Bottom of the Pile: Nov. 22nd, 2017 – Detective Comics, Doomsday Clock, Action Comics, X-Men Gold, WWE, X-O Manowar

by Sage Ashford

Another week, another stack of comics. But don’t worry, I’m here to guide you through!  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…

Detective Comics #969
“Fall of the Batmen Part One”
Writer: James Tynion IV
Pencils: Joe Bennett
Inks: Sal Regla
Colors: Jason Wright

‘Tec’s been so busy forcing the Gotham Knights to deal with evil versions of their own team and having teammates zapped outside of space and time that it’s taken until now to deal with something pretty obvious: how does the rest of Gotham react to Batman having his own paramilitary group?

There’s a lot going on in this first issue of “Fall of the Batmen”. The actual people in charge of Gotham admitting to being uncomfortable that there’s not just a single Batman, but a full-on organization made up of highly-trained, hyper-competent individuals with their own goals and funding far surpassing whatever the GCPD could ever have. Then there are the villains, who are thinking of escalation in order to match what Batman and his Gotham Knights are doing. And then there’s its connection to the previous arc, where Future!Tim mentioned that Batwoman would eventually cause this entire organization to fall apart. And all that before we get to the return of the Victim Syndicate, a group of pitiable idiots blaming Batman for the actions of the villains in Gotham.

We know by the end of this arc the Knights are going to end up shattered as a group, but hopefully that’s not the permanent state going forward. With the help of Tim Drake, Batman’s successfully managed to build his own family around him, and I’d hate to see that tossed aside just so we could return to loner Batman. There’s over twenty years of him fighting how he inspires people to be like him, and running from the idea that they’d be more effective if he were guiding them. Let’s give the other view a chance for awhile.

Doomsday Clock #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Illustrator: Gary Frank
Colorist: Brad Anderson

It’s been six months since Doomsday Clock was first announced, and we’ve all had our chance to be pessimistic and talk about how terrible it was going to be. We’ve talked about our worst fears, how this book was probably going to feature Superman punching Manhattan’s lights out for introducing moral complexity in the DC Universe.  But now here we are with the first issue on the shelves…and how is it?

Though I was never any sort of acolyte of Watchmen, I do feel like Geoff Johns has a pretty impressive grasp on their world. It’s not exactly the same (because that’s never how it was going to work), but you can still feel the palpable tension of a world on the edge of utter societal collapse. There’s still that same sense of desperation and hopelessness, in a setting that’s crying out for the extraordinary man…where only ordinary ones exist. Johns does a great job at aping the “voice” of Watchmen’s  “protagonist” Rorshach, nailing the scratchy tone and his unique world view, even if its slightly different from what we’re used to.

The shape of the story Johns is telling (or what we think is the shape) right now is pretty clear: Superman has to convince Dr. Manhattan to stop playing with the DC Universe and go back and make things right in his own world, which is falling apart again now that Rorschach’s journal has been published, making Ozymandias’ ruse known to everyone. But even if that’s what’s happening, and this issue is a successful take off for the flight to that destination, we’re eleven issues away from the landing, and there’s no telling how many bumps we’ll encounter along the way.

Meanwhile, in the DC Universe, Superman is being haunted by dreams of his parents’ death in a horrible car accident. I’m getting the impression that Manhattan is simply fascinated at the durability of the DC Universe, and no matter how he changes its shape and seeks to alter it, it always seeks to return to its original shape. Which raises a different point…

Action Comics #992
“The Oz Effect Aftermath: Aftereffects”
Story: Dan Jurgens
Script: Rob Williams
Art: Will Conrad
Colors: HI-FI

What if Superman has already won? The Oz Effect is supposed to be a prelude to Doomsday Clock, but reading it I couldn’t help but think about what the DC Universe is going to have to become if and when Manhattan is finally sent packing.

DC Universe: Rebirth talks about the lost relationships, how things have become darker, less hopeful. But it’s been over a year since then and we’ve seen the DC Universe change. The heroes have returned to fighting villains more than they fight themselves. The sense of community that was wiped away with the New 52 has begun to return, even if it’s still a gradual change.

