With the holidays here, many of us have a little more free time than usual. And rather than listen to your uncle wax on about the merits of his favorite presidential candidate, why not load up the Marvel Unlimited app and read some comics? And, in case you’re not sure what to read, your friendly neighborhood Panelteers have some recommendations for you.
Squadron Supreme by Mark Gruenwald, Bob Hall and Paul Ryan (1985-1986) (Mart Gray)
The Squadron Supreme had been around for years when writer Mark Gruenwald and pencillers Bob Hall and Paul Ryan launched them into a 12-issue maxi-series in 1985, but they’d never really had room to shine. This story set outside the 616 Universe, though, gave Marvel’s version of the classic Justice League of America a chance to grow as they took on the ultimate project—making Earth a Utopia. From the off, though, there’s dissent in the ranks, with Batman analogue Nighthawk believing a paradise simply gifted to Man would be meaningless. And that’s just the start of 12 sharply plotted, wonderfully executed issues full of intense moments, deep characterisation and action in the Mighty Marvel… oh you know the rest. Not just the late Gruenwald’s crowning achievement, but one of the best series ever from the company, Squadron Supreme is a gem which gives the same-name new series from All-New, All-Different Marvel an awful lot to live up to.…Superior Foes of Spider-Man by Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber (2013-2015) (Paul Montgomery)
Though published during the protracted period that Doctor Otto Octavius inhabited the body and mantle of Spider-Man, Superior Foes is a self contained crime comedy which requires only passing familiarity with Spidey’s web of rogues. Starring the likes of C-tier villains as Boomerang, Shocker, Beetle, Overdrive, and Speed Demon, these are the merry capers of the least likely, least qualified goons to take up the banner of the Sinister Six. Many superhero comics purport to be comedies, but this madcap masterwork is one of the few that will actually elicit sincere laughter and continuous knee slaps. That it ran for 17 issues with but a brief pause for more conventional fill-in issues is nothing short of miraculous for something so deeply weird, funny, and smart.
(Note: Superior Foes is inexplicably alphabetized under “The”, so look for it under “T”.)
Civil War by Mark Millar, Steve McNiven et al. (2006) (Hélène)
Civil War was—of course—the big event from 2006. More than a blast from the past, the forthcoming Captain America movie gives this run a new relevance. I had never read it until my recent subscription to MU. You can get the gist of the story through the main seven issues of Civil War. Now, if you need something a bit heftier to sustain you during long periods of hiding away from the family, Marvel also offers a 98 issue reading guide including both the main event, all the tie ins, and also single issues from as early as 1999 to set up the context. https://marvel.com/comics/discover/114/civil-war-the-complete-event
Pick a side, and start wondering what the story could look like without the Fantastic Four or how a freshly introduced Spider-Man would behave.
Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. by Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and Dave McCaig (2006-2007) (Brian McNamara)
When it was first published, Nextwave was a splash of cold water in the face of Marvel Comics. Warren Ellis kind of hates superheroes, so the idea of him writing a superhero team book seems antithetical until you get your hands on this book that is page after page of bombastic, satirical action. An entire issue full of two-page splashes, no dialogue and playfully taunting narration boxes; MODOK Elvis Impersonators; Widdle cuddly bears… of death? They’re all here in these pages, amazingly illustrated by Stuart Immonen. More overtly cartoony than Immonen’s current style, the book feels like an R-rated Saturday morning cartoon holding a dark mirror up to “proper” Marvel universe. It’s fun and funny, with a cast of D-level characters that become instantly memorable. Dirk Anger, a twisted pastiche of Nick Fury and every single “good guy turned bad guy turned good guy” character you’ve seen. Elsa Bloodstone, a monster hunter trying to get out of the shadow of her more famous father. Captain XXXX, the CM Punk of the Marvel universe, Captain of nothing and with a name so vulgar it can only be bleeped or forgotten with a stiff drink. Monica Rambeau, team leader trying to hold this bunch together and formerly Captain Marvel, formerly Photon, formerly Pulsar and I’m sure soon formerly to be Spectrum. Boom Boom, a young mutant whose anger goes boom as often as her exploding energy balls. And finally, Aaron Stack—the Machine Man, the misanthropic robot who hates his team as much as he hates himself. It’s an amazing team and a great read for the holidays.
