Bottom of the Pile: Dec. 6th, 2017 – Batman/TMNT 2, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Justice League, Klaus And The Crisis In Xmasville, The Mighty Crusaders, Witchblade

by Sage Ashford

Can you believe we’re at the end of the year already?  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…

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II #1 (of 6)
“A Knight in New York”
Script: James Tynion IV
Art: Freddie Williams II
Colors: Jeremy Colwell

Y’know, usually the appeal to crossover series is simply the fact that they are crossovers.  It’s fun to see Hal Jordan team up with Captain Kirk and punch Atrocitus in the face, but you rarely walk away impressed with the story.  Crossovers tend to be about “moments”; sights you never thought you’d see outside of fanart. But leave it to James Tynion to turn that on its head, offering a portrayal of the Turtles so good I want to see how he’d do in an ongoing with them. Backed up by Freddie Williams II who’s really stepped his game up as a storyteller, and Jeremy Colwell’s colors giving the book a grimy feel that matches what you’d expect of a world that has most of its stories take place in sewers and railways, this sequel to the original Batman/TMNT is far better than it has any right to be.

Each of the Turtles feel completely distinct from one another, but they all feel like teenagers; young, impulsive, and taking chances they absolutely shouldn’t as trained ninja.  They look younger and much smaller, and a lot less like the invincible wunderkind they were in the 2003-2008 series.  This helps make it much more believable when you see Donatello overcome by some elite Foot Ninja, which leads him to wonder if he really deserves his place on the team. He tries to contact Batman in order to figure out what he had to do in order to maintain his genius-level intellect while also being such a consummate warrior, but thanks to another Foot Ninja attack he winds up swapping places with one of Batman’s longtime foes instead of merely sending a message.

Just like that, another crossover begins in earnest, and I can only hope Tynion pulls out absolutely all of the stops.  And if you were looking for “moments”, there’s one at the end of this issue that’s so chillingly awesome I don’t dare spoil it. Tynion gets what makes both sides of this crossover work, and I can only hope since he’s the head writer for ‘Tec as well that we get an appearance from the Gotham Knights before this mini-series ends.

Guardians of the Galaxy #148
“Infinity Quest: Jungleland”
Writer: Gerry Duggan
Artist: Marcus To
Color Artist: Ian Herring

I apologize to the current creative team of Guardians for taking so long to give them a shot.  I’m something of an OG fan, and I was pretty big on the idea of them being this team of talented individuals that were never meant to be a team but needed to be because they were all around when the galaxy was left to its own devices.  Watching the team slowly morph into the film version gradually made me not only dislike the comic but the film as well, and so I tried to divest myself from the franchise so I wouldn’t wind up as a stereotypical whiny comic book fan.

Still, when I learned that this run of the Guardians was coming to an end in a few issues, I hopped on to see what the last arc would be like and I’ve been pleasantly surprised.  First off, I want to congratulate Ian Herring–his beautiful, darker-tinged colors go a long way towards replicating the more gritty world that I’d grown used to during the 2008-2011 period.  Second off, Gerry Duggan’s portrayal of a version of the Guardians trying to root out corruption in the Nova Force feels reminiscent of the old DnA run in terms of characterizations.

Drax seems more like an unhinged killer trying to maintain enough control to keep from using murder to solve all his problems.  Gamora seems a lot more like the snarky, near-emotionless assassin I fell in love with from Nova and Annihilation.   Though the storyline is a lot more grounded, it’s about the team actually working together to accomplish a necessary good rather than figure out what kind of “score” they can get.  I could’ve read a comic like this for another five years, so hopefully there’s a plan sooner rather than later to restore exactly this creative team to the book.

Justice League #34
“The People vs. Justice League Part 1: Three Rooms”
Story: Priest
Art & Cover: Pete Woods

After months of waiting, the new creative team for Justice League has finally taken over, and in one issue they’ve already made the series their own.   Though I always thought Bryan Hitch’s Justice League was quite good, it had a habit of focusing on the cosmic to the complete and utter abandonment of the street-level heroics that should still be common even with the World’s Greatest Heroes.  But that changes here, as we see a return to the League focusing on keeping the Earth as safe as possible, whether it be from terrorists, alien invasions, or natural disasters.

There are lots of really cool character moments that this book has been missing, too–like Jessica and Simon’s adorable, squabbling friendship or getting to see the League go undercover in order to shut down the aforementioned terrorists.  (Wonder Woman as a mailwoman is an image I’ll never forget.)  The key character this issue though is Batman.  Priest has decided to treat Batman like more of a real person, and with that Bruce has suddenly become a guy with a more strenuous schedule than the President.  He runs multiple Justice League organizations, heads up his team inside Gotham, and still does his own solo work–eventually that’s got to be a drain on your ability to function and stay focused.   Batman makes a single mistake this issue, but given that this is just part one, I can only imagine it gets much worse from here.

