Bottom Of The Pile: Jan. 24th & Jan 31st, 2017 – Doomsday Clock, Astro City, Ninja-K, The Flash Annual & More

by Sage Ashford

Given that it was a fifth Wednesday and those are usually a little lighter, I decided to combine it with last week’s missing edition to create one jumbo sized column.

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 commentary in 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. I like to shake it up. So let’s talk comics…

 

Avengers #677-678
“No Surrender Parts 3 and 4”
Writers: Mark Waid, Al Ewing, & Jim Zub

Artist: Pepe Larraz
Color Artist: David Curiel

I think the most disappointing thing about Jim Zub’s otherwise stellar Avengers is how he treats Quicksilver. I don’t blame him; people tend to default to making Quicksilver this stunted, arrogant manchild–a flanderized version of Vegeta, essentially. The only person who ever really made Quicksilver more than just exceedingly punchable was Peter David. He consistently gave more depth to the character, taking him beyond “he’s a jerk that runs fast”, past the “I can relate to that” moment of a guy waiting forever behind someone who doesn’t know how to use an ATM, all the way into the well-rounded person he was at the end of All-New X-Factor, seeking to help the sister he’d been shunning for decades.

Having said that, his portrayal here isn’t nearly as bad as it was during Civil War II, so it could be worse. He’s not physically abusive. He’s not even verbally abusive–well, not anymore than he usually is. But in his zeal to prove himself every bit the heavy-hitter that Sam “Ah’m nigh invulnerable when Ah’m blastin’ ” Guthrie is, he rushes off into battle with the Avengers and nearly gets himself killed as the team discovers a new wrinkle: the frozen members of the team can’t be unfrozen without freezing someone else. It’s a rookie move on the part of everyone involved, but an understandable mistake when everything that could go wrong, has.

Meanwhile in part four we get another glimpse at the Grandmaster’s game, and for the first time the Avengers start to realize there is a game being played. The action has moved at a breathless pace up to now, but I feel like things could stand to slow down over the next two issues. Right now, the team is literally the “environmental hazard” for a fighting game’s stage select–they’re an option on Smash Bros that gets cut on or off at the players’ demands. They need to re-group and take control of things. Y’know, if they’re not mourning the death of the Human Torch next issue.

Part of that is probably the fact that there’s so many Avengers teams. There’s three working together now, and that’s not counting all the non-Avengers characters being included. Coming out of this crossover, ideally they pare this down to a more manageable size; no team needs more than two versions of itself at any one time.

Detective Comics #973
“Fall of the Batmen Finale”
Writer: James Tynion IV
Pencils: Jesus Merino
Colors: Jason Wright

“Bad guys don’t get happy endings.” Heartbreaking final words from a character that did the best they could to rehabilitate themselves, despite attempts from within and without to return him to his old persona. As Fall of the Batmen comes to a close, we’re finally shown the actions that Batwoman takes that will eventually rip the group apart.   Disobeying a direct order from Batman and betraying the trust of the team, she’s only done what she believes is necessary…but that doesn’t mean there aren’t repercussions.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. For now, let’s talk about Clayface. The start of this week’s issue delves into Bruce and Tim discussing that the attempt to earnestly rehabilitate Clayface is exactly the kind of forward thinking Tim wanted to come from the Gotham Knights project. It makes sense: Arkham is a revolving door, so it’d be easier to protect Gotham if you could turn as many of Batman’s rogues as possible into productive members of society. But…bad guys don’t get happy endings. Viewed cynically, that statement is almost facile. Do bad guys deserve happy endings? With how much pain they inflict upon others, what makes them worthy?

But in truth, as we create superhero fiction, the correct answer is everyone deserves a happy ending. It’s the most optimistic form of fiction humanity’s ever created–it’s where at the true end of it all, the good guy is supposed to triumph over the bad guy.  And so it should also be the form of fiction where everyone deserves a chance to, as the kids would say, “live their best life”.

Unfortunately though, the tragedy of superhero stories is that ultimately no one can get a truly happy ending, because we never close the book. The story must go on, and so characters that could grow, heal, and become better wind up stuck doing the same old things. So the reformed villain must die, or resume their villainous ways. And eventually Batman has to go back to being a sad child unable to recover from the trauma of his parents’ deaths. There’s a rumor that James Tynion IV is leaving Detective Comics soon, and with it comes the concern that this is where it’s all heading. I hope not, as while Clayface wasn’t quite able to finish his journey towards a happier life, I still want to see Bruce travel that road for just a short while longer.

Doomsday Clock #3
Writer: Geoff Johns
Illustrator: Gary Frank
Colorist: Brad Anderson

If you hadn’t heard, issue three of Doomsday Clock is the last one we’ll be getting for at least another two, maybe three months. You can tell it’s unintended–this issue still meets Doomsday Clock’s otherwise high standard of quality–but this just isn’t the issue you’d write before an intermission. It doesn’t end on a major cliffhanger or revelation for the characters or the readers, unless you count Batman tricking Rorshach into an Arkham cell. I’m still not sure how I feel about that, as it seems out of character for Bruce…but maybe that’s the point?

