Bottom of the Pile: November 9th, 2016

I'm two weeks late, but given this is supposed to be the "pull list" month, I can't skip any weeks.

With its second issue, Alter manages to continue the balance of building an all-new superhero universe while focusing on the life of one girl, who just happens to potentially be the most powerful altered human yet--who herself has to balance her life as a not-out transwoman as well as being a secret Alter.

It's incredibly bold of Paul Jenkins to tell this story, but it doesn't feel forced or fake--probably because of the immense amount of research he's done, some of which is included in the backmatter of the comic as interviews with various people he spoke to before creating the comic.   But even as a superhero universe it works--there's as much time given to our hero's work as Chalice as it is in her civilian life.   This issue, she faces down the dangerous Matter Man, but makes some fatal mistakes in her fight that result in one of her allies' identities being revealed, thus placing his (and his family's) life in immediate danger.   It makes sense for the story--being Chalice is the one time Charlie ever feels in control of her life, and it led to her feeling herself a little bit.

As always, the question now is where do things go from here?  Supposedly Chalice traveled through a myriad of potential realities--does the story develop that?  Alternate realities is a big step for a universe that's on its third issue, but Chalice's incredible quantum abilities allow for a lot of storytelling you couldn't get from your average Spider-Man-esque comic.

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows
Renew Your Vows is an alternate universe version of Spider-Man, where Peter Parker and Mary Jane stayed married and had a child together, Annie May.  In their world a supervillain known as The Regent stole the powers of all the world's superheroes to rule over Earth until Spidey and his family brought him down together.  Written by spectacular Spider-Man scribe Gerry Conway (well-known for his work on the character in the 80's and early 90's) and drawn by artist Ryan Stegman (known for his superb work during the Superior Spider-Man days) with beautiful, vibrant colors provided by colorist Sonia Oback, I was pretty immediately sold on this series for a handful of reasons like the all-star creative team, and the fact that not only Annie, but Mary Jane would be getting in on the action.  Superhero families have been done so seldomly throughout comics' history that whenever I see it I'm all in.

The book itself is about as old-school Spidey as anyone could ever hope for--it's like Pete and MJ from the early 90's actually got a chance to have a kid together, and the story picks up when their child is finally old enough to want to follow in her dad's shoes. Pete still works for the Daily Bugle, which allows him the flexibility to be both Spider-Man and a dad for Annie, while MJ is...well, the first issue doesn't quite get into that--we're still at the basics, just driving home the current status quo for the Parkers as a family.  We DO know she's wearing a suit made from Regent's technology that allows her to use some of Spider-Man's powers, but outside of that we're in the dark about this universe.  Originally based on one of the timelines from Marvel's Secret Wars event from 2015, there's plenty of the aftermath of that story that remained untold that Gerry Conway basically has a Spider-Man universe/title all to himself.   If you've been craving a classic Spider-Man book, the only way you're really going to get any better is by just buying back issues.

Personally?  I'm sold. While it DOES bug me to see Peter invent all these things and yet completely toss away his talents by choosing to get paid taking pictures of himself like it's still the fucking 1960's instead of actually living up to his potential like in the proper Marvel Prime universe (something he even pokes fun at!), I can't get mad at this book.  Peter having a family feels like the one thing that's missing in the ongoing, and I can't wait to see Gerry Conway develop this world further.

Despite writer Chris Priest telling a non-linear story featuring a large cast of characters that are either brand new or not well-known at all, I'm enthralled by Deathstroke's dysfunctional family and even more dysfunctional life.  He's a thoroughly unlikable villain, but Priest manages to make you care about him and his book through the domino effect: a LOT of the people around him are either likable, or fucked up in a way that can be blamed entirely upon Slade. 

The sixth installment of Priest's first arc, "The Professional" opens up with Deathstroke in Saharan Africa saving the warlord from the Deathstroke: Rebirth one-shot (who's taken to wearing his own Deathstroke-esque costume), but also follows up on the twisted plotline of who was hired to assassinate Rose and introduces Deathstroke's son Joseph and Etienne, Joseph's fiance.  Featuring a heavy focus on Deathstroke's "family", Rose hasn't been this likable since she was a babysitter in the 2000's Titans series.  As for Joseph, the tail end of the issue has him arguing with Dr. Ikon, a "superhero" and former associate of Deathstroke's who at one point was Joseph's boyfriend. Setting aside the fact that Deathstroke's son is now at the very least bi (as he claims he IS in love with Etienne) but possibly/probably gay, and that Dr. Ikon is seemingly both Christian AND gay, there's something deliciously ironic about the obvious age gap here when you consider that one of the most well-known Deathstroke stories is the Judas Contract, where Slade has a manipulative, sexual relationship with teenage "superhero" Terra to get her to betray the Titans.  And this is all BEFORE you get to the subtle discussion of racial identity between Etienne and Rose.  This is a fairly busy book.

