Bottom Of The Pile: Feb. 28th, 2018 – Avengers, The Unbelievable Gwenpool, Mera: Queen Of Atlantis, The Terrifics, Transformers: Lost Light

by Sage Ashford

Alright, so last week had a couple stories either winding down or reaching their end, so it was a pretty emotional week for me. Batgirl revealed the Gotham Knights project was a sham, and Gwenpool….well. Let’s just get into it.

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, all the series 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 #682
“No Surrender Part 8”
Writers: Al Ewing, Jim Zub, & Mark Waid
Artist: Sean Izaakse
Color Artist: David Curiel

And we’re back with “No Surrender”. I’m gonna skip the celebration gif this one time for continuity’s sake, but we are headed down the road I predicted, where the Avengers realize the quickest way to put an end to this game is by claiming the Pyramoids themselves, even if it means risking their lives. They did take the sting out of it a bit by having the Avengers theorize they weren’t necessarily headed to their doom but being teleported elsewhere, but…eh. An unimportant claim overall.

The biggest deal this issue was the reveal of what’s been hinted for weeks now: the return of Bruce Banner, as the Immortal Hulk. Timed almost perfectly with the announcement of Al Ewing going on to write the comic. It’s a little old-school in presentation, right down to the classic comic book font for “Incredible Hulk”, but I dig it, and I almost wish they’d do the same for whatever other books come out of this run.

Speaking of, if there’s one thing I pull from this issue, it’s the widening gap of Rogue from the Avengers. After watching Johnny Storm “die” a few issues back, she’s been rushing into battle with a berserker-like rage, eventually leading to her seemingly killing a member of the Black Order after absorbing some of his power…and mindstate. She’s been complaining about the way the Avengers do things for most of this story, which has got to come to a head sooner or later…and will most likely result in her quitting instead of being outright kicked off the team.

With the announcement of Marvel’s “Fresh Start” though, we’re clearly going back to the “good old days”. (“Good old days” being “what worked in the past”, of course.) And I’m not opposed to the idea, but I do think we have to make a little bit of room for some new blood as well, and hopefully Rogue doesn’t just wind up back with Gambit, unless their relationship is going somewhere.

The Unbelievable Gwenpool #25
Writer: Christopher Hastings
Artist: Gurihiru

For at least the past decade, comic book writer/rockstar/insane being from the 12th dimension Grant Morrison has been arguing that in their own way, these comic characters are real. Moreover, as their creators die but other people move on to work on them, they become more real than us, because we’re capable of dying while they’re all eternal. Gwenpool takes the theory and inserts it directly into Marvel canon, making it the character’s reason not to lose hope and fall into depression as her comic book comes to an end. Because for comic book characters, a book ending won’t ever be their “death”.

Granted, that doesn’t make it any less sad. But instead of a funeral, it becomes more like when you say goodbye to all your relatives after Thanksgiving or Christmas. You miss them, because you know it’ll be months before you get to see them all again. I’m not ashamed to admit this book moved me to tears, because I’m going to miss Gwen and her wacky, fourth-wall breaking adventures.

For years creators used to talk about the inherent limits of comic books at the Big Two. They couldn’t grow old with us, they never “really” change; Peter Parker was working for a bleeding edge tech company when I first started college, and two years after I graduated somehow he’s back at the Bugle. It used to be argued these limits were the reasons stories told with these characters would always be inferior. They would always be lesser, because real life doesn’t work like that–and many people believe art must always imitate life. But after decades of thinking that way, creators like Christopher Hastings have realized working within those limitations can still allow the creation of incredibly touching work. Meta storytelling doesn’t have to be the same cynical jokes, but we can use it to actually tell a complete character arc.

Congratulations to Christopher Hastings and the absurdly talented women that make up Gurihiru. Hopefully it won’t be long before all of them find new books to call home. It’s cool all the “big guns” are coming back to Marvel, but man. I’m going to miss Gwen. But it’s not goodbye, it’s just…see you later.

Mera: Queen of Atlantis #1 (of 6)
“A Queen in Exile”
Writer: Dan Abnett
Pencils: Lan Medina
Inks: Richard Friend
Colors: Veronica Gandini

The world of Aquaman continues to enjoy some of the best development between either of the Big Two companies. It seems insane Mera’s been such a major part of the DC Universe for nearly a decade now and she’s never got a comic, but at least we’re here now, right?

There’s actually a lot going on here. We’ve brought back Ocean Master for the first time since he escaped jail and he’s…in a much different place than he was years ago.  After spending so many years on land, banished from Atlantis, he’s managed to craft a life for himself with a wife and a stepson. And that’s actually the crux of what this book is about: people crafting comfortable lives for themselves, even if they don’t quite fit. Orm has his new family, Tula’s learned to adapt to the surface world (and has even picked up much of our lingo), and then there’s Mera.

