Bottom Of The Pile: April 18th, 2018 – Action Comics, Avengers, Justice League, Optimus Prime, Sonic The Hedgehog

by Sage Ashford

This is probably the most positive installment of Bottom of the Pile ever. Also, I’m aware I’ve been gone for two weeks. I’d like to apologize about that, some real life things piled up on me, then later I realized that I’d prefer it if this column comes out sooner. So we’re trying something new here; bear with me, please.

Action Comics #1000
Story And Art By: A LOT of talented creators

There was a bit of disappointment as I made my way through this mammoth-sized book. I don’t believe milestones are ever given the importance in comics they deserve. Rarely is a milestone issue ever what I believe it should be: the beginning of a major arc in a writer’s run, or the beginning of some world changing events in a character’s story. It’s rarely ever that, and instead it’s almost always an oversized issue filled with some short stories, while major stories or the start of a new writer’s run is always reserved for some one shot issue that’s going to be forgotten five years after its written.
But about midway through Action Comics #1000, that disappointment started to fade as I realized how awesome Superman is. He’s such a rarity–there are plenty of other heroes with his power level, but few of them are moved to do the right thing, purely for no other reason than that is is right. Him and Wonder Woman are about it. So instead of being bummed that this book wasn’t moving towards some big new story for Superman*, I just found myself awestruck so many talented writers and artists to tell stories that are right at the core of what superheroes are supposed to be: powerful characters prevailing over evil, inspiring us by telling stories that speak to the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. Shit was legitimately heartwarming, yo.
*And yeah, somewhere in there there’s a promo for Superman’s latest story with BENDIS, but it detracts from the other stories by getting back on the horse of serial storytelling. Here’s a new villain, he’s big, he’s bad, he’s gonna stomp our hero to pieces. Aight cool, but can I get more stories about Superman saving bunnies and other cute animals instead?

Avengers #689
“No Surrender Part 15”
Writers: Mark Waid, Al Ewing, & Jim Zub
Artists: Pepe Larraz
Color Artist: David Curiel

Man, back to back with the super inspiring hero stories. It shouldn’t be as noteworthy as it is, but as superhero comics try to prove themselves to be just as “serious” fiction as every other form of genre storytelling, stories like this don’t feel as frequent. People become obsessed with ineffectual superheroes–characters that are fallible and fail as often (sometimes more) as we do.
As “No Surrender” comes to an end, the Avengers are forced to face off against not one, but two Elders of the Universe in the Grandmaster and Grandmaster Prime. It’s a tense showdown, and I was honestly expecting them to lose a lot more than they did–I expected massive death tolls and pointless infighting, something that’s been a staple of “hero” fiction for almost two decades now.  Instead, I got men and women trying their absolute best to save every life they could–working together no matter what differences had come up over the weekly story arc.
By the end of this, I would’ve thought that each different Avenger team disbanded purely because so many members died. To my very pleasant surprise, what actually happened is some of these characters have been taken off the board by removing their powers. It’s a move meant to allow some characters to go off and get a happy ending, while Marvel reboots many of the rest for a “Fresh Start”. I’m still concerned with where my favorite mutant bros Sunspot and Cannonball are going, but unless things go off the rails entirely I’m pretty happy about “No Surrender” as a whole.  It’s been a great Avengers epic that gave tons of characters from the post-AvX era a moment to shine.

Justice League #43
“Justice Lost: The Conclusion”

