Bottom of the Pile: July 20th, 2016

Second volume coming tomorrow.


Let's take a look at Marvel, first.

Contest of Champions
And so Contest of Champions ends with its tenth issue.  Seriously, Al Ewing made this comic so much better than it had any right to be--it was meant to be a tie-in series for a video game on your cell phone, and yet here we are having Outlaw (the British Punisher) debate the nature of killing criminals and the idea of society considering the less fortunate to also be less than human.   It even ends with assembling no fewer than two separate teams--an Exiles-style team on Battleworld and an international-style team filled with some really cool heroes on Marvel Prime Earth.  That's way more effort than this comic deserves, and proof that Al Ewing is a magician in disguise.

Having said that...I do have a bit of a problem with the ending, where Outlaw uses the maguffin they've spent the last ten issues fighting over to bring back all the people he killed.  Now, I've never read anything with Outlaw in it before now (I'm still shocked the Punisher has some kind of "brand"), but if he's a Punisher I'm pretty sure he wasn't out there just killing jaywalkers.   There's no way he didn't off a couple murderers and rapists, and while I'm not the one to claim they should be dead, once they are I think it might be a tad irresponsible to bring them back to life, no?

Ah well, just a thought.  Don't mind me, I'm waiting for whatever team Al Ewing basically created at the end of this to get an ongoing.

Guardians of Infinity
Speaking of last issues, with this issue of Guardians of Infinity we see the last time for the foreseeable future that one of the creators of the 2008 Guardians team will be responsible for the characters, and that kind of bums me out.   Not because Dan Abnett is such a perfect writer, but because he's the last writer with a connection to what the original team was.

Thanks to Marvel's films, at this point everyone knows who the Guardians are...but only sort of.  Director James Gunn took countless liberties with the characters to make them more palatable for large audiences--simplifying histories here, outright changing characters elsewhere.  By the end you get a film that's good, but characters that are basically Space Avengers.  And for what its worth, there's nothing wrong with that.  I'm glad they turned the Guardians into a film that could achieve wide success like they did.

...The problem is, Marvel's need for "corporate synergy" has altered the characters in the source material as well.  Star Lord's no longer the grizzled war veteran.  Gamora's no longer the dangerous femme fatale.  And all the other characters that were apart of the Guardians are gone now because they want things to resemble something close to the films.

So yeah, this comic is kind of a send-off for that era of Guardians.  A shame too, since Dan clearly had a massive time-altering story involving no less than three different teams of Guardians across time and space that he meant to tell and won't get to, now that he's exclusive to DC.  

 Spider-Man
This month's issue of Spider-Man sees Tony Stark come explain to Miles personally what's going down with the "adults" right now and why everyone's about to start punching everyone else in the face.  This almost feels like a pointless tie-in for Civil War II, but in a way it's a subtle nod to the upcoming "Champions" series, where the teen heroes all break apart from the adults in order to avoid the way the older heroes have done things.  Gone are the "bust each other's heads in before we team-up", gone are the egos that are so big they come before the ultimate role of a superhero--saving lives.  This is the future.  And hopefully it's a lot more hopeful than what's come before.

 The Ultimates

What's most frustrating about Civil War II for me is that I love Carol.  I've loved Carol since the late 90's, when Kurt Busiek pulled her into the Avengers and told stories about her power loss and subsequent dealings with alcoholism.  She's had some of my favorite outfits and there's always been a way about her--like she was just born to be a hero while a lot of Marvel heroes just get tossed into it by circumstance.    And her development has been fantastic--from nearly being kicked out of the Avengers to leading the Avengers themselves, to doing double-shifts as a member of the Ultimates and leading the Alpha Flight initiative.  She's one of the few characters in the Marvel U that's an example of going from relatively unknown to a B-List hero, and with a movie coming up in a year she's not done yet.  I wouldn't be surprised if everyone was calling her Marvel's Wonder Woman by 2018.

