Bottom Of The Pile: Feb. 14th, 2018 – Avengers, Detective Comics, New Super Man & The Justice League of China, Ninja-K, Titans

by Sage Ashford

Solicitations have brought us a lot of insanity over the past couple days, but let’s not forget great comics are still coming out now, not just three months in the future.

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 #680
“No Surrender Part 6”
Writers: Al Ewing, Jim Zub & Mark Waid
Artist: Kim Jacinto
Color Artist: David Curiel

No Surrender soldiers on. The team deals with the aftermath of Johnny Storm going down, and we learn a new rule of the game! It seems when one environmental hazard gets wiped out, a new one is brought into play. The Human Torch replaced with the Winsome Wasp. This suggests a rather dark path the story could go down, if they wanted. For both the Black Order and Lethal Legion, as one of them claims a point, their member is killed off. This weakens the teams and “evens” it out, so the more points that a team has, the harder it becomes to gain more points.

…But since the Avengers are made up of dozens of heroes, they can literally toss as many heroes as they want at a problem, gain a point, lose a member, and replace them with someone else. They’re heroes so that’s unlikely, but…what if they realize they’ve got no choice?

All that aside, now that Marvel’s revealed their plans for a “Fresh Start”, I can’t help looking at this book with different eyes. There’s rumors (likely confirmed as fact by the time this goes up) that a book known as The Immortal Hulk is in the works, written by Al Ewing.

This issue already features a character that’s hidden away in the darkness, hiding from something “inside of him” that potentially cannot die. So that makes me wonder how much of No Surrender is setting up for Marvel’s Fresh Start? Will we see new lines being drawn between teams to tell us how things will develop next?

Also. Marvel’s intention for the Avengers after this is a smaller, united team; a focused group that’s reminiscent of the past while still looking forward. With that in mind, a lot of these characters are about to have no place to go. I’m suspecting the new Wasp will find her way to the Champions. The Unity Squad is done, as it was a weird concept to begin with since the X-Men have always been able to find a home with other superheroes. And the rest of the group–the “diversity hires” that idiots wouldn’t stop whining about–will find their way to a new team altogether, preferably one that can mix the classic Avengers-style of Jim Zub’s Uncanny stories with the variety of roster the U.S. Avengers had.

Detective Comics #974
“Knightsfall”
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Philippe Briones
Colors: Allen Passalaqua

This week, we deal with the aftermath of Batwoman’s actions fighting “King Clayface”. It splits the team almost wholly in half, and who knows if they’ll ever be right again. In truth, it might not even be a reasonable goal.

With this past set of May solicitations, we learned James Tynion’s time on Detective has come to an end. It’s been a great ride, and there’s honestly no promise all of the awesome things we’ve gotten to enjoy in his run will continue with the next writer. Even though it makes sense to let Batman focus on Bruce and Detective on everyone, the next writer might not view it that way. Ensemble books are hard, and not everyone wants to write one.

However, much as I’d love to see Tynion stay on board this comic, there’s another I’d love to see him on more: Red Robin. Tim Drake maintained a comic book for twenty years and nearly 200 issues, and I’m confident if the character was given another shot with the right creative team he could go for at least another thirty or forty. And Tynion knows how to write Tim, a character that’s always taken the legacy of Batman more seriously than any of Bruce’s other proteges aside from Damian.

Tynion’s created a unique puzzle for Tim Drake to escape here. Having run into the future version of himself, he can see the path he’s going down…but just because he can see it, doesn’t mean he can escape. His love for Gotham and respect for Bruce and the legacy of Batman make it impossible for him to just give up, so he feels locked in. His future self (so far) is proving to have been right, as his path feels set no matter what he seems to do.  This feels like a much deeper story than we’re used to, where a hero sees their evil future and simply decides “I won’t become like that”.

If I have one problem with Tynion’s arc it’s with Stephanie Brown. Steph was always the person who plunged headlong into danger, even when it was to her detriment.  She started her career just ’cause she wanted to shut her evil dad down, but stuck it out ’cause she enjoyed crime-fighting.

And although she was nearly killed doing so, she eventually bounced back stronger than ever to take on the job of Batgirl in a book I still think is the best comic starring that character of all time. But here she’s constantly running away from the job SHE signed up for, and constantly telling Tim he should do the same. From the very beginning she’s been causing a divide among the Gotham Knights, wondering if they actually serve a positive purpose even though she sees the good they can do. I’m not sure where her story ends under his pen, but I would love to see her going back to being proud to be a superhero.

