Back again for another week of comics. Marvel Cosmic finally gets some shine that doesn’t involve talking animals and trees (…well, not a talking raccoon at least), Batman gets to spend time with his first son, and more. Welcome back to Bottom of the Pile, a weekly column discussing both some of my favorite comic books of the week, and occasionally some of the more “important” books to the DC/Marvel Universe and their continuing storylines. If you enjoy this series, please give it a share on Twitter and Facebook.
Asgardians of the Galaxy #1
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Matteo Lolli
Color Artist: Federico Blee
“Asgardians of the Galaxy” wastes no time tossing us right into the action, going from Annabelle Riggs enjoying her relatively normal life with her girlfriend to having Angela summoning her into outer space to work alongside Skurge, Thunderstrike, Throg, and someone in the Destroyer armor. Together, they wind up chasing after Nebula, who’s murdered the dwarves of Nidavellir after getting them to craft a weapon capable of opening rifts in space time and teleporting her across space. Though they catch up with her, Nebula’s learned her sister Gamora has killed their adopted father Thanos and she teleports off, presumably to get into some mischief over in Infinity Wars. This leaves our heroes to take out Nebula’s giant army, and unfortunately leads to them cracking a seal on an army of soulless bodies from all the Ragnarok past. Also, inside the Destroyer armor is Kid Loki (who should be dead), who wants the armor for…well, we’ll find out soon enough.
I was wondering why I liked this book so much, then I realized that with Annabelle and Valkyrie back in a team book it was pretty reminiscent of Fearless Defenders, a book from the glorious Marvel NOW days. Granted, there’s a lot more testosterone in this book than that one, but I’m still kind of positive about this series. While I still think this team has way too many Thor types and not enough Sif if it’s going to be an “Asgardian” book, I’m still stoked. Since the Guardians films began, there’s been too much focus on that team, and the Marvel Cosmic realms have so much more potential than just them, waiting to be tapped into.
My only real problem is that I don’t expect a title made up of some of the most obscure characters in Marvel will last terribly long, so hopefully Bunn has a plan to either get some more popular characters in the book, or an exit strategy to avoid having too many subplots going at once.
“Fire and Bone”
By: Jason Aaron & Sara Pichelli
Color Artist: Justin Ponsor
I’ve been on the fence with Avengers 1,000,000 BC, but if they’re going to keep having stories like Cannibal Hulk vs. Captain Caveman Ghost Rider, I’m eventually going to be won over. Delving into threats heroes would have faced at the dawn of man is a refreshing shift from the stories we’re used to, where there’s always legends upon myths which have passed into folklore all created “in the time before time”…or whatever.
In sharp contrast to the last time Jason Aaron wrote about the Wendigo in Amazing X-Men, where things had gotten so over the top it was almost comical, here the character is chilling: a man-eating brute with strength beyond measure. In the middle of the Ice Age, he travels to different settlements, slaying their defenders before consuming the tribe, taking advantage of their defenselessness. He wipes out all except a single boy, because he’s clearly more intelligent than the rest of the cavemen. Named Ghost by the Wendigo, the boy is left with no family, no tribe, and a burning desire for vengeance, so he ventures out into the snow of the Ice Age and runs into a snake, who tempts him with power.
In most stories, this would have been something the protagonist needed to turn down–but we can’t use a powerless schmuck, so Ghost sells his soul to become a guy with a skull for a face and a chance for a showdown with the being who murdered his people. I’m not sure it was a worthwhile trade-off, especially since he doesn’t finish off this original Wendigo and he’s still missing a soul, but there’ve been worse Faustian bargains. Still, he gets invited to the “Avengers” shortly afterwards–which at this point only consisted of Odin and Phoenix–so maybe there are better days to come.
Overall, I loved this one-shot so much I’d argue it was better than the opening arc. Odin’s more flexible morality (he initially wanted to recruit Wendigo) makes this team stand out suitably from the present Avengers, and I’m sure the corrupted Celestials won’t be the last mess of Odin’s that Thor and the others have to clean up.
“The Better Man”
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Matt Wagner
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
I’ve been seeing some people have a more lukewarm reaction to this issue, and I think they’re all nuts: this book is fantastic.
As anyone who’s read this column for a while is doubtlessly aware, I’m a big fan of the theory that Batman ultimately allows so many people to join his “family” because he’s trying to both fill the hole left by his parents and ensure no one else ever suffers the same fate as him. He’s the smartest man in the world, and he knows how to fix every problem–even himself, and even when he doesn’t realize he’s doing it.
