Bottom of the Pile - December 21st, 2017


Alters
This could've easily been an overly saccharine moment, as our lady hero Chalice comes out for the first time to her brother, but the combination of dark levity and keeping things focused on other things like being hunted by an insane supervillain cannibal helps to make this the most heartfelt moment of the week for me. 

The theme with"Alters" seems to be that superpowers just can't fix everything.  At the end of last issue a fellow superhero, Morph, got injured during Chalice's first run-in with Matter Man. This issue, we discover that despite being a shapeshifter--the damage done to his spine is seemingly permanent and will leave him unable to walk or use his powers again.  If this were DC or Marvel, I'd be pissed at the idiotic limitations placed on someone who should in theory have complete control over his body--but the sense in Alters is that powers don't always help, sometimes they just complicate. 


Amazing Spider-Man
The Clone Conspiracy is very possibly Dan Slott's last arc on Amazing Spider-Man.  Feel free to quote me on this if I'm wrong, but the way the story's being told just feels like it could be.


When Slott first started his "Big Time" run--the opening of what would be the beginning of many great Spider-Man stories--a failure to save J. Jonah Jameson's wife lead him to come up with a strange new purpose: No One Dies.  Of course, that's an absurd way to approach one's life--people die all the time, sometimes its out of your control, even when you've got the kind of mind and power that Peter does.   As much as it sucks, death is as much a part of the human experience as life is, and it can't be controlled or denied. 

And yeah, while Peter eventually realized how absurd it was to believe he could save literally everyone...there's no question that it still stuck in the back of his mind.   And even less of a question that he only stopped because he didn't have the power to do it.  And now here's his clone--his "brother"--Ben Reilly, offering him that very power.  The right to bring back everyone, from Aunt May's husband to Uncle Ben himself.  It's wrong.  And Slott's already shown us what happens on other Earths when Peter agrees to help Ben. (CLONE ZOMBIES.)   But it's the ultimate test for Peter Parker, who built his life off the most famous mantra in comics as far as power and responsibility: Learning that sometimes the greatest responsibility is knowing when not to use your power.


Cyborg

After recovering from the betrayal by Variant (a C.I.A. operative who was given a body and abilities like Cyborg's), we get an explanation of why she betrayed not only Cyborg, but her country: she was persuaded to by a charismatic leader who seems to believe he's the only one who knows how to solve the problems of the world.  Sound familiar?   Yeah, we could've wallowed in an allegorical tale about the dangers of Donald Trump but fortunately for us John Semper Jr. decided the tale needed a little more "oomph", and shows Variant herself get double-crossed by the very leader she betrayed everyone to follow, due to him being fearful of her new abilities.   After all, world rulers can only be sure in their power when they know they can never be challenged.

After Variant and Cyborg team up in order to take Fisher and his army down, the two return to S.T.A.R. Labs.  You'd expect Variant to be placed under arrest, but they take things a step further--declaring her a "weapon" that needs to be de-activated due to the danger she poses.  At this point we've pushed past political allegory and directly into a story about the nature of cybernetic life itself, with the C.I.A.'s saying nothing less than Variant is no more human than a car or a cell phone.   And all that, before we get to Cyborg finally learning his father has been replaced by an evil android!  I'd complain that things were moving too fast, but since we're still waist-deep in the era of decompressed storytelling, I'm going to say I'm glad we're just getting right to the point.
 

Gamora
It's depressing that it took this long for one of the coolest members of the Guardians to get her own book.   But then again, the state of the Guardians in general right now is depressing.  (I miss Mantis.  And Quasar.  And Moondragon.  And Adam Warlock.  And...well, everyone to be honest.)   This book's okay so far--I'd be lying if I said I knew very much about Gamora prior to the twin Annihilation events in 2007 & 2008, so telling the story of how she became The Most Dangerous Woman in the Galaxy was a good move.   It starts out with her taking revenge on all the Badoon royal family for wiping out her people...and ends with her willingly flying into a black hole to kill the last heir she missed.

It makes her sound like an unrepentant monster, but they did wipe out her family.  And with a family like Thanos as an adopted father and Nebula as her sister, well...I think it's lucky she's turned out as nice as she has.   My only real problem with this comic is that we're back to using her terrible Marvel NOW suit.   As exploitative as it was, I loved the color scheme of her 2008 outfit and would love to see her return to a more covered-up version of that black and gold outfit.

