Bottom Of The Pile: May 23rd, 2018 – Black Panther, Detective Comics, Invincible Iron Man, The Flash, The Terrifics

by Sage Ashford

It’s a week of endings. A week of new beginnings. And a week of…bald, armor-wearing dudes. If you’re new here, welcome to Bottom of the Pile, a weekly column discussing some of the best comic books of the week. If you enjoy this series, please give it a share on Twitter and Facebook.

Black Panther #1
“Book 1: Many Thousands Gone”
Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artist: Daniel Acuna

I haven’t really been reading Black Panther up to now, but once I heard they were leaning into a afro-futurist space opera, I was all in. We’re not quite clear with the setting just yet–I’m not sure if this is the future or the present–but we do know the villains right now appear to be a galactic offshoot of the Wakandan empire.

How good this story can be depends on where Coates decides to go with it. We open with a man enslaved by the Intergalactic Wakandan Empire and charged to work in their vibranium mines…but he’s far too strong willed to be broken by the empire, or by the empire’s slaves. He makes an attempt to escape barely five pages into the issue, and it’s only a lucky stun shot that stops him from escaping the first time around. Later, he’s challenged by an alien who fancies himself the head “mule” of the mines…and quickly forces him to regret challenging him in the first place. Still, he manages to escape with the help of Nakia and M’Baku, two familiar names that leave us wondering whether these are the members of T’Challa’s empire we’re used to, or new characters taking on their names.

There’s a lot that can be done with this version of Black Panther. For one, there’s not nearly enough of stories about black people in space–there’s more than we think, but less than we need–and for another, if this really is an offshoot of the Wakandan empire, well. There’s quite a bit of story to be told in the cruelty we inflict on people we supposedly consider our own.

Even if that isn’t what’s happening though, there’s still a quality tale told in this first issue.  Coates’ roots as a prose writer are embedded within the DNA of this book–it’s more wordy than your usual modern comic book, but the dialogue is a lot sharper, smarter, and occasionally downright poetic. “Are you so lost that you will let them reduce you to this?  What do you hope to prove by killing him? That you truly are a beast? They have stolen your name, your culture, your god.  Do not let them steal your mind!” Chilling words on the impact of slavery on a group and how it can literally take everything away from them.

Plus, Daniel Acuna’s illustrations are beautiful as always, but they seem to fit better here than any place I’ve seen them before. The muted color palette he’s using in this works excellently to display the gritty story being told here, but it’s not so colorless that it feels lifeless or takes away from the wonder of being set in another galaxy.

Detective Comics #981
“Batman Eternal Finale”
Script: James Tynion IV
Pencils: Eddy Barrows
Inks: Eber Ferreira
Colors: Adriano Lucas

James Tynion finally closes the book on his Detective Comics, and with it, we lose the Gotham Knights, Tim’s dream of a team of Bat-characters eradicating crime in his city. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hate that last part. It felt more like a decision which came about because of editorial fiat than anything else–narratively there was no reason for Bruce to disband the group, it just seemed to happen. Because of that, an otherwise perfect finale issue feels…weaker, than it could have. This issue could have ended with Tim Drake having created this great machine of Bat-vigilantes and learning to trust them rather than forcing himself to continue as a member and the story would have been no weaker.

But, we are where we are. I can’t ding Tynion for something which wasn’t even entirely his decision, so let’s focus on what this book does right. Aside from Batman, who ends this story thinking of starting his own version of something Tim already made, literally everyone in this story ends exactly where they should. Batwoman is dismantling the Religion of Crime alongside her father, and her relationship with her cousin Bruce is closer than ever. Cassandra is living with Dr. Thompkins and receiving training from Barbara, getting the care and attention she so desperately needs. Clayface (just this once Rose, everybody lives) gets to see Cassandra one last time before putting his life in Gotham behind him. And Tim and Steph riding off into the sunset, quite literally, as a happy couple of geniuses figuring out what’s caused such drastically different timelines.   Blatantly cool high concept ideas like this rarely go anywhere, but I would love if Tim figured out what happened to Bart, Kon, and even Cassie. He technically did figure out Bruce wasn’t dead back in the day, so that wouldn’t be without precedent. To be honest, the days of Tim carrying a solo book feel long gone…but if he were the star of a mini-series that led to Young Justice returning?  Well, that’d work out perfectly.

