Bottom of the Pile Reboot: November 2nd, 2016

Hello and welcome to a new version of Bottom of the Pile.  For quite some time now, BOTP has gotten away from its core design: to talk about the comic books I saved for last every week because they were so damned good.  Probably a lot quicker than I care to admit, it went from talking about my favorite comics to just going off about whatever was most popular or whatever was making the biggest "waves" in comics whether it was good or bad.  I wasted time talking about comics I barely even enjoyed, and as much as I'd like to say the intent was to gain popularity that's just not true. 

The truth is it's easy.  It's so impossibly, stupidly easy to rail against something you DON'T like.  Largely because, not to get overly high-minded, we've created a society that is about tearing things down rather than building them up.  Some of the most sardonic people online, known for writing 2000 word diatribes about something they hate, will admit its more difficult to say why something is good rather than eviscerate something for being bad.

But this year I've decided that I want to fail more, with the intent of becoming a better writer because it's better to overreach than to stay within one's comfort zone, and the more you reach beyond your limits the more you grow as a person (and hopefully, a writer). Keeping all of that in mind, the primary focus of Jumping in Headfirst is (and has always been) for me to inform anyone who reads it about whatever I think the dopest thing is in whatever medium I'm following.  So even if its clumsy, even if I fuck up a lot along the way, I hope anyone who reads my work going forward understands what I'm shooting for.

Along those lines, Bottom of the Pile SHOULD be about the books I happen to think are the best done from week to week.  Comics you could make into a pull list.  Comics that are essentially MY pull list.  So the list is going to get a lot shorter, but there'll also be a lot less garbage on it.  If something just NECESSARILY grabs my attention you might see it, but more often than not whatever pops up here will be a thing I think is worth paying money for.  So with all that said, let's kick things off with the first week of November's comics.

Avengers
From the moment Mark Waid was announced as the primary writer for Avengers, I've thought it was strange.  Mark Waid is fucking Comics Royalty, and at this point its absurd to argue anything else: Flash, Impulse, Irredeemable, Justice League, Fantastic Four, Daredevil--and those are just the MAJOR works.  This is a man who's written nearly every major character at DC AND Marvel, and almost unerringly turned out five-star work every time.  You'd think they would've shouted it from the heavens.

And yet if I'm being honest, there was something..."off" about All-New, All-Different Avengers, aside from its off-puttingly lengthy title.  As much as I LOVE the kids, more often than not each issue felt like they were being taken on field trips, and the comic book just felt like it lacked the gravitas the prime Avengers book has been known for--from Roy Thomas' Kree-Skrull War in the 70's, Kurt Busiek's Kang Dynasty in the early 2000's, to Jonathan Hickman's Time Runs Out in 2012-2015. 

Avengers #1 puts that uneasy feeling I had to rest as we kick off "Kang War One", a story in which the Avengers are up their old nemesis, the time-traveling Kang the Conqueror, after Vision pissed him off for essentially kidnapping Kang as an infant and placing him somewhere out of Kang's reach.  The story kicks off with the team still reeling from the after-effects of Civil War II, with their ranks cut almost in half after Nova, Spider-Man (Miles Morales), and Ms. Marvel all abandoned the team, but immediately starts to build the team back up by inviting Spider-Man and the reformed Hercules to the team, because what's the Avengers without a recovering alcoholic in the group?

There's a lot in this book that I enjoyed personally.  For one thing, it sort of directly picks up on the storyline Dan Abnett was telling with Hercules over in his short-lived (but excellent) solo series--after years of being taken as a joke, Hercules spent his entire solo AND a Civil War tie-in getting his life back together, and the work has paid off by earning him a spot back in the big time.  And as much as I dislike having Spider-Man on the Avengers from spending too many years where they kept those two properties solo, having Peter Parker finally step up and embrace his role as the new version of Silver Age Tony Stark by helping to fund the Avengers makes all too much sense. 