Also, considering Priest has confirmed a re-telling of the Judas Contract is in the works, you'd better believe this is being done on purpose.  At the time, the Judas Contract was shocking just to see the events themselves unfolding--but I can't wait to see Priest add the layers and thought processes that would come with a 2016 version of Deathstroke doing it all.  If it were anyone else at the writing wheel, I'd assume the more skeevy elements of the 80's classic would get retconned away.  But fortunately, Priest seems to understand that supervillains are MEANT to be despicable, not just slightly dickish or otherwise decent folk who shun the status quo (the route most writers take these days when writing villains).  In just six issues Slade has shown himself to be a master schemer, so the mental gymnastics for justifying his actions with Terra could be entertaining...but I'm betting the conscience-less bastard just finds it the easiest path to getting what he wants.

With snappy (but not sitcom-y) dialogue, gorgeous art and a plotline that actually demands your attention while following a despicable main character who's still smarter than everyone around him, I can't help NOT reading Deathstroke just like I can't help hating the guy.

Detective Comics
When people say Detective Comics is one of, if not THE best Bat-book on the stands, I always feel a little bit of pride.  When it's writer, James Tynion IV, first popped up on DC's Second Wave New 52 book Talon, I knew he was something special.  He took a concept I didn't care at all about in the Court of Owls and fashioned a book around it I enjoyed reading from month to month. Sadly, Talon was a short-lived comic that I'm not even sure made it two years, but James Tynion is still getting to shine on the longest-running superhero comic in history.  If Rebirth is meant to take what worked from New 52 and merge it with all the things fans loved from classic pre-Flashpoint DC, then few writers got that memo better than Tynion.  Bringing Tim Drake back to his former glory, making Stephanie Brown a mostly likable character again, and combining many of the various good guys roaming around Gotham into a working organization to more effectively fight crime has made this one of the books I look forward to the most every month. 

This issue continues the new arc of The Victim Syndicate, where a group of victims of the criminals Batman's taken down over the years have decided to strike out against Batman, attacking a gala that Bruce Wayne "just so happened" to be attending.  They give the "it's all your fault" speech you'd expect, and after a tussle with the rest of the Gotham Knights (I'm calling them that until they get a name) they end up escaping, having poisoned Stephanie and paralyzed Bruce.  To the credit of the storytelling of this arc, most of the identities of the Syndicate--with the exception of their leader, The First Victim--are revealed this issue.  Too often, a reveal like this is saved for the final issue in order to keep readers buying the issues--but this approach gives readers a chance to know these characters before the story's over, and potentially even get attached to them.  They all have a great look and I could totally see an arc like this being adapted to one of DC's animated films in the future.

We also see the return of Batwing, a.k.a. Luke Fox, who joins the team.  I've never actually seen Luke Fox outside of Batman Eternal, but in that the story got in the way of the character, so while I've got no idea whether or not Luke's portrayal in Detective is in line with previous ones, I love how he's written here.  A more cocky version of Tony Stark (right down to leaping out the window to "armor up", Avengers-style), he's brought onto the team to make up for the loss of Tim Drake in terms of both manpower AND science ability.  And while I'm not exactly happy that one of my favorite characters is gone, this issue immediately makes me like Luke enough that I can deal with Tim's absence--while Luke shakes up the consistency of the group and brings some much needed friction that will doubtlessly create some great moments going forward.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps
For the better part of eight issues I've tried, but I just can't find the flaws in this book.  Like many GL fans who stuck around after Geoff Johns left, I found myself pretty pissed at the stories that followed. The Relic story basically said the Green Lanterns are killing the universe even using their powers.  The Godhead story turned the New Gods from space hippies into a bunch of militarized jerks.  So I said my goodbyes back in early 2014 and hadn't really paid much attention to Venditti's Green Lantern until the Rebirth. 

But Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps just works.  It recognizes the problems the GLC has had for ages in the lack of respect it has across the universe, and doesn't forget that while Hal Jordan should be at the forefront--there needs to be a focus on all the other Corps members as well so its not just "the Hal Jordan show".  Of course, at the end of the last arc Hal Jordan wiped out most of the Sinestro Corps as well as Sinestro and his "Warworld" base by seemingly sacrificing himself with his enhanced powers, so even if it WAS the Hal Jordan show it'd need a title change.  It's been a depressing few years as a Green Lantern fan, but this book has been all about restoring that group to its former glory rather than continuing to tear it down, and still managing to be a suspenseful read by focusing on one impossible situation being thrown at the team after the next as they're finally resituating themselves as the premiere force for order in the universe.

It helps that along with Venditti's stronger plotting and focus on rebuilding that we have Ethan van Sciver along, adding that extra air of legitimacy that can only come from the artist who helped turn Green Lantern into an A-tier franchise in the first place.  Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps feels like a Hal Jordan book: balls to the wall, high-octane action with tons of daring rescues and death-defying acts as the Green Lanterns work to restore peace to a universe in fear--even in this issue, as the team heads out to Xudar (home of Tomar Tu) to save them from an attack by old-school Justice League villain, Starro the Conqueror. 

There's a lot of things that happen in the latter half of this issue that are a fairly big deal to the mythology going forward: the Green Lanterns have a run-in with Brainiac, a small faction of Sinestro Corps members are revealed to be actually decent people, and the last Guardians remaining--Ganthet and Sayd--are back on the playing field.  All of that's very cool--I don't know WHEN the GLC ever went up against Brainiac in their own comic so it has to have been quite some time, the idea that not all members of each Corps HAVE to behave according to the alignment you'd assume from their ring has a lot of potential for future storylines, and it's just not a Green Lantern comic without having some little blue folk running around.  Hopefully these two have learned from all the other Guardians about NOT being complete dicks.

Invincible Iron Man
First issues are always weird--sometimes they suck, and the comic goes on to be great.  Or sometimes they're great, but it ends up being a flawed series as a whole.  Usually I like to wait longer than the first issue before deciding whether a comic is "good" or not, this case I can't. 

Tony Stark's my favorite character in superhero fiction.  There are some DC heroes that could be in the running but they keep fiddling about with their continuity so much that my faves there pop in and out of stories at a moment's/editor's notice.  Tony's been in comics consistently since his introduction, and to me he's just...the freaking best.  A renaissance man that manages to be a super-scientist, an entrepreneur, a playboy, AND a superhero all at the same time.  Flaws notwithstanding, he's what humanity should eventually evolve into, and ultimately for one reason or another...he's gone, right now.  We don't know how, but Tony Stark isn't apart of the Marvel Universe. 

But he has a successor.  And this is really important, because I feel like comics are stuck at this awful crossroads where we can't move forward because it's all "SJW" and if we stay where we've always been everyone yells about it being stagnant.  But Riri Williams, Iron Man's successor, is neither of these things. And Bendis uses this first issue to give a fair amount of detail and insight into what it has to be like to be a super-genius surrounded by regular people.  He lays out how people of extraordinarily high intelligence can withdraw from the world if they aren't shown another way, and then he places people in her life that keep her from withdrawing: a loving mother and stepfather who want the best for her, a best friend who can relate to her even if she can't quite think on her level.  And like most superheroes, she sees her life affected by a harsh tragedy--but unlike so many of them, she doesn't allow her life to be defined BY that tragedy. 

When I read IIM, I didn't see a forced attempt at diversity.  For one thing, I was too busy thinking she was Numbuh Five from Kids Next Door who got an Iron Man armor.  For another, it's not like Iron Man's ALWAYS been Tony Stark--some of the best writers ever saw him abandon the suit entirely because he was so deep into a bottle he didn't care to save the world--he couldn't even save himself.  So having someone else in the armor isn't unheard of--and Riri is incredibly endearing--someone who's just been inspired by another super-genius to go out and save the world, presumably because it's the right thing to do...and because her mind is just so fucking advanced she can't be satisfied just building armor. 

The last page twist also satisfies a concern I had insofar as the idea of using Tony as a mentor.  Rather than have her working alongside Tony Stark normally, she'll have him as a guide as her suit's first advanced AI.   With this, she can have the balance of having a concerned mother while also having a heroic "big brother" guiding her into being the bad-ass superhero I know she can be.  And while I'm certain that Tony will eventually be back, I hope the MU always has a place for Ironheart.