I’ve suggested it before, but it really seems like the longer these universes cross over the more one side becomes like the other. The Watchmen characters were known for being pale imitations of superheroes in the original maxi-series. They weren’t capable of the same kind of acrobatic derring-do you’d see from a Batman or a Nightwing, because that’s not how humans work in real life. But here? Ozymandias, with a body that should be weak from a rapidly impending death, is still somehow capable of dodging bullets and performing high-level parkour flips from one building to another.  With a concussion. While holding a cat. And meanwhile the Mime from the Watchmen world reveals he really has been holding invisible weapons and slays an entire bar full of people in Gotham with the help of his wife.

At the same time, Batman’s worked with nutcases like Two-Face and made John-Paul Valley his successor as Batman. He’s no stranger to working with people who might be nuts, so for him to betray Rorshach seems…oddly distrustful, even for him. My working theory now is that Ozymandias’ plan completely failed, and Doctor Manhattan had to recreate that world.  His increase in power appears to be limitless, so maybe he made it more closely resemble DC’s Earth for his little experiment? Then he allowed one to be exposed to the other, and has been monitoring the changes for both? It’s still all up in the air for now, but judging from DC’s past two solicitations we won’t be discovering what’s happening until May at the earliest.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #37
“Zod’s Will Part One”
Writer: Robert Venditti
Penciller: Rafa Sandoval
Inker: Jordi Tarragona
Colorist: Tomeu Morey

I don’t have much for this, I just thought it’d be cool to marvel at Rafa Sandoval’s absurd skill level. It hurts watching Hal and Kyle being “rekt” by one of my least favorite villains, but the panel placement here is just superb. It’s arranged like the upper half of a broken Lantern, something that I thought was in my head until I realized the Kryptonians here were actually questioning the purpose of using a ring as the channel point for their power.

This arc is made all the more interesting because Kryptonians versus Green Lanterns has always been a bit of a hot button for me. The Most Powerful Weapon in the Universe versus the most powerful race in the universe–it’s something like how Flash and Superman fans debate whether Clark or Barry is faster. On the one side you’ve got a group of heroes that can literally create anything they imagine. (Like, say…Kryptonite.) On the other you’ve got a race that literally becomes gods in the light of a yellow sun.   It’s not hard to wonder which side would be superior…though it becomes less of a debate when the Lanterns in question are outnumbered.

The other half of this story involves John and the Corps reacting to the Guardians taking up their posts as the leaders of the Corps again. A couple weeks ago I talked about how Venditti is building up rather than tearing down, so hopefully the Guardians can maintain their place without becoming despotic weirdos about it again.

Ninja-K #3
Writer: Christos Gage
Art: Tomas Giorello with Roberto de la Torre
Colors: Diego Rodriguez

I love how this story starts with Ninja-C aiming to kill off Ninja-K until K asks, “But why tho?”, and C calms down enough to give him an entire origin story. That might sound like me mocking this issue, but I’m not; sometimes the most logical thing to happen is a conversation rather than a fight scene, and it’s bold of a superhero writer to go through with that as a choice.

I was wondering just what manner of horrible things the NINJA programme could be doing that would make an agent turn against them. After decades of performing assassinations and engaging in spycraft where the job involves constantly deceiving almost everyone they’d ever meet…it would take a lot to make it believable that any of them would ever turn. Fortunately, Christos Gage has found something twisted enough to work by making it personal. The truest definition of a mercenary, Colin King wouldn’t have been moved by most things the NINJA programme has done, but learning that an entire organization has been controlling every single Ninja, bending them and making it impossible for any of them to ever quit by killing anyone they ever got too close to?  Yeah, that’d do it.

We know for sure that Gage intends to introduce us to the other Ninja in the programme–E through J–and I’m excited to see how each member might react.  Obviously at least one or two will remain loyal (for whatever reason), but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want the rest to team up and create some weird all ninja version of the Unity squadron. With all the dangers threatening the Valiant Universe, they could use all the help they can get. Plus, expansion of a character’s lore is never a bad thing. They shouldn’t go backwards on this, either. Don’t let Ninja-C make the entire thing up–let MI6 actually be the villains for this.

Astro City #50
“Aftermaths”
Writer:
Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Anderson
Cover: Alex Ross
Color Art: Peter Pantazis
Lettering & Design: John G Roshell & Sarah Jacobs of Comicraft

If you hadn’t heard, Astro City is coming to a close fairly soon. Not permanently, but it is switching to either a mini-series or OGN format soon. It makes sense; Brent Anderson’s beautiful artwork is beginning to show some cracks at the edges after being forced to adhere to the rigors of the monthly schedule for nearly five years now. But as the series reaches the fifty issue milestone, I thought it only right to include it in this week’s Bottom of the Pile.

