Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately. Let us know what you read this week in the comments or on social media.
Non-Stop Spider-Man #1 is a delight. I don’t know where or how to begin, but this is kinda the Spider-Man book I’d been looking for: something fast, flashy and dedicated enough that I could hand it to young and old, new reader and long-time fan, and say, “YES! This is the Spider-Man book you need to read.” Are there questions about where it fits in continuity? Yes. Is there confusion about who the supporting characters are and if you should know them from Peter Parker’s extensive social life? Yes. Does any of it matter? NO BECAUSE YOU ARE WATCHING CHRIS BACHELO DRAW THE HELL OUT OF SPIDER-MAN CRASHING 15 STORIES DOWN THROUGH AN SUV. It’s about time we had a brisk story told about Spider-Man fighting some crooks across New York City while lightly covering his social life and a larger threat is far in the background. There’s nothing to try and remember but the last page of breathtaking artwork and how fast the action is moving. It’s a breezy story written by Joe Kelly, but don’t mistake this for a quick read; the art here is dense and fluid in a way that only Bachelo can provide, so do expect to linger on details in the panels, bask in the motion provided by the page layout and wonder how it is we got so lucky to be blessed with such a comic. If this is just a sample of what this new title is going to bring, then please back a truck up to my front door and load my home with issues of Non-Stop Spider-Man.
Speaking of Joe Kelly, can you believe Deadpool’s been around for 30 years? Well, not the exact Deadpool we know and love today, but the idea of Deadpool has been around for a pretty decent adult lifetime; and like most decent adults, he had a lot of growing up to do. Deadpool Nerdy Thirty #1 is a showcase of how far the character has come and all the different voices that have lasted through the years to become the Merc with the Mouth we all know and love. Eight different creative teams take on about five pages or so of story that revisit the character from their own unique takes on Deadpool. There’s no deep lore, there’s no secret that will change Wade Wilson forever, no tie-ins, nothing but a fun victory lap for the likes of Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza, Joe Kelly, Gail Simone, Gerry Duggan, Brian Posehn and more. A $5.99 celebration of all the things they managed to get away with over the years (like a five page pin-up spread masquerading as a “story” in the back by Rob Liefeld, nice). If you’re a fan of the character, it’s a bunch of fun stories that might start some back issue diving for the long and chaotic career of one Wade Wilson.
I’m reading Batman: Urban Legends because of memes. Specifically, memes on Twitter from Matthew Rosenberg, promising me Grifter of all characters would be in this anthology. I’m a ‘90s kid, I ponied up the $7.99 for this with no idea what I was going to get. I mean, that’s a lot of money on a whim and that’s the worst thing about this book.
Without looking at the price tag, this is all pretty ingenious. You’re getting three decent Bat-stories (and one Outsiders tale?) that are obviously leading into other titles or continuations, little bite-sized snacks of the current landscape of Gotham. And, again, one Outsiders story that’s taking place in Japan that doesn’t seem to fit in at all. I dunno. Chip Zdarsky writes a mean vigilante killer dressed in red with the Red Hood, Stephanie Phillips sets a wonderful table for where Harley Quinn is headed in Batman and Harley Quinn, a title I don’t think anyone’s heard of until now (surprise!) and yeah, there’s an Outsiders story that starts in media res and feels like some recent pages of their ongoing title that also doesn’t exist. Then there’s the Grifter story which does a great job of typing him into Gotham and has enough snappy dialogue and action to round out the book. It’s not consistent in tone, it doesn’t feel like a real comic if that makes any sense, more like a “coming attractions” for books I haven’t heard of and, do you know what? It works. I would buy at least two of these titles if they were indeed ads for upcoming series. I think more of these kinds of things should come out; just grab bags of current creative teams selling out on their main work via quick short stories designed to lure you in.
The problem is that $7.99 price tag. Like I said, that’s a lot to pay on a whim. I think the people who would really enjoy this book, readers who may just want to know the temperature of Gotham in the wake of Infinite Frontier or someone who’s seen the Red Hood in the Batman Arkham games or people like me, who know Grifter from the ol’ Wildstorm days and want to know how he fits into the DC Universe now, are more than likely to miss this expensive series.
Thanks to You-Know-What, for the past couple of weeks I have been hip-deep in Scarlet Witch lore. First it was the Avengers: Nights of Wundagore paperback, which collects Avengers #s 181-187 (March-September 1979). Those issues were written by some combination of David Michelinie, Mark Gruenwald and Steven Grant; pencilled by John Byrne; and inked by a small army. In trying to sort out Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s conflicting origins, by and large they succeed. The siblings debuted 15 years prior, in March 1964’s X-Men #4, but in researching their backstory, the Avengers brain trust ended up with 30 pages worth of single-spaced notes. I’m not sure that I could come up with 30 pages on Donna Troy and Hawkman combined.
In any event, these are pretty entertaining comics, even if the narrative gets derailed slightly by a meddling Henry Peter Gyrich and a misunderstood Absorbing Man. It starts with Wanda and Pietro being turned into puppets by the man who thinks he’s their father, and it ends with the Avengers battling an ancient evil amongst the crags of Wundagore Mountain. Byrne draws a very sinister Dark Scarlet Witch (although in a few panels she’s hungry for scenery) and the big finish draws a decent amount of momentum from – of all things – the exposition dump which irons out the continuity. Maybe it’s my own need to harmonize superhero stories which were clearly created without regard for coherence, but I always enjoy these sorts of exercises; and this one is especially nimble. I don’t recommend trying to explain it to your non-comics-reading spouse, though.
Next up was the recent Vision And The Scarlet Witch paperback, which I think came out in January. It reprints June 1975’s Giant-Size Avengers #4 (featuring their wedding), plus the 4-issue Bill Mantlo/Rick Leonardi miniseries (November 1982-February 1983) and the 12-issue Steve Englehart/Richard Howell maxiseries (October 1985-September 1986). The latter were less ambitious in terms of continuity, although they did build on the web of familial connections which the Wundagore arc had sorted out. Vision’s Human Torch and Wonder Man roots got a lot of play, and the Whizzer, Magneto and Quicksilver all appeared. In that respect I could see where the WandaVision creative team was inspired to do a series of wacky-at-first adventures. Accordingly, these stories were a little more lightweight, emphasizing character arcs like Vision’s sense of his own humanity. I was glad to have read them, and I understand their importance to the characters generally, but I’m not quite ready to see how Byrne and others treat these stories later on.
After that I started a Doctor Strange Epic Collection which includes some Englehart/Gene Colan issues from the early 1970s. I won’t say too much about it right now, except that at one point Dormammu tells his sister Umar he has to step away from his current evil plot in order to battle the Scarlet Witch – which happens in Giant-Size Avengers #4! You think you’re done with a character, and here she is again….