The Stack: May 15th And May 29th – The Big Two Set Up For Event Season

by Sage Ashford

It’s a superhero heavy end of the month, as both DC and Marvel really level up the quality of their comics in time for event season.

Batman: The Last Knight on Earth #1
Writer: Scott Snyder
Pencils: Greg Capullo
Inks: Jonathan Glapion

Last Knight on Earth wasn’t something I intended to get. Snyder’s Batman didn’t really do it for me, but I’m enjoying his Justice League well enough and the hook that was going around in the previews was killer.  Imagine my surprise when the story actually ties into Justice League.  It’s not overt in a way that ruins your enjoyment of the book, nor is it so wink-wink, nudge-nudge that it’s a waste of time.   Currently over in Justice League they’re dealing with the threat of Lex Luthor and his desire to turn the entire universe towards “doom”.   That’s been building up into him one day speaking to the general public and offering them “a choice”.

In Last Knight, we get to see how that choice plays out…from the opposite side.  Whatever the “good” ending is we’ll get in Justice League, Last Knight takes us into the bad ending.  Lex Luthor’s utopia of doom.  Granted, this raises it’s own set of questions: Where’s Lex?  What happened to the giant gods which threatened to wipe out this universe that had turned away from the justice formation?  This is a Batman story, so we’re not likely to get those answers–or maybe the answer to the latter question is that they’re still coming, and these are the last moments of Earth before it’s erased from existence.  Whatever the case, Snyder’s clearly chosen to tell his last Batman story with as much weirdness as possible.

Also: as a guess, the final villain is either Damian Wayne, Jason Todd, or…*sighs*…Tim Drake.  Tim’s got a reputation for being awful in these alternate timelines.  Jason Todd seems to be running Leviathan itself at the moment, and Damian Wayne…well.  Though honestly that might be a false lead for us to follow, and Damian turns out to be the only person working to save anyone.

Detective Comics Annual #2
“Adam Raised a Cain”
Story and Words: Peter J. Tomasi
Artists: Travis Moore & Max Raynor
Colorists: Tamra Bonvillain & Nick Filardi

In it’s own way, this random-ass Annual might just be my favorite Batman comic ever.  Since the late 80’s, “Batman” has subsumed so much of “Bruce Wayne” that the alter ego had essentially vanished.  His never-ending battle against crime became one in which he couldn’t sleep or even take brief breaks to lead some manner of a social life.  This isn’t only a flaw of Batman–as superhero comics got more serious in the 90’s and 2000’s, they stopped having civilian lives to deal with.  Characters stopped having jobs and supporting casts that weren’t also superheroes.

This issue from Tomasi, Moore, and Raynor turns back the clock a bit.  We get to see a version of Bruce Wayne who feels natural–like he’s a direct plant from the Batman: TAS series to main canon.   He’s got a life, engagements that require him to not put terror in the lots of the cowardly and superstitious.  He’s working with Alfred again on cases that involve his past when he wasn’t good at everything “because I’m Batman”.   It’s all really simple stuff, but its nice to get away from stories where the world is ending and Batman is being challenged by villains who are going to set fire to all of Gotham and have basically already “won” through political power or finances or both.   Just a well-told, classic Batman story. We could use more of these.

Doomsday Clock #10
Writer: Geoff Johns
Illustrator: Gary Frank

Colorist: Brad Anderson

This is…basically what I’d been waiting on since Doomsday Clock was announced.  Here Johns launches into a high-level assessment of the DC Universe, carrying on from his contemporary Grant Morrison’s comics Final Crisis and Multiversity.  We’ve already seen this universe is alive–something Grant posited in the 2000s–and we’ve seen how it reacts to beings inside it gaining massive amounts of power when they weren’t supposed to, as with Final Crisis.  Now here we learn something new from Dr. Manhattan and his attempts to change time: the universe has its own ways of fighting back.

This lines up, as we know that a universe in which “evil” wins eventually gets sick and dies.  The superheroes not only serve as anti-bodies, but the universe will allow them to achieve the impossible or return as needed to constantly win.  And Superman is it’s most powerful weapon, representing both the metaverse’s hope and resiliency.

Now the biggest criticism I’ve seen of this is that it answers questions no one asked. But that’s most stories.  And to be fair, most stories aren’t going to require a reader to know that Superman is the primary way the DC Universe fights threats to itself, or that in altering him the entire multiverse is altered as well.  It’s just top-level stuff for Nerds like me, and it’s okay to make things like this from time to time as long as they aren’t the primary comics being published.

