Bottom Of The Pile: July 11th, 2018 – Amazing Spider-Man, Champions, Optimus Prime, Superman, The Flash, Transformers

by Sage Ashford

This column’s been on break for the last few weeks while I managed E3 coverage plus another little project that’ll be popping up soon, but things have finally cleared up enough for this to make a come back. Whether you’re new or need a refresher, welcome to Bottom of the Pile, a weekly column discussing some of my favorite comic books of the week. If you enjoy this series, please give it a share on Twitter and Facebook.

Amazing Spider-Man #1
“Back to Basics Part One”
Writer: Nick Spencer
Penciler: Ryan Ottley
Inker: Cliff Rathburn
Colorist: Laura Martin

As a Spidey fan curious about the first new writer to take on Spidey in a decade, I was pretty sure I wanted to include this book in my return column for Bottom of the Pile. My only problem is after reading it I wasn’t sure how to take it.

It seems like more than with any other hero, we’re locked into this cycle where Peter Parker can never grow too much before it’s unceremoniously yanked away, because the character just has to be a perennial loser. Married to a gorgeous woman he met in a way that was totally plausible? Better break it up, the readers can’t relate to a guy in a happy relationship. (…This might not be too off the mark given how fanboys have been acting lately.)

Finally taking advantage of the same genius intelligence which led to him inventing his web-shooters, spider-tracers and dozens of other tiny inventions over the years by working with a think tank of fellow geniuses creating bleeding edge technology? Gotta get him fired and have all his co-workers hate him. The only one I understood was Parker Industries–much as I think that’s the greatest example of Peter achieving his destiny, it did crawl a little too far from the core concept.

But having him work as lead writer for the science division of the Daily Bugle felt like a more realistic version of Peter finally growing up, and they ripped even this from him…for a cheap joke?  Then to see people like Aunt May and Robbie turn on him, time honored as it is, has grown more annoying than anything else. We all know Pete’s busting his butt trying to be a superhero without the financial support of the military, being a one percenter, or having the powers of a god, so it just makes his supporting cast members look like jerks for mistreating him.

But looking past and taking the issue as a whole…this is still an excellent first issue. Nick Spencer gets to lean on his Superior Foes days by making Boomerang into Spidey’s roommate for maximum tension in Peter’s home life, plus he has a superb grasp of Pete’s “voice”, and any issue with a Mysterio appearance can’t be too bad. It also looks like Wilson Fisk is back to being a thorn in Pete’s side again, plaguing Pete by turning the rest of the hero community against him in a logical way.

It’s always good for Pete to have a mega powerful villain in the shadows, and well…I think we’ve all had enough of Norman Osborn for a bit. I’m a little hesitant on having Curt Connors back considering I’m pretty sure the last time we saw him they’d revealed he’d given into his Lizard side and ate his son, but…uhm. Yeah no I’m gonna need some follow up if we’re going to make him a supporting cast member.

Champions #22
“Give and Take Part 1”
Writer: Jim Zub
Artist: Kevin Libranda
Color Artist: Marcio Menyz

Okay, so it’s kind of a bummer Sam is without his helmet, especially since such a major plot point happened in a spin-off book to an event no one’s reading.  And “Brawn” is an incredibly stupid code name for Amadeus Cho, who probably could’ve just started calling himself Amadeus again and been fine–he can’t actually “have” a secret identity anymore and the only person he’d want to protect with one can take care of herself.

But this new version of Ironheart? Aces!  Switching from Iron Man’s normal scarlet red to wine color, adding touches of black and grey and leaving the yellow as outline touches works really well for the character, and goes a long way towards helping her stand out given she no longer has a book. Granted, Champions could be gone at any moment but that’s true of every superhero comic aside from a dozen or so.

Nonetheless, going from these first few issues of Jim Zub’s run we don’t seem to have anything to worry about–he’s bringing us a quality comic about Marvel’s premiere group of teenage heroes. My only complaint is there’s like a half dozen cool characters Mark Waid brought us at the end of his run that could also use a home, but I guess a cast can only be so big before it becomes unwieldy.

