Bottom Of The Pile: Jan. 17th, 2018 – Avengers, Champions, Green Lanterns, Justice League, Summit, Superb, Superman

by Sage Ashford

This one’s a big one, folks. No apologies made–it’s always a good week when you’re drowning in amazing comics.

If you’re not familiar, 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…

Avengers #676
Writers: Mark Waid, Al Ewing, & Jim Zub
Artist: Pepe Larraz
Color Artist: David Curiel

Avengers: No Surrender was described as an Avengers: Disassembled for this new age of Avengers that’s been going on since Hickman left the title in 2015. Now personally, I almost allowed that explanation to give me fits, but it seems like the creative team has this well in-hand. So far, No Surrender has been trying to include as many different eras of Avengers as possible, starting with the first issue that gathered all the various teams together that includes both newcomers and veterans of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes teams.

And if the focus of the first issue was gathering together the heroes, the second seems to be about the villains, as a new incarnation of classic Avengers rogues, the Lethal Legion, face off against the Black Order from the acclaimed Hickman run during the Marvel NOW era. The two teams are dropped onto Earth by forces reminiscent of a completely different set of Avengers bad guys: the Grandmaster and his fellow Elder of the Universe, the Collector. Surprisingly though, it seems like taking down the Avengers isn’t even the main goal of the team, as the two villain groups spend more time battling each other than fighting our heroes.

The biggest mystery, though, is this new character–Voyager, a massive retcon to the Avengers canon, a character who appears to have been a member of the team from its founding until her death in Avengers #70, a battle that happened due to…the Grandmaster. There’s a lot of mystery left to this book, but at this point I do think we’ve got one of our villains. But how do they fight him? And what happens in the aftermath?

That last part’s the real sticking point for me; the Avengers have been kind of a mess in terms of organization (though not quality) for some time now, bouncing aimlessly in the background.  This story feels like a big deal, putting the group in the forefront in a way that makes the rest of the MU have to pay attention, even if only in the aftermath. So hopefully when all is said and done, the group is cemented at the center of things, where they belong. In the meantime, this story feels like a treat for every long-time Avengers geek, while still remaining approachable thanks to some smart writing and the inclusion of a mini-handbook at the back of the issue.

Champions #16
“Champion for a Day Part 1”
Writer: Mark Waid
Penciler: Humberto Ramos
Colorist: Edgar Delgado

Much as I love most of his work, Mark Waid’s Champions has never been a perfect comic. Sometimes the messaging is a little brick-obvious, and occasionally there can be a tinge of “How do you do, fellow kids?” to the characterization, but I’ve always enjoyed it anyway.  Humberto Ramos’ frenetic art and Mark Waid’s overall skill as a master storyteller can make me forgive many sins, particularly when it has great comedic timing like this. Plus, it feels like a book that needs to exist. After decades of Marvel pushing back against the concept of teen sidekicks, watching the Champions work together and figure out just how hard it is to be a hero when you don’t have adults as your back feels like a desperately needed change of pace. And that’s before you get to how this team is easily the most diverse superhero book coming out of the Big Two right now. This book isn’t just good, but in the face of all of Marvel’s recent troubles, it’s necessary.

Even cooler (and what got this book into BotP this week) is this current arc, which I assume is Mark Waid’s final one before handing the book off to Jim Zub in April. With Vivian Vision now out of commission, the group agrees to go on a recruitment drive, talking to all of the recent young hero characters that have been created over the last three years and bringing them into the fold. It’s seemingly like it’ll only be temporary, but I hope not. So many of these characters have been developed and they deserve a home, even if they can’t support their own books.

Green Lanterns #39
“A World of Our Own Finale”
Writer: Tim Seeley
Artist: Ronan Cliquet
Colorist: HI-FI

If I have one problem with this story, it’s that I’m not sure how much sense it makes for the primary villain of the story to turn out to be a child that was literally an oddity in her race, someone that existed outside the norms to be so protective of her people’s old ways. Ways that literally would have gotten her killed if her mother had obeyed them. But maybe that’s the point. Hatred of other people doesn’t, and never has made much sense. In trying so hard to repel the harmless alien immigrants on Ungara in the name of “racial purity”, Liseth Vok actually managed to transform her body even further. By the story’s climax, she doesn’t even look Ungaran at all–she becomes a twisted amalgamation of all these alien races, ironically becoming the very thing she hates.

Still, Tim Seeley’s second big story on Green Lanterns has come to a rather satisfying end, and we even get hints at the next arc, where Simon’s mysterious girlfriend Night Pilot makes a new appearance. Night Pilot feels like a space version of the Rocketeer, so I was hoping we’d see her again.

Justice League #37
“The People vs. The Justice League Part 4: The Fan”
Writer: Christopher Priest
Pencils & Inks: Philippe Briones
Colors: Gabe Eltaeb

The Fan might be one of the weirdest, most fascinating Justice League villains we’ve ever come across. It’s always been taken for granted that the Justice League’s influence is undeniably positive. They spend so much time saving the world that we treat them as if they’re inherently a net benefit to society. But on a surface level, the Fan shows how hero worship can go too far–he’s a character who loves the Justice League so much that he literally can and has killed for them so they can be allowed to do what they want. It’s misguided to be sure, but it’s also reflective of the fervent worship real life fans often have for these characters–never wanting their decisions to be questioned or judged even when they clearly deserve it.

