Bottom Of The Pile: Aug. 15th, 2018 – Doctor Strange, Extermination, Infinity Wars, Tony Stark: Iron Man, WWE

by Sage Ashford

In case anyone believed I was a little too focused on DC, here’s a week of all Marvel (and one Boom!) comics. The beard clique unites this week, as Tony Stark and Doctor Strange provide two of Marvel’s strongest offerings, but let’s also dig into the two (…help….) major events Marvel’s got going as well.

Doctor Strange #4
“Sorcerer Supreme of the Galaxy”
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Jesus Saiz

There’s three things I really love about this book. One is Jesus Saiz’s art, which was always good but seems like it’s gone to an entirely new level now that he’s working on Doctor Strange. There’s a photorealistic quality to it which somehow doesn’t clash at all with this book being about a former mystic trying to regain his powers by traveling out into space and encountering alien worlds.

The other thing I love is how Mark Waid isn’t running from Stephen Strange’s most prominent characteristic: he’s a dick. And not like Tony Stark, I’ve been privileged to ignore the harm my inventions have caused to humanity-type dick. The kind who only became a magician in the first place so he could fix his stupid hands and go back to charging absurd medical costs for his skills as a physician. If you’re new to the character, this might feel like Waid’s trying to shift the character to be more like he was from the first film, but that’s not it. In Hickman’s Avengers run, Strange was one of the first members of the Illuminati to start doing super shady things in order to keep their universe from dying. He’s always been a little scummy, even if ultimately he wants to do the right thing.

In this issue, Strange is attempting to rescue a dwarf of Nidavellir after getting advice from his partner in crime. Unfortunately, the rescue went wrong (as they usually do), and they wind up on the run from the man who kidnapped the dwarf in the first place. After narrowly escaping, instead of simply leaving, Strange isn’t satisfied with having done the right thing; he turns back to get revenge once he’s gotten his bearing and tools. He fails, and in the process gets his friend captured, who teleports him and the dwarf away. Just as when he was a physician, Strange is used to being the smartest, and most important person in any situation…and now all that’s been stolen from him with the rest of his magic. The dwarf gives him a proper dressing down, but there’s a better chance than not this won’t be the last time his arrogance costs him something important.

Lastly, this page is just…cool. It’s always great when someone comes up with a fresh way to look at a basic, but integral aspect to a character. It’s just taken for granted all the best magical tools in most series about magic is something created by a legendary sorcerer from long ago. It’s always a staff or a sword or something created by someone else. But what’s stopping people from making their own weapons and magic tchotchkes? Apparently, the only thing stopping Strange was knowing a guy with a magical forge.

Extermination #1
Writer: Ed Brisson
Artist: Pepe Larraz
Colorist: Marte Gracia

*sighs* Okay so usually a comic makes it here because it’s one of my favorite of the week. But occasionally it’s here because it feels Important to a character or team I care about and so I feel compelled to talk about it. This is the latter.

To be fair to the creative team, there’s nothing structurally wrong with this comic. At least, nothing that wasn’t wrong beforehand and that Brisson isn’t trying to fix. Marte Gracia’s colors pop off the page, aiding Pepe Larraz in creating a beautiful book even if the subject matter is…depressing. Right now what I’m wondering is when do the X-Men finally get a proper soft reboot, and move away from what’s basically endless torture porn?

Extermination is meant to be a purposeful “clearing of the deck”, which is fair because the X-Men haven’t been this complicated since the mid-90’s:  half of every team is made up of people from alternate past/present/futures now, and they’re beginning to stack up into multiples.  So this story starts with a bunch of time-hoppers attacking the X-Men, specifically going after the time-lost “Original 5” team. Ahab and his hounds attack Cyclops, and wind up killing Bloodstorm, the vampire Storm from the Mutant X world.  Meanwhile Cable tries to save Iceman and winds up getting murdered…by a much younger version of himself, who kidnaps Iceman anyway.  We’re one issue in and we’ve already had two deaths, with more basically promised until we’ve whittled this team down to as few “doubles” as possible.

On the one hand, the X-Men are supposed to be a metaphor for marginalized people, and the sad reality is that things haven’t been quite so dire for most of us in a very long time. And comics have always been political, no matter what some twits try to say to the contrary, and art does often imitate life. But…there’s something to be said for escapism, and it’s gotten a little old watching the “hated and feared” aspect of the X-Men cranked up over everything else again and again.

It’d be great to restore the X-Men to a point as close to their roots as possible, and build them up for a while from there–letting them be competent, bad-ass superheroes again. Something like that did absolute wonders for the Green Lantern Corps with Hal Jordan and the GLC, and X-Men: Gold tried to do that for a bit, but it got lost because the X-Men can’t seem to hold a status quo for longer than a year.  Even after Extermination, we’re for some reason getting X-Men: Disassembled. Does the dust ever settle?