Normally I’m not a fan of Batman when he’s more human (especially in the League, where he’s working with gods and too much frailty and humanity can make him seem useless), but when that’s the whole point of the story I can’t help but take an interest.  Here’s hoping Priest stays on Justice League at least as long as he has Deathstroke, because this is the most welcome change of direction I’ve seen since Rebirth started.

Klaus and the Crisis in Xmasville #1
Written By: Grant Morrison
Illustrated By: Dan Mora

It’s always a good month when a Grant Morrison comic book is on the stands.  After the debut of the original “Year One” mini-series in 2015, Morrison and illustrator Dan Mora have been bringing us lengthy one-shots showing us the adventures of a very different Santa Claus than the one we’re used to.   The perfect stocking stuffer for lovers of high fantasy, Klaus and the Crisis in Xmasville sees our hero go head to head with the remnants of Pola Cola, an obvious parody on a certain soda corporation.   Doing his best to battle against the corporatization of Christmas and the very idea of Santa Claus, Klaus winds up in an eerie city where it’s “Xmas” all year long in the hopes of saving a family from a terrible fate.

What’s most compelling about these Klaus one-shots is that they’re continually hinting at a larger universe, beyond what we already know, but never going into too much detail.  It lets our brains fill in the margins of this world while we see the latest tale of one of fiction’s oldest characters.   It almost makes you wish Morrison and Mora could publish this year-round, but that would ruin the fun of the title’s seasonal nature.

The Mighty Crusaders #1
Story By: Ian Flynn
Art By: Kelsey Shannon
Colors By: Matt Herms
Lettering By: Jack Morrelli

I feel like The Mighty Crusaders has been tried no less than three times over the past decade.  Every time I hear about it, I tell myself I’ll give it a try, but wind up forgetting and the whole thing ends up vanishing inside of a year or so.  But today I got time, cuz.

I’ve always had respect for Ian Flynn for his work on Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man, and this issue only validated it, as Mighty Crusaders #1 centers around a recently reformed team of superheroes and the leader at the center, a young woman named Victoria Adams (a.k.a. The Shield), trying to keep them all alive and effective. Apparently a continuation of the last time they brought the Red Circle characters back, Flynn makes this fairly new world manage to feel lived in and well-developed without making a new reader like me completely lost.   I’m completely invested in this story as is, and my biggest problem currently is that the editor of this series has pointed to Afterlife with Archie as an example of how this story might progress.  That’s kind of disappointing because…well, I’ll be honest: This isn’t the universe for that.

I picked up this issue of Mighty Crusaders and felt like I was reading a new school version of the Hanna-Barbera heroes, or a superhero version of the Secret Saturdays.  Thanks to the beautiful, cartoon-y art of Kelsey Shannon and the bright colors of Matt Herms, this first issue felt like something that wouldn’t have been out of place on the most kid-friendly of Saturday Morning Cartoon blocks, and I’m actually hoping that doesn’t change.  It’s alright to design something smart and fun that you can hand to your six year old cousin in the hopes she starts to like comics, and this can be that thing.

Witchblade #1
Writer: Caitlin Kittredge
Artist: Roberta Ingranata
Colorist: Bryan Valenza

Last year I decided to give the oft-vaunted Ron Marz run on the Witchblade a try.  It was pretty good; a strong ongoing plot backed by solid characterization, it made me see what made Witchblade holder Sara Pezzini such a likable and enduring character.  There were countless cheesecake-y heroines to emerge from the late 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s, but only Witchblade was capable of enduring for over twenty years and generating its own live-action television series and Japanese anime.  There’s just something undeniably appealing about it–at worst it’s always been passably superhero fiction, and few other superhero ongoings have ever embraced letting women take the forefront as strongly.  The Witchblade is a powerful artifact, passed down through the ages, but only ever to women; allowing them to fight for vengeance, or to protect their homelands or their families with a power that no other human could ever hope to have.

But the biggest problem with Witchblade has always been its blatant sexuality; it’s need to pander to the male gaze, brought on by the fact that the series has only ever been written by men.  …Until now.  Finally both written and drawn by women, this version of Witchblade strips away the needless pandering and rebirths the franchise as a sleek, modern urban fantasy series about a brand new hero.  It’s smart, and although it’s a reboot it’s still completely respectful of what came before, keeping so much of what made the original series work.  Still, this is very much a new story, and you can feel the subtle shift in DNA brought on by it’s new creators–even though this opening issue is a story about domestic violence, none of the women here feel like victims–they’re smart, scrappy, and kick so much ass.

I imagine Sara Pezzini’s gone because they wanted to distance themselves from expectations of who she was versus who they want to write about, but our new hero Alex Underwood seems like she’ll be just as compelling a character to follow.   I try not to say cliche things like, “This is one of the best books on the stands and if you were on the fence, you should absolutely go buy it”, but….yeah.  I’ll make an exception for this.

See you in seven!