The most fascinating part of this story to me is Mera being a working woman who clearly prefers being a wife. They recap it in this issue, but over in Aquaman they’re fighting to free Atlantis from the control of a despotic king, and once that happens Mera will be set up to rule as its Queen. That’s a career that a lot of people would be pretty happy to get, but it’s not what Mera wants. After years of being told what to do, forced to train in battle and diplomacy…this is just one more thing that’s forced on her without anyone ever asking what she wants.

She’d much rather marry Arthur and live out their lives in his family’s lighthouse together.  (So would Arthur, as far as we can tell.) At the most she’d work with the Justice League alongside Arthur, but that’s more like a hobby than a job in their case. Over the course of this mini-series, Mera’s going to have to figure out how to balance between the role life has created for her and the one she wants. And she’s going to have to make some smart choices, because given how this issue ends, there’s a distinct chance Atlantis might be trading one despotic king…for another.

The Terrifics #1
“Meet the Terrifics”
Storytellers: Ivan Reis & Jeff Lemire
Inker: Joe Prado
Colorist: Marcelo Maiolo

Confession time: Jeff Lemire doesn’t normally tell the kind of stories I’m into.  Much of his early work tended to be about finding the strange in the mundane, the spookiness of small towns and nature, etc. That’s not my thing, but a cosmic focused story like The Terrifics is squarely in my wheelhouse.

But. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The tail end of this issue features the revival of Tom Strong, an Alan Moore creation that was apart of America’s Best Comics until the entire universe came to an end. Now Alan Moore is two things: undeniably talented and one of the best creatives in comics…and a bit of a contentious personality. Due to rights issues over Marvelman and Watchmen, he pretty much broke all ties with DC or Marvel by the start of the 90’s and never really looked back. Over the decades afterwards, he made several different creations, and the key to America’s Best Comics was making a universe reflecting what comics might have become if superheroes hadn’t become the dominant genre. …So of course, DC revives some of the biggest characters from that universe and immediately dumps them into their superhero universe.

This was always going to be a prickly topic, since DC was never supposed to own these characters. But you’d think if they wanted to bring them back they would’ve at least set them in their own universe to keep up the core conceit behind ABC to begin with. However, Tom Strong was always billed as this explorer of the impossible, a pulp hero who saw things most mortal men could never comprehend. What could be a greater adventure than bringing him into the world of superheroes?

There’s so much this book does right I probably would’ve let the Tom Strong thing go regardless, though. Mr. Terrific, Metamorpho and Plastic Man are woefully underused characters, and even though they barely make sense together, sometimes those are the teams that stick with fans the most. Plus Ivan Reis does a great Plastic Man, getting across his wildly expressive personality without turning him into a total joke of a character.

Transformers: Lost Light #15
“Kill All Cons”
Writer: James Roberts
Art by: Brendan Cahill and Sara Pitre-Durocher
Colors by: Joana Lafuente

Lost Light is one of those books so consistently excellent I forget to mention it sometimes.  You’re just supposed to be reading this book, period. Roberts has humanized the Transformers in a way that’s made them some of the most relatable characters in comic books. This week’s issue focused on the Scavengers, some bottom of the barrel Decepticons that began traveling with Grimlock after he lost his ability to speak due to battle damage never properly fixed.

They run into Decepticon strategist and former “Headmaster” Scorponok just as he introduces his latest plan: cloning humans and placing the “sparks” of Decepticons inside infant humans in order to take advantage of our ability to rapidly reproduce. (Clearly no one’s told him of all the recently discovered sparks on Cybertron.) The plan involves taking the majority of the remaining ten thousand ‘Cons and forcibly transferring their minds into these bodies through Scorponok’s ability to control all ‘Cons thanks to the Rite all Decepticons undergo in order to gain their emblem.

It’s exactly the kind of thing I’d expect from a Decepticon: cruelty on a barely comprehensible scale towards both humanity and cybertronic life, while also being coldly logical.   Fortunately, everything doesn’t go to plan because of something else entirely logical, though much more emotionally based: the Scavengers are tired of war. After millions of years of battling their own kind, they’ve realized the futility of a conflict that’s forced nearly everyone who got too attached to surrender literally everything about themselves: their convictions, their beliefs, their friends, their lives. All for the sake of winning an argument that’s become wholly irrelevant here in the present.

If I had two complaints about this, it’d be that I’m pretty uncomfortable with a human Transformer, as it reminds me too much of Beast Machines. It eliminates what makes them stand apart from us and makes their stories largely identical to any other, though I guess eventually they’ll try to include more Pretender/Headmaster technology if things keep going.   Fortunately that gets nullified this issue as Scorponok’s plan fails. And the other thing is…I’m tired of cliffhangers in this book, man. We keep shifting from one part of the universe to the other to follow new plot points without properly resolving the ones we left. I wanna know what happens to these guys at the end, but instead we’re hopping back over to the crew of the Lost Light…a group who’s story also ended on a cliffhanger several issues ago, and I’m also curious about.

….That’s not really a complaint, it just means I wish I got more of this story faster, but hey.  I had to find something to complain about.

See you in seven.