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.
This week I’ve been reading a lot of classic X-Men comics. I forgot how many genuinely terrifying events there were in Claremont’s run on the book. Kitty being kidnapped and almost forced to marry Caliban is scary on its own, but having her face melded by the Morlock Masque was next level. At the end he had changed her face so much she couldn’t breathe. I’m over 40 now and I gasped, as a kid that’s even scarier.
In addition to that there’s the whole Magik miniseries, where she was sent to Limbo to live with a version of the devil while seeing twisted versions of her friends die. That’s a nice thing for a kid. Oh, and let’s not forget the Dire Wraiths, the alien offshoots from the Skrulls that literally suck you into a dried husk and then take your appearance. Those aren’t scary at all, sure… and they were designed for a kids toy! Add on to that Forge’s fashion sense, and Uncanny X-Men in the ’80s should have been labeled a horror book.
That all said, these are some top notch fun comics full of personality. Characters grow and change in these comics; they don’t stay stagnant, and it’s permanent change for the most part. That’s hard to do nowadays, as the IP always has to reset. Oh boy, do we get some fantastic art here too. John Romita Jr. was in his “Paul Smith by way of his dad Romita Sr.” vibe, so that’s quite nice, and spliced smack dab in the middle of it you have Barry Windsor-Smith with “Lifedeath” and a nice closer with Mystique and Storm with Craig Hamilton art. Oh and did I mention John Buscema was on the Magik limited series?
The Marvel Masterwork I read contained Uncanny X-Men #176-188, Magik #1-4 and that Hamilton story from Marvel Fanfare as a bonus. All in all, that’s a nice stack of great, classic comics to read and I enjoyed the hell out of them, in the case of Magik, kinda literally.
In April, Dark Horse will reissue Autobiographix, which first came out in 2003. This anthology illustrates the breadth of the graphic autobiography medium with an eclectic collection of short comics by an impressive array of creators, including Will Eisner, Eddie Campbell and Faryl Dalrymple. Some of the comics, such as Jason Lutes’ “Rules to Live By,” contemplate the medium of autobiography itself, while others are straightforward (and entertaining) accounts of incidents in the creators’ lives, like the time MAD Magazine contributor Sergio Aragones met Richard Nixon, or Bill Morrison’s memories of his childhood obsession with Batman. It was a good read, easy to pick up and put down, and left me with plenty of food for thought.
Primo Levi, on the other hand, was a harrowing read, although it too left me with plenty to contemplate. First published in Italian, this slim volume by writer Matteo Mastragostino and artist Allesandro Ranghiasci will be published in English by Between the Lines in March. In this black and white graphic novel, Levi talks about his experiences during World War II to an elementary school class, with each turn of the conversation leading naturally into a flashback. The children aren’t too impressed with him at the outset, but Levi doesn’t simply narrate facts, he explains their meaning, and as the conversation continues they begin to get it. which makes this graphic novel a fascinating and thought-provoking read. Mastragostino explains in his afterword that he was 10 years old when Levi died, and he decided to structure the book as if Levi was talking to him as a child. He also discusses the decisions he made about the story, and notes that Ranghiasci did extensive visual research in order to accurately depict Levi’s surroundings. The art is black and white and fairly loose, as if it was rendered in pencil, but it complements the story perfectly, amplifying the emotional impact of Levi’s narrative of his Holocaust experiences.
And now for something completely different. Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead, is a darkly funny zombie manga starring a guy whose life is so terrible that a zombie apocalypse is actually a upgrade. Akira made the mistake of going to work for an unscrupulous company that demanded all his time and energy, leaving him no time or energy to himself. When the zombies come, his first thought is that he’ll finally get a day off. Undeterred by the lurching undead that are flooding the streets of his city, he jumps on his bike and goes out for beer, then starts a list of all the things he wants to do now that he is free. This includes reconnecting with an old friend, and together the two explore the city and work on their bucket list, although the items they check off are usually accomplished in unexpected ways. It’s gory and funny and occasionally tender, with a bit more to it than just fighting the zombies.
Once upon a time, Marvel broke the internet with the Spider-Man story “One More Day,” which had Peter Parker give up his marriage to Mary Jane in order to save his Aunt May’s life, thanks to a deal with Mephisto, aka the literal devil. This came at the end of a pretty strong run of Amazing Spider-Man comics written by J. Michael Straczynski, and was apparently on the bucket list of then Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada — “Get rid of Spider-Man’s marriage.” Check. There were many reasons given for it that never made much sense — something about his marriage limiting the kinds of stories they could tell about Spider-Man, maybe? Anyway, many fans went nuts over the change, not only because the reasoning didn’t make much sense, but also because the story itself felt forced and out of character. Plus it just made for a shitty, editorially driven story that left a bad mark on what was otherwise a great run by JMS. And nowadays, in the age of the Spider-verse, we have all sorts of Spider characters out there, from Miles Morales to Spider-Gwen to Peter Porker — so there are plenty of opportunities to tell whatever kind of Spider-Man story a creator could ever want. And even if there isn’t, just make a up a new Spider character and tell it; maybe the new guy (or gal, or robot, or dog, of whatever) will make their way into the Into the Spider-verse sequel.
So it’s been an awful long time at this point since “One More Day” happened, and what does writer Nick Spencer do as soon as he takes over ASM? Gets Peter and MJ back together. They’re dating now, anyway, and somehow she hasn’t become this anchor on the kinds of stories they’re telling. And now, after this admittedly long slog of a story involving Kindred and Sin-Eater and the Osborns and Kingpin and Spider-Man’s ever-present guilt about everything, it looks like they are actually going there again, based on the end of the comic. Because that’s the things about retcons … they can always be retconned.