New Super Man
This month's issue of New Super Man saw it's main character, Kenan Kong, learn the secret origin of his father Zhongdan, leader of the Freedom Fighters of China, the villain group he's been chasing down since the beginning of the series. The roots run deep, with Kenan discovering his father's brother Zhonglun as well as his deceased mother Meitai had all joined in the fight to turn China into a democracy, inspired by the ideals embodied by the Justice League.  The origin story tells only half the story however, as the two of them briefly join forces with the Freedom Fighters against New Bat Man and New Wonder Woman--only for Zhonglun to reveal he's a lot closer to a supervillain than his brother would've ever thought.  Utilizing a modified Starro to control Bat Man and Wonder Woman, Zhonglun rushes off with an insane plan to attack the heart of China's government.

What's amazing is that in just five issues Gene Yang has created a complete, complex world around these characters, that's both undeniably attached to the DC Universe while not overly relying on them at all.  China's...unique political status means that nearly every force in the comic isn't entirely "good" or "evil".   The Ministry of Self-Reliance, responsible for training the Bat Man of China and giving the Super Man and Wonder Woman of China their powers, is also trying to figure out how to weaponize a weaker version of Starro--they're learning to master mind control.  The Freedom Fighters of China are fighting for ideals that are just, but their approach is to use violence and threats to people who aren't actively committing any crimes.  And while The Great Ten currently merely looms in the distance, they've made their intention to move in on the Ministry and the Freedom Fighters plain, with no other interest in mind than serving the government.  The only true good guys in this are Kenan (who's kind of a jerk), and Baixi and Deilan (both being used by the Ministry)--all too young to have done any great harm to anyone...yet.

I love this book for its detachment from the DCU--it's rare that it'll be caught up in too many crossovers, and the only flaw I can think of is that most of the names are painfully derivative of existing heroes, and I hope at some point they can figure a way to rework most of them.  Or at least allow them to meet the original heroes so they can in some way or another receive their blessing.

So aside from the breathtakingly pretty art from Emanuela Luppachino, I think the main reason I love "Superwoman" is because it's really more like "Metropolis" the ongoing.   As a person who's always been big on DC and Marvel having worlds that feel "alive", with all sorts of characters who have their own stories going on outside of the A-Listers everyone knows and loves.

So reading Superwoman, which includes everyone from its star Lana Lang and co-stars John Henry and Natasha Irons to Metropolis mainstays Maggie Sawyer and Bibbo Bibbowski makes this book feel special in a way that Superman or Action Comics can't.  As a family man now, Superman only has enough room for his family and the Daily Planet--something Superwoman doesn't have to deal with.

This issue follows up on the "Ultrawoman" storyline, as Lana continues to deal with the fact that her powers are killing her...just as a version of Lois Lane is created by her brain to help her with...well, we don't know yet.  In the mean time, Natasha's ex-girlfriend Traci 13 pops up to reveal the true mastermind behind all the mysterious attacks on Metropolis: Lex Luthor's "forgotten" sister, Lena!   Responsible for both a strange prison in which those with powers are subject to inhumane treatment as well as locking Lex in a tessaract prison, Lena has finally become emboldened enough to put her final plan into action.   It's the old-school kind of busy that you don't expect from a comic book that's only 20 pages long, but it never feels rushed and you get just enough to make it feel like a read worth your time...even though by the end you just want more.

With Lana now conjuring up images of Lois I'm hoping writer Phil Jimenez has a way to bring her back--I've been bummed out since she died in the first issue.

Uncanny X-Men
I've seen a lot of reviews that were down on this ongoing when it began, but Uncanny X-Men is probably the last remaining X-Title I choose to read on a monthly basis.  Guilty pleasure admission: I like Greg Land's art.  Call him a tracer, complain about how same-y his women look, even trash his choice of using porn-faces--dude's got beautiful line-work and his characters are rarely if ever off-model.  His version of the Marvel universe is unquestionably more idealized than most places, but I'm fine with that over some of the more abstract artists that exist in comics lately.

So now that we've dealt with the art half, let's talk about the writing: Cullen Bunn is one of the most talented dudes from the "new wave" of Marvel creators that started appearing on higher and higher profile books during the Marvel NOW era.  His work on Magneto and Sinestro were both pretty ace, managing to keep both villains still thoroughly unlikable, but introduce a bit of vulnerability to their characters and the challenges they face.  Uncanny X-Men follows up on Magneto a bit, seeing him lead a more morally murky team through the worst non-alternate future time the X-Men have had yet.  