Optimus Prime #20
“The Falling Part 5”
Written by: John Barber
Art by: Kei Zama
Finishes by: Casey W. Coller
Colors by: Josh Burcham

Possibly the saddest thing as we come to the end of this Transformers universe is the possibility of Starscream never actually getting it. In the aftermath of 2014’s Dark Cybertron, Starscream’s slowly been on the path to figuring out his flaws as a person–and the close of Transformers: Till All Are One offered the hope of him finally seeking to correct them instead of continuing to be the snake he’s always been. Still, old habits seem to die hard and for the second time in as many issues Starscream looks to position himself as a leader without ever accepting the mistakes and various cock-ups which placed him and Cybertron where they are now.

Starscream’s been one of, if not the most, compelling characters of the Transformers universe since we started the post war storylines in 2011, so it’s hard not to want some manner of redemption for him. Still, at the rate he’s going he’s more likely to reach the end of this universe still blaming everyone else for his mistakes. Not that this would be an unrealistic ending by any means–sometimes no matter how much we like a person and want the best for them, they never change.

On the other side of things, at least Bumblebee’s back! Turns out he’s been alive, talking to Starscream all this time from Infraspace. So much of this issue is about characters losing faith in what they believe in for one reason or another, but the scenes with Bumblebee and Optimus relying on each other as friends to pull themselves out of their respective depressive states feels like a necessary standout to keep the book from being a completely dour affair. Plus it’s just nice to have the Nicest Autobot back in action.

Superman #1
“The Unity Saga Part One”
Script: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Joe Prado
Colors: Alex Sinclair

There probably isn’t a much more polarizing creator in comics than Brian Michael Bendis. Known for over a decade of work defining and redefining characters at Marvel, his unique way of constructing dialogue and penchant for decompressed stories tends to either be endearing or off-putting. And while I’m usually part of the latter crowd, Superman #1 was actually a stand out issue for me…though it’s no coincidence it’s also very light on the things which bug people the most about Bendis’ work.

Yes, there’s no attempts to make Superman more “grounded” by having him talk about the time he had freaky sex on Mars or whatever, and for an opening issue (which can be hard for even writers with much quicker pacing), Bendis had no problem getting a lot done here. He wastes no time setting up the new status quo: family man Clark Kent is left alone after his wife and son wind up going out into space with his father. It’s as back to basics as possible without doing anything ridiculous–Bendis can focus on just the Man of Steel for his opening stories, while also having a strong hook to work with when he finally decides to bring those two characters back. We get the premiere of the new Fortress of Solitude without wasting an arc on how he managed to create it, and even get an awesome hook to end the first issue: trapping the entire planet within the most dangerous place in the DC Universe, the Phantom Zone.

The only real problem I have is the same one everyone seems to: positioning J’onn J’onzz as a possible villain. To be fair, J’onn’s question could be innocuous and he does have a point, if you can ignore all the creepy alternate versions of Superman that wind up turning into a dictator the second he’s given a modicum of power beyond “Chairman of the Justice League” and “mild-mannered reporter”. A Superman that’s at his best would be the best possible uniting influence Earth could have–someone that’s constantly lived his life among us, though not of us, and who constantly has our best interests at heart–why shouldn’t that person be the one to lead humanity into its next age of enlightenment and exploring the stars?

Presumably we’ll learn that answer soon enough, but for now–this is a strong start to a bold new era. And while there’s plenty of time yet for things to turn into an Avengers: Disassembled-era type twist, for now I’m staying hopeful.

The Flash #50
“Flash War Part 4”
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artist: Howard Porter
Colorist: HI-FI

On the bright side?  Yay, Impulse is back! Bart Allen is one of the best parts of the creative renaissance DC had during the mid-to-late 90’s, and this character should have been brought back ages ago.  Having Impulse resurface continues the feel of getting the proper DC Universe back.

It’s just too bad the story it happened in revealed both Flashes to be massive twits who are willing to put the world at risk just to maybe get back what they want. Slightly less fortunate still it involved a story that had to complicate the Flash mythology–suddenly there’s like six brand new Forces to the Flash mythology. At least with Green Lantern this could be explained away by pointing to the color spectrum and acknowledging Green and Yellow were already there. There wasn’t a reason to add a “Sage Force” or a “Strength Force” besides “because comics”.

