The Stack 11/21 – Doctor Strange, Mr. And Mrs. X, Optimus Prime, And More!

by Sage Ashford

Some Thanksgiving and birthday fun kept this from getting up any sooner, but it’s still here!  Near the end of the month, this time we’re looking at a whole mess of Marvel comics, plus the real end of the IDW Transformers universe.

Doctor Strange #8
“The Price” Part One
Writer: Mark Waid
Pencilers: Andres Guinaldo & Javier Pina
Inkers: Javier Pina & Andy Owens
Color Artist: Carlos Lopez
I am absolutely down for a book about Stephen Strange and the only being that can stand him, his faithful ghost dog. This week all the stuff I was complaining about last month comes back to haunt Strange, as Kanna remembers what really happened with her and the Infinity Stone. Strange just narrowly manages to pull off a victory against his former student Casey and Baron Mordo, but still loses one of the few friends he has left. Waid cuts to the heart of the character in this issue, with both Kanna and his oldest enemy pointing out Stephen’s oldest flaw.  His obsession with being seen as the best, holding secrets to his chest so people will be impressed with his intelligence and mastery of a situation.
Of course it’s Waid so the character is still noble, still just as willing to sacrifice his life to save others around him. But being a hero doesn’t stop one from being a terrible person, and Waid’s Strange is an awful, awful person sometimes. Waid’s continuing to redefine Marvel characters in definitive ways, putting his own unique stamp on them with landmark runs–first Daredevil, then Hulk, Black Widow, now Strange?  Jeez.  Keep him away from teams and he could redefine the entire MU for the better.

Justice League Dark #5
“The Shadow Pact” Part One
Writer: James Tynion IV
Pencils: Daniel Sampere
Inks: Juan Albarran
Colors: Adriano Lucas
Imagine spending all that time listing out that endless speech to give yourself time to conjure the most powerful spell you have…only for your opponent to shrug it off. And I’ll always be annoyed that characters like Doctor Strange are always exponentially more threatening as antagonists than actual heroes. If he were a member of the magic faction of the Justice League, he’d be getting waved off inside of a single panel by some chump teleport move or whatever. But he’s attacking Swamp Thing and Constantine and suddenly he doesn’t flinch at dangerous, dark and terrible ancient spells. Because of course he doesn’t. Well, it’s all worth it if we get to see Fate and Phantom Stranger go at it.
Also, I’m all in on Tynion referencing Shadowpact if this is actually going to reference a version of that old team. I still think that’s the superior name for the group–I can see why someone would call a book “Justice League Dark”, but why the hell would anyone call their team that?

Mr. and Mrs. X #5
“Love and Marriage” Part Five
Writer: Kelly Thompson
Artist: Oscar Bazaldua
Colorist: Frank D’Armata
For as much as I complain about the future of the X-Men, how it feels aimless and no one seems to have a strong enough idea on where it should go next, Kelly Thompson’s already several steps ahead of me. While other writers continue dragging the X-Men into the same tired extinction storylines, Thompson’s gone in the completely opposite direction.  The characters aren’t constantly having to confront death–instead they’re living their lives.  Thompson’s allowed Rogue and Gambit to get married and figure out what it’s like to share a life together, an adventure neither of them ever thought they’d go on.
It feels like the sort of natural step Marvel should’ve taken decades ago, but I guess shying away from it for so long makes it feel that much more fresh. With Scott and Emma “done”, Nightcrawler and Rachel barely having gotten to be a thing, Kitty refusing to accept she’s totally gay for Ilyana, and every other X-Men relationship in disarray, this is easily the best couple in the mutant world.  (And the hottest.)  They manage to end the storyline involving Xavier’s daughter by outwitting the Shi’ar Empire, finally allowing them to go home and finally celebrate their wedding with a party. It’s probably going to blow up in their faces, but what if it doesn’t?  What if Thompson can manage to restore that old Chris Claremont feel, where these characters get to be just as much human as they are superheroes?

