My Marvel-less Year

One year ago, I allowed my Marvel Unlimited membership to expire. The service offered a vast selection of comics, unbeatable convenience, and incredible value--and that was the problem. I read so many Marvel Comics in 2017 that I wasn't reading much of anything else, and wasn't remembering what I did read. Everything was disappearing into a four-color wash.

And so, like a hungover partygoer making a solemn New Year's resolution (which, come to think of it, was about the time I took my own vow), I decided to drop the subscription and go back to reading books--real books, physical ones that I could hold in my hands and that weren't all about the Earth's mightiest heroes. Early on, I decided to track my progress (and keep myself honest) by keeping a list of the books and comics that I read during the year.

No particular principle structured my reading beyond that. Some of these were books I read for work, others for leisure. Some were quite accidental--an attempt to track down one stray reference in Promethea turned into a reread of almost the entire series--but most were deliberate. (I'm not including any of the currently serialized comics, academic journals, newspaper and magazine articles, or other short-form works I read last year--complete works only.) Many of these were rereads, but they were no less rewarding for it; I had to work up lecture notes for a new class on comics and literature last fall and it led me to revisit some old favorites.

I went into the year thinking that I would primarily focus on prose, but as you'll see that went off the rails fairly quickly. And happily so--I enjoyed the majority of what I read last year, even my vastly reduced intake of serial comics. Everything seemed more distinct, more memorable without the unending torrent of Marvel product to wash it out. Here's my reading for 2018:


George R.R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass, Wild Cards: High Stakes
Laurent Binet, The Seventh Function of Language
George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier


J.G. Ballard, High-Rise
Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland, Camelot 3000


Alison Bechdel, Are You My Mother?
April Daniels, Dreadnought


William Gibson, The Peripheral
Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III, Promethea


Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power
Alan Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon, Top 10 and spin-offs
William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine
Josh Neufeld, A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge


Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple, Omega the Unknown
Kip Thorne, Black Holes and Time Warps
Naoki Urasawa, Pluto vol. 6


Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp, and Nicola Scott, Wonder Woman: Rebirth
Paul Auster, City of Glass
Paul Karasik and David Mazzuchelli, City of Glass
Randall Kenan, A Visitation of Spirits


Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, Superman: Rebirth
Evan Narcisse and Paul Renaud, Rise of the Black Panther


Chris Ware, Building Stories
Eleanor Davis, Why Art?
Tyler Boss and Matthew Rosenberg, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank


Nick Drnaso, Sabrina
George Pérez, Wonder Woman


William Deresewicz, Excellent Sheep
Gary Jackson, Missing You Metropolis
George Pelecanos, The Man Who Came Uptown


George R.R. Martin, Fire & Blood
Michel Fiffe, Zegas

You can almost see the academic calendar at work, as the reading list crunches down during the semesters and then swells over the summer and winter breaks.

There are a few items on this list that I can't recommend. A Visitation of Spirits is something I read solely for the comics and lit class, and I found Kenan's writing to be both overwrought and unpolished; I'm not sure I would assign it again. Some of my students got a lot out of it, but just as you don't become a better athlete by playing a worse team, I believe you don't become a better reader by reading a worse writer.

Speaking of which: the last couple of summers I've fallen into a generally pleasant habit of checking some trade paperbacks out of the library and catching up on recent comics I would never buy while I sit by the poolside. I don't know if it was just the luck of the draw, but this summer's selections paled in comparison to the generally strong readings for the rest of the year. I'll have to rethink my plans for next summer.

The good news is that I can recommend almost everything else here. The PeripheralThe Seventh Function of LanguageWhy Art?Sabrina, and Fire & Blood were standouts among the new books, while The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & ClayOmega the UnknownMissing You Metropolis, and both versions of City of Glass (along with many other old standbys from my teaching) made the comics and lit class a true pleasure. The Pérez Wonder Woman holds up. The Road to Wigan Pier was something I should have read long ago, and I'm glad I finally did. And my reread of Building Stories reminded me of all the things I like about Chris Ware's work, in addition to a few of the things I don't. That one paired perfectly with Zadie Smith's NW, which I didn't include here as I didn't reread it cover to cover--although encountering even a few selections again (jogged by my notes and accompanied by a couple of the essays from her collection Feel Free) counted as one of the best reading experiences of the year.

I'll still probably subscribe to Marvel Unlimited again sometime--I never did get around to those Rhodey Iron Mans--but when I do it'll be on a short-term basis. I'm already well into the next stack of books (early standouts include Jonathan Abrams's All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire and Francis Spufford's simply amazing Red Plenty) and I have no interest in stopping. There are just too many good books out there.

Marc Singer teaches English at Howard University in Washington, DC. He is the author of Breaking the Frames: Populism and Prestige in Comics Studies, due out next week, and Grant Morrison: Combining the Worlds of Contemporary Comics.
My Marvel-less Year My Marvel-less Year Reviewed by Marc Singer on Wednesday, January 02, 2019 Rating: 5
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