Bottom Of the Pile: Sept. 13th, 2017 – Action Comics, Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider, Detective Comics, Mage, New Super-Man, Ninjak, The Unbelievable Gwenpool

by Sage Ashford

This one might get a little hairy…

Alright everyone, welcome back to Bottom of the Pile. My name is Sage Ashford and each week, I take a handful of some of the best and/or most interesting comics of the week, and do commentary on them. This can range to my painful attempts at humor, to pointing out ties to other comics for potential theories, all the way up to mini-reviews. Basically, the point of this column is to talk comics.  If you like it, be sure to RT this on Twitter and share it on Facebook, it really helps.   If you want to contact me about this or any other columns I do, feel free to.  I am @SageShinigami on Twitter.

Action Comics #987
“The Oz Effect Part One”
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: Viktor Bogdanovic
Inks: Jonathan Glapion, Jay Leisten, & Bogdanovic

Action Comics wasn’t supposed to be on this list. It was a decent enough story, but it didn’t catch my eye like most comics that wind up on BOTP. The first chapter of “The Oz Effect” sees Mr. Oz finally reveal himself to Superman. And unless they change their mind, he is who we guessed he is: Jor-El. And while it’s a little sad/unfortunate that both Supergirl AND Superman’s dads are evil, Mr. Oz being Jor-El made much more sense than Ozymandias.

But then I saw the kerfluffle that was raised about this particular page. If you haven’t read the issue, Mr. Oz is trying to convince Superman that saving humans isn’t worth it. So he starts raising the negative emotions in people to push them far enough so they hop over the edge and do something stupid. Chaos ensues all over the world, and Superman rushes about in an attempt to curb as much damage as possible. He has to stop some guerilla forces overseas, he stops an oil tanker spill, and yes–he stops a guy who lost his job from murdering innocent immigrants. This has left quite a few people angered, calling Superman a traitor or that he’s being “bent” to the ways of social justice warriors.

…What was Superman supposed to do? Let them get shot? I saw some wanted him to drag them over the border but let’s be serious: there’s not even any proof these guys aren’t citizens. It’s an assumption made but never checked. Second, Superman’s an illegal alien himself. The Kents found him and pretended they had a child, so in both a comic book and a real life sense he’s as alien as they get. But also, is this what we’ve come to? Being alright with murdering someone who’s doing you no physical harm? And why wouldn’t you be mad at the people who fired you for cheaper labor any…ah, I won’t get into that.

Listen: We have to be better than this. We have to. I don’t aim to make Bottom of the Pile political. I have my opinions, but mostly I keep them to myself because that’s not what I want this to be about. But this isn’t politics. As one of my favorite podcasters, Charlamagne Tha God, has become fond of saying, “This isn’t about liberal vs. conservative. This isn’t about left vs. right. This is about good vs. evil, God vs. The Devil. And you need to pick your side.” There’s a lot of policy debate that a lot of people who aren’t me can feel free to have. But this isn’t about policy. This story was as black and white as they could possibly get, and while I guess there’s a “both sides”, nobody should be on the side of the dude with a shotgun being driven temporarily insane and trying to kill people who haven’t done anything to him.

Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #7
Writer: Peter David
Artist: Will Sliney
Color Artist: Jason Keith

Last issue, Ben Reilly came into contact with a woman who was clearly more than she seemed. There’s a clever moment in that issue where they show someone who recognizes her for what she is that only savvy people would pick up on first read, but by the end of the issue, they decide to go ahead and spoil it: she’s the physical manifestation of death! This issue, she reveals her reasoning for being here: thanks to the machinations of the Jackal, Ben’s soul has been brought back to the plane of the living more times than any being that’s ever lived. This frequent movement has damaged his soul, leaving it nearly black and wrecked–if he dies once more, his soul will shatter, dragging him into madness and evil. His only choice is to try and repair it by living and attempting to be the hero he was before he died the first time.

It’s a weird mystical quest that would seem out of place for Spider-Man, until you realize they’ve done the Other storyline twice. Still, at least Peter David has finally gotten Ben on a road to redemption. He can’t be the jerk that was stealing from people he’d saved, or lying to women about reviving their dying children. He’s GOT to be better, or he’s going to wind up worse off than he ever was as the Jackal. This is appreciated, because the saddest thing about The Clone Conspiracy (an otherwise good story) was that Ben, a character who deserved much better than he got the first time around, was written off as just another villain. I’m sure Slott didn’t mean it this way at all, but it felt like they just brought him back all screwed up just to shut up all the people who’d been asking for his return.

Also next issue the Slingers appear, so there’s a strong chance next month I’ll be talking about how awesome of an idea that was.

Detective Comics #964
“Dystopia”
Story: James Tynion IV and Christopher Sebela
Words: Sebela
Art: Carmen Carnero
Colors: Ulises Arreola

Depressingly, Anarky winds up being kind of a jerk again.  This still time to rehabilitate him, but…he’s still kind of a prick, and that’s a shame.  Anyway.

Since I had to talk about The Oz Effect, no one’s explained yet exactly why Zor-El took Tim Drake. Mr. Oz claimed he was “reconnecting lines that shouldn’t be reconnected yet”, which I have to interpret as slowly rebuilding the friendships in the Bat-Family that existed pre-Flashpoint. But why does that matter to him? The other half of the theory about Zor-El was he wanted to help restore his son to his full strength after being toyed with, essentially, since Crisis ended. If that’s true, then it’s possible he’s trying to keep Dr. Manhattan from looking too closely at how the universe is slowly starting to reset himself. That’s the best guess I have at the moment, but I’m definitely open to suggestions.

