The Stack: January 30th, 2018 – Action Comics, Age Of X-Man: Alpha, Teen Titans Annual & More!

by Sage Ashford

Another stack of comics a mile high. This week discussion centers around the coming of Leviathan, the destruction of the Source Wall, and Wonder Woman being a Disney princess not employed by Disney (yet).

Action Comics #1007
“Leviathan Rising Part 1”
Script: Brian Michael Bendis
Art & Cover: Steve Epting
Colors: Brad Anderson

After properly establishing a voice for and the characters in his Metropolis, Bendis finally gets to tell the story he’s been hinting at almost since the beginning of his run: a tale about Leviathan, the clandestine organization run by Bruce’s former paramour, Talia al Ghul. As expected of a group with the power and influence of Leviathan, we don’t see any of the shadowy consortium here–instead we just see groups like Kobra and individuals like Amanda Waller being mysteriously removed from the board.
This is exactly where Bendis should’ve always been, as street level stuff and underground groups have always been his specialty. Even better that he has Steve Epting lending his more realistic tone to Superman, while Brad Anderson balances that out with an appropriately splashy color palette to make everything feel like a Superman comic. DC has had a massive network of groups operating in the shadows of the DC Universe for years. They focused on it somewhat with Checkmate during the fallout of Infinite Crisis, but it’s never gotten the spotlight it deserved.  The solicitations have been clear this is all just a prelude and will build up to a larger story, which hopefully will eventually lead to a mini-series involving the return of Checkmate.
The real wrinkle to this is that Superman is even present at all–he’s literally The Big Gun in the DC Universe, and writers usually avoid including him in stories like this because the ultimate aim of characters involved is often territorial.  Checkmate, Task Force X, they’re all often involved in conflicts which feel “above” the Man of Steel–and worse, espionage angles often require shades of grey which don’t quite fit with who Superman is.  Still, it’s that contrast which makes this story so compelling–if Bendis can walk the line of making Superman helpful without compromising his morals or trivializing the conflict, this could be a classic story for him.

Age of X-Man: Alpha #1
Writers: Zac Thompson, Lonnie Nadler
Artist: Ramon Rosanas
Color Artist: Triona Farrell

When this was announced, I was absolutely positive I had no interest in anything that was happening here. I thought I’d give the opening one shot a chance to say an attempt was made, and then I’d respectfully bow out. As someone exhausted with the endless alternate universes, who’s seen far too much splintering of the X-Men line, this just felt like more jogging in place before someone with a vision stepped into the shoes of the X-Men and put the work in to return the biggest team in comics to glory.
I’m not too proud to admit I was wrong.  Thompson and Nadler are still treading familiar ground here, in the broadest of senses, by giving us another alternate universe for the X-Men. But as always it’s all about how the details can make an old idea fresh. At the end of X-Men: Disassembled, the bulk of all the known mutants had a showdown with a Nate Grey who’d seen a return of his old absurd levels of power, and planned to use them to create the world he thought should exist before said absurd power killed him. In that last showdown, we witnessed all the X-Men “die” trying to bring them down.
Of course, X-Man had about as much success with that as any villain trying to bring down a multi-million dollar franchise, which brings us here. The Age of X-Man, an inverse reality from the Age of Apocalypse that Nate originated from.  It’s a “perfect” world, where all our heroes are living out a version of their dream lives.  But of course everything’s not really perfect (otherwise why go home?); it’s a world where romance is forbidden and everyone’s actions are strictly monitored and controlled, with dissidents either “reconditioned” or disappeared entirely.  This controlling, “utopian dystopia” is a fresh setting for our Merry Mutants, and one that’s fascinating enough I don’t mind they’re spending half the year exploring it, or that they’ve got so many mini-series.
Speaking of–one thing that might be revolutionary is how effortlessly they managed to introduce all the ancillary titles.  Most books feel satisfied placing something like that after the letters page of a book, but Age of X-Man: Alpha instead gives readers little way point markers to highlight where they should go if they want more information about a particular aspect of this universe.  It never feels intrusive, and the hook is always just strong enough to leave you curious enough to want to read.  This is how every major event should handle things going forward; reducing the confusion of these massive universes simply can’t be a bad thing.