Still: all in all, Tynion’s ‘Tec is the most I’ve loved Batman or his world in a very long time. At its worst, Batman and his world feel like the last remnants of the edgy, tryhard comics of the 90’s–because it’s Batman, they get to indulge in the darkness and emotionally stunted characters most cape comics left behind. But Tynion’s ‘Tec is a complete 180; it felt like the Bat-Family was a real family who cared about each other and did their best to help one another through their challenges, even though seemingly every threat they faced wanted to rip them apart. And sadly, they were sort of successful…but hopefully it won’t be long before someone embraces this idea once more.

Invincible Iron Man #600
“The Search for Tony Stark Finale”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Stefano Casselli, Alex Maleev, David Marquez, Daniel Acuna, Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Jim Cheung, Mike Deodato Jr., Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessy, Scott Hanna, & Andrea Sorrentino

And so after nearly three years and just over 50 issues, Brian Bendis’ run on Tony Stark finally comes to an end. I’ve been a fan of Iron Man for something like twenty years, starting with an overfascination with mecha as a child and the genuine (if misguided) belief that Iron Man was “the most realistic superhero”. I started following the character back in 1998 when Kurt Busiek took over the character during Heroes Return, and have been closely following the book ever since. In the last few years I’ve even gone back and read the bulk of the original 330+ issue series.

But I feel like rather than talk about how this run stands up to others overall, what I’d rather do instead is talk about what Bendis accomplished with the character. One of the biggest things Bendis did during his run was give Tony Stark a mom, finally following up on a plotline Kieron Gillen set up two years and a soft reboot earlier. A lot of people are up in the air about Amanda Armstrong–as a woman who was a former rock star-slash-SHIELD secret agent, she can seem a little…over the top? ….But Tony Stark’s a scientist-slash-superhero-CEO-billionaire-playboy, so maybe being an overachiever runs in the family. I’m significantly less comfortable about Tony’s dad being a Hydra agent, but what’s done is done. I’m just glad Bendis chose to place Tony’s parents in his life rather than saying “Oh yeah he’s adopted but his birth parents are dead too”. If that was where the storyline headed, then there would be no need to make him adopted at all.

He also created Riri Williams, easily one of my favorite creations of modern Marvel. For decades, Tony Stark’s legacy was only ever negative. Alternate timelines show the world worse for his influence, and even his name becomes anathema with the influence of The Stark in the future Guardians’ timeline. Riri Williams is the first time Stark’s legacy has ever been positive, and I couldn’t be happier she’s sticking around in the aftermath of Bendis’ run.

He brought back Rhodey, which…yeah, they just killed him during Civil War II, but he shouldn’t have died anyway. Marvel Editorial likes killing characters to sell events, but there was no plot reason to get rid of the character.

And the end hinted at starting some super cool version of SHIELD untied to the closeminded nature of the world governments run by Leonardo Da Vinci (yes, that one) and staffed by people like Madison Jefferies, Toni Ho, Riri Williams, and presumably funded by Tony Stark. There’s no way that’s followed up on meaningfully (in a mini series or ongoing), but its a cool way to end the comic.

Overall though, Bendis had as good a grasp on Tony Stark in a post-MCU world as anyone. The early parts of his run were definitely the best, as it felt like it managed to merge Silver Age CEO superhero Tony Stark with the modern day characterization, and the potential felt high for a return to basics. Unfortunately, Stark being at the center of Civil War II dragged Bendis’ run way off course. Worse, his penchant for decompressed storytelling means we barely got to see his Iron Man do very much at all. He had some beef with Doc Doom, dealt with a ninja with technology control, died, Riri showed up, had a couple adventures, then it took like seven issues to finally bring him back.  I feel like this run could have been cut in half while keeping much of the same beats.

