What Are You Reading? Justice League, X-Men and more!

See what the Smash Pages crew has checked off their “to read” list lately.

Welcome once again to What Are You Reading?, our weekly journey into the center of our reading lists. This time around, hear about Tom’s endless trek through old Justice League issues, Shane’s adventures with 1990s X-Men comics and my own scattershot batch of comics.

And as always, tell us what comics you’ve been exploring in the comments.

Tom Bondurant

This week I started Justice League of America: The Bronze Age Omnibus Volume 2, reprinting 30-odd issues of the mid-1970s JLA. In a pleasant surprise, the collection starts with a handful of issues I had never read. Each was pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Dick Giordano.

“The Return of Anakronus!” is a whimsical tale from November-December 1974, written by Len Wein and Mark Hanerfeld. During his estrangement from the League, Snapper Carr is watching a charity telethon run by the Leaguers (they’re hosting, performing and of course working the phones) when he and his family are attacked by a supervillain, namely Anakronus. Apparently, not only did Anakronus work for the Lord of Time (whom the JLA defeated way back in issue #10), but he ended up turning the tables on the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, destroying them utterly. Anyway, now he wants to hold the Carrs for ransom until the League coughs up ten million dollars from the charity proceeds. To his credit, Snapper sees the glaring flaw in Anakronus’ logic, and sends the JLA a coded message as part of his hostage phone call. The Carrs are rescued, Anakronus is revealed as a fraud, and Snapper’s relationship with the League gets a little less icy.

Another ex-Leaguer returns in issue #115’s “The Last Angry God!” from January-February 1975, written by Denny O’Neil. This time the Martian Manhunter asks the group to help him defeat Korge, a giant who can adapt to the individual members’ super-powers. It’s a puzzle-oriented plot typical of the Silver Age JLA, and the League solves it in pretty typical fashion. Early 1970s Denny O’Neil was pretty entertaining writing Batman and the Green Lantern/Green Arrow pairing, but oddly enough, not so much on the Justice League.

Next is “The Kid Who Won Hawkman’s Wings!” from March-April 1975’s issue #116, written by Cary Bates. This is the origin of Golden Eagle, in reality teenager Charley Parker. He’s a semi-obscure figure in Hawkman history, which I suppose is saying something. This too hinged on an ex-Leaguer, namely Hawkman, who had returned to his home planet to help stave off a plague. In his absence, Charley had found himself with a set of functional Hawkman-style wings, and so decided to fight crime. This pitted him against old Hawk-foe the Matter Master, who ends up taking on the Justice League. The big set-piece has MM turning the Leaguers into prey animals who are then chased by giant predators; and that’s kind of fun, if a bit silly. Ultimately, Hawkman himself shows up at the end, leading us into the next issue.

Elliot S! Maggin writes April 1975’s issue #117, “I Have No Wings And I Must Fly!” It’s the story of the Equalizer, an extraterrestrial who unleashes “equalization plagues” on planets to make everyone blandly average. Hawkman wants the League to help him save Thanagar from the plague, so naturally along the way the Leaguers are stricken by it and become average themselves. However, because the Equalizer is really putting out opposite reactions to whatever he encounters, Green Arrow reasons that “waves of hate” will make him do something they want. Therefore, the Leaguers find reasons, however nonsensical (“Batman! Pretend he killed your parents!”) to hate the Equalizer, and poof, they’re back to normal. The Equalizer is also gone, with only a caption (“The time for explanations will be later”) to mark his passing.

I read a few more issues as well, but they were ones I’d read before. This wasn’t the greatest stretch in Justice League history, mostly because it was kind of uneven and/or goofy. Still, anchored by Dick Dillin’s sturdy pencils, the series became a reliable part of Young Tom’s childhood. And besides, this collection ends with the bulk of Steve Englehart’s all-too-brief run, so I am anticipating that.

Shane Bailey

I’ve been delving into the, errrr… wonderful world of late 90s X-Men with the X-Men Unlimited anthology. While the series started strong, it kind of drifted off a bit in quality after a while. That said, in the 40s between all the Chuck Austin stories there are some real gems in there. Among those are:

X-Men Unlimited #42 – this issue features a stunning story by Darko Macan and Danijel Zezelj that showcases how Professor X helps those in need while also reminding himself why he does what he does. This issue also features work by Dwyer, Middleton and Miyazawa on other stories.

X-Men Unlimited #43 – Absolutely pick up this issue of you get the chance. It’s a goodbye of sorts by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz to the New Mutant “kids” and takes a look at how they’ve grown and changed, but can still come back together like no time has passed. 

X-Men Unlimited #47- Finally, here’s another good issue of X-Men Unlimited, this time with Wolverine narrating a story about Psylocke, telling a story after she was temporarily dead for a while. Yeah, I know, but trust me, it works. It’s by Adam Warren and Rick Mays. It also features John Layman’s first work at Marvel and it’s a fun one with someone trying to harvest Cyclops’ eyes. It sounds dark, but it’s kind of light and fun, with art by Dan Norton. It’s worth picking up.

This is why I like comics in the 90s. They are like the 50 cent and dollar boxes that you wade through, which you’ll often find those issues in, in order to find something fun to buy. You may have to dig for a while and you’ll find stuff not even worth the money, but if you look long enough you find those diamonds in the rough. Some stories shine bright. These are just a few of them.

JK Parkin

My kid is very much into nonfiction and books about spiders, dinosaurs, sharks and things of that nature. So we’ve been reading some of First Second’s Science Comics line, with the sharks and dinosaurs book both being popular, but the one we can’t seem to put down now is Science Comics: Plagues by Falynn Koch. I think my son has read it three times on his own, and it’s also our go-to for nighttime reading. Despite the subject matter and, y’know, everything going on in the world, it’s an upbeat, fun book — it’s science wrapped up in a story involving talking germs, so it’s both compelling and interesting.

For my own reading, I really dig all the short Quarantine Comix that the creators of Ice Cream Man have been putting out to benefit comic book retailers. The sixth issue came out this week, and it features a guest appearance by the Ice Cream Man himself, as a man hails a cab to take him to the end of the universe. It’s made me jones for more Ice Cream Man, which I think I’ll be re-reading this week.

Finally, I’ve also been downloading and reading DC’s various “Digital First” titles that they’ve been releasing, featuring stories that first appeared in the Walmart anthologies. They’re mostly “done in one” stories meant to fill out the anthology, so they’re fairly quick reads that aren’t heavy on continuity. Of the ones I’ve read, my favorites have been the Flash comics that Gail Simone and Clayton Henry have been doing. Issues #2 and #3 both feature a time travel stories, with the latter also including an appearance by the Atom. They’ve been a lot of fun, esp. this most recent issue.

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