Doctor Strange #10
Writer: Mark Waid
Artists: Jesus Saiz; Kevin Nowlan, Jim Campbell, Butch Guice, Carlos Lopez, Tom Palmer, Daniel Acuna

I’m undecided on whether I really like this or if it bugs me.  On the one hand, it’s an incredibly clever way of doing things…but then again, reducing the wonder of spellcasting to a bunch of pencil pushing dorks behind the scenes is a bit sad.  Plus, it seems to run directly counter to what Waid was introducing an arc prior, when he’d been taught to create his own accessories and weapons so he could stop relying on the “Wand of Whoever”.   If he’s using his own magical items, doesn’t that mean he’s not calling on anyone else’s powers now?
Ultimately, I wonder how this story comes to an end. It seems unlikely Strange can just waive off this stuff, and he’ll have to figure out how to pay back the debt he owes.  Though if the story ended with more free-flowing magic, in a unique form of “magic socialism”, that’d be awesome.

Justice League Annual #1
“Multiversal Meltdown!”
Story: Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Words: James Tynion IV
Pencils: Daniel Sampere
Inks: Juan Albarran
Colors: Adriano Lucas

I could’ve used any number of pages for this issue, but I wanted this one for the House of Heroes shout out. In all the years I’ve been reading comics, Annual issues are generally relegated to side stories or resolving plot points introduced in the main comic, so shout out to Snyder and Tynion for shaking that formula up. This is massively important to the Justice League story being told, as we see the Justice League try…and fail…to repair the Source Wall.
This issue really draws the line in the sand setting Snyder/Tynion’s League apart from Morrison’s, the run most people would compare it to. Despite both runs featuring the biggest heroes facing the most major threats in the DC Universe, this current run really does paint the Justice League as failures. Not the comical, 80’s era League kind of failures, but the kind who gather the Green Lantern Corps, New Gods, and every other major cosmic power in the universe together to let them witness a colossal failure of an attempt to stop their universe from being exposed to what lies beyond the Source Wall. They’ve been consistently making mistakes since Metal, being forced to make sub optimal decisions to save everyone and counter villainous threats, something Morrison’s JLA rarely ever had to deal with.
Speaking of, I appreciate Snyder/Tynion having Kyle Rayner make an appearance here.  Kyle’s always been around for some of the biggest threats the JLA have had to deal with, and it made things just feel more “official”.  This is obviously headed towards a big event, but it’s too bad nothing permanent can result from the destruction of the Source Wall–seeing what exists beyond, or introducing new beings and powers, a la DC’s Genesis event.

Justice League Odyssey #5
“Ghost Sector Part 5”
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artist: Carmine Di Giandomenico
Colors: Ivan Plascencia

One thing no one can say about Darkseid is he doesn’t aim high. Just when things were starting to seem dull for Odyssey, Williamson details Darkseid’s ultimate end goal and ramps things up to 100. Now our space faring motley crew are trying to save the multiverse itself, in addition to helping the lost planets within the Ghost Sector.
This does ruin my headcanon though. I’d always believed the New Gods existed on a higher plane of reality than the multiverse, and any time we saw them it was just an aspect of their full selves. In other words, there’s not 52 Darkseids–there’s just one, sending an aspect of himself into different worlds.  It seemed to be what Multiversity was hinting at in its Guidebook issue, but it’s no big deal. This puts Darkseid back on the big stage for the first time since Darkseid War in 2015, though hopefully they give this some room to breathe with the Legion of Doom and Doctor Manhattan before putting him front and center.