As a sidenote: When Tim finally comes back, he deserves his own ongoing again. His comic was never canceled in the first place, and between the original Robin and the Red Robin comics, he amassed over 200 issues worth of stories. He’s definitely popular enough to gain his own book again, so don’t just leave him shoved into Detective Comics or Teen Titans or even Young Justice forever.

The Unbelievable Gwenpool #20
Writer: Christopher Hastings
Artists: Guruhiru

For the past few months, Gwenpool has been doing an extremely meta story about an evil future version of herself. After discovering the meaningless of trying to be a hero in this universe, the future Gwen finally decided to say “screw it” and just start screwing with as many lives as she could in the Marvel Universe. The result? The fans loved it, and her comic went on for YEARS. I imagine it would be a darker, more meta, more slapstick version of Deadpool where she interferes with the lives of all the heroes, ensuring her own existence because the fans can’t wait to see what she does next.

But then finally, using a trick that rarely works during time travel stories, present Gwen decides not to turn evil by simply acknowledging all the evil things she’s done…and refusing to do them. It’s a powerful moment, made all the more powerful because of her reasoning: she loves the Marvel Universe, and all the heroes in it. And if it comes down to being a stereotype of who fans THINK she is in order to ensure her own popularity and existence by hurting those people, or risking cancellation by not hurting anyone, she chooses potential cancellation.

It’s a brave choice–one creators actually choose not to make all the time when you think about it. They orchestrate the deaths of countless heroes and their loved ones in order to garner greater sales and fame. Gwen chooses the opposite, and in doing so makes her biggest heroic decision yet. The worst/best part? Because time altered itself so rapidly and people barely understand the nature of Gwen’s existence to begin with, no one even knows what she’s done–she’s doing the right thing for its own sake, rather than gaining any sort of in-universe reward or recognition. Now hopefully doing this doesn’t end with her book being cancelled.

Mage: The Hero Denied #2
By: Matt Wagner

In a time where people are trying to put a timetable on art the same as everything else, Mage is a shining example of what can be done when you have complete control over your own characters and stories. The first two stories in the series exist over ten years apart, in two completely different eras of comic book history. The final installment, The Hero Denied would take even longer–nearly 20 years.

In that large gap, the main character, Kevin Matchstick, has aged. He’s got two children. He’s balding. He’s learned to adapt to the magic world even as he’s trying to raise a family. In theory, series creator Matt Wagner could have accomplished all of this a year after the second installment of the Mage trilogy came out. But that wouldn’t have been as honest. In an interview at the end of the first issue, Matt was quoted as saying: “I often say that I don’t really decide to work on MAGE; MAGE decides when it’s ready to have me back at the drawing board again.”

An understandable position. In eighteen years, Wagner’s changed. He’s had the chance to raise a family and reflect on what that experience was like. His readers have changed. Many of them can feel on a much stronger, more visceral level what it’s like to want to protect your children from the dangers of the outside world. The experience–for him and us–has become more real, and the story can be more authentic as a result.

New Super-Man #15
“Equilibrium Part One”
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Pencils: Brent Peeples
Inks: Richard Friend
Colors: HI-FI

New Super-Man is the strongest part of the Superman line right now. Easily one of the best comics on the stands, it utilizes a rarely seen part of the DC Universe and has built an entire world of its own around it. It’s become a book that’s very much apart of the DC Universe (evidenced by the recent Suicide Squad appearance), but one that can stand perfectly on its own, with a diverse, likable cast of well-written characters. The only frustrating thing about it, is how much it reminds me of another character: Kon-El. Not the mopey, “do I have a soul?” version of Kon-El from the mid-2000’s Teen Titans. No, the wise-cracking, over-confident, girl-crazy, “I can solve this with my tactile teleknesis” version from the 90’s. A.K.A., the proper Superboy.

With every issue, the parallels become more and more obvious. Kenan Kong’s demeanor is already like that of Superboy, right down to having the “morals” of Superman imprinted on him in the form of him losing control of his powers if he strays too far from doing the right thing. He’s got a weird parental life and works with a shady governmental organization where one of his bosses is his de facto parent. And control of his powers are developing slowly and can shut down in certain circumstances (originally The Kid would lose his powers if he lost consciousness). Even the girl he flirts with is something of an ersatz Lois Lane, same as Superboy and his relationship with Tana Moon–a character that should come back ASAP. Over fifteen issues, Kenan has become the Superboy of the Rebirth-era, and while I’m loving his book and his growth, it’s kind of annoying that when we DO get Superboy back (won’t be long I’m sure), it’s quite possibly going to be the overly introspective version. Ah well.

Ninjak #0
Writer: Matt Kindt
Pencils: Francis Portela
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse

Aside from possibly Eternal Warrior, Ninjak has probably been my favorite Valiant comic book series. And that says a lot, as Valiant’s got some of the most consistent output in comics. Ninjak was just a really cool comic that crossed all the best elements of Batman with super-spies and gave us a slick, action-packed thriller. In two months, the second volume begins that’s meant to delve into the history and background of Ninjak–now properly referred to as NINJA-K, one of many different people apart of the NINJA programme. But before we get to that, we have one final issue from the guy who made the character work for Valiant: Matt Kindt.

It’s a solid recap that sums up everything you need to know going forward, but the thing which makes it worth reading, even if you’re already caught up, is the cool narrative trick it does. At the very beginning, Colin talks about how his life as NINJA-K only works because of compartmentalization; the ability to isolate various parts of yourself in order to avoid confusion or cognitive dissonance. From then on, the entire story is split into two parts: one, a straightforward search-and-recover mission, another a reflection on the life Colin has lead and how he manages to be an amoral bastard and live with himself. The story is literally compartmentalized. A neat trick by our departing writer, and I’m excited to read what Matt Kindt has in store over on Eternity.

That’s all for this installment.  See you guys soon!