Bottom Of The Pile: Feb. 21st, 2018 – Avengers, Justice League, Catalyst Prime: Summit, Musketeers, WWE

by Sage Ashford

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 #681
“No Surrender Part 7”
Writers: Al Ewing, Jim Zub, Mark Waid
Artist: Kim Jacinto, Mike Perkins
Color Artist: David Curiel

I won’t lie, seeing Clint back in his original outfit left me with a big, dumb smile on my face.  They keep trying to make the guy cool, but his special power is shooting arrows in a universe where his teammates face alien invasions on the regular.  None of this makes sense, at least let him stand out rather than being a slightly more stylish SHIELD agent.

Anyway, the heroes finally learn the exact conditions behind their Earth being sealed off from everywhere else.  But fortunately, instead of just recapping for them and leaving the readers bored, a new wrinkle is thrown in: after the game is won, the “game board” is to be thrown away!   That places some additional skin in the game, forcing the Avengers to get a lot tougher if they intend to actually “win” and avoid certain catastrophe.

There’s also an origin for Valerie Vector, the forgotten Founding Member of the Avengers!  There’s yet to be any real explanation for how the team managed to remember a character that never existed, but I’m actually hoping they don’t remember.  Several books have been hinting for months now this is a “new universe” and it’s different from the original, and yet it’s rarely ever taken advantage of in fun ways.  This week’s excellent Infinity Countdown Prime brings up the Infinity Stones as if they’ve always been “stones” rather than “gems”, but perhaps it’s a change brought about due to the “8th Incarnation”.   Maybe the original Avengers line-up had five people, but this one has six.   What’s the point in claiming we have a “new” universe if you don’t do anything with it?

But then Valerie isn’t mentioned post-No Surrender, so perhaps she’s the only “sacrifice” the Avengers wind up making to bring the Earth from the pocket universe the Grandmaster has it placed in.

Justice League #39
“Justice Lost Part 1: The Race”
Writer: Priest
Pencils & Inks: Ian Churchill
Colors: Alex Sollazzo

This is the problem with solicitations and early announcements.  Priest is doing a fine job on Justice League still, but it doesn’t feel like it “matters” because he’s not announced to be on the book in the next three months.  How attached can you be when you know he’s going to be gone in a matter of issues?

Still, there’s a lot to love here: we get an explanation of where Aquaman’s blue suit came from, Cyborg taking the reins as a proper leader, and a reappearance of a Justice League character who should have never gone away in the first place.  And while I’m curious as to where exactly he’s taken my two favorite Green Lanterns not named Kyle Rayner or Alan Scott, it’s at least good Jessica doesn’t have to deal with having made out with Batman for a while longer.

If there’s one problem this issue does have, it’s that it kind of displays the ridiculousness of superheroes when placed in normal situations.  Cyborg tries to go to court on behalf of the Justice League to explain The Fan murdering someone while he was dressed up like Batman, and it just reminds you how absurd Batman is and how the U.S. Government wouldn’t approve of an existence like his in any way, shape, or form in the first place.  There’s a bit of dialogue with a committee member and Cyborg that’s like…

“Is it too much to ask that Batman hear from this committee?”

“I’m confident he has, Mr. Chairman.  In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s here.  […]  Batman is a master of disguise.  He could be anywhere.”

And I was just waiting for the Chairman to go, “I’m sure, but tell him to knock off the ninja shit before we put the entire military on you.  I didn’t skip dropping my child off at school just so some nut already disguised as a bat can play more dress-up games in my courtroom.”

Catalyst Prime: Summit #3
Written by: Amy Chu
Illustrated by: Jan Duursema

Written by a master of pacing and creating likable characters, and backed by Jan Duursema’s gorgeous art, Summit is one of the best comics in the already strong Catalyst Prime line-up.   Continuing on from last issue’s cliffhanger, Valentina teams up with her ex-husband and their scientist friends at MIT to figure out a way to save the daughter of some of her old friends.  From there we go from costume to a rudimentary understanding of her powers to getting her out in the middle of the jungle battling hitmen fairly quickly, managing to be one of the best usages of twenty four pages I’ve seen in some time.

In this issue, Amy Chu proves she just gets how superheroes should work, and how to take a new one from “…I suddenly have these strange powers” to “…and I’m kicking butt with them” very quickly.   That’s a talent not every creator has, as it can be easy to misjudge the right amount of time to tell a hero’s first story.  It’s either rushed and happens in a single issue, or they drag the Hero’s Journey out and it isn’t until we’re 6, 8, or 10-12 issues in before the hero’s finally put their costume on and gone into proper battle.  But nope, Val’s gotten her powers, her supporting cast, her cool costume, and there’s a compelling conflict where our protagonist is trying to do the right thing and we’re not even a through a full year’s worth of stories yet.

