Bottom Of The Pile: Oct. 10th & 17th, 2018 – Avengers, Exiles, Hawkman, Shades Of Magic, Dragon Age, Justice League, Thor

by Sage Ashford

After a bit of a break to wrap up the Fall Anime TV Guide, we’re finally back on schedule for good. Let’s get into the last two weeks of comics.

Avengers #9
“The Defenders of the Deep”
by Jason Aaron & David Marquez
Color Artist: Justin Ponsor
If you were wondering where Namor was at now that we’ve got a classic Avengers team assembled, this issue is for you! After seeing the surface world disrespect his people (and Roxxon go a little too far with their comically evil oil company gimmick), Namor’s finally snapped. So while Aquaman is over in the Justice League forming a closer relationship than ever while Scott Snyder does The SuperFriends 2.0, Namor finally snapped and has turned his back on the surface world.
When former hero Stringray and his brother in law Tiger Shark get into it over a simple discussion, Namor comes in and squashes any attempts at comedy by demanding they join his own “underwater” Avengers.  When Stingray tries to talk some sense into him, Namor responds by beating him bloody and then having the sharks he brought feed on his body.  Now we never see his body so there’s a chance he survived but is simply horribly disfigured, but it’s this sort of thing that makes me tired of Namor.  He always starts out with understandable goals, but he always takes things so far it’s impossible to support him.  Then when the karma comes Marvel always wants to paint him as someone who’s been wronged, but I didn’t root for him after he screwed over Wakanda, I didn’t root for him after he killed the good Squadron Supreme when he was in the Illuminati, and here again despite being “technically” in the right I’m still against him, because he’s incapable of diplomacy.
Still, I think this is a great place for Aaron to shift towards in the aftermath of such a major story like the Final Host. After you’ve gone as big as “giant, alien science gods” you have to downshift towards something smaller…like placing the Avengers at war with an underwater nation and their cock-up of a ruler.

Exiles #9
Storytellers: Saladin Ahmed & Javier Rodriguez
Inker: Alvaro Lopez
Colorist: Muntsa Vicente
Somehow, writer Saladin Ahmed’s figured out how to do alternate world stories without constantly introducing progressively shittier futures, and for that he should be congratulated.  After the intervention of the Watchers on our heroes a couple issues ago led to them nearly being killed, the group found themselves transported across spacetime to lands unknown.  Really unknown. What I love about this is how few established universes Ahmed’s using in his Exiles. Yeah, he’s using Iron Lad and I’m pretty sure Wolvie is from an existing comic, but the actual places they’re visiting seem to be made up whole cloth.
They’re not visiting 2099 or Days of Future Past for the thousandth time–instead it’s a straight up riff on the Arabian Nights world where our heroes are being mistaken for key characters from those myths.  It offers some much appreciated freshness to the multiverse exploration concept, which you’d think would have an endless well of creativity but often turns into writers trying to show off their ability to remember deep cut continuity.
At the same time, Javier Rodriguez is absolutely perfect as the artist of this book–he lends things a cartoony softness that can portray the wide variety of emotional tones this book needs. He can nail the mystery of a creepy fusion of Jafar and Doctor Strange, but he also manages to make Wolvie look like a lovable fuzzball. Basically what I’m saying is this is the perfect team for a very pure book and I really hope they’re not going anywhere.

Hawkman #5
“The Fury and the Titan Part One: Half-Lives”
Writer: Robert Venditti
Penciller: Bryan Hitch
Inkers: Bryan Hitch & Andrew Currie
Colorist: Jeremiah Skipper
It took a few issues, but Hawkman is finally clicking for me. Venditti has a real knack for doing science fiction, whether it’s restoring the Green Lanterns to glory in Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, or showing us a barbarian king granted impossible alien armor in X-O Manowar.
This month, after tumbling through countless lives on countless different planets (at multiple points in time), Carter runs into a familiar face when he winds up in the Microverse and runs into Ray Palmer, the Atom.  Unlike most of the pairings in the DC Universe that go back decades, these two have always been something of an odd couple–and Venditti taps into that to convey the feeling of these two friends reunited and facing impossible threats together once again. The sheer scale of what Venditti’s doing here is almost as mind-bending for the reader to grasp as it is for Carter, but things never feel too obtuse to understand or like the book’s moving too fast. Instead, it’s more like we’re tapping into exactly the kinds of stories superheroes need more of–rip-roaring adventures through time and space.
Venditti also pays homage to Ray’s last major appearance in Steve Orlando’s Justice League of America, where the character was lost in the multiverse and had run-ins with the sentient mini-planet Moz-Ga.  Hawkman’s search for a hidden store of Nth metal leads the characters right into conflict with the talking planet, and ends by teasing a battle next issue which should be pretty epic.

Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince #1
Writer: V.E. Schwab
Artist: Andrea Olimpieri
Colorist: Enrica Eren Angiolini
Though I’m certain fans of fantasy novels have long been aware of V.E. Schwab’s “Shades of Magic” series, this comic is the first I’d heard of the series. Set in a multiverse with four magical worlds closed off from one another after one of the worlds’ magic became corrupted, Shades of Magic is a welcome breath of fresh air for fantasy nerds everywhere.
This mini-series follows Maxim, a rebellious young prince punished for seeking to learn the fate of the lost worlds by being banished to the dangerous city of Verose. Far from anyone or anything he’s ever known, Maxim has to learn the rules of the cutthroat city fast, as he’s found himself in a place where people have little respect for the military…and even less for royals.  While I’m new to the world, Schwab does a great job of making Maxim a likable enough character that I want to see more of his story, and I hope she likes the world of comics enough to keep telling stories in it.  Comics don’t do nearly enough fantasy stories that aren’t tinged (or stained) with horror. Plus, the series promises a pirate queen–how can I say no to that?
Dragon Age: Deception #1
Script: Nunzio DeFillipis & Christina Weir
Art: Fernando Heinz Furukawa
Colors: Michael Atiyeh
While I’m on the subject of small comics people might not be reading, I wanted to draw attention to Dark Horse’s Dragon Age: Deception mini-series. I’ve been a fan of DeFillipis and Weir’s work since they released Academy X back in 2003–they have a knack for witty dialogue and likable characters, and this book’s no exception.
Freed from the constraints of AAA gaming storytelling, the duo is free to follow a minor character in the overall story of the Dragon Age Universe, but I dunno. I think BioWare could learn something from this rather than rehashing the “chosen one” trope again and again. The series currently follows an actress turned con-woman in a city on the verge of being caught up in a massive war.  Things are going well for her, until she finds out the person she’s aiming to con is actually a con man himself, albeit far less experienced. From there the two wind up getting into a bit of back and forth, with her trying to get rid of the boy while he tries to get her to teach him.
It’s obvious if the two are going to survive then they’ll both need to rely on one another eventually, giving the story a vibe not unlike BBC’s Hustle–with the experienced grifter working alongside someone talented but far younger. In either case, since Dragon Age 4 is at least three years away right now, Deception is a fantastic way for Dragon Age geeks to pass the time.

Justice League #10
“Drowned Earth Prelude”
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art, Colors, Cover: Francis Manapul
While I’m a bit bummed out they turned out to be evil, the idea of water gods from other galaxies is awesome.  After just finishing the massive “Totality” storyline, Snyder is giving neither us readers nor the Justice League any chance to take a breath. Instead, our heroes have now split up into teams and are exploring the universe for hints on what to do about both the Totality and their enemies the Legion of Doom.  Currently, we’re following Arthur and Wonder Woman on their journey to find Poseidon. Their quest takes them into a location hidden by Arion, original protector of Atlantis who’s greatest sin was accidentally summoning invaders from the cosmos and getting Atlantis involved in a massive war.
Unfortunately, both Aquaman and the League are unaware that the invaders never abandoned their desires to conquer Earth, and their meddling summons them again. Immediately they attack the rest of the planet with a strange water which converts anyone who comes in contact into monstrous creatures subservient to the sea gods.  I have to say, I’m loving the idea of using Justice League as a platform to boost up other heroes and tell larger stories with them through short mini-events that last a couple months.  Aside from Batman, the Justice League is the biggest property DC has–why shouldn’t they use it to show off why the rest of their heroes are awesome?
As a sidenote, I’m really digging the fact that Batman hasn’t just recovered from his injuries between issues. Most comics would have him back to normal by now, but we’ve gotten to see his recovery process and how he’s handled being basically the strategist of the team instead of being in the field constantly.  Of course, there’s a big issue coming up where he’ll have to deal with the Legion of Doom on his own while trapped in the suit, so it’s not like he’s completely out of action.

Thor #6
“Midgard’s Final Doom”
Writer: Jason Aaron
Guest Artist: Christian Ward
I love that Doctor Doom’s turned into a glorified fanfiction character. It’s not enough for him to exist at the end of time, dude’s got to have gained every major power that ever existed in the Marvel Universe. I’m surprised he hasn’t invented his own version of the Fantastic Four so he can use Reed as a servant and marry Sue while pretending Valeria’s his kid.  Wait, he did that already too in Secret War.  Jeez, Victor needs his own Archive of Our Own account.
Old Thor used to be my least favorite part of Aaron’s run, but I love seeing him struggle against the final form of so many forces. Beating up on Galactus, battling against Phoenix Wolverine–it’s nice to get away from all the moving pieces of the War of the Realms and just get to the simple story of the most powerful, most experienced version of Thor trying his best to protect the frail, last remains of existence. Even this final fight against Doom is absurdly epic, with Phoenix Wolverine having to sacrifice his life to give Thor enough power to win–the two battling underneath the Earth for a hundred years before Thor finally puts him down once and for all.
Of course, it can’t ever be that simple, and there’s one more threat wandering around at the end of all things waiting to finally have their say. It’s kind of sad the final version of Loki is the evil, twisted, angry version, but I’m still holding out hope this isn’t the way time was supposed to go and there’s a hail mary coming once Aaron’s run on the character finally wraps up.
A stomach virus forced me to combine the last two weeks into a single article, but now we’re finally back on track. So see you in seven!

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