Of course, there’s a slightly deeper level to this as well. The Fan isn’t just a murdering psychopath, he’s controlling. I chose this page because he sounds a lot like super-fans of the old days (and many that exist today): they don’t want their favorite characters to evolve, they don’t want their worlds to expand. Green Lantern is Hal Jordan, and that’s it. The Flash is Barry Allen, and no one else. This complaint has come to Marvel more now, but DC had to deal with a lot back in the day, right down to fans organizing activist groups to lobby for the return of their favorite characters.

It’s this kind of obsessive nature that makes the Fan into such a fun character, the kind that I hope Priest leaves alive because there’s a ton of mileage you could get from the guy.

Summit #2
Written By: Amy Chu
Illustrated By: Jan Duursema

I go back and forth on the majority of Lion Forge’s Catalyst Prime superhero series. I love what they’re aiming to do even if I don’t think the whole line is a hit, but the newly released Summit is undeniably brilliant. Amy Chu’s story about the only surviving astronaut from an attempt to save the world that only barely works is compelling. The lead woman, Valentina Resnick, has been given not one, but two burdens: there’s the obvious superpowers you’d expect, but there’s also the fact that the astronauts that died are living in her head.

It’s fairly early days, but she also seems to have the makings of a pretty cool supporting cast: her mad scientist ex-husband, that she left when she came out. He stands out from most characters of this type in that he doesn’t seem to be bitter at all, but is in fact supportive and understanding, not just of her being queer, but is the person that pushes her towards discovering how her powers work. He’s also the person that suggests she should become a hero, though the story isn’t exactly that far along just yet.

Still, we’ve got a mystery, a compelling new protagonist, and a likable supporting cast. It’s all the makings of a good superhero ongoing, and I hope both of our creators stay on for a long while, because as smart as Amy Chu’s writing is, Jan Duursema’s art is making this book for me. She does emotion in a way that the book barely needs thought bubbles/captions, as you can tell what the characters are thinking just by looking at them, and most writers should be so lucky as to have someone this talented drawing their work.

Superb #6
“Dressed for Success”
Written By: David F. Walker and Sheena C. Howard
Penciled By: Ray-Anthony Herbert & Alitha Martinez

If Astonisher is this world’s version of Batman, then Superb at this point has established itself as the X-Men. In the aftermath of a unexpected meteor shower, humans have started to emerge in this world with special powers. Superb is set in Youngstown, Ohio, a place where the effects of the meteor shower are heavier than anywhere else–with teenagers constantly manifesting new abilities. As a result, The Foresight Corporation has taken over, demanding that anyone with special powers be handed over to them, and constantly testing teens for emerging powers. These teenagers are then molded and trained according to the desires of Foresight, until two teens with powers learn how to avoid detection: Kayla Tate and Jonah Watkins.

The start of Superb is mostly following Jonah’s adventures as Cosmosis, a hero from the comics he read as a child, while he saves people in Youngstown. It wasn’t until this issue that the direction of things going forward becomes clear: Jonah and his friend Kayla are forced to break into Foresight in order to save their parents, and along the way recruit a new friend who was captured by Foresight at the start of the series. Of course, with all three of them being inexperienced, their time on the run could come to an end at any moment….

Grant Morrison once defined the true story of the X-Men as the struggle between the new generation and their predecessors, refusing to allow themselves to be replaced–a futile struggle against the inevitable. For one reason or another, the X-Men can often get away from that idea, spending time exploring space or magical alternate worlds. That doesn’t mean the X-Men are bad characters, it’s just the nature of being a mainstream comic.

But in Superb, Lion Forge’s Catalyst Prime universe has managed to take that idea and place it front and center as the central conflict. Our protagonists represent the future, beings with unlimited power and potential. Foresight, on the other hand represents the past, a corporation trying to maintain an ever-shaky level of control over the direction of humanity. Brilliant stuff, and both David F. Walker and Sheena C. Howard are killing it right now.

Superman #39
“Goodnight Moon”
Writers: Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Pencils: Barry Kitson
Inks: Barry Kitson & Scott Hanna
Colorist: Gabriel Eltaeb

Superman is always one of those comics that I read that doesn’t strike a huge chord with me, but I enjoy nonetheless. Still, it made the column this week because otherwise I’d be a heartless monster. I mean, jeez. “In this issue, Superman and the Justice League take a bunch of children with cancer to the Justice League satellite, then later Superman takes them to the moon.”   That’s the sweetest story I’ve read in a while, and Barry Kitson’s beautifully classic-style superhero art makes it work even better.

There’s not a world in which I believe we should ever stop telling stories about superheroes punching the bad guys. But can they really be as inspirational as they claim if its all they do?   Ultimately, Superman is going to punch Doomsday out 400 times and the only one you’re ever going to remember is the one where he died doing it. But a decade removed, everyone remembers when Superman stopped Regan from jumping off a skyscraper to her death. These are the moments that truly make these characters who they are, and justify why they’ve been cultural icons for nearly a century.