Green Lanterns
And so the secret of the Phantom Lantern stands revealed: it's not a magical super-weapon that would allow its user to stand above all Lantern Corps.  (That, appears to be very much still the White Lantern.)   The natural instability of the ring means that it's user becomes a slave to their own emotions--the most dominant one powering the Phantom Ring until it eventually turns its user into a dangerous weapon.

Of course, even saying that I have a feeling that Volthoom is most likely going to end up wearing it and becoming a noteworthy threat once more.  Speaking of Volthoom, this Green Lanterns focuses on the guy's past in a way I don't think we have post-Crisis--explaining how he went insane testing the first major weapon of the Guardians.  And its at this point that I firmly believe that outside Ganthet and Sayd, the Guardians literally serve zero purpose.   Volthoom, the Manhunters, even their Alpha Lanterns/Third Army--they've done far more damage to the Universe than they've ever done repairing it, responsible for multiple massacres of whole planets, its just no one remembers because when the Guardians fuck up, there's usually no one around afterwards to point the finger at them.  I used to say I missed them but I'm firmly in the camp now that it's a good thing the GLC isn't tied down to them anymore.

Invincible Iron Man

Tony's "Hall of Armors" has been destroyed more times in the past ten years than I can count, either by his own hand or in battles with other people.   And yet every new writer seems to re-introduce them as if they missed those issues.  It's gotten to the point now that I firmly believe Tony has periods where he rebuilds his old armors after he wipes them out/they get destroyed.  Either out of ridiculous ego to see all his great creations, or because he's streamlining their designs and trying to figure out how to take the worthwhile concepts and ideas from his old armors and place them into the new.

Any way, this month's issue of the Invincible Iron Riri features Tony Stark finally getting to be the smart-mouthed (sort of.  Do AIs have mouths?) AI to someone else's reluctant armor pilot, while basically knocking Riri Williams around until she figures out a way to fight all of his old designs at once, while simultaneously showing us the aftermath of her losing her step-father and best friend.   Oh, and also giving Riri potentially her first real villain--a group of teched-up ninjas featuring someone who can control all technology. 

As for this panel: y'know...considering Tony's record in major events (stomped out by: Captain America, Captain Marvel, the Hulk), I think if he really wants to train Riri he should probably get someone else.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad
This is why every Death Battle you've ever seen is a lie.  Because we're pretending a team who's most deadly member is a guy who shoots fire and a magic user that can barely control her own abilities can match up to Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, two Green Lanterns (rookie or not), Cyborg, and the Flash.  This is going up late but I haven't read this week's issue yet, but I'd bet that this somehow comes down to a close match because of some contrived reasons meant to satisfy Suicide Squad fans, when it should be a complete 7-0 wash in favor of the World's Greatest Heroes  Oh well.

I'm wondering if Wally West's return hasn't altered the landscape of the DCU in ways we're unaware of--Max Lord not only didn't exist in a post-New 52 world, without the Justice League International he had no reason to, and yet here we are with him back and in his classic villain duds of an oh-so-threatening short-sleeved black shirt and a pair of khakis, mind-controlling everything in sight.  It's looking like only a matter of time before everyone's back, at this rate.

Nightwing
Okay, so the scene with the cowboy was a little thick.  But I'm actually pretty into the idea of Dick's new friends being misfit villains who're trying to turn their life around.  This is actually the best part of Nightwing: showing how different he can be from his mentor.  While Bruce probably would've remained suspicious of former villains until they'd proven themselves, Dick is immediately trying to figure out how he can help this group of reformed bad guys in their struggle against a corrupt police system.  Of course, that job's probably going to get a lot harder with Nightwing being placed on billboards as an attraction for Bludhaven, which is rapidly becoming Las Vegas crossed with Gotham City.


Star Trek-Green Lantern
Fun story about Star Trek/Green Lantern I: It literally ended the DC Universe proper, and claimed the Star Trek one took its place after Nekron finally attained the peace he wanted.  The only people from the DC Universe who survived are several members of the various Corps, who were transported into this new universe with the dying breath of Ganthet.  It was a fun little story--seeing how those powers could irrevocably alter the balance of power in the world of Star Trek, which has several factions of alien forces. 

