Bottom Of The Pile: Dec. 20th, 2017 – Batman, Justice League, Marvel Two-In-One, Transformers Annual

by Sage Ashford

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…

Apologies for the late post here.  I’ve been scrambling between Christmas stuff with relatives and trying to catch back up on all the posts I missed. I started to skip this week but…yikes. This week was really good, you guys. Literally packed to the brim with fantastic comics, and this installment of Bottom of the Pile only scratches the surface. Hope you all enjoy.

Batman #37
“Superfriends Part 2”
Script: Tom King
Pencils & Inks: Clay Mann
Color: Jordie Bellaire

If someone had told me ten years ago that the plot of a Batman comic would be: Superman and his wife Lois Lane go on a double date with Batman and his fiance Catwoman, to an amusement park where you’re only allowed in if you cosplay superheroes, and they all swap super suits in order to get in, I would have assumed they were joking. But no, somehow I went to sleep and woke up in a world where they tell stories about Earth-2, and it’s positively glorious.

There’s no major villain in this book. The biggest major conflict are two separate discussions between Lois and Selina and Clark and Bruce over how insane it is for Batman and Catwoman to be getting married. This is what it looks like when superhero comics get over their “Bang! Zoom! Comics Aren’t For Kids Anymore” phase and finally accept that we don’t have to prove anything to anyone–superheroes can be silly, and sweet, and lean into the absurdity of it all and still be art.

As much as I’ve said I’m not a terribly big fan of Tom King’s Batman, if he’s really aiming to do one hundred issues of Batman, I think he’s laying the blueprint for how creative teams going forward should approach superheroes. For far too long over the past decade or so we’ve allowed teams to pop up on a character and do these all-too-brief vanity runs before vanishing off to do other things. They’re never bad, but they’re essentially a paragraph’s worth of a creator’s thoughts on a character, when fans were hoping for an essay.

In telling everyone he’s got 100 issues worth of stories, King’s done a lot; for one, he’s shown that he has a lot of long-term plans for these characters. But it’s also allowing him the opportunity to take his time and breathe–there are interludes in between the big action arcs, he can do things like a story about Kite-Man or a story detailing how he thinks the relationship between the two biggest heroes in comics should work. And stories like this–that put a superhero romance front and center rather than making it an eternal plot C that only ever receives a page or two worth of focus at the start or end of every other issue–lend a human, relatable element to these characters without relying on hoary tropes like swearing or excessive violence. He can introduce new characters while giving us his take on old ones–in short, he’s doing everything a creator should do when they’re doing a seminal run on a character.

Regardless of how I feel about King’s Batman run as a whole now, or even when it’s finished, I applaud him for shooting for the stars, and for giving us this superb two-parter.

Justice League #35
“The People vs. The Justice League Part 2: Swarm”
Story: Priest
Art
& Cover: Pete Woods

“The People vs. The Justice League” is a perfect title for this, and after two issues I really do feel like something special is happening with this comic. We’re so unused to the League dealing with the “ground floor” stuff of citizens, law enforcement, and governments that it feels strange just to read, but that’s exactly why Priest is going for it. The potential for story here is fertile ground, and in an era that scrutinizes more than ever, having the League under the eye of 24 hour news networks and social media creates a compelling read.

Having said that, the mention of J’onn in this week’s issue was probably the most interesting thing to occur. An alien arrives needing help rounding up a bug with the power to create a hivemind of giant bugs, and the first thing he does is seek out J’onn Jonzz. Of course, J’onn hasn’t exactly had a close tie to the League since the 2011 New 52 soft reboot, but between Rebirth and Doomsday Clock, could Priest have a way to maybe bring him back? One can only hope; regardless of the reason they did it, the League without the Martian Manhunter is missing its heart.

Marvel Two-in-One #1
“Fate of the Four Part 1: Fast Burn”
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Penciler: Jim Cheung
Inkers: John Dell w/Walden Wong
Colorist: Frank Martin

This book has no business being as good as it is. No disrespect intended to the creators, but I was expecting just some soft apology comic to make up for how we weren’t getting a Fantastic Four series due to all the rights issues with the films. But no, Marvel Two-in-One has a ton of heart, and shows the beginnings of a deepening relationship between Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm. The truth is, these two have always had the most contentious relationship between all the members of the F4, and typically when the reasons for two people like this to stay together goes away, the friendship dies as well. That explains why Torch and Thing have basically stopped hanging out, and it’s exactly why this first issue by Zdarsky and Cheung spends so much time talking about why they need each other.

This first issue is excellent. It’s my hope that going forward Two-in-One is actually allowed to bring back the Fantastic Four properly, even i the team here isn’t the ones that get to do their eventual ongoing. More importantly, I hope they don’t rush the story being told here–these two don’t get much time devoted to their friendship, and I hope we get that before Reed and Sue (and the kids) come back.

Transformers: Till All Are One Annual
Written By: Mairghread Scott
Art By: Sara Pitre-Durocher
Colors By: Joana Lafuente

And so the story of King Starscream ends. Not with him violently dragging down Cybertron and everyone around him to desperately hold on to his power, but with a confession. It is indeed the most unexpected thing they could have done, and yet it works perfectly.  Starscream’s been untrustworthy and duplicitous, traitorous and fradulent at every turn, and the only thing that’s ever been as consistent as his deception is his ability to fascinate.   After attaining a glimpse of who he could have been without the marring taint of war ruining him, Starscream is shoved into a corner when proof of what he’s done these past few years finally emerges. But after years of betraying so many people who tried to see the best in him, it turns out the last card he’s willing to play…is honesty.

Seriously though, hats off to Mairghread Scott, Sara Pitre-Durocher, and Joana Lafuente–over a year’s time, these women have created one of the best Transformers comics the G1 universe has ever seen. And I feel like that’s crucial to say because, we usually just get caught up in how great Transformers: Lost Light/MTMTE is and we don’t talk about the good work done by people not James Roberts. I was one of the people who wasn’t sold on the idea of female Transformers; largely because I thought they’d be more interesting as a statement on inorganic life and thus shouldn’t have any gender expression at all, but in the character Windblade, Scott crafted one of the most likable and compelling protagonists I’ve ever had the privilege of reading about. She’s brave, smart, and honest to a level that would even give Optimus Prime pause. I hate that the book didn’t get to go on further than it did, but these thirteen issues gave me back the feel of the early parts of Transformers: Robots in Disguise from 2011-2013, and for that I’m grateful, and wish all three of them the best in whatever they do next.

That’s it for now. I kept this short and sweet and focused on the comics I thought were just too beautiful not to talk about. I won’t say see you in seven this time, as the odds are very likely that I start talking about this week’s comics very soon.