Bottom of the Pile: Oct. 18th, 2017 – Aquaman, Astro City, Ghost Station Zero, Green Lanterns, Invincible Iron Man, Transformers: Lost Light, The Wild Storm

by Sage Ashford

You’ve waited long enough. Let’s talk comics! This past week was crowded with dozens of really great comics, and I actually had trouble narrowing it down to just seven series.

Aquaman #29
“Underworld: Speak Truth to Power”
Story: Dan Abnett
Art, Color, and Cover: Stjepan Sejic

It’s incredible what a change in art can do for a book. To be sure, Scot Eaton, Brad Walker, and Philippe Briones are all phenomonal artists and any book would be lucky to have them, but it’s like when John Romita Jr. and Bob Layton took over Iron Man art duties in the late 70’s–they gave the book a unique look, and its titular hero an inhuman, metallic sheen to him that made him feel like the cutting-edge, armored-clad hero he was instead of resembling every other hero Marvel had.  Here, Stjepan Sejic’s slick art lends a uniquely fluid look to both the heroes in and the world of Aquaman.

At the same time, the series has switched over to being set largely inside of Atlantis and in so doing has made itself exponentially more interesting. Dan Abnett has rarely ever been anything less than “good”, but from the moment Underworld started Aquaman’s gone from good to “groundbreaking”, as he fills in several gaps in the King of the Seven Seas’ homeland.  There’s a structure to the society now–a royal history, an understandable caste system, monsters and magic users, and amidst it all–a king trying to find his place in a world that no longer seems to want him, yet needs him more than they ever have.  Excellent stuff, and hopefully both Dan and Stjepan stay on this book for at least another year.

Astro City #48
“Dog Days”
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Mike Norton
Cover: Alex Ross
Color Art: Peter Pantazis
Lettering & Design: John G Roshell of Comicraft

Astro City is the kind of excellence that’s so consistent it often gets overlooked, but really Kurt Busiek is operating on a higher level than almost everyone else working in the industry at the moment. As Astro City has often done since it’s return, this issue continued the story of “G-Dog” through snapshots in time, over nearly two decades. One half of G-Dog, in this issue Andy Merton learns about the origins of the amulet that gave him and his Corgi Hank their powers and ability to fuse, while gradually developing new abilities and branching out as a superhero, joining a team of super-powered animals known as the Fauna Force.

But all things must come to an end, and this issue Andy has to deal with the sobering fact that generally a Corgi’s lifespan is only a mere fifteen years. The best part about Astro City is that it knows how to use sadness. Far too often, people rely on pathos as a crutch–wallowing in the muck and the mire that humanity can be capable of as a cheap storytelling ploy. It’s why so many universes can be downright depressing. Astro City on the other hand, is largely an optimistic universe; one where more often than not, the good guys win out. That’s why the moments where the good guys don’t win, or when there’s no “fight” to be one, it becomes all the more heartbreaking.

There’s no magic cure for Hank, no sudden gift that he gets to extend his life span. He doesn’t merge and become one with Andy forever thanks to the amulet. He lives a few years longer than expected, but after doing as much good as he can, eventually he succumbs to cancer in one of the most tear-jerking moments I’ve ever experienced in comics. Because that’s how real life works. Sometimes people (and animals) enter our lives and it can be magical and even transformative, but eventually it all comes to an end.

Just as powerful–and bold–is how Kurt chooses to end the story, too. It’s explained to Andy that the amulet would allow him to fuse with another animal after Hank dies if he wills it, and a lot of the issue is devoted to what his final decision regarding his life as a superhero would be, but again Kurt goes for the emotional gut punch–Andy leaves the amulet out in the wild, for fate to will it to fall into the hands of someone else. Because again, all chapters in our lives come to a close. They’re meant to, because the only constant in this world is change.   Shockingly, this two-part stands in defiant opposition to the idea of the never-ending stories of a single superhero, but still manages to do so without insulting or denigrating them at all.  Impressive.

Ghost Station Zero #3
Writer: Antony Johnston
Artist: Shari Chankhamma
Transcript: Simon Bowland

I don’t even have a lot to say about this comic, I just think it’s awesome it exists. From my perspective, for a long time when we talked about indie comics it was the same old stuff: dystopian stories, the occasional crime-noir, and horror comics, with a few autobios sprinkled in from time to time. But Ghost Station Zero manages to be none of those things, introducing a kick-ass, globe-trotting bisexual lady that’s basically James Bond without the gadgets. If I had a complaint, I do think calling her “Baboushka” is incredibly corny, but I love that comics have gotten to a point where we can do a story like this.

And while it could be Shari Chankhamma’s simplistic yet expressive art style, I also feel like this book is begging to be adapted into a cartoon, Archer-style. Johnston’s last major comic The Coldest City got to become this summer’s Atomic Blonde, and cartoons desperately need to finally accept that not all their mature works have to be comedic in nature.