Still, I appreciate Bendis for expanding on Iron Man’s mythology and legacy, and thank him for making me excited to see where Dan Slott takes the character next.

The Flash #47
“Flash War: Part 1”
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artist: Howard Porter
Colorist: HI-FI

We’re rapidly getting to the point where I wonder: why does anyone even tolerate the Flash family? This week, the Renegades (heroic versions of the Flash Rogues from the future) come back to the past in order to retrieve Iris West for her role in killing Eobard Thawne. Though Wally doesn’t want to risk losing her, both Barry and Iris agree she should go to the future in order to explain what happened, hoping they can also cure Wally’s temporal issues. Once they reach the future though, Wally finally gets a look at everything the Flash family has really lost, as Hunter Zolomon suggests he needs to destroy the Speed Force to undo this mess.

Setting aside how stupid that advice is and how likely there is of a naked man who glows neon blue turning Wally into ash if he made the attempt, we still see Wally attempting to go back in time for some reason or other at the start of the issue. And I mean…haven’t we seen enough evidence of Flashes wrecking things by going back to the past for this nonsense to stop? The New 52 isn’t Barry’s fault anymore, but Flashpoint definitely was. At what point does the Justice League pop up and toss Speed Force speedsters in jail, just because they can’t help abusing time?

All joking aside, Flash War is just getting started and so far it’s pretty good. I hate to see Wally and Barry fighting right when Wally just started taking a major part in the ongoing, but it’s coming from a logical place. What matters now is where we go from here; Hunter isn’t Wally’s friend and the sooner he remembers that the better. In the meantime, having Howard Porter back drawing the Flash is giving me flashbacks (pun not intended) of the glory days of JLA, and it’s made this issue all the better for it.

The Terrifics #4
Storytellers:Doc Shaner & Jeff Lemire
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn

An artist switch turned out to be exactly what this comic needed, as Doc Shaner comes on just as the team starts to settle into the role of being each other’s surrogate family members.  Shaner’s an immensely capable artist who can portray fights and chase scenes with the same ease that he does emotional moments like this, and I only wish they had him for more than two issues.

Still, Lemire switched gears just as I was beginning to lose interest with this book, deciding to skip the parts where they complain about being stuck together for an issue or two and just get right to them going on adventures together. This issue, the group decides to travel to Linnya’s home planet of Bgtzl. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper story if things went as planned so they get sidetracked when they get dragged onto a ship full of space pirates and strange octopi before they can finally make it back to Linnya’s home. The twist at the end is blatant, but it works because you want the Lonely Phantom Girl to have some kind of victory, no matter how small it is. She learns that her measurement of time in the dark dimension was wrong and she was actually gone over thirty years instead of merely ten–her mother’s much older and her father died before she could ever get home, but on the bright side she can actually touch the people on Bgtzl because they can turn into phantoms like her.

There’s still a long way to go with this book. The base idea behind it has an expiration date, as Mr. Terrific has to figure out what’s forcing them to stay together or it’s gonna be hard to take his “smartest man in the universe” gag seriously. Then what keeps them together once it’s over, or does the book simply end? And the characterization still needs a bit of work. Terrific is clearly the surrogate father of this group, while Linnya is the kid sister and Plastic Man is the manchild who refuses to grow up but knows how to be there for people emotionally. Metamorpho as the uncle of the group kinda works, but I would prefer if this wasn’t so blatant a reference to the Fantastic Four. I’d also like it if the numbers were better balanced instead of doing three men and one woman again like it’s the seventies–Metamorpho’s girlfriend Sapphire Stagg is a lot smarter and more talented than she’s being given credit for currently, and she could stand to be a part of these stories more.  And: where’s Tom Strong?  If we’re gonna bring him up, we might as well use him properly.

Nonetheless, this issue is the strongest the title’s had yet, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

See you in seven.

Sage Ashford

A writer with way too many hobbies, Sage can often be found catching up on the latest anime, or reading a stack of comics between Wednesdays and Thursdays.