While I saw what they were trying to do by taking the Avengers toys away from them...that's not really what I want from that team.  There are plenty of super-teams in Marvel (and other universes, honestly) that have to struggle to figure out how they're going to handle the more expensive elements of being a super-team.  The Avengers are supposed to be the Big Good, the team of bad-asses that show up and suddenly everything's alright, even if creation itself at risk.  Stripping them of financial backing didn't do anything to aid in that. 

Finally, you know it's an Avengers book when either Kang or Ultron shows up, and Mark Waid's wasted no time putting Kang at the front line and making him the FIRST threat they face.  It works, and him basically striking at the histories of this Avengers team to wipe them out entirely definitely makes you want to pick up the next book.  Still, much as I know it's NOT going to happen, I kind of wish Kang was behind the whole "Time is Broken" thing.

If you somehow DON'T keep up with every Marvel comic book ever, lemme catch you up real quick: since the Heroic Age initiative, those same three words have been uttered, over and over in different comics.  We thought it was a Bendis plotline--but he's moved on to TWO separate properties since then, so no dice.  We thought it could be a Secret Wars thing, but that story's done and dusted and we're still hearing it.   But given the Vision describes Kang as someone who "trafficks in time paradoxes", how great would it be if he was at the end of it all, making a mess of things in some gigantic Kang story that modern Marvel has yet to get out of their system?

Still, I'm getting ahead of myself.  For now, I'm just satisfied to have a strong Avengers book back on the stands.  And freaking giddy to have one of my favorite tropes in comics ("This Year In..." hints) make a return.
Death of Hawkman
I'll be honest and say the Death of Hawkman had me wary at first. For one, it's all too reminiscent of the Rann-Thanagar War, a mini-series that's only eleven years old and was just barely "okay" the first time they told it, and looked even worse after Keith Giffen and Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning blew the roof off with Annihilation and all the comics that came after it.

But, there are some major differences with Death of Hawkman.  For one thing, it's not set at the same time as a major DC Universe event.  For another, the cosmic element of DC Comics has been lacking for quite some time and it feels good to bring that back.  So far, the mini-series had managed to walk the tight-rope of feeling like it undeniably takes place in the DC Universe but without just dumping a bunch of non-cosmic characters into the story.  Yeah, it could do a little bit more with going into detail about the worlds involved IN this war, but right now the story is more private and focused on just a handful of characters.

It also helps that so far the story isn't about the war itself, but the steps towards that war, after Rann sees what appeared to be rogue suicide bombers attack their planet, taking lives and wreaking massive havoc.  One thing I will give the New 52 (and Rebirth apparently) is that Alanna has far more character than ever before, being a member of a Justice League team before and now spearheading a war against the Thanagarians?   It's not all positive growth, but before this her most noteworthy characteristics were "Adam Strange's wife" and "mother of Adam Strange's kids" so to me this is coming quite a long way.



Green Lanterns
If I doubted that Green Lanterns should be here because Red Dawn wasn't the best opener to me, these past two issues dealing with the Phantom Lantern have sold me.   Sam Humphries has introduced us to Frank Laminski, a guy who...wishes he could have the ability to overcome great fear.  He's essentially an inverse Hal Jordan, an unhinged former pilot who probably shouldn't be let near a kerosene Lantern, let alone a real one, and now he's been given a ring that in theory should be almost as powerful as the White Ring.   He's the kind of villain that has a ton of narrative potential for future storylines, and the Phantom Ring continues to expand the Green Lantern mythos in fascinating new ways.

For what its worth, while I wasn't sold on the Red Lantern-focused arc opener, I still think Green Lantern is one of the best books on the stands primarily because of the interactions between new ringslingers Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz.  They're not necessarily polar opposites but there's enough of a clash between the way they handle things that make them fun in an "odd couple/buddy cop" sort of way,  with Jessica being the cautious overthinker and Simon as a guy who'll just make a giant green truck and drive headlong into danger while musing about how being a Green Lantern's awesome.

If I have one complaint about this book, it's that the creator of the Phantom Ring, Rami--is yet another in a long line of largely incompetent Guardians of the Universe.  For "Guardians", since the 90's it seems like all they ever do is place the universe in greater and greater levels of danger.