Green Lanterns #33
“Work Release Part One”
Writer: Tim Seeley
Pencils: Eduardo Pansica
Inks: Julio Ferreira
Colorist: Alex Sollazzo

When a new creator comes on after a good while of a critically acclaimed run, it can be a little worrying. While Sam Humphries got off to a rocky start, by the time he’d gotten to his second arc, Green Lanterns had become one of my bi-weekly comics. He managed to turn two characters that were relative unknowns into likable characters, ones that felt like they belonged to the DC Universe just as much as far longer-lived characters like Hal and Guy and John. But since it’s only been just over thirty issues, all of that could easily be knocked off track with a simple misstep here.

Fortunately, Tim Seeley is easily one of the best writers working at DC right now, and he gets what works about these characters immediately. He understands that Jessica and Simon are the ultimate platonic odd couple, a pair of well-meaning goofballs that were each suddenly handed the hardest job in the world and are succeeding in spite of their own life circumstances that should have dragged them down. He manages to balance their individual home lives with their time as Green Lanterns in just twenty-two pages, which is actually a lot harder than people might think. Characters being torn in different directions makes for great drama, but if enough focus isn’t given to each individual direction it can often feel like the book isn’t long enough, making the reader feel “cheated” with respect to a given installment.

And lastly, I love that we’re developing Space Sector 2814. I feel like for the longest time the only thing we’ve known has been “It’s the one with Earth in it”, but in this issue we starting to develop the relationship between the people of Ungara (the planet Abin Sur was from) and our own world. I suspect the events that occur at the end of this issue will likely leave the relationship a little strained, but oh well. If these two can survive the job hunt, what’s an international incident?

Invincible Iron Man #593
“The Search for Tony Stark Part One”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Stefano Caselli & Alex Maleev
Color Artists: Marte Garcia & Alex Maleev

Y’know, I’ll be honest: these are the exact thoughts I had about Dr. Doom becoming Iron Man, but I really didn’t think I’d hear anyone say them. Having said that, if Doom turns evil again, is it now Ben Grimm’s fault for being such an unabashed dick to him?

Having said that, it’s slightly frustrating that the most important part to an issue starting an arc where we’re trying to reintroduce Tony Stark to his own comic seems to be this moment, which doesn’t really feature Tony at all. The decompression Bendis is known for kind of hurts here, as thanks to Legacy I was really hoping we could just skip to the part where Tony was back, but judging by Marvel’s January solicits it’s going to take at least three more months before things are finally back to normal.

Transformers: The Lost Light #10
“The Mutineers Trilogy Part 1”
Written by: James Roberts
Art by: Jack Lawrence
Colors by: Joana Lafuente

I’ll admit, this is the hardest left James Roberts has let his Transformers series take in quite some time. The last time he introduced a group of villains were the Decepticon Justice Division, a group of vicious, sadistic murderers that eagerly murdered any and all traitors to the Decepticon cause.  But when we got a look at them later on they actually seemed like relatable, semi-decent beings…when they weren’t committing acts of serial murder in the name of a monstrous cause.

On the other hand, this feels like the exact opposite of the DJD. Both there and with Megatron, Roberts proved that people devoted to even the most twisted ideologies can have a compassionate, emotional side to them. Here though, we’re learning that those devote to a cause that’s ostensibly pure and just can become irredeemable monsters given the right motivation.  Getaway betrayed Rodimus and the others almost two years ago now, and as understandable as his initial goal of getting rid of Megatron was, he’s taken things so much farther and made them so much worse.

A look onto the Lost Light two years later reveals the freewheeling lifestyle that Rodimus encouraged is long gone, and in its place, a far more militaristic, regimented lifestyle where disagreement isn’t tolerated, and dissension is rewarded with someone’s brain being summarily removed and placed into a looped memory, something First Aid and the rest of the Protectobots almost learned this issue. Almost.

What I want from future issues is some sort of bloody, brutal battle where Rodimus beats Getaway to within an inch of his life, but knowing that James Roberts doesn’t work that way, I guess I’d better buckle in for the unexpected. At this rate, we’ll be lucky if the Lost Light doesn’t just get blown out of the sky by the Knights as soon as they reach Cyberutopia–the most empty of all possible endings.

The Wild Storm #8
“The Wild Storm – Chapter Eight”
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Colorist: Steve Buccellato

This week’s The Wild Storm gives us a little bit of the space opera stuff that the series was so desperately in need of. The original Wildstorm universe just kinda blasted us all in the face with Kherubim and Daemonites from jump, though admittedly it was the 90’s–a decade which was about as subtle as being hit with a brick that has a cybernetic arm covered in pouches attached–it was still nice to just dive right into the insanity.

Of course, Warren’s been trying to slowly build up to the insanity in this world, and while I’m an impatient jerk, it’s still appreciated.  Here we learn one of the first truths of the WildStorm universe: “This is a cold universe.  [….] It’s very hard to survive.”  I suspect this will be true in more ways than one, but despite this statement I look forward to when jump ships pop up from the Bleed out of nowhere and we start getting into full-on superheroes like the Authority and/or Planetary.

See you in seven!