This month’s issue revisits one of the series’ most popular stories, “Nearness of You”, a 1996 story that featured a character named Michael Tenicek–a man who learned that thanks to a time-altering battle between good and evil, his wife was erased from history.  It’s a bittersweet story that really drives home the brilliance of Astro City, a comic by a guy who’s so smart and become so intimately familiar with superheroes that he’s started to think about things that most people wouldn’t even dream of, fan or creator.

That’s still true twenty years later as we revisit Michael–in the interim, he’s created a support group for the people who’s lives have been irrevocably altered by the battles between good and evil. When Astro City isn’t breaking your heart, it’s always forcing you to examine how superheroes could work in a way you hadn’t before. I could be the weird one, but as fun as it is to speculate about what comics and what heroes will come out of a major event…when I read something like Metal or Forever Evil or Blackest Night, I have other questions. How does a populace survive when they were swarmed by zombies for one horrible night? How do you keep your sanity in a world where you’ve seen murderous, evil Batmen and cannibalistic Robins? What difference does it make that the Justice League are there when at the drop of a hat they can be replaced with an evil Justice League from a parallel world?

How does that result in anything less than a paranoiac humanity that’s constantly battling PTSD from all the stupid mistakes the heroes let happen? So for me, stories like this don’t just make sense–they feel necessary. Knowing there’s someone helping to bandage up the collective psyche of humanity in the aftermath of all these crazy events feels like it’s doing more to suspend my disbelief than whatever complex answer we’re using to explain how Clark Kent takes off his glasses and no one knows he’s Superman these days.

Deathstroke Annual #1
“An Innocent Man”
Story: Priest

Pencils: Denys Cowan
Inks: Bill Sienkiewicz

Color: Jeromy Cox

I understand two things from reading Priest’s Deathstroke Annual. One, he absolutely would’ve preferred to keep writing Defiant, the super-team put together by Deathstroke and his wife. It falls apart in this issue so quickly that it could have only been the result of someone telling him they needed Slade to be a supervillain within the next couple months.

And two, if Priest could get away with it he would be writing a book about Tanya Spears, the new Power Girl. It’s hard to blame him–the mere fact that she exists at all is fascinating. A Christian, super-genius, black teenaged woman who’s trying to navigate both society and the landscape of the super-powered community? There’s so much potential there, as the ties black people have to Christianity haven’t been explored nearly enough in superhero comics. Black characters are usually Muslim, or “conveniently” they’re not religious at all. As a Christian, that’s also a pastor, Priest is uniquely qualified to talk about how her religion would inform her behavior in a way that could turn her into DC’s version of Ms. Marvel….y’know, if they let him.

This issue basically reshuffles the deck for Deathstroke going forward, disbanding his team but setting up for things that it’d be great if he were allowed to pay it off later.  Most importantly? Tanya meeting Karen Starr, the original Power Girl, and attempting to rescue her from…where ever she got lost somehow. With Priest’s Justice League coming to an end soon (…for some reason), I’d love to see him get placed onto Teen Titans and pull both of these characters from obscurity and onto a bigger stage.

The Flash Annual #1
“Prelude to Flash War”

Writer: Joshua Williamson
Art: Howard Porter and Christian Duce
Color: HI-FI

I’ve always thought this is how you use an annual: to focus on a character that isn’t usually a main hero in the story, or to build up an upcoming storyline. Flash Annual does both, splitting the story between and A and a B plot.

In the A storyline, Williamson helps Wally to develop his life a bit more for the first time since the end of DC Rebirth #1, when the character emerged from the Speed Force. He meets up with Magenta, a super character we haven’t seen prominently since Geoff Johns’ run in the early 2000’s, and tries to rebuild a friendship with her. Of course, Magenta’s past involves being the villain as often as it does the hero, so their first meeting is a little rocky before Wally finally convinces her to calm down.

It’s a decent enough story, but I’m a little uncomfortable with how most of the things Wally’s done insofar as “rebuilding his life” since he’s come back can all be broken down to “semi-romantic entanglements with women”. It’s also weird that literally everyone but Linda can remember Wally. The woman he married and had children with. His “lightning rod” that’s brought him out of the Speed Force several times. She can’t remember, but a character I literally had to Google to remember can? There’s got to be more than we realize, or things have officially gotten silly.

The B plot to this, though, involves The Renegades, and that’s the part that makes this a must-read for every Flash fan. The Renegades were a futuristic version of the Rogues from the 25th century that basically served as heroes i their timeline. They’re a group of pre-Flashpoint characters from Geoff’s truncated Flash run in 2010, and they’re the biggest tie the Flash universe has had to its older version since Wally returned. At the behest of their chief, they’ve been sent back in time to stop whatever time insanity has been wreaking havoc on their future, and it’s all meant to lead into a so-called “Flash War” in May. I’m giddy at the potential of re-developing the Flash family, because something like this has to bring Jay Garrick out to play, to say the least? Could Bart and Max be too far behind?

The only flaw to this is that in the meantime we’re forced to drudge through a story involving Gorilla Grodd, and right now this just makes me want to skip it so we can “get to the good stuff”. But if your biggest complaint about someone’s story is that you want to read even more of it, you’re probably in good hands.

See you in seven!