Bottom Of The Pile: May 2nd, 2018 – Avengers, DC Nation, Deathstroke, Harbinger Wars 2: Prelude

by Sage Ashford

A comparatively shorter week to start the month off, we’ve still got some amazing books to talk about!

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Avengers #1
“The Final Host”
Writer: Jason Aaron
Penciller: Ed McGuinness
Inker: Mark Morales

Color Artist: David Curiel

The argument Tony has with Captain America and Thor feels like it represents an argument fans have had around these characters since Jason Aaron was announced to be taking over the series, with one pervading idea being present throughout the entire discussion: who cares what happened in the past, let’s just get back together!

That’s not to say Aaron is dismissive of what’s happened in the past.  He acknowledges Tony’s time in a coma following the events of Civil War II. He’s aware Captain America was a member of Hydra in a comic most of us would rather forget. And having written Thor for the last five years or so of course he’s up on events in the Thunder god’s life. But after essentially two decades of “Earth shattering events” where teams dramatically disband at the end (or sometimes even in the middle), he also acknowledges fans are tired of having to spend an entire arc waiting to see a team finally get together to do some good and smack bad guys around.

So yeah, this book is a bit more wordy than some people might be used to, but it’s got a lot of ground to cover. Like having Tony, ever the man fixated on the future, realize maybe we should want newer characters to be the Avengers–characters who haven’t screwed up as much. But Thor speaks not just for the so-called “Big Three” but for the reader as well when he says they need this.  It’s true; if these guys aren’t Avengers then they all lose something vital. Thor needs a break from his duties as the Prince/King/Main Warrior of Asgard.  Captain America will always seek out the Biggest Good he can possibly do and that’ll always be with the Avengers. And Tony needs an outlet to force him to do the right thing, or he’s just another billionaire jerk in a suit. But more importantly? We need this as readers.  It’s nothing for Marvel to switch and put a team of newcomers or legacy heroes as the Avengers. It’d probably be easier for the creative team as it’s more fertile ground.  But it never quite feels like the Avengers to most readers without these guys at the center.

I’m still a little iffy on it the plot. The book starts out in 1,000,000 B.C., following a group of immeasurably powerful warriors who resemble  the Avengers perhaps a little too strongly for my tastes. The team works together to face off against the latest in a long line of cosmic threats: the original Celestial host, come to Earth for reasons still unclear. As big a fan I am of teams and certain mantles having a long lineage, I’ve never been as attached to the idea when it involves stretching those lineages backwards and implying however coincidentally that certain groups or mantles were always around, even if the name was different.

The group–consisting of Odin, the Phoenix in human form, the first Iron Fist, Black Panther, Ghost Rider and Sorcerer Supreme, along with a Starbrand which looks…suspiciously like the Hulk–throwdown against the Celestials in a battle we don’t get to see.  But despite their concern they won’t survive, they clearly do make it given the Earth still exists in the present. However, while they saved the Earth, they certainly didn’t solve the problem, as a new group of Celestials, calling themselves the Final Host, still exist today. Though exactly what they want remains to be seen. It’s not that I can’t be sold on it, I just need more time to see if that’s possible.

Still, it’s exciting to have the Avengers back and shrunk down to something manageable instead of being four different books with five dozen heroes across them.  Jason Aaron’s achieved landmark runs on both Thor and Doctor Strange so far, and if he can do the same and bring Avengers back to the heights of Jonathan Hickman in both quality and sales, then far be it from me to complain. A special shout out to Ed McGuinness’ work by the way, which has done a massive level-up since the last time I’ve seen it. I’ve always enjoyed his art, but usually boasts a cartoonish quality to it that wouldn’t have fit a more serious story like this–but whether it’s David Curiel’s darker color palette or just a shift in how McGuinness is drawing, this book has exactly the sort of epic feel an Avengers book like this needs.

DC Nation #0
“No Justice” Prelude
Writers: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, & Joshua Williamson
Artist: Jorge Jimenez
Colors: Alejandro Sanchez
Letters: Andworld Design

Set in the aftermath of one major event in Metal, being the set up to a mini-event in the upcoming No Justice event this month, DC Nation #0 feels somewhat awkwardly placed.  And that’s all without acknoweldging there’s an entirely separate event still running which is supposedly still going to have a massive effect on the DC Universe in Doomsday Clock.  Perhaps I’m simply used to one shots like these being used to set up something that’s going to set the tone for a universe for months to come, like DC Universe #0, or Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1. Or it could be I wish this actually covered more major comics coming this summer and fall and maybe tee’d up Flash War, the Dark Gods over in Wonder Woman, and the final stage of the Atlantis rebellion in Aquaman.

Whatever it is, it’s left me feeling weird when I read DC Nation, even if the book itself is solidly written. There’s an compelling horror crime story with the second appearance of Tom King’s Joker. There’s a story setting the table for Brian Bendis’ upcoming Superman.  But the one I’m focused on the most is the No Justice prelude, coming from the three writers responsible for that event happening.