But Civil War II, much like its predecessor, is determined to commit the most annoying of character assassinations.  It tears the superhero community into two sides--one right, one wrong--but the leader of the right side always behaves like such a colossal dickhole that you can't help rooting for the other side.   In theory, Tony last time was right--a regulatory program for superheroes where new ones could be trained by veterans and have an organization to be responsible to would NOT be the worst thing in the world.  But by the end of it he was throwing heroes and villains alike into alternate realm secret prisons and just being such a jerk to anyone who disagreed that you just wanted him to lose.

Similarly, Carol's not wrong.  Essentially the other heroes are arguing that you have to let people actually commit the crime they're already planning to commit before you can do anything about it, which is the stupidest thing I've ever heard.  If someone sees a guy walking into a public building (that's not a gun range/club) holding an automatic weapon, it's a GOOD thing if they knock him out.  You don't need them to take a life or two before you make that choice.  But Carol's not accepting responsibility for her actions here--twice she's used these future-sight powers to intervene, and the only thing that's happened is more and more heroes keep dying.   She's not even consulting with her fellow heroes, and as shown in Ultimates here she's telling everyone asking her to think before she acts to go screw themselves.   So...yeah.  As of right now, fuck Civil War II.

But Ultimates is still unquestionably my favorite comic book on the stands.  A diverse superhero comic that doesn't deal in weak, paper-thin allegories and strawmen.  It just features bad-ass men and women doing bad-ass things on a cosmic scale.  It's what the future of superhero comics should look like.

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey
Synchronicity is a funny thing.  Watching 91 Days I saw a dude saw a prayer right before he shot one of his enemies, now barely a few days later I'm watching Huntress confess her sins to a guy she's already killed.   Seeing one of the greatest sins juxtaposed against heavy religious references can be pretty jarring, and yet both here in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey and in 91 Days they were some of the most powerful scenes the comic/episode had to offer.

Having said that: so it's official that Helena Bertinelli from Grayson is in fact the same one she was pre-Flashpoint.   She's dark-skinned now, but here's why I don't care about that: aside from her time as leader of Spyral, literally everything about her appears to be the same.  She went away to become a bad-ass and now she's back to hunt the mafia down for destroying her life--that's Helena all over, and the only thing to be annoyed about here is that we've technically told these stories already but hey--one step at a time.

In any case: this issue is pretty strong as far as being setting up a believable reason for the Birds of Prey to reform.  Someone's pretending to be Oracle, Barbara Gordon's old identity, and supplying the criminal underworld with information.  She's rightfully pissed, and getting the gang back together to clear her old name.  I'm all for it, and the writers in question have a solid grasp of the individual voices of these characters.  Also, bonus points for finally making Huntress as relevant to the team as the other two.   Oracle was always the brains as one of the smartest people in the DCU and Black Canary was one of the world's foremost martial artists, and Huntress was always lacking--the only thing that made her stand out was that she was a lot more ambivalent on murdering people who got in her way.   She's still got that here, only now she's ALSO been the head of the most powerful spy agency in the world--so yeah, she's probably equal on the experience front now.

Batman
 I'll give Tom King this: he's bold.  This is one of the most action figure-y things I've ever seen happen in a comic book.  Stepping aside that he stepped in as Bruce only to seconds later step out in full Batman gear--how does this work exactly?   That car was presumably how he was getting around before he went Batman--was he actually just riding the bike being hidden by the shell the entire time?  Isn't that risky?  Like if the cops stop you doesn't Bruce Wayne have a lot of explaining to do for why he's riding in a car that houses a motorbike with a Bat-shaped emblem on its front?

I'm letting all this go, because while it's unquestionably stupid, it's the kind of stupid that belongs in comic books.

Green Arrow
Whoever they got to draw this month's issue should do Green Arrow for the next 60 issues.  Seriously, the dude can perfectly capture the creepiness of these new villains while also giving Seattle that noir-ish feel that Green Arrow shines in.

