What Are You Reading? | Spider-Man, Star Trek, JSA and more

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

Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately. You can play along in the comments if you wish.

Now here we go …

Shane Bailey

This week I’ve been reading a lot of superhero comics on comiXology Unlimited. Of these I think I enjoyed my re-read of  Age of X-Man, in it’s entirety, and Spider-Man: Life Story the best.  Age of X-Man had such a great atmosphere surrounding the story, it felt like The Prisoner meets X-Men. That disquieting creepy feeling was present throughout the entire series from every creative team as they examined why utopias can’t work, but also the reason why we always have to try. It leaves the X-Men in a great place for the reboot that followed. It also did a great job summing up all the series it was born from at the time. It was nice reading about hope coming from strife and oppression with everything going on today.

Spider-Man: Life Story, on the other hand, was a total escape. Presented as what Spider-Man would be like if he aged in real time, it felt like a prestige “What If?” book, and I loved every second of it. It was full of a ton of Easter eggs but also made smart decisions on how the passage of time would have made familiar stories turn out differently. Age, family, and of course responsibility were big subjects in this book. I especially like the way Civil War was handled as it was more of a long term presence and was created out of superheroes being present and involved in the Vietnam war and was never really resolved completely. I really found myself getting sucked into the world presented in this book and wanted to know more about the world here,  but I think Zdarsky and Bagley ended the series in the perfect way, setting things up for heroes to come, inspired by Spider-Man passing on that responsibility to others.

Other recommendations:

Jason Aaron’s Avengers v1-3: These are just wacky fun and utilize the entirety of the Marvel Universe, with the Avengers going from one threat, idea, location to the next. It is so much fun and looks spectacular. I love the Avengers’ new base in the North Pole, inside the body of a dead Celestial and run by the King of Wakanda, Black Panther. The modern Marvel Universe at its best.

Uncanny Avengers Unity v1-2: Duggan, Stegman and team really had fun with this series and pulled out all the stops here. In a way it feels like a precursor to Aaron’s Avengers run as a lot of the crazy ideas and locales are also present here. It’s definitely grounded in a certain time period in Marvel history, though, as it constantly talks about Inhuman/Mutant relations and M-Pox. The work they did on Rogue and Deadpool here was nice, as Rogue really takes a leadership role. I really hate that that’s been lost recently. Also, I just want to say, Pepe Larraz draws the BEST hair on Rogue ever and that started here in this book. I am happy that we got more of that in the current X-Men timeline.

Carla Hoffman

If you’re a longtime comic reader from the dark ages of last century, you might have a fondness of what I call “the baseball issue.” The X-Men would go on these long, complicated, world-ending, galaxy-spanning, moral dramas and then, just for a moment, play a game of baseball for an issue. It showed readers what “down time” looked like and gave you a chance to relate to these characters out of the panic that perpetuated their lives in a serialized drama.

I’m only reminded of this because I’ve been reading the late ‘90s series JSA, started by writer James Robinson (of previous readings’ Starman) and later handed to Geoff Jones and David S. Goyer. These issues go fast and hard, chock full of deep DC comics lore and grand design adventure that tumbles from one dangerous situation to the next, all of it personal and particular to the heroes on hand. The team is made of multiple generations of legacy heroes, from Alan Scott and Jay Garrick of the Golden Age to Dinah Lance and Courtney Whitmore of the modern era. Some characters are built in front of you during the run of the comic, like the new (at that time) Dr. Fate or the complicated history of Hawkgirl. Team members come and go, but there is always danger.

And it’s serious danger, not just a “light beam into the sky” kinda danger. We’re talking global takeovers, eternal darkness, Lovecraftian horrors, Injustice Society invasions, personal demons, the works and it just keeps coming, issue after issue. Cliffhangers where the skeletal remains of the Spectre crash over an entire city! Characters find out they’ve been dead this entire time! Accidental travel to ancient Egypt! It’s a classic kind of comic storytelling that goes big and bold, but never loses sight of the main characters of our book. Each one of them comes at this danger from personal experience and emotion, grappling with their moral character as well as how to save the day. Sand, originally “Sandy the Golden Boy” as Golden Age Sandman’s sidekick (something they never let you forget), is the best touchstone for this team; he’s got a foot in both worlds of the past and present as well as his own path to forge through them with new powers and responsibility.

It can be exhausting reading these stories; remember to take a break, get some water, while each issue grabs you for the next wild ride of heroes and villains, past and present. This week, I loaded up the DC Universe app and flipped digitally through the first issue on a lark and found myself 23 issues deep within a matter of days. If you’re looking for something to whisk you away from the problems of today and comfort you in the heroes of the past, try out these stories (“Darkness Falls” and “Injustice Be Done!” are solid starting arcs) but be prepared to long for a baseball issue. Enjoy the wild ride.