Script: Priest
Art & Color: Pete Woods

The most upsetting thing about Priest’s run is that it’s being forced to come to an end so soon.  There’s no way he didn’t have at least another year in the tank, but instead things have been truncated just as they were getting good. After having The Fan drag them into the heart of Africa for conflicts they don’t even begin to understand, Deathstroke finally gives them an out by offing their villain and orchestrating a conflict that scares all the warring forces off.
It works, even if its the exact solution I figured it would be. Presented with a hard problem where the hero’s logical only answer is killing the villain, stories like this always come to the same conclusion.  Someone else with more mutable morals kills the problem instead, keeping the heroes’ conscience clear. Justice League doubles down though by presenting us with the age-old scenario of superheroes that have wound up in longstanding conflicts in foreign countries. The answer here is usually the same too: the characters always abandon the area because they can’t make sense of who’s good or who’s bad, as a sign of the ineffective nature of black and white creations like superheroes in morally complex situations.
To be fair to Priest though, I do think that he would’ve found a smarter, more elegant solution if he weren’t truncating his run. He keeps Wonder Woman around after as an ever watchful peace keeper though, which I thought was a nice touch. It’s true to her character–she doesn’t care about the laws of men, and certainly would never agree to be bound by them when lives are at stake.
As excited as I am for what’s coming next in the world of Justice League, Priest brought a much-needed human feel back to the books. It’s one thing when Superman and Wonder Woman are infallible, but with most League runs it feels like literally everyone in the group is a god. Some ideal of perfection that never screws up. But this entire arc–from the fall of the Watchtower to the team being dragged into court–all only happens because Batman refuses to take a nap.

Optimus Prime #18
“The Falling Interlude”
Writer: John Barber
Art By: Sara Pitre-Durocher & Livio Ramondelli
Colors By: Josh Burcham

This entire issue of Optimus Prime:

I appreciate that as things wind to a close in the IDW Universe, the hype isn’t actually going away but in fact, ramping up. In this issue of Optimus Prime, we learn that the villain of the entire Transformers universe is and has always been, Shockwave. The character had been at the outskirts of the conflict with his strange experiments with the Transformer power supply, Energon, for quite some time before taking the stage as the primary villain in the Transformers’ crossover series Dark Cybertron in 2013. There, the character sought to make Cybertron the only planet that mattered by making all of existence collapse into a single singularity that would power their planet for an eternity.
Shockwave was (of course) defeated, and becomes lost in time. For the next four years, he “vanishes”, and the respective Transformer ongoings move on to tell new stories. Stories about life in a post-war Cybertron, and stories about the past, long before there even was a Civil War.  Mythologies stack on mythologies as we learn about the “gods” who created Cybertron (the Guiding Hand), the first children of Primus (the Knights of Cybertron), and the Thirteen Primes that caused the original civil war on Cybertron. Turns out, Shockwave was at the center of that very first civil war, orchestrating it and all the other major events over the next twelve million years that led to the present day.
It sounds a bit cliche to have one character be at the center of so much, but at the same time it’s incredibly fitting.  By the end of this year, the Transformers will be rebooted again–tossed back into a new war of Autobots and Decepticons after only seven years of quite tenuous peace. Even in this timeline, Cybertron is dragged back into war again and again, no matter how many times it reaches a so-called “golden era”. They’re locked in a war that can never end, and even when it does, it’s started over again.  Because of us.
Shockwave works because he’s literally an extension of us, and a reflection of how we keep dragging Optimus, Soundwave, Starscream, and the rest into an endless war because we can’t let the story end. So as much as it sounds cliche, this might be the best idea the IDW universe has had in a long time.

Sonic the Hedgehog #3
Written By: Ian Flynn
Art By: Jennifer Hernandez
Colors By: Heather Breckel

I’m not sure what’s going on with the release schedule of this book, and I continue to be surprised by how large the fanbase of Sonic is considering his largely mediocre presence in gaming over the last ten years or so, but this book is pretty good. Ian Flynn knows how to write stories that are a blast for people of all ages. Before the book starts, Sonic sent Dr. Robotnik packing “for good”, and since then has only been wiping out remnants of his army. Ian’s been gradually setting up the introduction of Sonic’s universe–meeting up with key characters like Tails, Amy, and Knuckles–over the last three issues, and it’s been pretty easy to understand what’s going on even for a novice like me.
I’m not sure what happens when characters like Shadow, Silver, and the rest start to make an appearance, but for now this is a great job. Extra shouts out to Heather Breckel’s bright, beautiful colors and Jennifer Hernandez’s expressive characters–takes me back to my childhood of when Sonic was being done over at Archie. Also points to Ian Flynn for not starting things off with Sonic vs. Robotnik–hopefully we don’t have to deal with that for awhile, as it can get tiresome seeing the same villain face off against a hero.
See you in seven.

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