Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately. Both Tom and Carla are here to time travel into Marvel’s distant past, while JK wonders what the heck happened to X of Swords this week.
Let us know what you read this week in the comments or on social media.
Don’t ask me why, but this week I decided to re-read April 1978’s Marvel Premiere #41, the debut of “Seeker 3000.” One look at the cover should tell you it’s a riff on Star Trek. Indeed, its writeup in the issue’s Bullpen Bulletins basically says that Marvel couldn’t get the rights to Trek, so voila! As it happens, Marvel would get the rights to Trek the next year, and again in the mid-1990s. Ironically, I don’t think Marvel ever published a Star Trek story featuring the USS Excelsior … but I digress.
Writer Doug Moench and artist Tom Sutton produced this story, which in fairness isn’t quite as Trek-y as, say, The Orville or Galaxy Quest. Instead, it’s Trek filtered through the cluttered tones of mid-1970s dystopian sci-fi. The Seeker 3000 is a generation ship fleeing a tyrannical world government on the eve of Earth’s destruction, so much of the issue involves its skeleton crew racing out of the solar system before the Sun goes supernova and the military catches up with them. There’s some personal drama about the fate of the captain’s wife, and some signature ’70s sci-fi comics-style psychedelia, so that’s a bit diverting.
I guess it’s boldly going where no man has gone before, but there’s very little of Trek‘s signature optimism and camaraderie. The concept didn’t get a follow-up until 1998 (when I’m pretty sure Marvel had gotten the Trek license anyway), so the readership of 1978 must have felt similarly meh about it. However, Tom Sutton would go on to pencil five years’ worth of DC’s Star Trek book, so at least he got some practice here.
Not much was on the pull list this week for Yours Truly, a strange state of being when you’re used to taking home a comfortable brick of comics every week. Instead, it was just a few, mostly populated by True Believers $1 reprints, one of my favorite new Marvel traditions. A lot of fun and interesting books get reprinted for a variety of reasons, mostly appearances of more obscure characters, sometimes back issue tie-ins to current plots; either way, these are fun comics you can grab for just a buck so it’s a real win-win situation. Hungry for a new book but don’t know what to try hot off the shelves? Take a look at nicely priced classics that might be hard to come by or that you’ve never heard of.
Which is what I suspect of this week’s True Believers reprint of Avengers #83 will be for most people, but trust me when I say I lit up at seeing this cover. It’s honestly one of my favorite campy classics from Marvel and I am stunned that this was the reprint they chose to highlight Valkyrie for the upcoming King in Black saga. Spoilers for a 50-year-old plus comic, you guys, but this is not the Valkyrie you know or possibly even featured in the King in Black! It’s the first appearance of the design and the name, but that’s as far as it goes for this story. Don’t expect the epic tale of Brunhilde here, instead buckle in for a wild ride of pseudo-feminist hot takes, deception, fourth wall breaking and Clint Barton’s famous “sexy Goliath” costume.
There is so much story in this one issue that it easily could have been three comics in their own right, but we get all of this brought to you by the ingenious Roy Thomas and John Buscema in 28 pages. It starts with a meeting of female superheroes (referred to by Wasp as a “powderpuff protest meeting”) gathered by new superheroine Valkyrie to overthrow the shackles of the patriarchy. No preamble, nothing just BOOM – down with the male oppressor. Valkyrie gives her origin (scientist dismissed by male peers, does science out of spite and gets superpowers – seems plausible) then goes around the room to prove how oppressed the women in the room are by their male counterparts. Guys get all the credit for stopping crime, Black Widow was never asked to join the Avengers when people who attacked them first like Black Panther and Vision were welcomed in (stunning, but true!), Medusa is consort to a man that never speaks, and … they all buy it. All of them. They get in Valkyrie’s flying chariot pulled by horses without wings (she begs this off as a science) and the Lady Liberators are born.
A whole different comic starts next panel where there’s a Halloween party at a mansion in Rutland, Vermont where all the guests are dressed as Marvel heroes and villains. The real Avengers actually show up to this party and meet Roy and Jeanie Thomas. As in Roy Thomas. As in the man writing this story. The Avengers are there to ride a float in the Rutland Halloween parade because why not; in the same parade, riding in the back of a convertible is an eminent mathematician named Dr. T. W. Erwin from nearby Miskatonic University. Guys, it just doesn’t stop. One panel from this comic feels like eight ideas that could have their own series.
The Masters of Evil are here (because why not) and try to kidnap the Dr. Erwin, crime fighting ensues. The Lady Liberators show up to ALSO get the mathematician and rescue the heroes… only to fight them instead! The Lady Liberators trounce the Avengers men and now, our third comic begins.
Because that was not Valkyrie, that was THE ENCHANTRESS IN DISGUISE! It was all an evil plot by the Enchantress because she got dumped by the Executioner off panel and now she’s declared war on all men because why not. This is amazing! She is about to zap the Avengers into oblivion when the Scarlet Witch, who caught on to this whole absurdity earlier on, puts a magic bubble around the Enchantress which reflects her magic back at her and she’s got in a pile of smoke. Sure. It all leads Goliath to proclaim that he’s glad “these birds” learned their lesson about the evils of feminism and for the Scarlet Witch and Wasp to say that the Lady Liberators may ride again.
This is high camp and even comes with a new disclaimer that it “contains outdated depictions” right on the front page. So, I guess, don’t worry – feminism doesn’t really come from an angry Asgardian? All this for a dollar, you guys. Why aren’t you reading it right now?
The first issue of Scarenthood is a great start. It’s set up, which is what’s to expect from the first issue of a miniseries, but it’s a good one, mixing humor and parenthood with some genuine scares … it has shades of It and Goonies, and shows that at the end of the day, nothing is really scarier than being a parent. Except maybe tight crawlspaces and statues that move on their own. Writer/artist Nick Roche, Colorist Chris O’Halloran and Letterer Shawn Lee work together really well here — Lee, in particular, takes a book with a ton of dialogue and makes it work without sacrificing any of the visuals.
I hate to see it, but I’m guessing when I get to the end of X of Swords and I start wondering, “Where did it go off the rails?’ I’m going to be looking at the three tie-in issues that came out this week. I mean, after the build-up we’ve had for this high-stakes tournament of swords, suddenly everything turns … well, kind of bizarre, to be honest, with weddings, arm wrestling and drinking contests. Nothing is as it seems, and, in the end, you kind of wonder if it even matters. If they wanted to go the Monty Python route, they should have done that from the beginning; it kind of worked for the original Excalibur series by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis, but I’m not sure it works here.
OK, so this one is completely on me. The times I have enjoyed a comic with Lobo in it are few and far between, going back to his debut in Omega Men, those Justice League appearances, the oddball holiday specials they did … and I know better. But I’ve been reading Death Metal and its related tie-ins, and in most cases they’ve been central to what’s going on — “essential reading,” in order to follow the story — and I thought Dark Nights: Death Metal – Infinite Hours Exxxtreme! #1 might fall into that category. But it really doesn’t.