With that in mind, this issue is a wonderful juxtaposition of how Bruce was there to help heal Dick back when he was a young boy, and Dick repaying Bruce by being there for him when he needs him most in the present. Watching Bruce try to compartmentalize the pain, smothering it with his work as Batman humanizes Bruce in a way even “I Am Suicide” never quite reached in my opinion. Probably because this pain in particular is so universal–who hasn’t experienced a break up?
Immortal Hulk #5
“In Every Mirror”
Writer: Al Ewing
Penciller: Joe Bennett
Inker: Ruy Jose
Colorist: Paul Mounts
A good writer can pull emotions out of you through the stories they tell. A great writer can make you interested in a story that you wouldn’t normally care about. Al Ewing? Is a great fucking writer. I’m not a Hulk fan, I’m not a horror fan. I was so certain I would only try just one issue of this book and then bail, but we’re five issues deep and every issue just gets better.
Over the last couple issues, a reporter has been trying to track Bruce Banner down for an “interview”. In her search, she runs into Walter Langkowski, the Sasquatch. While attempting to find Banner together, Walter gets stabbed and winds up transforming into the Sasquatch when he loses control of his other half. Now the Sasquatch has always come with the potential of awakening Tanaraq, a monster from the Realm of Beasts–but this time someone else is in control instead: Bruce Banner’s abusive father. (Or at least, someone who wants to pretend to be him.)
It can be argued that, whatever problems Bruce Banner had that allowed him to become the Hulk, can all be traced back to his abusive jerk of a dad. When he died it didn’t end the problem, but it did allow Bruce to put it behind him, sort of. But with his father’s seeming resurrection, we get a sight I’ve never actually seen before: the Hulk, terrified. Now I’ve always had a problem with the Hulk–he’s just some dude who needs to get his anger issues under control instead of leaving death and destruction everywhere he goes because he stubbed his toe or whatever. But this issue made Hulk more understandable to me than he has been in years–looking at him revert into a scared boy, only to turn to the only shield he’s ever had, the only thing Banner’s had longer than the Hulk: his rage.
The battle between the Hulk and Sasquatch was never in doubt, but this issue still manages to accomplish a lot besides their fight. Thanks to Banner’s actions, Langkowski’s now been robbed of the ability to transform into the Sasquatch. We’ve learned the reporter chasing him wants to be another Hulk. And we learn how Banner’s managed to become immortal–a “green door”, sending gamma radiated people back to life again and again, for some sinister purpose that remains unclear.
Justice League #7
“The Totality: The Conclusion”
Writer: Scott Snyder
Pencils: Jim Cheung
Inks: Mark Morales, Walden Wong, & Jim Cheung
Colors: Tomeu Morey
“We Justice Harder” is probably not quite as good as “To catch them when they fall.”, the key mission statement at the end of the first arc in Morrison’s JLA, but this is still an excellent closer for a first arc that’s thrown more at me in seven issues than some writers do in an entire run. It feels like if I went back to re-read the entire thing, I’d come away with a completely different understanding, something we don’t get nearly often enough.
Even the closer to “The Totality” runs a mile a minute, as Hawkgirl confronts Luthor in an attempt to reach the Totality before he can, while Flash tries to access the Still Force to close off Umbrax and the Invisible Spectrum from attacking Earth. Ultimately, Hawkgirl manages to reach the Totality when Luthor finds the single piece he has doesn’t affect Hawkgirl–which raises questions, considering it broke all of Batman’s limbs when Luthor used it. She reaches the Totality first, forcing the other villains to retreat and attack another day.
This issue is packed with action, but Snyder doesn’t for one second forget it’s the heart of these characters, not the big set piece stuff, that brings you back every month. This is a team who can still make jokes about who has the best Batman voice while they save the world. And the scene above is one of the strongest in the entire arc–Luthor’s meddling now has the entire team wondering about the nature of the universe itself. Are they merely preventing the inevitable and working against what humanity–creation–really is?
It’s a scary question, and one I suspect we might not get an answer to until Snyder’s done with his 50+ issue epic. In the meantime, this issue sets up for several future storylines, with the League splitting up for focus arcs coming up. There’s one with Wonder Woman and Aquaman soon, then one with Green Lantern shortly afterwards–hopefully splitting the teams up will help give all the members more time to shine.
See you in seven.