Bottom of the Pile: Dec. 27th, 2017 – Batman: Creature Of The Night, Detective Comics, Doomsday Clock, Hal Jordan And The Green Lantern Corps, Justice League, Teen Titans, WWE

by Sage Ashford

Soon enough, we’ll be covering comics in the new year, but for now: the last Bottom of the Pile covering comics from 2017. If you’re new to things, welcome 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: Creature of the Night #2
“Book Two: Boy Wonder”
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist, Colors and Cover: John Paul Leon

What I’m finding most impressive about Creature of the Night is how well Kurt’s managed to do a deconstruction of the concept of Batman without relying on the typical devices that go with stories like this. Creature of the Night is absent of excessive violence, blood, or swearing and while the twentysomething Bruce Wainwright definitely has a few flings, it’s all kept tasteful rather than gratuitous. That’s noteworthy, not because of some prudish “think of the children” mindset, but because usually deconstructionist takes use all of the above as narrative crutches to show you how different their take is from the standard. If Batman pops up with the AK and starts mowing villains down like the Punisher, then at one point it would be considered an “adult” comic book, and while that was impressive at one point, it’s now so old hat that even mainstream takes are using it.

But Creature of the Night instead takes this opportunity of deconstruction to examine the impossibility of Batman, a character often described as “the most realistic superhero”. To begin with, near as we can tell this universe’s Bruce already isn’t Batman–there’s no absurd montage of young Bruce Wainwright engaging in wildly disparate schools of training in order to prepare himself for an endless war on crime, and there’s no vast fortune he can waste away to alter the world how he pleases. Even with the blueprint in front of him, the world just wouldn’t have ever worked out that way from the very beginning. But even more specifically…this version of Batman simply isn’t honest.

It’s something you never really think about when engaging in most things related to Batman. How easy it would be for someone operating outside the law to start not caring about the conventions of the law to begin with. The real Batman could just as easily take advantage of his superior skills to sink any business rivals Wayne Industries could ever have, he’s just so infallibly honest that it never occurs to him to do it. But most of the time, someone operating outside of the law would doubtlessly not be anywhere near that principled. So in this universe, Bruce enjoys continuous success with his investments while watching Batman from the sidelines beat up the bad guys…until a cop brings to his attention one of his luckiest business breaks involved a rival of his being brought up on false criminal charges.   From there, Bruce does more research into his Batman’s “cases” and realizes many of them were never on the up-and-up. The more pitiable element is that Bruce isn’t even concerned with how Batman’s put his life at risk, but is instead simply more disappointed that the real world can’t be fixed by a well-meaning guy dressed up as a Bat.

…Which does remind me: I’m still not sure exactly how this version of Batman works. I don’t know if Bruce is having a psychotic break and seeing Batman when he should be seeing something else, or if it’s actually him doing it, or what. It seems like there’s magic involved but that’s something generally foreign to Batman so I’m not as sure. Still, I’m fine being kept in suspense until the last issue. For now, I’m just happy to have Kurt back on DC characters.

Detective Comics #971
“Fall of the Batman Part 3”
Writer: James Tynion IV
Pencils: Miguel Mendonca
Inks: Diana Egea
Colors: Jason Wright

I’m an emotional wreck just at the implications Fall of the Batman has so far, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most powerful issues of the week. The Victim Syndicate the first time around allowed James Tynion to make some great points about how Batman doesn’t focus enough on how his adventures affect the lives left in his wake, now with Fall of the Batman he gets to talk about how hatred often creates a vicious cycle of violence. The Victim Syndicate as a concept is acceptable enough when it’s just striking at Batman, his villains, or both. But this arc they’re specifically threatening the city of Gotham itself because they feel justified. This is also maybe the switch towards a bigger bent towards them turning evil as well. The First Victim’s war on vigilantism doesn’t make sense, as at this point he isn’t just enabling criminals, he’s encouraging them.

They’ve also successfully managed to turn the public against our heroes. This is quite the change, as people in Gotham usually don’t comment on Batman unless its positively. He spends so much time stopping the crooks that we take it for granted that people would just universally love him even if its not necessarily true. Could there be a deeper reason the people are turning against the Bat? Something rooted in a different DC Comic? Hmm…

Doomsday Clock #2
Writer: Geoff Johns
Illustrator: Gary Frank
Colorist: Brad Anderson

The story we thought would never be told continues. This month, Johns starts to create massive changes in the DC Universe that could very well be felt for months…or at least, they would be if this story wasn’t once again being told ahead of DC’s other books. This issue Johns introduces the Supermen Theory, something that explains the concentration of superheroes in the Americas by claiming they’re all apart of a secret governmental program to make human WMDs. It’s an elegant in-universe explanation for a problem that initially only existed because of ethnocentrism. But the Supermen Theory is an idea unique enough to deserve an explanation on its own, so if Doomsday Clock isn’t going to explore it this is actually the first time I’ve wished an event had more tie-in comics.

