Bottom Of The Pile: Jan. 10th, 2018 – Astonisher, Avengers, Hal Jordan And The GLC, Sword Of Ages, Mighty Crusaders

by Sage Ashford

Yikes, it seems like comics are getting better and better, as I had a pretty massive stack of comics to get through last week!  Still, 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…

Astonisher #4
“After the Fall”
Written By: Alex de Campi
Art by: Pop Mhan

The good people at Lion Forge are doing some great work with respect to creating a universe full of diverse heroes of all races and genders, but I truly believe Astonisher is the best comic book the company publishes on a monthly basis. Alex de Campi is giving us a fresh take on a hero struggling with his own mental issues. Yes, Mister Miracle is pretty amazing as well at this, but the difference is Astonisher seems to be just as interested in telling a story about how other people treat someone when they realize they’re going through some form of trauma as it is telling a story about how that person deals with that trauma.

Magnus’ actions as the Astonisher have led to his family thinking that there’s something “wrong” with him, and so they’ve placed him in a mental ward. These past two issues have given us a clear view of how society and the people who love us tend to treat those around us: a brief altercation with a fellow patient in the ward leads to Magnus being placed in solitary while the workers there remark on how troublesome taking care of people can be, meanwhile Magnus’ family never cared enough to even ask Magnus what he needed or wanted in the first place.

Still, the book actually goes out of its way to paint no one involved as a bad person. The people in the mental ward are tired, spending hours looking after people with little reprieve and low pay, so seeing them at the end of their rope makes sense. Meanwhile, the family is trying to do what they think is best, they just have a weird way of going about it. It’s these kind of nuances that elevate this book into one of the best on the stands, and I’m kind of bummed out that de Campi is only staying for another five issues, as her take on this new sort of hero is quite brilliant.

Avengers #675
“Avengers: No Surrender”
Writers: Mark Waid, Al Ewing, & Jim Zub
Artist: Pepe Larraz
Color Artist: David Curiel

Avengers. Assemble. I’ve been having problems with the main Avengers title for a couple years now–much as I love Mark Waid’s work (from Fantastic Four to the Flash and JLA), his work on the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have never really struck a chord with me. And while Al Ewing’s Avengers work has been stellar, ultimately I’ve felt like the team as a whole has been a bit “off” since Jonathan Hickman left the book at the finish of his “Secret Wars” book in 2015.

That all changes here with “No Surrender”. It could be that I’m a sucker for the immediacy of weekly series and how they enhance the sensation that these books make up a living universe (even the mostly terrible Countdown held a certain charm to me).  It could be that I love comics that carry that big event feel without stepping on the toes of every other comic in that universe. And it could be that I love the community feel that comes with an all-encompassing Avengers or X-Men or Justice League comic like this, given the space to breathe and not have to conform to a small handful of issues.

It’s probably all of the above, as I get to watch five creators set up a pretty exciting start to a sixteen week epic featuring the Ultimates, the U.S. Avengers, the Champions, the Unity Squad, and the primary Avengers team. I’ve always thought team books are the secret strength of both DC and Marvel, as they allow you to have all your favorite characters interacting on a single book together, and from the looks of things “No Surrender” is going to make good on that promise once again.  Looking forward to what’s up next, including learning just who on Earth this new hero Voyager is.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #36
“Twilight of the Guardians Conclusion: What We Leave Behind”
Writer: Robert Venditti
Pencils: Jack Herbert & Jose Luis
Inks: Herbert, Mick Grey, Cam Smith
Colorist: Jason Wright

Let Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps stand as a testament to everyone doing superhero comic books right now: sometimes you can make good stories without being what I call a “terrible kid”. What I mean by that is so often writers talk about how hard it is to write great comics unless they’re allowed to “break some of the toys”. And so over the past decade and change, Marvel and DC alike have allowed their writers to either break toys entirely or partially, so long as it resulted in good sales.  (And some good stories, admittedly.)