X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson (1982) (Jessica Pryde)
This is definitely a shorter run (technically, it’s just part of a much bigger one) but it stands alone super well, as long as you’re at least somewhat familiar with the X-Men and the mutant universe. At the heart of the story is the concept of racial prejudice and discrimination as it is purported by supposed God-loving people, and it’s…a little more timely than it ought to be, considering its age.
(Note: The version on Marvel Unlimited is sourced from a 2008 reprint with a different cover. It can be found under X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills – Special Edition, rather than Marvel Graphic Novel.)
Truth: Red, White, and Black by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker (2003) (Jessica Pryde)
Marvel Unlimited comes in handy for things like Truth. You wish there could be more exposure, but even the trade is so out of print there’s almost no way to find it. Truth became part of the canon briefly after it was created, which is perfectly clear when you get to a certain part of the story. This, too, is pretty short; only seven issues. But the amount packed into them packs a punch. So sit down for an hour and read about the first Black Captain America. You won’t regret it.
She-Hulk by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido, and Ron Wimberly (2014-2015) (Swapna Krishna)
This 12-issue series is one of my favorites to come out of Marvel. It’s as much a legal procedural as it is a superhero story. as Jennifer Walters transitions from big law firm life to a solo practice. She takes on Doom, represents Captain America, and faces Matt Murdock in the courtroom—the only thing it’s lacking is length, as the series comes to an end all too soon.
The Mighty Thor by Walter Simonson (1983-1987) (Ali Colluccio)
I know the holidays this year are already flooded with Star Wars-y goodness, but if you’re looking for another space epic Walt Simonson’s definitive run on Thor is where it’s at. The story is so wonderfully vast and cosmic, but it has heart and a grand sense of adventure. Beta Ray Bill, a lost hero looking for a way home, is more of the focus in this comic than the Odinson himself. Following him across the galaxy is a fantastic way to spend the holiday. Not to mention, this comic is an absolute masterpiece. The beautifully cinematic panels and stylized KRAKADOOMS are techniques we take for granted in modern comics, but in The Mighty Thor you can see how Simonson’s ground-breaking work shaped the medium.
(Note: Simonson’s run starts at Thor #337 and continues to #382. It can be found in the middle of the “Thor (1966-1996)” volume under “T for Thor”, not “M for Mighty”.)
Less cosmic and more rom-com, I cannot recommend Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge, Chris Samnee, and Matt Wilson (2010-2011) enough. The much-loved and short-lived series will always be known in my heart as My Boyfriend Thor.
Spider-Man by Roger Stern and Various Artists (1981-1984) (Charles Paul Hoffman)
From 1981 to 1984, Roger Stern wrote one of the greatest Spider-Man runs of all time. The buildup (in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #43-61) is a little slow, as Stern explored the cast and cleaned up some old continuity, but things really get going when Stern took over Amazing Spider-Man (issues #224-51), and then it’s one classic story after another: “Nothing Stops the Juggernaut” (#229-30), “The Kid who Collects Spider-Man” (#248), and, of course, the original Hobgoblin Saga (#238-39, 244-45, 249-51 and Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #85). With the Hobgoblin, Stern created a villain that defined Spider-Man throughout the 1980s. The Hobgoblin’s story got a bit convoluted later on (as the Spider-Man writers and editors dragged out the question of his identity, leading to a less-than-satisfying reveal in Amazing Spider-Man #289), but Stern hits the notes pitch-perfect.
Stern’s last few regular issues of Peter Parker (#55-61) are not on Marvel Unlimited, though fortunately they are not critical to the run. Also missing is Stern’s 1997 miniseries Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives, where he cleaned up much of the later continuity mess.
That not enough stuff to read? Also check out:
Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona (2003-2004, 2005-2008)
Ms. Marvel by Brian Reed (2006-2010)
Spider-Girl by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz (1998-2006)
X-Factor by Peter David (1991-1993, 2005-2013)
Fantastic Four and FF by Jonathan Hickman (2009-2012)