We pick up with the sequel and basically have to start asking the next most obvious question: what happens when these rings run out of juice?  Do these characters go back to normal or do they find ways to re-charge?   Star Trek/Green Lanterns fits in a way that even the Star Trek/Legion crossover didn't quite manage, as they don't look visually out of place but they upset so much of the natural order of the Trek 'verse that you can't help wondering how things would play out.   The end of this issue suggests that the Guardians and Oa exist on this world too, which begs the question of what happens if the Green Lantern Corps has a resurgence?   How does a universe which is far more connected than DC's was deal with the sudden appearance of an unauthorized police force asserting themselves on everyone?   This is me hoping that that's the story we're telling, and not the story of how Hal Jordan loses his powers for good and learns how to pass the Kobayashi Maru.

The Mighty Captain Marvel
The Mighty Captain Marvel looks to be picking up where Civil War left off, with Carol trying to make peace with her actions during the event--including what she's done to Tony.   This is juxtaposed with her being the woman at the top of the mountain--in charge of Alpha Flight, she's the primary liason between alien governments and the rest of her world, and the stress is breaking her.  She doesn't sleep, and when she tries she just relives her fight with Iron Man and realizes that in the struggle to get to where she is she might've pushed away a friend or two.

There's even a bit of meta stuff here, where the real life "Carol Corps" has trickled into the Marvel Prime Universe--she's now got a fanclub so massive even some of her staff is apart of it.  So far TMCM is taking one of my favorite superheroes and doing one of my favorite things: actually showing how an event's aftermath can truly affect a hero.  There's no big villain here yet--just a woman dealing with issues that would've brought a lesser person to their knees.  It can't be this way forever--eventually Carol's going to have to punch a bad guy or five in their stupid face--but I'm loving where we're starting off.

Trinity
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't somewhat disappointed with the way Trinity was going.  When it was initially pitched I pictured the high-octane stories that we were used to in Batman/Superman, only Diana had finally showed up to break up the boys club and make things into the real World's Finest.  I pictured the three biggest superheroes in comics interacting with snapshots of the DC Universe--it's magic corner, it's cosmic stuff, the gritty streets of places like Gotham and Hub City but also the impossibly mythic stuff.   Together there's nothing these three couldn't handle, and I was hoping to see all of it tossed at them through the beautiful lens of Francis Manapul and his absurdly cool panel layouts.  

What I didn't expect was a multi-issue arc of them pondering on the nature of one another in a dream sequence thanks to the Black Mercy plant and Poison Ivy.   It's not bad, we just got a ton of this already from Kurt Busiek's 2009 DC weekly series of the same title.  Still, it can all be made up to me if Lois kicks Pamela's ass to save her son, husband, and his friends.

Ultimates Squared
Being that Ultimates Squared got into the idea of conversing with concepts given form, I wanna discuss Pavlov for a second.   When I was reading this issue U2, I felt like something was kinda...off.  Basically, the Ultimates are investigating two things: what happened to the previous universe (from prior to Secret Wars), and why and who chained up Eternity.   Helping them with this is Galactus in his new Lifebringer form--who's since gone around undoing the damage he'd caused on various planets by restoring the life to them.   This has lead to him being called into a higher level of the universe in order to converse with the Lords of Chaos and Order to discover whether Galactus is upsetting the balance of things.   

At the same time in this issue, the rest of the Ultimates team gets called to Galactus' massive space ship Taa II only to find the Shaper, a being of cosmic importance who was responsible for creating another version of creation--who's left a message for Galactus, and amidst all this stuff of great cosmic importance and cool characters exploring the upper limits of creation itself and basically being a cooler version of the Fantastic Four, I sat in my bed reading this and wondered what the point of this story was, because it wasn't going to lead to anything.   There was literally nothing wrong with the comic--it had great moments for everyone involved--but I felt disappointed.  

Because after decades of reading comic events, my brain has been programmed to see stuff like this and believe it's the lead-in to an event, rather than its own story.   And I NEED to think that because if its not an event I don't feel like anything "important" is going to happen.   It's ridiculous that I allowed myself to be conditioned in such a way, and the moment I realized what was going on I gave the issue a second read-through and realized that Al Ewing was telling a fun cosmic story, the kind I'd been claiming to miss since 2011's Thanos Imperative.   The fact that it's not a major event makes sense--events rarely ever live up to the hype, and the more tucked away it is from major Marvel stuff proper, the more likely it is to not skimp out on the character moments that make the bombastic stuff feel important in the first place.

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