The problem is, eventually other creators have to take over those titles, and when they go to the chest all they find is broken toys. So what do they do?  Keep breaking them. Without any regard for how realistic it might be or even if the fans still want to see a story like that, they hastily slap their characters into some semblance of a shape and just as soon as they do, they try to find a way to shatter them again. And on and on, as readers pretend that these characters who’ve suffered so much trauma would even want to leave the house, let alone save the world.

But for thirty-six issues straight Robert Venditti has done something I don’t see nearly enough: he’s putting the toys back together. Instead of trying to tell the “last” story of this or that, he’s putting them in places so someone (whether it’s him or someone else) can tell the “first” story of the new version of a character. Take the ending of “Twilight of the Guardians”: after several years of having the Guardians serve as pariahs, this arc decides to turn their relationship with the GLC on its head. Instead of viewing the Corps as a moral imperative, Ganthet encourages the remaining Guardians to view them differently for once; they can be the Guardians’ way of having a legacy, while the Guardians come to terms with being the last of their race.

But Venditti also rebuilds the Controllers into a credible threat, allowing them to escape with the intention of launching different plans another day.  By the end, they’ve grown enough to introduce the Darkstars once more–a counter police force to the GLC that I was hoping would make a comeback.  There’s a ton of potential for allowing both of these groups to exist in the universe at once, and I’m sincerely hoping the group when all this Rebirth/DC stuff is done a space event happens surrounding them both.

Sword of Ages #2
Created, Written, and Illustrated By: Gabriel Rodriguez
Colored By: Lovern Kindzierski

Sword of Ages #2 is a perfect lesson in how to craft a fantasy world that has familiar trappings yet still looks entirely unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Mixing the separate kinds of weirdness that comes from both fantasy as well as science fiction, Gabriel Rodriguez manages to come up with something wholly unique even though he’s taking the broad strokes of his story from Arthurian myth. This issue sees Avalon and her fellow knights journey into a hidden dungeon in order to claim a hidden sword that lied at the center. While half of the knights rush into a literally impossible battle, Avalon’s training and guile wins the day and gets them to the end of the dungeon and the blade. Meanwhile elsewhere, people rebelling against the control of the ruling empire find themselves in trouble when they wind up ambushed by some of the empire’s forces.

If I actually have any criticism to levy against this book, it’s that he’s throwing things at us so quickly that it’s occasionally hard to keep pace.  There are so many new races and factions within factions that it’s difficult to keep up. I only just got to know Avalon and her fellow mage friend last issue before we’d introduced three other knights, the bad guys, and the people who are already fighting the bad guys in all of two issues. I actually had to read this issue over a few times in order to get it, but given the glacial pacing of other stories I can never hold it against a book when it doesn’t hold my hand and actually tries to tell its story as quickly as possible.

The Mighty Crusaders #2
Story By: Ian Flynn
Art By: Kelsey Shannon
Colors By: Matt Herms
Lettering By: Jack Morelli

For a guy who’s spent most of his career writing Mega Man and Sonic, Ian Flynn sure knows how to write a super-team. The Mighty Crusaders spends the perfect amount of time balancing between the team getting to know one another and developing both their dynamic in and out of costumes, with a little bit of drama interspersed to keep things exciting. My only current issue with the book is I can’t quite figure out who’s it aimed at. The way most of this book is set up it still feels like a Saturday Morning Cartoon show, just one designed for millenials a la Young Justice rather than an 80’s series a la G.I. Joe. It feels like a comic I could’ve handed to my little cousins, until suddenly in the middle of the book the big villain sacrifices a guy to an evil monster. They keep most of it off-camera, but there’s still a ton of blood while the poor guy begs and pleads not to be stabbed and that’s just….eeesh.

But then the book finishes with a press conference where the heroes get attacked by some bad guys, which feels like something I would’ve seen from a 90’s cartoon it’s so straight-forward? Still, I appreciate the team here for making me feel like I got a complete story here despite the cliffhanger–you feel like you got your time’s worth, even though the story’s just getting started.

See you in seven!