Teen Titans Annual #1
Writer: Adam Glass
Penciller: Ryan Benjamin, Jose Luis
Inker: Richard Friend, Jordi Tarragona
Colors: HI-FI

Man, between Mystery in Love and this, Crush has gotten a bad shake.  Going off the last issue, it seemed like Glass was setting up a relationship between Lobo’s daughter and the mysterious Djinn, but seemingly that’s not where this is all headed.  Instead, we’re dealing with what appears to be a “love square” between Roundhouse (who’s got no hope and hopefully can bow out gracefully), Crush (who’s got terrible luck in picking partners it seems), Robin (who doesn’t understand how love even works and will likely adapt very poorly to puberty), and Djinn (who’s going to wind up breaking both their hearts in the long run). All this romance opens up a bunch of fresh storytelling possibilities, and unlike the first and second generation Titans I’m actually interested in seeing where it goes, instead of wondering how the team can function when everyone’s slept with everyone else.
In any case, while this isn’t quite as important in the long run to the Titans’ main story, if nothing else it was worth it to see someone stop tolerating Damian’s snotty attitude and give him the beat down he’s been after from the other Robins for so long.

The Flash #63
“Force Quest Conclusion”
Script: Joshua Williamson
Art: Minkyu Jung
Colors: HI-FI

….The…Forever Force?  Finally I’m comfortable saying all of this is dumb. I’ve had problems with the idea of having multiple other forces for quite some time, but I’ve had trouble putting my finger on why until just now.  It just reminds me of Greg Weisman’s discussion about the Speed Force. It all just feels like adding explanations where none was needed. With the Speed Force, it was meant to be this holistic explanation for how normal humans could achieve their speed feats, and do so without incinerating themselves.  But is the Strength Force affecting everyone with super strength?  Does the Sage Force affect all telepaths?  Why?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m entertained that the story has gone all Kamen Rider Blade and demanded Flash keep his force “dominant” by defeating all the others, but I can’t shake how extra this is. I’ll give Williamson this, though: at least the vampire villains were given a mercifully quick resolution.  Barry’s had his powers stolen or screwed with enough.

The Unstoppable Wasp #4
Writer: Jeremy Whitley
Art: Guruhiru

My biggest problem with most of these younger characters has been that they’re all too perfect. Marvel’s heroes have always been known for their flaws, but this new crop of heroes seem to only draw problems from balancing their real lives with their jobs as superheroes. Saying that, I love that they’ve added this personality wrinkle to Nadia.  Next to Gwenpool and Riri, she’s always been one of my favorite characters but it was a bit grating watching her be perfect everywhere.
Hopefully with this Whitley can actually delve into the mental health issue that’s plagued Hank for years.  Writers generally don’t focus on it with Hank because his actions led to him hitting Janet, so it can feel like using it as an excuse for his poor actions. But with Nadia, that’s not a problem yet (though she crosses a big line this episode), and developing her as a person with bipolar disorder could lead to some truly fascinating stories, and she’s got the perfect supporting cast to help her get through it all.

Wonder Woman #63
“The New World”
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Pencils: Emanuela Luppachino
Inks: Ray McCarthy
Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr.

I’ve been pretty down on G. Willow Wilson’s run, and I was pretty close to dropping it until this issue came along.  Despite a somewhat compelling hook with the first issue of “The Just War”, it wasn’t really what I was expecting from her.  That said, Emanuela Luppachino’s gorgeous pencils went a long way towards convincing me to check out this issue–she kills it on every issue she’s involved in and this book’s no exception.
The other reason I was loving this issue though is it feels like an extension of Greg Rucka’s run on the character in the mid-2000’s, easily my favorite Wonder Woman run in a walk.  Like that run, this issue straddles the line between Diana being essentially a Disney princess with all her talking animal friends, being an ambassador dealing with complex political situations thanks to her relation to so many mystical elements, and being a proper superhero. Most of the issue occurs through the eyes of some beings she rescued during her last adventure, and their attempt to fit into the modern world.  This is exactly where Wonder Woman shines the most, and even though she was barely featured for most of this issue, it was still a satisfying read and I hope Wilson leans into this more.
See you in seven.

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