What’s more interesting here though is that this theory would probably exist in a more realistic universe. But as the Watchmen characters start to enter DC Earth, it’s looking more like there’s a bleed effect that’s altering the DCU to resemble Watchmen’s more cynical, “down to Earth” setting. I suspect as the story develops we’ll see Manhattan either attempt to change their world in more blatant ways, or that the mere presence of Manhattan is causing the DC Universe to change without him controlling things at all.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #35
“Twilight of the Guardians Part Three: The Four Corpsmen”
Writer: Robert Venditti
Breakdowns: Tom Derenick
Penciller & Inker: Jack Herbert
Colorist: Jason Wright

Have you ever seen an image from a comic that perfectly sums up what makes the whole run so amazing? That’s this page, which feels like the most succinct thesis both on this run, and the explanation of why the Green Lanterns themselves are heroes worthy of standing alongside A-Listers like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Both this page and the issue itself feature the four most well-known Green Lanterns, nailing their characterizations without short-changing a single member of the team.  Here the group’s chasing down the Controllers in order to rescue the Guardians, and find themselves under fire from an entire army for the majority of the issue, which brings up the other cool thing about this issue.   Venditti’s really brought the power back to the Green Lantern rings.

For most of the New 52 run (and even in Johns’ heyday), the ring often felt more like a generic accessory instead of The Most Powerful Weapon in the Universe. But here? Even though they’re up against weapons that shake their ability to focus and outnumbered 20+ to one…it’s still four Green Lanterns. Their enemies never stood a chance. Setting up a sheen of invincibility not only helps people understand why the Green Lanterns have such an avid fanbase, but it also makes the idea behind their core concept more plausible. It’s hard being the policemen of the galaxy when no one respects you because you’ve got all the durability of a Stormtrooper.

It’s insane to realize that the same writer that caused me to leave Green Lantern with the invention of Relic is the same one that’s been doing what’s frequently one of the best superhero comics on the stands, but then I remember that Venditti is also the guy who made X-O Manowar a top-tier comic for something like 50+ issues for Valiant.

Justice League of America #21
“The Light and the Warrior”
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist & Cover: Stephen Byrne

Okay, so first off: Steve Orlando is a genius for bringing back Aztek and making her a woman of color. It automatically gives DC one more forward-thinking character while simultaneously not taking a fan-favorite out of action. Let’s keep it a thousand: no one cared about Aztek as an actual character. He had a cool costume and origin but I couldn’t tell you anything about the person (and I actually read about half of his solo series), so this gives DC a chance to revamp a cool character for the modern generation. They deserve all the props for that.

Still though….I have a question. Why isn’t this book called The Outsiders?  Aside from Canary, Atom, and Vixen there’s nothing that separates this from being the Outsiders other than that DC’s chosen to emulate Marvel’s stance on marketing comics, which involves a lot of homogeneity. In other words, instead of risking the comic and team on a book with a new or established but less-popular title, everything somehow falls under the same “banner”.   We traded DC’s Shadowpact for Justice League Dark, and even though the ethos of a Batman-controlled superhero team is basically the whole reason the Outsiders were invented to begin with, the team’s called the Justice League of America instead.

Despite that, this is totally a solid issue, particularly since it does something I think both DC and Marvel should engage in more: use their team books to develop heroes as individuals.  This month’s issue sees the Ray go back to his hometown and clean up some unfortunate gang crime that developed in his absence alongside the new hero Aztek. That’s a good idea; too often we give characters their own comics to satisfy an audience that can’t sustain them, then wonder why they get canceled five or ten issues later. Team issues don’t (and shouldn’t) always have to be about the entire team, and I hope Orlando does a bit more of this to dig into characters like Vixen and Black Canary in the future.

Also, Steven Byrne’s art here is perfect–the whole issue sets up this beautiful contrast between Ray’s black and gold and Aztek’s white and gold that works with the story Orlando’s telling where Ray’s this really light, compassionate character while Aztek…really isn’t, and spends her time solving crimes with extreme prejudice. Superb work on his part.