Tom Bondurant

This week I really enjoyed the Catwoman 80th Anniversary special, and I appreciated how many of the Feline Fatale’s former creative teams participated. Although it’s been almost 30 years since her first ongoing solo series, that also means she was a villain and/or supporting character for over 50 years. In that spirit, this special does a good job navigating all her relationships, whether they’re with Batman, her sister, her costumed competitors, and even the larger DC universe. Each of the issue’s 10 stories has something to recommend it, and for the most part they present a good cross-section of Catwoman’s development. Some pit her against supervillains, some show her interacting with the unsuspecting public, and a few play around with alternate realities. However, what unifies them is the character’s indomitable independent streak, which has defined Catwoman arguably since her debut. It’s appropriate for a character who has transcended her initial purpose and become a pillar of DC’s super-community, and this is a nice tribute.

DC confronts its history in a very different way in Action Comics issue #1022, wherein Superman tries to figure out just what the heck is going on with the Conner Kent Superboy. Brought back into continuity practically by fiat as a result of “Rebirth,” Conner is literally an artifact from a bygone age, sporting his original costume (albeit with a new jacket) and fully aware of his existence before his New 52 sidelining. Writer Brian Michael Bendis, penciller John Romita Jr., inker Danny Miki and colorist Brad Anderson go in some pretty meta directions, opting to let the emotions of Conner’s return speak for themselves and hand-waving away DC’s recent cosmic gymnastics. It works out well, especially when Conner starts visiting his old haunts. It also balances well against the subplot, which involves the Daily Planet‘s owner and puts Lois and Jimmy in danger. Both narratives are kind of wonky, but Bendis and company do a good job of framing them. The Superman books were two years into “Rebirth” when Bendis took over (two years ago, in fact); and by then they had already gone deep into the weeds trying to straighten out Superman’s timeline and Clark’s place at the Planet. Bendis and company are taking pretty big whacks at both matters, but so far so good.

Finally, if we can have only one ongoing Star Trek comic, I am glad it’s Star Trek Year Five. (I say “ongoing” because while Year Five has to end at some point, I don’t know when this series will.) Plenty of Trek ink has been spilled on stories set after the end of The Original Series, but the end of the fabled five-year mission looms large over this version. We can see hints of why Kirk, Spock and McCoy would each choose to leave the Enterprise, but we also see them fulfilling their commitments to ship and crew for as long as they’re required. Anyway, issue #11 (written by Jackson Lanzing & Collin Keane, drawn by Stephen Thompson with some inking from Maria Keane, and colored by Charlie Kirchoff) brings back Gary Seven and his cat(?) Isis. Gary is basically Star Trek‘s version of The Doctor, and he commandeers the Enterprise because Kirk’s continued existence has apparently become a danger to all creation. It’s a very effective setup, and it ends on a cliffhanger which I’m pretty sure ties into the apocalyptic vision in the first pages of STY5 issue #1. A flashback within a story set in the past of the future – very timey-wimey. Of course, we know that Kirk & Krew survive, so the real treat is seeing our heroes go about their business knowing it’s all got to end, but acting like it never will.

JK Parkin

My son and I wrapped up Mech Cadet Yu this week, as the third and final trade collection of the BOOM! series from Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa arrived. It was a night my son didn’t want to go to bed, but once he saw what we’d be reading he was more than willing to get his teeth brushed and his PJ’s on. This was the big finale, featuring the final showdown between the alien invaders, the Sharg, and Earth’s Mech Cadets. While my son marveled over the art and the scope of the invaders (“Look how big the aliens are compared to the robots!”) I was impressed with the character moments, esp. those involving Cadet Park, the daughter of a general who had her loyalties and moral compass tested throughout the series. I should also add that while I typically try to break these trades up over a few nights, reading 1-2 issues at a time, we finished this one off in one night. Which meant actual bedtime got pushed back a bit, but it was worth it.

And now my son wants to know when we’re getting the next one. How about approving a Mech Cadet Park spinoff, BOOM! Studios?

With Mech Cadet Yu finished, I wanted to bank on my son’s interest in comics, so we started this week on Mermin, the Oni Press graphic novel series created by Joey Weiser. It’s a fun series that won my son over fairly quickly. It’s been several years since I read it myself, so it was fun to revisit it. I believe I own all five of these, but so far I’ve only been able to find my copies of the first two editions, so I’ll be doing some hunting to see what I might have done with them.

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