Lastly, so many of the ideas that were erased from DC continuity are starting to creep their way back in. The Super-Sons are here. Superman and Batman are becoming friends again instead of just “teammates” or comrades. Every single change that was made to make the DC Universe “edgy” is being rolled back, even as the complexity of the storytelling stays the same. So all of this raises the question: hasn’t the DC Universe already succeeded in beating Manhattan’s attempts to change it?  As a whole, it’s refusing to give into apathy, to the darkness. At this point all that’s left is bringing back a few characters and teams–the Legion, the Justice Society, the rest of Young Justice–and they’re as good as any other version of DC at its best.

WWE #11
Written By: Dennis Hopeless
Illustrated By: Serg Acuna, Tim Lattie
Colored By: Doug Garbark

More so than any other writer (even the ones working for WWE apparently), Dennis Hopeless just seems to understand what makes these  wrestling “characters”, that are just as much personas as they are real people, work.

At this point in the “WWE” comic, Hopeless is covering a period in 2016 when the company’s current poster boy, Roman Reigns, was suspended. In real life, this suspension was connected to some issues with the company’s “wellness policy” being violated, but since you can’t tell a story about that and stay in This Business’ good graces, Hopeless has invented an alternate story. Instead of getting kicked out for marijuana use, Roman is instead grounded for being a hothead and getting into it with his former teammates in the Shield, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.

This issue, Roman is just as cheesed as before, and nearly winds up in another tussle with Seth (as well as his boss Triple H) before he’s saved by the company’s previous golden boy, John Cena. Of course, that “saving” involves the two of them beating the crap out of each other so Roman doesn’t go after his boss, but it’s a comic about wrestling–I’m pretty sure “at least two fights per comic” was outlined in the contract Boom! Studios signed to get the license. Still, everything about this issue just works. In real life, John Cena has been viewed as something of a glory hound, constantly lording over his unreachable position in the company to anyone who gets in a fight with him. But here, everyone’s favorite invisible wrestler is exactly as he should be as a fifteen year veteran in his industry–using the experience and wisdom he’s gained over the years to help out those younger than him.

Meanwhile, instead of being a character that’s however impossibly cocky and boring at the same time, Roman Reigns is portrayed as a guy who’s legitimately being screwed over by the system. His usual invincibility stripped away, he becomes exponentially more compelling as a guy who just wants to do his job without all the subterfuge and underhanded BS that can often come with it in the “E”. This issue is perfect, and honestly I can’t wait to see what Hopeless does with some of the events that have happened in the WWE over the last year.

X-Men Gold #16
“The Negative Zone War Part One”
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Penciler: Lan Medina
Inkers: Jay Leisten & Craig Yeung
Colorists: Frank Martin & Andrew Crossley

The ironic thing about this issue of X-Men Gold is that this entire conflict could’ve been avoided if the X-Men had minded their business. An alien race comes to Earth to pick up their king who wound up trapped on our planet a few issues ago, and the fact that they defend themselves from some attacks by the U.S. government lead the X-Men to believe they’re yet another hostile alien race attempting to conquer the planet. It’s a reasonable conclusion to reach, only the race doesn’t really care what’s happening on Earth and immediately after picking up their leader set out to go back to their world…and it’s only because the X-Men acted too swiftly that two of their members wind up trapped on the alien ship.

It’s the kind of “shoot first, ask questions later” logic that almost makes you think they deserve getting screwed over this arc, but I’m fairly certain they’ll wind up having to liberate a planet or something by the end of this arc, semi-justifying their actions at the start of things. Most importantly though, this feels like the first time X-Men: Gold is doing something that’s detached from any kind of shout-outs to older runs on the X-Men. Well, they’re going to space, but all heroes do that. For now, I’ll be happy if we get to see those sweet outfits from the cover of this issue, and if they make good on the promise of the arc’s name and we see the X-Men actually in the Negative Zone.

X-O Manowar #9
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Clayton Crain

Being in possession of a hyper advanced armor that’s simultaneously the ultimate defense and offense, Aric of Dacia can often feel like a Boring Invincible Hero. X-O Manowar, as a comic, is really the story of a barbarian king with shades of superheroism too, so he’s always finding his way into fights that he never loses, which only enhances the idea that he’s an unstoppable character you shouldn’t ever really worry about.

It’s good then that Matt Kindt is forcing Aric to face an issue that he literally cannot defeat with sheer might for once. Having killed the “evil emperor”, Aric has somehow plunged the world into even greater war, and he’ll be lucky if his actions don’t wind up completely wiping out the planet by the end. For all of his experience in battle, this arc seems like it’ll finally teach him the purpose of diplomacy and maybe he’ll learn some humility in the process.

See you in seven!