What Are You Reading? | ‘Monsters’ is ‘a beautiful reading experience’

The Smash Pages crew talks about ‘Justice League: Last Ride,’ ‘Write It in Blood’ and more.

Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately — from older stuff like Crying Freeman and the Marvel Swimsuit Special to newer stuff like Justice League: Last Ride and Barry Windsor-Smith’s Monsters.

Let us know what you read this week in the comments or on social media.

Corey Blake

Starting life as a Hulk story for Marvel Comics in the 1980s, Barry Windsor-Smith’s Monsters finally sees print. It’s been 16 years since the artist’s last release, so this feels like one of the year’s major books. The over-sized graphic novel clocks in at 380 pages, allowing for a beautiful reading experience. 

Windsor-Smith’s delicate and intricate linework is a feast for the eyes. He’s lost none of his storytelling power over the intervening years. The fluid sequencing is always focused on the characters, who live in fully realized environments. The panel-to-panel transitions are also enhanced by unconventional yet smooth lettering choices. Balloons lead to the bottom of the panel, and then overlap into the bottom of the next panel before moving up, instead of always starting reading from the top left of a panel. It creates a natural ebb and flow moving between pairs of panels. It’s also helped by some really wonderful dialogue, naturalistic and guided by the built-up history between characters.

The story peels back the onion layers of two families connected by tragedy born of war. It’s difficult to say too much without spoilers but it’s safe to say that Nazi science experiments are continued in the U.S., resulting in a real-life monster. There are a number of surprises and reveals built into the narrative that are executed wonderfully because of the patience and discipline of the story’s structure. The book spends time hyper-focused on one set of characters before moving on to the next, and each segment unlocks secrets of the other segments. But there are no chapter breaks, and transitions are smooth, so it’s very easy to keep reading until you realize you’re almost at the end.

Shane Bailey

This weekend besides flipping through old Wizard and Marvel Vision magazines for Marvel and Image comics news in the early-mid 90s I also started reading Crying Freeman #1, which is a little weird. It’s the story of a hitman and a young woman who witnesses one of his hits. The art is great except for the fact that I think however I got this volume free on Amazon, it was the edited version as genitalia isn’t just missing, it’s whited out in the comic, which makes it seem like they have magic glowing genitalia. Go go magic penis! Watch out for her magic vagina! Anyway, the story is nice, and besides the rampant editing the art is beautiful. I might try to see if there’s an unedited copy out there. I’m about halfway done with volume one. I don’t read a ton of manga, but this is a classic book that I heard about way back in the ’90s. I saw it in my library and thought, “Why not?” So far so good.

Besides that I borrowed the second Reckless book from Brubaker and Phillips. I don’t think I have to tell you that book is good, even though I haven’t finished it yet. I read another crime book right before starting Reckless that gave me the same vibes. If you like Brubaker and Phillips, give Write It in Blood a try. It’s about two criminals about to give up on crime and retire, but they have to finish this last job first. It’s familiar plot territory, but the characters are where this book shines. Rory McConville, Joe Palmer and Chris O’Halloran knocked this one out of the park, and I’m looking forward to seeing more.

Other than that I’m just reading a ton of old Star Wars Legends books as I pretty much bought every single omnibus that they produced and got them all for $1 or $2 in that gigantic comiXology sale they had for May 4. I had forgotten how good a lot of the Dark Horse stuff was, and there are some gems in the old Marvel stuff, too. Especially the comic versions of the films. Fun stuff, and it was definitely worth the price of admission. 

Carla Hoffman

This week, I read the 1993 Marvel Swimsuit issue. You know, for the articles.

What was thought to be utterly salacious drivel by my mother when I tried to get a copy in my youth, the ‘93 Marvel Swimsuit issue has a story. Seriously: the Infinity Watch play a poker game, Pip the Troll wins, so he makes them all use the Infinity Stones to gather all the superheroes of the Marvel Universe to a party at Monster Island. When they are all suddenly transported there by the Space and Time Gems, they are forced into not fighting one another and having a good time by the Mind Stone, so a big beach party breaks out and Pip the Troll takes pictures of everyone in their swimsuits.

Is this a cheap excuse to do a bunch of pin-ups? Yes. Did they have to make up an actual backstory as to why they did a bunch of pin ups? No, but they did it anyway! That’s ‘90s Marvel for you; going that extra mile on a gimmick whether you need to or not. Some of the art is cheeky, some of it is funny, some of it is indeed salacious (you were right, Mom), but it is a fascinating time capsule to the era and all the artists they gathered. Thanks to this magazine, I now know that Tristan Shane not only drew for books like Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, but also did a very elaborate and detailed pin-up of Ghost Rider at the beach. I had never heard that Cynthia Martin did a lot of the art of the waning years of Marvel’s Star Wars comics, but she certainly did draw the Punisher in a… skull-kini. It’s just edging over from something more problematic right into camp and I, for one, would love to see the House of Ideas bring back this absurd concept.

I went into Justice League: Last Ride #1 blind; put Chip Zdarsky’s name on the cover of a book and there’s a high chance you’ve already got my attention without letting me in on what’s inside. I found myself reading an interesting story of a fractured Justice League coming together after an unknown “crisis” (I mean, it could be anything) that left heroes dead and souls tired. Maybe it’s all the Heroes Reborn I’ve been reading, but there is just something about being in the Justice League that’s exhausting. All that power comes with such responsibility that they make Peter Parker look like a trust fund frat boy! It wasn’t a story I was expecting to read, with Superman sounding so pressured into saving everyone, Batman wanting to give up the moment he walks into the Watchtower, but it seems so natural that it was the story I found. It’s not a bad start and it has a way to go as the first issue seems to focus on the Big Two first, but I’ll take a flip through #2 and see if it’s headed toward an ultimate deeper meaning than just “It’s Hard to be Super-Powerful.”

Justice League seem to be inherently Debbie Downers these days, maybe they need Pip the Troll to teleport them away to a tubular beach party they won’t remember.

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