The larger questions now are: Who is Carver Coleman? He’s been focused on almost since this book’s beginning–at this point he has to be part of the story’s resolution. Perhaps all of this story hinges on Manhattan’s willingness to finally save Carver?  Saving one life to save his own self.   Then secondly, how does this story end?  Ultimately, we’re never going to get a full return to the hope and optimism of the 1940s. It can’t work that way, but Johns needs an answer for how he can restore the full legacy of the DCU, if nothing else.  Ideally, he also has an answer for the sliding timescale and how we can reincorporate that without losing our third (Wally, Kyle, Conner), fourth (Tim, Conner, Bart) and fifth (Rebirth Teen Titans) generation heroes.

Freedom Fighters #6
Chapter Six: Overman Returns
Writer: Robert Venditti
Penciller: Eddy Barrows
Inker: Eber Ferreira and Scott Hanna
Colorist: Adriano Lucas

I was kinda iffy on Freedom Fighters up until this point. It was a good story, but it felt like one which was ignoring Morrison’s “Earth X” story from Multiversity, and if we aren’t going to include prior stories in that universe, then why follow it?  Everything gets reset over and over, so it feels empty.

But this confirms the story is taking place in the aftermath of that book, and introduces us to a pretty awesome concept: Cyborg Overman.  Playing that out, it’d be fascinating to see how this occupation affects other heroes and villains.  Does Steel become inspired to develop a power that can inspire rather than terrify?  Is a Young Overman a psychotic man-child?   What about the more diverse lelegacy heroes?

This introduction of Earth X’s “Justice League” opens up so many more stories.  With that in mind, it’d be great to see this become an ongoing that gradually folded in what this universe’s version of heroes and villains look like.

Ironheart #6
Writer: Eve L. Ewing
Artist: Kevin Libranda
Color Artist: Matt Milla

This issue makes me want a series with Spider-Man and Ironheart as an odd couple/teen buddy cop comic.  In the same way that watching Nadia collapse felt like a necessary step in her development as a character, watching Miles and Riri struggle to develop a friendship feels necessary as well. These young characters tend to be far too likable, but here Ewing sets Miles up to be almost as annoying to Riri as Peter is to…everyone.   This feels more logical than anything we’ve seen before: no one’s likable by everyone.   These young heroes have been interacting with older ones who find them “cute” and “precious” , but inevitably they have to find their natural opposites. Characters with whom there’s some friction, and people they don’t click with, but still work well together because they’re all working towards the same purpose.

Next issue Wasp guest-stars, and I’m still just as excited.  Someone needs to take time to develop these relationships and dictate how they exist when it’s not necessarily a team setting.

Justice League Dark #11
“The Lords of Order Chapter 4”
Writer: James Tynion IV
Pencils: Alvaro Martinez Bueno
Inks: Raul Fernandez
Colors: Brad Anderson

Dating back to the late 80s at the least has been one prevailing idea for comics dealing with mysticism: magic comes with a cost.  It’s a rule writers have relied on heavily to explain away the most annoying plot hole ever: “Why don’t they just do x?”  When the Spectre and Dr. Fate and Phantom Stranger displayed seemingly infinite, effortless power, it was easy to wonder how come they couldn’t solve all their issues with a wave of their hands.  And so eventually, as comics became more complex in their storytelling, the refrain became common.

But if there’s going to be any answer to the issue of both the Lords of Order and the Otherkind, beings that have apparently wiped out entire magical realms with ease, that refrain will have to be rewritten.  Enter Mordru, the one and only Lord of Chaos. A mage who ignores the costs of magic and forces the universe to bend to his will as he reshapes reality.  It brings us back to the time when magic had no rules, and magicians did whatever they wanted.  Now ultimately, Mordru is less ignoring the costs and more making them someone else’s responsibility.  While our heroes won’t be able to do that long-term, it presents a useful short-term solution for them in conquering beings which threaten all of magic itself.

Superman: Leviathan Rising Special #1
Writers: Brian Michael Bendis, Greg Rucka, Matt Fraction, Marc Andreyko
Artists: Yanick Paquette, Mike Perkins, Steve Lieber, Eduardo Pansica, Julio Ferreira
Colorists: Nathan Fairbairn, Paul Mounts, FCO Plascencia

Leviathan Rising feels reminiscent of Superman: New Krypton. It’s a bit less high-concept, which is saying a lot considering the central narrative of this comic is a story about a massive organization reshaping the landscape of intelligence agencies, but New Krypton was literally trying to reach for the stars.  Still, even if a spy event doesn’t “fit” Superman, it’s about time DC got around to giving an event storyline to their first superhero.