Optimus Prime #25
Written by: John Barber
Art by: Kei Zama
Colors by: Josh Burcham
Feels weird to say my last good bye to this universe three times in three weeks, but here we are.  But while Lost Light was the end of that particular group of characters’ storylines, and the final issue of Unicron was about laying that threat to rest once and for all, Optimus Prime #25 functions more as a proper epilogue to the universe as a whole.  John Barber gets to fold in all the characters he’s been working on in some form of another for eight years, including those in his Robots in Disguise run.
There’s some great moments here–Pyra Magna turning into the Mistress of the Flame, learning Starscream is trapped in Infraspace and is now Bumblebee’s “imaginary friend”, Thundercracker finally getting recognized for his talent as a screenwriter–but the image above is my favorite. By far, the saddest story at the end of the IDW Transformers universe is that of Optimus Prime.  It seems like he only ever wanted two things: peace, and the opportunity to be himself.  But that wouldn’t have given us enough of a story–and so he was forced to be the leader of the Autobots.  To become more symbol of a faction than an actual individual.   He was forced to sacrifice who he was constantly–in the “13 Colonies” era, he couldn’t even be just an “Autobot” anymore, he had to become pure myth–they viewed him as “The Arisen”, the mysterious 13th Prime.
Did he abuse his knowledge of how people thought of him?  Certainly, but it was impossible for him to be what they needed without leaning into their belief at least a little. And in the end, despite being there to do so much of the work to restore peace to the universe…he doesn’t even get to enjoy it. Megatron gets to go to another universe and explore with his goofy friends. Even Starscream talks to his buddy Bumblebee from Infraspace, but there’s no evidence Optimus is alive in any sense. More’s the pity then, that we’re about to reboot the IDW universe and throw him right back into that role, never giving the character an opportunity to be anything more than a tool, the sign of the status quo, resisting the endless armies of the Decepticons.

Spider-Geddon #4
Based on a Story By: Dan Slott
Writer: Christos Gage
Pencilers: Jorge Molina & Carlo Barberi
Inkers: Jay Leisten & Jose Marzan Jr.
Colorist: David Curiel
Spider-Geddon isn’t a terribly important story–so far all it’s done is strip away a bunch of cool ideas and characters from the Spider-mythology that didn’t even have to be referenced. But one great thing it’s done is allow us to see Miles as more of his own person, a leader in his own right, and this is easily one of the better examples of that.  Peter would’ve escalated this argument with Otto into a full blown fight, likely splitting the team up in a more violent fashion and making them all overall less efficient. The less experienced (and less biased) Miles instead navigates this more deftly, having them commit to a compromise in order to work on taking out the Inheritors.

Tony Stark: Iron Man #6
“Stark Realities: Part One: The Rollout”
Story: Dan Slott
Script: Jeremy Whitley & Dan Slott
Artist: Valerio Schiti
Color Artist: Edgar Delgado
It’s my bias talking, but Slott’s Iron Man is still for my money the best comic book I’ve read all year.  He brings modern sensibilities to old school compressed storytelling, and works as a master here in keeping as many plates spinning as possible.  It’s not enough for Stark, his new girlfriend Janet, and Rhodey to work together to bring down the Raiders, a group of villains we haven’t seen like this in what feels like decades.  Nope, we’re also looking at Stark’s latest new product–eSCAPE, a popular new VR technology that actually works.  Smartly, Slott decides to use this as a vehicle for discussing how toxic people online can be.  But he’s also got this thing with Bethany Cabe where she’s being mind controlled by the Controller, who decides to attack Stark by making his eSCAPE device a failure.  All that without dealing with whatever Sunset Bain has planned, how Tony’s brother Arno is a total jerk now, or that Tony’s relationship with his mother is so on the rocks he’s literally avoiding her.
It’s so much to keep track of it can be dizzying, especially when you add in the transhumanism discussion that was inherent to the late 80’s/early 90’s stories they were telling with the character Slott’s clearly referencing.  But that’s also what makes it so rewarding–each issue is packed with story, and the more invested you are in Iron Man and his world the more you get from every page.  And we’re not even at a point where Slott would feel comfortable doing bigger stories yet, so there’s definitely more to come.

Uncanny X-Men #2
“Disassembled Part 2”
Writers: Ed Brisson, Matthew Rosenberg, & Kelly Thompson
Penciler: R.B. Silva
Inker: Adriano Di Benedetto
Color Artist: Rachelle Rosenberg
Superhero comics should be weekly. That’s going to sound blasphemous to a lot of fans, but there should be fewer of them, and we should get them weekly. The world moves way too fast for these stories to be told monthly, and with weekly comics creators can do a real focus on the depth of a given universe. I’m not sold on the Disassembled story yet, but I love how easily the book manages to cover most of the X-Men’s gargantuan cast, largely because it can give them all equal focus.
I’m also loving some of the weird ideas it’s doing in the background. Kidnapping Apocalypse, introducing Legion seemingly in control of his faculties–all of these go a long way towards establishing this book’s identity as willing to do things we havn’t seen before, or at least very often. Legion is very probably going to be the primary villain of Disassembled though, as he would be the only one with the powers to create the havoc we’ve seen over the last two weeks–and that part’s sad, if only because we’re right back to an idea we see almost all the time. Whenever Xavier’s son appears, he makes more work than fixes it. Maybe Thompson can bring in Xavier’s daughter from Mr. and Mrs. X to shake things up.
See you in seven.

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