further proof see Dr. Fate, Captain Marvel, Zatanna, the Demon, etc…).  Their abilities are too ill-defined and they don’t mesh well with the science based universes they exist in.  To compound the issue in Strange’s case he’s a character that is linked so strongly to his original portrayal under Stan Lee and Steve Ditko that no one (with the possible exception of the recent Brian K Vaughan/Marcos Martin mini-series) has been willing to modernize him.  Which is a total disservice to the character considering that he’s thus been linked to 60’s psychadelia for 40 years.

Which at last brings me to this volume that collects Strange’s late 70’s appearances.  The majority of this book is by Steve Englehart (who is a perfect match for writing the traditional Strange) and the normally great Gene Colan, who is a bit miscast here on art.  The Colan issues tend to take Strange away from the other-dimensional odysseys he usually goes on and instead pits him against foes like Dracula and Satan.  These are by far the weakest stories here.  On the other end of the spectrum you have adventures in which the Universe is destroyed, the history of America is examined, and Strange’s girlfriend Clea has an affair with Ben Franklin (yes really).

The book isn’t bad, but if you want a classic Doctor Strange book, stick with the Lee/Ditko issues.

Review: Essential Man-Thing Vol.1

September 1, 2008

I just finished up another Essentials volume so I guess I’m sticking with the comics review theme for one more day.  The first of two volumes of the Essential Man-Thing covers the (unfortunately named) character’s earliest appearances and the beginings of Steve Gerber’s run on the book.  Now Man-Thing is a very strange book, in that it features a swamp creature (it’s worth noting that Man-Thing appeared a few months before Swamp Thing) who is nearly mindless and who has no means of communicating.

Thus the burden of the story is placed upon a rotating assortment of random supporting characters who serve as the foil for Man-Things adventures, and on a slightly overbearing omniscient narrator.  Fortunately, most of these stories are by the great Steve Gerber (who reader’s of my old book review blog will know I obsess over), who manages to take the rediculous premise and built it into a set of oddly poiniant morality plays.  He also throws in a few of his trademark touches of absurdity, this book does contain the first appearance of Howard the Duck after all, not to mention the ever so slightly over the top Foolkiller.

Somehow this all manages to come together to create Marvel’s second best horror book after Tomb of Dracula.  It’s really a shame these stories have mostly gone down in history the awful name (particularly due to the five “Giant-Size”  issues) and the corny catch phrase “whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch”.  Granted the stories here haven’t aged particularly well (this is the era of Marvel where every book had to include an evil biker gang at some point), but they have enough substance to be worth a read if you can get past the window dressing.  Oh and there’s some lovely Mike Ploog art.