Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately — including comics from the past, present and future.
Let us know what you read this week in the comments or on social media.
Shortly after Chadwick Boseman’s death, to honor his life and his role in their success, Marvel and comiXology released about $800 worth of Black Panther comics for free. These series were some of the best at Marvel during their respective eras full of the best creators and memorable stories, but none shined as brightly as the 1998 Black Panther series, launched by Christopher Priest with artist Mark Texiera, but full of creators like Sal Velutto, Joe Jusko, Kyle Hotz, Tom Coker, Jim Calafiore, M.D. Bright, Jorge Lucas and Dan Fraga during its gigantic 62-issue run. It was so successful, it was the first Marvel Knights book to move out of the small imprint and into the Marvel Universe at large, being taken over by the main title editors instead of the upstarts Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti. After downloading all these issues from Black Panther history, this series was the first one I sat down to reread, and what a reread it was.
What comic series do you know that involves Mephisto, a myriad of 70s villains, Klaw, Nightshade and more, all wrapped around a plot where the Black Panther is convinced to come to the U.S. to solve a tenement murder of one of his citizens, but it’s all a distraction to take over the country by making them bring in refugees and bring one of those refugee leaders to power and take over the country. Not only that, but it ends up leading to the economic takeover of the country with Killmonger not even lifting a finger to enact his plan. Seriously what comic do you know today where the main villains of the story deal in politics and economics instead of their fists? It’s amazing. A later storyline even sees The White Tiger and Klaw manipulate a war between rulers at the time — Magneto, Doom, Namor and Black Panther. There’s political stalemates, secret clandestine meetings and the Avengers all wondering what the heck is going on with Black Panther. IT’S AMAZING.
This series isn’t just surprising, it’s consistently surprising as I, a long time comic reader since the early ’80s, couldn’t guess where each issue was going before it went there. Do you know how hard that is to do with a fan that’s read most of Marvel and DC’s input for so long? It’s pretty difficult, but ever issue I’d find some new plot, twist or character moment that I hadn’t seen before, or could have thought up on my own. It’s brilliant. I haven’t ever read a series by one creative team or writer that is so good for so long in comic’s modern age. This run deserves its place as one of the best books of the ’90s and early ’00s. You get to see artists grow over the title. At first I didn’t really appreciate Velutto’s work on the title, but by the end I was missing his work once he left. I did begin to lose some interest in the weird and abrupt transition to Kasper, the later White Tiger, taking over the title and the switch to Fraga on art, but after the introductory arc, it quickly got back to the more familiar style the book had previously, just mixed with the new. When my only complaint is that I wish that Marvel had included the follow up, The Crew, in its free offerings, that’s a good thing. When you leave the fan wanting more, you know you’ve succeeded. I highly recommend, with all my being, that you download this series while it’s free, along with all the other books offered from the Black Panther’s long history while they are available. Priest’s Black Panther is not only a fascinating snapshot of the time, but it’s a book that deserves to be lauded as one of the best runs on a Marvel character in history.
I enjoyed a lot of the gigundo Detective Comics #1027, celebrating 1,000 issues since Batman’s debut. My favorite story was Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham’s “Detective #26,” the tragicomic tale of a masked mystery-man at the dawn of costumed crimefighting, who found himself upstaged while trying to solve a certain chemical-syndicate mystery. I liked it because it hearkened back to Detective‘s roots as an anthology, and particularly an anthology blending a cerebral genre with a very visual, action-oriented one. Batman is more than a scary martial artist with an unlimited budget, after all.
Ironically, there wasn’t much observation and deduction in “Detective #26’s” abortive origin story. That fell to some of Tec #1027’s other stories, including Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez’ “The Master Class” and Marv Wolfman, Emanuela Luppachino and Bill Sienkiewicz’s “Odyssey.” I also appreciated the focus on a new GCPD officer in Greg Rucka and Eduardo Risso’s “Rookie.” The rest were good Batman stories, and many of them showed Batman at his coolest; but they were maybe not the best examples of the Darknight Detective.
I was also struck by the lack of Batwoman, who headlined Detective for 10 issues (#854-63, August 2009-May 2010), and (to a slightly lesser extent) the lack of the Dick Grayson Batman, who got his own 11-issue spotlight (#871-81, January-October 2011). I understand that issue #1027 is a Bruce Wayne anniversary, but a lot of familiar faces first appeared in Detective Comics – from Robin, Batwoman and Batgirl to the Boy Commandos, Roy Raymond and the Martian Manhunter – and a little tribute in that direction would have been nice.
That said, I did think Tec #1027 was very entertaining. I am probably still spoiled by March 1981’s issue #500, which included a lot of these elements – including a riff on “A Dark And Stormy Night” and a prose story from Shadow creator Walter Gibson – and was kicked off by one of the all-time Bat-classics, Alan Brennert and Dick Giordano’s “To Kill A Legend.” That’s hard to top, although Tec #1027 tries mightily.
I have also started re-reading Gene Luen Yang and Viktor Bogdanovic’s New Super-Man, a fun experiment that started as part of 2016’s “Rebirth” relaunches. Kong Kenan is a bro-ish teenager who finds himself swept up in conspiracies involving Chinese superheroes. He’s been given super-powers that he can’t quite control, and a pair of colleagues who treat him like a trainee at the drive-thru. Chinese counterparts to the Justice League and Freedom Fighters, and the existing Great Ten super-team, fill out the setting. Yang and Bogdanovic remix some classic Superman elements – picking on a nerdy kid, flirting with a reporter, trying to live up to a lost parent’s legacy – into a nimble adventure which will expand gradually into more familiar areas of the DC Universe. I’ve finished the first collection, which collects issues #1-6, and I’m eager to revisit the other three.
First up, let me say that I agree with Tom on the Morrison/Burnham story being the best of a fairly strong bunch in Detective #1027. If you haven’t read it yet, save it for last!
I had fallen behind (or had failed to launch) on a few titles recently, and this week was able to catch up on them. First up is Fire Power by Robert Kirkman and Chris Samnee. I read the Free Comic Book Day issue, as well as issues #2 and #3, and it was a lot different than I expected. The joy of the story here is really the family dynamic that Kirkman and Samnee have set up for the main character, a former kung fu hero who has gone on to live a quiet life the suburbs. His wife is a cop, and his kids are great. I love the use of the setting here — the family barbecue that soon gives way to a ninja fight in his suburban home; Samnee really brings the normalcy of it to life, then contrasts it against this ancient order that wants their guy back. I haven’t read the graphic novel yet, but it’s on my list for the coming week. I kind of hope this doesn’t turn into a global-trotting adventure that takes us off to wild locales and exotic, mystical locations or even the big city, because I think the small-town America city being invaded by ninjas is just as fun.
Another one I binged was the most recent Thor title by Donny Cates and Nic Klein for the first six issues, then Cates and Aaron Kuder for issue #7. Honestly, those first six issues really didn’t work for me. Thor becoming the herald of Galactus for one special mission to save the universe sounds fun on paper, but I found the execution kind of lacking. But then here comes Thor #7, where we have the thunder god finally acting like himself, Mjonir acting weird, a great guest appearance by Beta Ray Bill and some fun at the expense of Tony Stark. Add in a great twist ending, and I feel like we’re finally seeing the kind of writing that made series like God Country so good.