Having said that: if Green Arrow's enemies this time are bankers, why aren't the leaders just dressed in suits?   I suppose I shouldn't complain--the biggest problem of last decade was that everyone wanted to dress like normal people, and no one wants to pick up a comic for characters dressed like the ones in television shows they can watch whenever.  It's certainly not the worst thing ever if these guys picked up a flair for the dramatic.

Green Lanterns
The most frustrating thing about the GL franchise since writer Geoff Johns left in 2013 is how everyone to come on since has been going against the quite specific rules Geoff set up on the comic.  Back when Robert Venditti came on to replace Johns the first thing he did was decide that every ring was drawing on some special energy source that could be depleted, and once it happened, the entire universe would fall apart.  This would make the Green Lanterns more of a threat than most of the things they could ever dare to solve, but it's ALSO not true since Geoff had explained where the emotional spectrum got its energy from ages ago.  This was one of the key reasons I stopped reading Green Lantern the first time around.

Now this issue of Green Lanterns isn't quite as egregious with its errors--as Green Lantern Simon Baz "cures" his opponent the Red Lantern Bleez of her rage, normally something Blue Lanterns do instead.   For one thing--no one ever said ONLY Blue Lanterns were capable of such a thing, and for another Simon is already being set up as being capable of things with his ring no other Lantern yet has been able to do, so perhaps there's a greater story behind his abilities.

All-in-all, no big deal.  But maybe...play around with the rules you have first, before you go trying to break them or make up new ones?  I dunno, just a thought.

Superman
 If you can't tell, that's Eradicator basically swallowing Krypto the Super-Dog whole.  He meant to get Jonathan Kent, Superman's son, because he wanted to "cleanse" him of any human DNA, but still.  Yikes.   First Jon zaps some poor cat now Krypto's been swallowed.  What does writer Pete Tomasi have against animals?

Avatarex - Destroyer of Darkness
Last but not least, we have Grant Morrison's latest comic: Avatarex, Destroyer of Darkness.  Yes, this comic technically came out already in May for FCBD but this is its official launch, with the second issue releasing later this August.

In any case, I've been seeing this book get middling reviews and I can understand why.  Not much happens at the start of it all--it's just gorgeous art filled with a lot of posturing of this hero that's literally larger than life.  At least, on the surface level.  And before I get into why I loved this comic so much, it's worth saying that Grant's going to have to do a little better if this is where he'll be telling superhero stories for the forseeable future.  It's not enough to grab meta geeks like me--you need to be capable of grabbing everyone.

Still, I was in love with this comic and it's sense of wonder and grandeur.  The majority of it doesn't even take place on Earth but rather in an elaborate space womb where the world's most powerful hero, humanity's last hope, has been asleep--waiting to lead humanity from the darkness during it's final war.   Drawing deeply from Indian lore, this book feels like a sequel/counterpart to the amazing work he's doing over on 18 Days--a comic book about the war between Good and Evil at the end of the Third Age.   In that comic, they treat creation as seasons--starting with the glorious Golden Age of Spring and ending with the Dark Age of Winter, where humanity descends into distrust, ignorance, and madness.  It's undoubtedly very purposeful that Grant is using a lot of the same terminology in both comics, and to me it's next level that Grant is creating a unique superhero universe around a grand mythology that has been largely untouched by Western creators thus far. 

Moreover, the story draws from so many classic hero myths: there's a bit of Thor and Captain Marvel both in this first issue, with the first issue focusing on a god that must be made flesh, who must bond to a human because of his hubris.

And of course, there's no way I wouldn't fall in love with the inherent optimism in this story.  Grant always tells stories that feature the worst of humanity and some of the most evil villains, but it's all to set up a greater, more complete triumph at the end.  So..yeah.  Avatarex #2.  Can't wait.

Anyway, last week's comics should be up by the end of today.

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