Teen Titans #15
“Super Sons of Tomorrow Part Three: Tomorrow is Never Promised”

Writers: Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Pencillers: Ed Benes & Jorge Jimenez
Inkers: Ed Benes, Richard Friend & Jorge Jimenez
Colorists: Dinei Ribeiro & Alejandro Sanchez

I’m still not sure how I feel about the Super Sons of Tomorrow. The crossover started off pretty rocky early on, with evil future! Tim literally popping up out of nowhere and handing Bruce a beatdown before going on to disable Clark and knock out Lois so he can find the next target ruining his future: Jonathan Kent. It was referenced during his appearance over in Detective, but apparently under the manipulation of Damian Wayne, Jon loses control over his solar explosion ability and winds up laying waste to Metropolis. I’ve got a couple problems with this whole thing:

  • Just how many things does Tim need to fix? They make fun of it in Part One of the crossover but honestly it’s a valid question. If it’s that big of a deal then he should probably get a whole maxi-series to himself. Also, how does this not make everyone side-eye Tim in the present?
  • Seeing Tim take on a new identity this issue is kind of off-putting. Him becoming Batman is the worst-case scenario, so if he’s going to change identities it should come with a permanent change in behavior and attitude, perhaps a sign that he’s going to get on the right track.
  • This guy would serve as a much better villain to Tim than Batman or even the Titans as a whole, so I’m reminded again that Tim Drake should get his comic series back.

Still, no matter what my complaints are for this story, I can’t deny that it’s great seeing the Titans of Tomorrow again. It feels like we’re looking into a tunnel straight back to 2004 and the Geoff Johns’ run that revived the Titans name. We’ve got two parts remaining, and hopefully they get to play a greater part, while also bringing up the question of exactly where all three of these really important generational characters disappeared to in the first place.

Hats off to Peter Tomasi by the way–he’s done so much of the work in connecting the post-N52 DC landscape to the pre-Flashpoint era, and so much of it has been surprisingly effective without being confusing, given the contortions that should otherwise be necessary to get the job done.

WWE #12
Written By: Dennis Hopeless, Julian May
Illustrated By: Serg Acuna, Tim Lattie, Rodrigo Lorenzo
Colored By: Doug Garbark

Once again, Dennis Hopeless manages to look between the lines to see the story that I wish WWE RAW bothered to see from time to time.

For those who aren’t fans of pro wrestling, the dissolution of The Shield was easily one of the Top 5 most heartbreaking moments in the WWE in the last five or six alongside Daniel Bryan’s retirement and the Festival of Friendship.  At a time when the cronyism of WWE felt like it was at its highest–the company filled with part-timers randomly popping up and wrestling slow-paced, boring matches only to win titles from the hands of younger, more devoted full-time wrestlers–they came in like a whirlwind and shook everything up. They felt like a perfect meld of the Attitude Era and the workhorse era that was to come: they cut promos and beat up wrestlers off-camera and during matches they weren’t involved in like people did during the Attitude Era, but when they actually hopped in the ring they could go. They were a well-oiled machine, and felt like the will of the fans personified as they tore down everything in their way, and pretty much captured the hearts of every wrestling fan when they arrived to RAW in a freaking helicopter.

So when they finally, finally reached their apex–just when truly felt like the top guys of the company, Seth betrayed them to Triple H and the Authority, tearing apart the group…and our hearts. But it never really made sense why Seth turned other than a generic “I wanted the WWE title” explanation until now. For two decades now, WWE has been the personification of corporate dog-eat-dog culture, with conflicts playing out in a 20×20 ring.   Wrestlers have changed everything from their in-ring style and moveset, to their weight/muscle mass, to their entire personalities in order to adapt, to get to the top of the food chain and stay there. Regardless of how much sense it makes behind the scenes, in kayfabe Seth’s logic made absolute sense. No matter how dominant a person is, being buddy-buddy with a group of people has a ceiling. Sooner or later, one person has to break away from the pack to prove themselves.

Seth did it first, but really since then every single one of them has climbed to the top of the heap. They aren’t just “The Shield”, they’re all former WWE champions. Roman and Dean are Grand Slam champions, both of them having held four of the company’s major titles.  They’re the definition of main eventers, and all of that came out of Seth’s actions on that night. It’s slimy, gross logic…but it’s solid, and thank goodness Dennis Hopeless was able to come up with it for geeks like me who think way too much about guys in spandex stunt fighting.

See you in seven.