Now for whatever reason Barry and Wally are at odds with one another, which is certainly a different status quo from the 70’s and early 80’s where he was hanging on Barry’s every word, but I’m not sure its a “better” one. Barry as “Barry the fuck-up” feels like it’s on its fifth year or so and it’d be nice to tone that down in at least one side of his life for a while. Maybe him and Iris can finally get back together?

Transformers: Lost Light #20
Written by: James Roberts
Art by: Casey W. Coller
Colors by: Joana LaFuente

I was a bit lost on what to say about Lost Light #20 because it all seemed to happen in a flash, and so much of Roberts’ epic is inextricably linked it almost feels wrong to comment before it’s at least finished with an arc. Still though, this issue actually illuminated something important: so much of More than Meets the Eye and Lost Light has been about exploring mental illness, but on a secondary level much of it has been about the cast and crew figuring out what they really want out of their lives in a post-war society.

That’s what happened to Megatron–more than anything else, he wanted to bring revolution to Cybertron the right way. Cyclonus and Tailgate wanted nothing more than to be together. Ravage died because the only thing he ever wanted was for Megatron to find his place in life. Even the Scavengers eventually admitted what they wanted most was to be together in a world where the war finally ended.

In Getaway’s case, more than anything what he wanted was to be a Prime–to have the respect and elevated status that came with that title. He wasn’t born with it, so he sought out the only group that could grant it to him–the mythical Knights of Cybertron. But after making it to “Cyberutopia” he finally understood his goal was impossible–and the weight of his sins finally bore down on him, like a religious man who learned God didn’t exist.

So it’s little surprise then, when Whirl arrives with an army of thought-sensitive, metal-eating nanobots that they transform into thing he wants most–God (or Primus), offering him apotheosis, and forgiveness for the atrocities he committed during The Mutineers Trilogy. In a way, his ultimate fate was all the darker–rather than accept Rodimus and Cyclonus showing him mercy, he instead chose death. With that he’s finally granted the only thing left for him–a swift death. With five issues left, hopefully the rest of the cast and crew of the Lost Light can find a happier end.

Transformers: Unicron #1
Written by: John Barber
Art by: Alex Milne
Colors by: Sebastian Cheng

After thirteen years and hundreds of issues, the end is finally here. The IDW incarnation of the Transformers has been in active publication for literally all of my adult life, and being honest I’m pretty bummed to see it go. It hasn’t always been perfect, but since John Barber, James Roberts, and Mairghread Scott started writing the post-war stories it’s become one of the most consistently excellent sci-fi comics on the stands.

But everything has to wind down eventually, especially since there’s no promise that Barber or Roberts will want to stay on forever, or could keep up their current level of quality if they did. And since Scott’s already gone to write a Random Assortment of Power Rangers comic, it’s probably best to make a clean break now.  And what better way to go out than to introduce the most ridiculous of Transformers villains–Unicron, the robotic cannibal planet?

This time around Unicron’s taking no prisoners–the story’s just started and he’s already consumed everything related to Cybertron aside from Cybertron itself, and Earth. The Transformers and the Space Knights alike have been completely helpless to do anything other than try to get people off-world, while Optimus leads a mission to the insides of Unicron to see if he possesses any weaknesses.

Despite being the most well-developed version of the Transformers, the IDW universe has never particularly “bought in” to all the mystical/”religious” elements of Transformers lore, preferring a much more agnostic take on their history. The Matrix was nothing special, the Primes were meant to be an unfailing, guiding hand for Cybertron but all wound up being corrupt bastards, and even the so-called “Cyberutopia” just wound up being a hyper-advanced euthanasia clinic.  Heck, the current storyline in “Optimus Prime” features Shockwave outright claiming he invented literally every myth the Cybertronians believe to be true.

So the twist to Transformers: Unicron at the moment seems to be the suggestion that perhaps…maybe some of the original stories are true, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand its kind of cool to have this “secular”/scientific approach what should be one of the most scientific kids ideas ever created.  But on the other hand, now they’ve opened the door and I’d hate to see them go back on it. The last thing I want here is four more issues of “maybe the prophecies are real” only for the sixth issue to go “lol all this shit’s fake, yo”.  Pick a road and stick with it, y’know?

On the flipside, I could watch Optimus, Arcee, and Bumblebee fight against the impossible forever–so at least there’s that.

See you in…well, probably less than seven, all things considered.

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.

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