New Super Man & the Justice League of China #20
“Seas of Change Part One”
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Pencils: Brent Peeples
Inks: Matt Santorelli
Colors: HI-FI

If you think there’s a kiss on the next page, well…you’d be right, but all you get is a No-Prize, so calm down.

After several months of this being Kenan’s story, New Super Man has finally become a full-on team book, with a focus on the greater universe of characters in China. Finally separating from the Ministry of Self-Reliance, the Justice League of China are now wanted by the new super-team in town: the Green Lantern Corps of China. There’s an entire story there that’s begging to be told, because there’s no way the Ministry would rely on something as simple as using “will” to power a ring, nor are they advanced enough to create that to begin with.  There’s also an Aquaman of China, a young North Korean boy whose body is beginning to generate water and summon sea kaiju. It seems like they might be building him up into a villain, but hopefully they can move past that and expand the group’s ranks to six. This story is gradually building towards turning Justice League China into a real thing and it’s going to be the best thing ever, isn’t it?

One of the best things about this push for diversity is that it’s forced DC and Marvel to develop characters from other cultures, other countries. It’s not just lip service and a one-shot appearance in an A-List hero’s book before getting killed off in an event. These characters are getting the love and attention they’ve deserved from the start. And hopefully DC can craft a mini-corner of the DCU for international heroes’ team books…and the super-book featuring all the most popular heroes from those comics: the Justice League International.

NINJA-K #4
Writer: Christos Gage
Art: Juan Jose Ryp, Ariel Olivetti
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse

I’ll admit, this is dark humor if you’ve been following the story (NINJA-D died horribly), but I laughed for at least five minutes on my first read through. I appreciate Christos Gage for knowing to get right to the goods, as I’ve wanted the story of NINJA-G, the black woman agent from the dope-ass 70’s for for some time now. The story is exactly what you’d expect it to be, given what we know of the NINJA programme at this point–they took a talented young woman with no strong family ties and turned her into the most effective assassin they could, and she succeeded despite the blatant sexism and racism that was common to that era.

But there are little twists and turns meant to keep readers on their toes this issue, as Gage reveals more about the mysterious “Jonin” character along with NINJA-G’s story.   Meanwhile, Juan Jose Ryp is doing some of the best work in comics right now, as this issue is a beautiful gorefest while G recounts her bloody past. Easily the best espionage/action comic on the stands right now, and what’s more impressive is how an entirely separate ongoing could be told just following the characters Gage has introduced over the past four issues.

Now supposedly, this story arc is meant to end next issue. That means either two things: it’s being put on pause and will be a constant running subplot for Gage’s run, or the Acclimation Bureau is a ruse. But since the first option is boring, I’m willing to bet we’re in for a long haul of these guys as primary villains.

Titans #20
“Titans Apart Part One”
Writer: Dan Abnett
Pencils: Paul Pelletier
Inks: Andrew Hennessy
Colors: Adriano Lucas

Though I read Titans every month, generally I don’t have much to comment on. Dan Abnett’s a great writer so Titans is never anything less than decent, but this issue heads down a path I can’t help finding interesting. What’s made Abnett’s incarnation of the Titans stand out more than anything is how he reached back and got the original team. The line up that started the book back in the 60’s and carried it until the early 70’s. Sure, it’s much of the same cast together again, but it’s not exactly the same cast and I feel like that’s important after so many different reboots have tried capturing the magic of the Wolfman-Perez run and never quite nabbed what made it so special.

But here, Dan Abnett finally gets it. If the original Titans were high school, and New Teen Titans was college, then what comes next? There’s so much story potential to be mined in seeing this characters try to maintain their lives together while also balancing their lives apart. Frankly, after so many years of seeing them on a same team things have gotten incestual–everyone’s slept with everyone else or broken a teammate’s heart. At this point, we’ve established “superheroing” is their job as much as anything else. That can be what binds them, but they need to develop worlds outside of their jobs, because what other group of twentysomethings do you know just stay together after college?

And that’s just the B plot! The main storyline sees Roy trying to track down a new drug and getting into it with Intergang. And nothing’s better than a hard luck Roy story.

This installment came a bit late due to net troubles, so ideally the next one will come about four days from now.