In the meantime, it also sets the tone for Greg Rucka’s upcoming Lois Lane and Matt Fraction’s Jimmy Olsen.  This is actually a 180 from the New Krypton era, as it focuses on the un-powered people in Clark’s life rather than all the super-people. Hopefully that means it’ll have a better finish than that era did.

Spider-Man: Life Story #3 – The 80’s
Chapter Three: Our Secret Wars
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Penciler: Mark Bagley
Inker: John Dell
Color Artist: Frank D’Armata

The Life Story idea is a brilliant concept, but the way it’s being used here doesn’t quite resonate with me.  It seems more concerned with the serious, tragic aspects of superheroes and has forgotten that these comics became beloved because of the sense of wonder and awe, because of how these characters can inspire.  Adding the ability to age and die shouldn’t take that from the core of these stories.   Kurt Busiek understands that intrinsically, that’s why Astro City is capable of showing the wonder inherent to its universe while also telling all these beautiful, bittersweet stories.

Life Story presents Parker’s life as this continuous, crashing failure, and while it “makes sense” , it still feels tonally off in a way that’s hard to stomach.

Tony Stark: Iron Man #11
Stark Realities: Part Six – End of Service
Writers: Dan Slott & Jim Zub
Artist: Valerio Schiti
Color Artist: Edgar Delgado

And thus, the sliding timescale brings us to a point where Iron Man 2020 is the man of today, rather than of distant tomorrow.  Stark Realities gets fairly bold with its premise, beginning with out right saying that the Tony Stark we know is gone, thanks to having rebooted his memories during Fraction’s run and having created another body to survive the events of Civil War II.  It’s a definitive answer to a question most would be comfortable merely posing: how much can a human being alter their physiology before there’s nothing remaining of the original person, and does that mean you’ve effectively created someone new?

Slott and Zub appear to say yes, though perhaps a large part of why they’re comfortable with that seems to come from how cavalier Stark is with this truth. It seemed earth-shattering initially, but here at the end of the arc he’s so comfortable with it he has no problem re-creating Friday in a similar fashion at the end of the issue with an “all’s well that ends well” mindset.  Fortunately, Friday’s robotic co-worker Jocasta is there to remind Stark that for artificial intelligences that’s not how it works, which will hopefully be lingering for Tony for months to come.

It’s also noteworthy that this issue prunes some of the massive supporting cast this book has had since the beginning.  By the end, Jocasta has quit his company, while his mother decides to move away as well, though for exact opposite reasons. Jocasta because she sees too much of humanity and it’s callous attitude towards machines in him, and Amanda because she no longer believes there’s any humanity left in her son at all.  It again poses a question that hopefully the book will be bold enough to answer, sooner or later. For now, it might be a good thing this cast is down four people (Jocasta and Amanda seem to have taken their respective love interests), since it may hopefully assuage the concerns some fans have that the book doesn’t have “enough” Tony.

As for Tony’s “2020” armor, it’s safe to assume we’ll be seeing it again down the line, as the Tony’s brother Arno seems to have copied it to create a version of his own.  Supposedly this is all heading towards Dan Slott’s time on the book coming to an end with an actual “Iron Man 2020” event.  Too bad we have to get derailed by a War of the Realms tie-in to do it.

Transformers #6
Written by: Brian Ruckley
Art by: Beth McGuire-Smith

Just as I was going to compliment the end of Transformers #5 for its shock ending, #6 comes along and drags a down the momentum and good will the previous issue earned.  Seeing Optimus Prime and Megatron’s relationship before things turned sour is good, but in doing so the already slow moving plot slows down to a pace that even a snail would be bored watching.

As excited as I was with this series’ first issue, things just lack the tension that makes things feel like the most legendary war ever is coming.

I will give it that it’s setting Megatron up as more of a believable villain this time around.  In the IDW series, Megatron was a revolutionary that got so far off the rails he turned into the worst mass murderer ever. It’s a motivation that’s believable, but frustrating considering he was right. His society was untenable, so he tore it down.  This time around, he seems better positioned for his eventual change.   Rather than working against an evil government, he’s (currently) railing against a planet trying to rein in its imperialist tendencies.  That’s a far better starting point, and leans in to how the war eventually turns interstellar.   Hopefully the characterizations can remain strong…and this plot can begin to ramp up before the series finishes it’s first year.


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