The thing that keeps me returning to UXM is that it makes sense.  The threat of extinction has never been greater, and so in the vein of Cyclops' X-Force of the late 2000's, this is a team of X-Men that take no prisoners--they shut down threats to their race, pre-emptively and permanently.  But even on a team like this, there's no small amount of dissent--as we saw Psylocke split apart from Magneto over his methods, which is kind of amazing when you think about it: they're all basically killers, but even in this Psylocke has managed to find a "code" or a rulebook of sorts.  A right and a wrong way to doing things to keep herself from going over the edge, while Magneto seems to think there IS no edge--and if there were, he jumped over it a long time ago--and does everything from killing people to get the answers he needs to teaming up with the Hellfire Club in order to create a stronger force capable of fighting off threats to mutantkind.

UXM 15 is a Psylocke-centric issue where the rule of Inverse Ninja is in full effect: having picked off a few potential threats from Magneto's master list before leaving, she takes on multiple villain groups solo in only a handful of panels where any other time these same guys would've taken an entire X-team a full arc to take out.  It DOES leave one wondering--are ALL the heroes just that much better than the villains?  Do they struggle so much because they just refuse to kill, and with the limiters off it's just no contest?   The issue ends with a showdown between Psylocke and Magneto's longest "ally", Mystique--who'd been tracking her down the entire issue with the intent of killing her for leaving Magneto--and even that basically ends with Psylocke hacking Mystique's brain to make it less subject to the wild shifting her body is known for, thus stabilizing her personality.  It all makes Elizabeth seem a tad OP, but the issue as a whole goes a long way towards explaining why the typically more heroic Psylocke is still doing Magneto's dirty work...even when she's not with Magneto.

Looking past IVX into RessureXion I'm hoping we can finally both do brighter X-Men stories AND that they make sense (instead of being like Wolverine and the X-Men, where everyone's ignoring how horrible things are so we can re-do 1960's X-Men).

Wonder Woman
Do I still have to explain why this is one of the best comics on the stands?  Greg Rucka's restoration of Wonder Woman's mythology--making the Amazons a perfect society again, having Diana be Paradise Island's only child once more, the fact that she seems to be about peace over war again--it all just puts a big, dumb grin on my face.

Finally empowered by the gods in the previous issue, Wonder Woman is given leave by the military she's been staying with to go out into the world.  There are a lot of cute scenes of her being shown modern society--but my favorite is her first introduction to children.   With the other Amazonians being immortal, she's never actually seen a child before, and amazed reaction--captured perfectly by penciller Nicola Scott--is just too cute.

If there's any one flaw to this comic, it's Steve Trevor.  He's useless most of the comic--just bumbling around wondering what she's saying (since Diana still doesn't speak English yet) while Barbara Ann translates, and just generally staring at Diana like a lovesick puppy.  When the mall they visit is attacked by a group of terrorists he swings into action but he still feels more like a meathead that's there for eye candy, which is kinda frustrating.   The point to allowing women to evolve out of the roles fiction has set for them for far, far too long was because they were capable of--and deserved--so much more, but it's 'cause those roles sucked.  

If I wanted to see women scantily clad, there are places besides my superhero comics (or films, or TV shows, or video games...) I can go for that.  Like, I dunno...a beach.  I feel like the same could/should be said about all these dudes going around in various states of undress. I didn't support the idea of putting women in sensible clothing so dudes could start taking their shirts off at the slightest provocation--everyone put some fucking clothes on, please?  Either that or everyone get naked--but let's have some consistency about all this.

There's even a scene where Etta, Diana, and Barbara all get to bond over their lives through the lasso of truth Diana's been gifted...and the deepest thing they bother to pull from Steve is that he's in love with Diana.  Bear in mind, the whole reason Diana's even in "Patriarch's World" to begin with is because she found Steve a few issues back when his entire platoon had died in a plane crash.  But apparently that's not an issue for him, he just wants to sleep with Diana.  Ugh.  I don't lay the blame for this at Rucka's feet--I'm too happy to have him back to do that.  But if Steve's just going to be this two-dimensional dunce then I'd be even happier if they wrote him out.   Ever since he stopped being Wonder Woman's boyfriend he's always been the weakest part of the comic anyway.


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