Unsurprisingly, there are a few parallels between No Justice and the recent Avengers #1.  Right as the Avengers are starting to scale down, the Justice League is beginning to scale up. But it doesn’t feel like creators are just ripping one another off: for years now the Avengers teams have had very little to do with one another–the Ultimates, the U.S. Avengers, the Champions, and the main Avengers team mostly kept to their own stories.  But near as we can tell, both No Justice and the upcoming new era of Justice League books are meant to expand the teams while also having them work more closely together than ever, as they bring back the sense of community sorely missing since the days before Flashpoint.   Of course, both the Avengers and the Justice League appear to be fighting similar sorts of villains: massive, cosmic powered characters in ornate armor. For the Avengers it’s the Final Host, for the Justice League it’s the Omega Titans, who consume entire galaxies for energy.  (How’s that for danger, Galactus?)

The threat is a little more absurd over in the DC Universe, but that’s to be expected.  Created before we started placing as many limits on our characters, the DCU should never be afraid to be more over the top, and so looking at these four different teams dressed in these oddly toyetic looking armors have left me more curious than anything.  What’s the armor’s purpose? Why such specific teams with hilariously gimmicky code names?  I suppose we’ll see soon enough, but it’s a good sign No Justice is the most excited I’ve been for DC since Rebirth #1 almost exactly two years ago.

Deathstroke #31
“Deathstroke vs. Batman Part 2 of 6: The Falling Stars”
Story: Priest
Pencils: Carlo Pagulayan & Roberto Viacara
Inks: Jason Paz
Colors: Jeremy Cox

It sucks Christopher Priest was dragged off of Justice League, but it’s great he’s still writing Deathstroke, which isn’t just one of the best DC comics being published, but easily one of the best superhero comics published in the last decade. The immense amount of research Priest’s put in not just for world building, but for these characters to feel believable is astounding, yet present in every page.

Last issue, Bruce was goaded into attacking Slade after receiving troubling information that Damian might not be a Wayne, but in fact, a Wilson.  Since then, these two massive egos have collided, with their threats and intents to piss each other off escalating with every scene. The only thing slowing them down being their two British mentors, Wintergreen and Alfred. The two of them are clearly working towards a plan to deescalate the situation, but it remains to be seen if that’s even a possibility at this point.

What sticks out the most about this issue is how Priest gives even Bruce Wayne an edge.  Usually characterized as a shallow, privileged fop, Wayne manages to appear much more like the kind of shady businessman you’d expect for someone in his tax bracket.  He’s threatening people’s lives and bribing people with money, and the entire thing reminds you Priest has been wanting to do Batman for years  He’s got the spirit of the character down perfectly too, keeping his enemies off-guard by bragging about how smart he is while having secretly taken the easiest path to get the job done. And while Tom King does have over fifty issues left until he’s story’s done…it still wouldn’t be the worst idea if someone let one of the most clever writers in comics got a shot at writing one of the most clever characters in comics.

Harbinger Wars 2: Prelude
Writer: Eric Heisserer
Art: Raul Allen & Patricia Martin

Last year I got heavy into Valiant Comics’ universe, and while I’m still in the middle of that (I just got past Divinity 2), I wasn’t sure how I felt about Harbinger Wars. More than anything it simply felt like a crossover for the sake of a crossover, with more death and destruction than a mid-2000’s DC event.   It wasn’t bad, it just felt…somewhat superfluous.

I felt about the same about Harbinger Wars 2, as making an event a sequel to an older event rarely ever goes well.  But this Prelude actually changes my mind, especially in light of what we’ve seen with the Psiot population. The Valiant Universe is in a completely different place than they were back in 2012 or 2013, when the Harada Foundation had dozens of talented, powerful beings with advanced psychic powers at his beck and call.  Many of those people have been killed–the few that haven’t are either in hiding, or have such benign powers they’re basically not worth considering a threat. Eric Heisserer’s Secret Weapons mini-series covered those types last year: they have powers like turning to stone but being unable to move, or talking to birds.

Nevertheless, the H.A.R.D. Corps continues to hunt down the remaining Psiots, taking their revenge for fallen comrades in battles featuring people who have nothing to do with their friends’ deaths. And so Livewire, the one legitimately moral superhero of the Valiant Universe finally uses her Psiot power of control over all technology to just…shut it down.   She cuts off the power grid for the entire North America, allowing her and her few non-threatening Psiot friends to have some measure of peace. For now.

Of course, this isn’t where it ends. Both because no government would ever accept such a loss…and because we wouldn’t have an event otherwise. But what it has done is gotten me invested–this time I have a better understanding of the stakes on both sides, and I have protagonists I want to root for.  Livewire’s words above, “You have let the bully believe he is the underdog” have a special ring of real-world truth to them given what’s going on these days, and make me want to see her succeed.  But we’re at the beginning of this story and there’s a long way to go, with a lot of powerful figures in this universe yet to take a side.

See you in seven.