Bottom of the Pile: Nov. 15, 2017 – Astonisher, Future Quest Presents, Mage: The Hero Denied, Ninja-K, Super Sons

by Sage Ashford

We’re only days away from Watchmen 2. (Does that get under your skin? It shouldn’t, because it’s not going away.) Seriously, welcome back to Bottom of the Pile, where I talk about some of my favorite comics on a week to week basis, the series that I personally save until the end because who doesn’t save the best for last? This column can range from commentary on the state of a given series or comics as a whole, pointing out similarities between issues, to mini-reviews; both because because I love shaking it up and also because I’ve got the attention span of a goldfish crossed with an overactive puppy. So let’s talk comics…

Astonisher #2
“State of Mind”
Writer: Alex de Campi
Artist: Pop Mhan

I’ve followed basically all the Catalyst Prime comics with no small amount of interest because I’m addicted to shared universes. Stories that become more than stories, growing to instead become a believable world that continues to provide people with adventures of their characters long after the original creators have moved on to other things. It sounds crazy, but that’s my thing. And it’s easy to mess up, but when it’s done right they’re some of my favorite stories in comics.

Having said that, how’s the CP universe so far? Ahh, it’s just “okay”, really. They’re certainly all worth reading as they’re written by some of the most talented folks in the business, but that’s part of the problem. Most of them read like they’re from beginner creators, which isn’t what you’d expect from a group of veterans loosed from the expectations that come with corporate IP. Astonisher though (and to a slightly lesser degree, Noble), isn’t like that.

Astonisher follows Magnus Attarian, a cocky young playboy billionaire who’s way too smart for his own good. He’s known for his talent in app development, and is basically Elon Musk dialed up to 11 with his impossible promises and inventions, until the meteor accident that grants a small percent of the population superpowers and grounds his biggest, latest venture of space travel permanently. But instead of things coming to an end then and there, he gains a unique set of powers that allow him to reach people that were affected by the meteor mentally and help “fix” them by eliminating traces of the meteor from their body in action-packed mental battles with the demons in their head.

Two issues in, Astonisher is some of the most clever superhero storytelling I’ve read in awhile.  Instead of creating yet another invincible hero, Magnus is a guy who’s powers only work on people also affected by the meteors, and even then he’s not invincible, getting completely destroyed on just his second outing. It’s basically everything you’d expect Catalyst Prime to be from jump, and if they don’t build around this and Noble then I’m not even sure what they’re doing.

Future Quest Presents #4
“Galaxy’s Most Wanted”
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Ron Randall
Colorist: Veronica Gandini

Moreso than any other group of heroes, the Galaxy Trio is probably some of the Hanna-Barbera universe’s most inspired cartoon characters. They are three wildly varying personalities with impressively inventive power-sets that exist in a futuristic, yet timeless world that have always begged to be developed in greater detail.

Fortunately, Future Quest Presents gives us just that, telling us not only the origin of the Galaxy Trio–they initially wanted to be members of the same group as Space Ghost before being experimented on by the mad scientist Zorak–but also showing what happened to them after that, and how they turned to the side of the angels after being abandoned by the Space Force.

I love that each of these characters you’d think are disparate actually fit into important roles in this ever-growing universe.  Space Ghost is basically filling out the inspirational role of Superman with the power to match, but he’s got the pulpy elements of Batman, meanwhile the Galaxy Trio is like the Legion of Super-Heroes. My only regret is that when they’re introduced in this issue they’re basically a heist group, and I kind of wish they’d made them “undercover” and stuck with that for a while longer.

Mage: The Hero Denied #4
Creator: Matt Wagner

I started out unsure on how I felt about the end of this issue. Ultimately, it’s just one ginormous fight scene between Kevin Matchstick and the monsters attempting to kill him and it feels like the plot’s barely moved at all from the previous issue. But after a couple subsequent re-reads, I have a firmer grasp of what’s happening. Four issues into his latest adventure, Kevin’s reached the end of his rope.

Despite being more powerful than he’s ever been, that’s been completely useless–in fact, his unique powers and history have separated him from his wife and children, and left him constantly risking his life in more and more desperate battles, just in the hopes that he can protect a family he can’t even see. He’s refused the call before, but those times he was just being a lazy bastard–this time there’s legitimate pain, a cost to being a hero. He’s desperately seeking guidance on what to do and how to get off this “heroic legend” ride, and there just aren‘t any answers coming.

We’ve reached an absolute low point in his life…and we’re only at issue four!  But Matt Wagner’s a consummate storyteller, and I have complete confidence that what comes next is Kevin’s rise as someone gives his rage a purpose and a direction.

Ninja-K #1
Writer: Christos Gage
Art: Tomas Giorello
Colors: Diego Rodriguez

Christos Gage is one of those talents that deserves far more praise than he actually gets. He just gets what makes characters tick, and how to make even the most compelling characters even more interesting than they already are. Here, with “Ninja-K”, we know that Colin King is a fully developed character thanks to his time under the watchful eye of writer Matt Kindt, so rather than focus his development on the man, Christos is instead focusing on the mask. Ninjak has always been one of the most stupid names to come out of comics, but a simple twist is all it’s taken to take a stupid name, and not only make it make sense, but expand its lore several times over.

In case you’ve not been keeping up with the promo material, the key idea is that it’s never been “Ninjak”, but rather “Ninja-K”, implying a series of prior ninja trained in the art of the highest level of espionage, from Ninja-A down to Ninja-J.  Gage’s oversized first issue goes into detail on three of the first four ninja, A, B, and D–and how each new member of Britain’s NINJA program would put their own stamp on things, further evolving the concept of what it means to be a ninja in their era.  It’s such a small change, but it opens the door for so many new stories and forces the reader to ask questions like “Who are the other Ninja?”, “Where did they go?”, and my favorite: “Does the NINJA line continue after Colin?”

With an excellently told (and beautifully drawn) first issue, Gage and Tomas Giorello have created not only the perfect entry point for new readers, but a good point for lapsed fans and people who want to see the story of Valiant’s coolest spy continue.

Super Sons #10
“One Fine Day”
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Jose Luis
Inker: Scott Hanna
Colorist: HI-FI

“You’re too young to be this angry.”  I wonder if Bruce realizes how other people see him…

Seriously though, Super Sons is another of those books I don’t talk about that’s frequently great, bordering on exceptional, with this issue crossing over that barrier easily. It’s one of the ways DC has slowly managed to bring back the Silver Age ideas that we all thought of as goofy in the 80’s, 90’s, and even the 2000’s, but they’ve managed to rework them in a way that seems more charming and earnest. These characters have existed for decades and most fans don’t really want them to seem “young”; evidenced in how DC tried that to a resounding failure.

It makes sense that they have children and are doing their best to raise them. It even makes sense that they’ve chosen to let their children do superhero work–Damian and Jon have spent several issues sneaking off and doing it anyway, so at least this way they’re doing it with proper supervision, and with their own clubhouse/secret base built especially for the two of them so they have the equipment to do the job properly.

It’s also (probably) no coincidence that one of the most Silver Age concepts ever returned earlier this year, just as we’re about to have this war between Idealism and Cynicism later this week. Hmmm…

See you in seven!