Occupy Avengers
 Sometimes, I skew away from books that discuss social issues.  Not because I'm against progressive themes in fiction, just because so frequently the handling of them is so hamfisted and poorly done that you'd think you were reading some teenager's fanfiction than a writer who theoretically is much, much more talented than you.

So I picked up Occupy Avengers and was a tad nervous at what I'd find, only to be pleasantly surprised by a comic book starring major-minor player in Civil War II, Hawkeye, and cool Secret Wars holdover and unfortunate time-jumper Red Wolf.  Featuring gorgeous art from Carlos Pacheco and a story from still somewhat new Marvel writer David Walker, Occupy Avengers sees Hawkeye visiting a Native American reservation in New Mexico to discover why the water there has been contiminated for the past half-decade.

It's an interesting story because between the problems in Flint and what's happening over at Standing Rock, it's relevant, but so far it's not overstated and they aren't banging you over the head with it.  And ironically, the fact that it's lead character is a white guy with a guilty conscience is what intrigues me the most.  Comics like these have a habit of allowing their lead to get overly self-righteous and borderline insufferable, but our lead is unlikely to ever get that way and will most likely allow the story to focus on the redemption of a man who's spent his entire life trying really hard to be a decent guy.

Plus it's got Hydro Man.  And in an ironic kind of way, I love Hydro Man: he's a guy who in theory should be a threat to EVERYONE but is so much of an incompetent dipshit he doesn't realize how powerful he is.  He started out as a villain for Spider-Man but given Pete's had more upgrades than a Saiyan in DBZ lately, Hawkeye and Red Wolf are about as much as Morrie Bench can handle right now.   Spidey would likely have some webbing in his suit that would freeze him in place at worst, and at best have some kind of gel that could destabilize his entire molecular structure and leave him helpless until he was back in jail.  He's lucky arrows and a hatchet are his only threats right now...and because this is superhero comic, dude's still gonna lose.

The Unworthy Thor


Man, Thor's had a rough go of it lately.  In a funny kind of way, he's basically the worst fear of some people come to life--his job went to a woman and his whole life went to shit.  He's not a member of the Avengers, he doesn't have his signature hammer, doesn't feel like there's any place in Asgard for him...hell, dude's even lost his NAME.  Which when you think about it, never made sense in the first place.  He's not Thor "AKA something something", he's just Thor and somehow Jane Foster jacked that too?   It's like he got divorced and the wife was like "Gimme his name too" and the judge was just a dick.

All jokes aside, The Unworthy Thor DOES seem about showing the Odinson at his absolute lowest point--the comic book opens with him being beaten into unconsciousness after trying for the last who knows how many weeks to obtain Ultimate Thor's hammer.   By the midpoint he's having trouble dealing with some puny cave trolls, and by the end he's having Beta Ray Bill show pity on him by offering him his hammer Stormbreaker.  In all fairness, Thor's probably seen a lot of low moments since Original Sin but having to be shown pity as the true god of the thunder just might be his worst moment.

Still and all, I'm glad to have the real deal back. I've always been torn on Jane Foster's Thor--I think it's a terrible idea that has brilliant execution.  Thor was lead dude in a book, but he was also surrounded by powerful women--from the All-Mother triumvirate that ruled over Asgard, to his new sister Angela and best friends Sif and indeed Jane Foster, right down to his girlfriend Rosalind Solomon, a high-ranking member of SHIELD.  The shift was unnecessary because you had a ton of women that were core to the book already.   But if there had to be a replacement Thor for Jason Aaron's story, then Jane's done a fantastic job and I've loved how bad-ass she's been.   At the same time though, it's nice that her story isn't the only hero we have to follow in Aaron's massive narrative of gods and alternate worlds (and soon aliens!).

And that wraps the first installment of this rebooted column.  Five comics, all of them well-worth their cover price.  I know I used to do 12+ series a week, but most of them weren't comic books I was particularly fond of.  This highly condensed list takes out even books I kinda liked and stuck with ones I was fairly certain have (or would have) a consistent level of quality to them.  Hope you enjoyed, and I'll be back this coming Wednesday for Week 2.

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