Musketeers #1
Writer: Terry Kavanaugh
Artwork: Daniel Maine
Colors: Bryan Valenza

Okay, so this might just be me: who else was aware Zenescope wasn’t just publishing fanservice-y posters masquerading as comics and schlocky one-shots about celebrities?   Yeah sure, their comic covers are definitely the most cheesecake you’ll see this side of a Christian Zanier book, but there’s actually more to it than what you’d expect.  They’ve actually created a living, breathing universe made up entirely of new twists on classic fairy tale stories.  It’s gone on for quite some time too; the first series started all the way back in 2005!

I’d been meaning to give the universe a try after I discovered this sometime last year, but the right opportunity to dive in hadn’t presented itself.  And while I love reading back issues, I just don’t have the time to delve into 12 years worth of material.   So when this popped up in solicitations I thought I’d give it a try–I like the Musketeers as a franchise, and I didn’t mind some of Terry Kavanaugh’s Iron Man.  So how is this?  ….Surprisingly, not bad!

In this universe, the Musketeers are three twentysomethings granted power by a magical book, then dragged to an alternate world and trained by Merlin and Morgan Le Fay.   The two mages promise them their powers are needed to turn real world into a utopia, and keep the peace in Camelot.  After some brief training they’re brought back to their own world where they’re meant to find some maguffin, but while in the real world several little twists happen I won’t spoil.

Musketeers feels like an 80’s or 90’s era thing, but not in a bad way.  There’s a bit of story compression to get to the hook of this mini-series, but once you get there it’s compelling enough to make you want to come back for the next issue.  It’s also backed by some beautiful artwork courtesy of Daniel Maine, who manages to sell the art whether the heroes are fighting a gang of high fantasy RPG monsters from another world or battering a group of cops unconscious.  The only lacking thing is the characters could use a bit more development, but it’s the first issue and there’s still plenty of time for that yet.  For now though, I’m in.

WWE #14
Written By: Dennis Hopeless, Tini Howard
Illustrated By: Serg Acuna, Hyeongjin Kim
Colored by: Doug Garbark

Though the women’s division of WWE has been mentioned a few times, and my girl Sasha Banks has even been featured in a few issues, there’s never been as big of a focus on the characters as there were here.   This month’s issue chronicles the beginning of the “Women’s Revolution”, and makes me wish there could be an entire comic focused on the early years of WWE’s “developmental” brand NXT.   But since there’s not as many holes to fill character-wise, that might be a slightly harder book to write.

This month’s issue gives us a look at Bayley, one of the most unique WWE superstars in either division.  The basic idea is she’s the ultimate fangirl, a girl so happy to be in her current place that positivity emanates from every part of her being.  It shines through in her entrance, her character, and even her finishing move–which is basically a bear hug that she turns into a belly-to-belly suplex.   The core conflict for Bayley is she’s such a nice girl it’s hard for her to succeed in the most cutthroat sport in the world, professional wrestling.  The story here is Bayley learning to accept herself for who she is and succeed in the WWE despite that.

…Unfortunately, much as I love this story, the one thing that gets in the way is how it doesn’t quite jive with what’s happening with Bayley now.   This book is always several months in the past by design and that’s great, because usually characters don’t change immeasurably.  But something about how they’ve treated Bayley over the past year just leaves an awful taste in my mouth.   Moving her from their developmental brand onto the main WWE roster, what made her character special has felt missing for months now.

Still, this book is great overall.  It’s fictional, but getting to see a kayfabe version of how the Four Horsewomen of NXT must have felt back when WWE treated their “Divas” division like a bathroom break while they were putting on four and five star matches still fills in some gaps in the stories being told back then, as this comic is known to do.  Their frustration at the thirty second match the Bellas had on the night the #GiveDivasAChance hashtag started trending worldwide felt real, and seeing how it fed into what would be the backstage set up for the Women’s Revolution feels like a story that’s been a long time coming.   From what I understand, this is going to be an entire arc that goes on for the next few months, running all the way from the original four Horsewomen all the way up to Alexa Bliss and Asuka’s rise.   That suits me just fine.

Speaking of Asuka, Tini Howard does a great short at the end of this about the undefeated Empress of Tomorrow. It’s solid enough that if they ever give WWE a women’s book I hope she gets a shot at writing it, as she nails the individual voices of all the women backstage.

See you in seven.