Infinity Wars #2
Writer: Gerry Duggan
Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Color Artist: Frank Martin

Intentional or not, somehow we wound up with Gamora playing the role of Thanos in the Marvel Prime universe’s version of Avengers: Infinity War. Apparently if anyone was wondering, the only gem necessary to make in-roads towards becoming a god is the Power Stone.  It’s the one people pay the least attention to, but the moment it’s acquired it makes gaining the others a cakewalk. Against literally everyone’s better judgment, Gamora has stabbed and sliced her way through her friends and allies in order to crack open the soul gem and regain the missing piece of herself within. Now the Soul Gem has to be “rebalanced”, though exactly what that entails isn’t quite clear, and remains up in the air at the end of the issue when Loki and his new friend arrive with a “better” idea.

From here, instead of remaining a straightforward crossover we’re about to go into spin-off land, so my assumption is whatever Loki’s plan leads to us getting to explore the “original universe”, a place where we get all the weird Marvel hero mash-ups who all have magical powers. This issue was just okay aside from Mike Deodato’s beautiful art and the conversation between Dr. Strange and Turk Barrett–there’s something about the juxtaposition of these two characters that have literally nothing in common interacting that was appealing–but from the looks of things next issue is finally going to pull us in a direction I couldn’t get from the films or previous events.

Tony Stark – Iron Man #3
“Self-Made Man: Part Three: Non-Player Character Assassination”
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Valerio Schiti
Color Artists: Edgar Delgado with Rachelle Rosenberg

I’ll say it: Tony Stark, Iron Man is my favorite Marvel comic right now. Possibly even my favorite superhero comic, at least for the next three months until Morrison’s GL snatches my soul.  It’s told in a very cool, old school style where every issue has a complete story to it while also continuing several plot threads in the background. This month? Stark Unlimited explores the virtual reality of eScape, a world so real you can’t tell the AI from the humans.  Slott seems intent to delve into the philosophical side of technological advancements, hearkening back to the late 80’s/early 90’s era of Iron Man where Stark was basically half-machine. While doing so, we get an immediate pay off to the cliffhanger of the second issue, where he talked about being brought back “wrong”. Between him completely rebooting his mind back in Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man, and basically rebooting his body in Bendis’ Iron Man, he’s rightfully beginning to question what’s left of him that makes him a natural human. Hopefully Slott chooses to explore this idea further in the future, as it really feels like between Jocasta and Tony they could really close the gap of understanding between human and AI.

There’s only one tiny flaw in this book so far. For a comic that’s spent all three issues so far delving into what the social politics of machine life would be like, it ironically has Jocasta appropriating the appearance and mannerisms of black women both in last issue and at the end of this one.  It’s kind of a common trope–aliens or robots emulating black people, presumably in an attempt to make them seem “more” human. But it’s not done in a negative or offensive way here, and honestly it would take little more than having Jocasta directly address it to clear it up entirely.

WWE #20
Written by: Dennis Hopeless
Illustrated by: Serg Acuna
Colored by: Doug Garbark

Ah, the complicated story of Sami Zayn. The comparison between Zayn and Daniel Bryan here isn’t out of place–they’re basically the same person: beloved hero/face types who put on incredible performances for the crowd and do their best to persevere against the odds even in a place like WWE where the worst people tend to thrive. Sami Zayn is just younger (slightly), wrestles safer (again, slightly), and offers more ska (not slightly).

The story for Bryan and Zayn are similar too–despite superior talent, despite being beloved by viewers, Bryan was often overlooked and disrespected. It wasn’t until Wrestlemania 30 that he cemented himself as a top star in the company by beating three wrestlers chosen by “the company” in the same night across two separate matches. But unlike Bryan, Zayn has no “Wrestlemania 30” moment. The guy’s been in the company for five years now, with only one title reign to show for it despite being responsible for multiple classic matches and managing to stay beloved by the crowd no matter what stupid things were done to him creatively.

Watching him turn heel/villain was bittersweet, because on the one hand Zayn is one of the few likable face characters they had. On the other, changes in character alignment tend to result in more victories and higher profile matches, which is all most fans want for their favorite wrestlers. Though there could be a lot gained from not treating kayfabe as real, this scene works excellently at portraying the sobering, cynical truth of being in WWE: no matter how pure, no matter how much the crowd loves you, no matter how much you want to do it the “honest” way…the back doesn’t respect you until you’re willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get your victories.

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.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: