Bottom of the Pile: January 4th, 2017

It's here--the first comics day of 2017, and I'm back (albeit a tad late) with the first Bottom of the Pile column of the year.   If you didn't know, Bottom of the Pile is a column where I take some of my favorite comics (anywhere from 5 to 10, depending on the week) and talk about them.  It can be anything from funny commentary, exploration of the themes and ideas being used by the author, or even a flat-out mini-review.   The hope is that I get you interested in the comic itself, because if it found its way here there's a good chance I think it's one of the best on the stands that week.  Please feel free to share this column as many places as you like, and comment if you think it's good (or if you think it's bad).

Kang War One continues, with Wasp journeying through the timeline holding the baby Kang in an attempt to return him to his rightful place in time and keep Kang from having ever wiped out the entire team as infants. I know this is meant to be a statement on the Avengers' mission, mixed with a little bit of the ultimate Minority Report "you can't judge someone on what they haven't done yet" type of deal, but...realistically.  C'mon.  This isn't a "maybe he might turn out evil" sort of story--Kang is easily one of the Avengers Top Three villains in a walk, and even if we tried to say they placed him somewhere where he wouldn't end up evil.....his future self essentially traveled back in time to kill you so that he'd be the same.   

I don't ever want to say one person can ever be responsible for someone else's actions--down that road leads to you calling heroes murderers for not being murderers with respect to most of their rogues' gallery--but the idea that Kang has to be protected just because he's a child feels...uncomfortable.   You could throw that kid into a fire and literally save millions, possibly billions of lives across time.   The only reason not to do it is because Kang's time-travelled so much, killing him at birth would cause so many paradoxes I'm not sure if Earth-Prime's timeline wouldn't literally fold in and implode on itself. 

 Death of Hawkman

I've been saying since the beginning that Death of Hawkman feels like the prelude to a much larger story, and with every issue that feeling grows.  Now that Despero has caused war between the two most recognizable/notable races in the DCU that don't have family crests emblazoned on the chests of their outfits, and is drenched in the arcane Nth Metal, I feel like he belongs as the villain to a story that has more powerful protagonists attempting to stop him than just Adam Strange and Hawkman.   Or at least more development on the fall out between two great powers in the universe going to war.  Of course, this might all just be my desire for DC to finally come out to a worthy counterpart to Marvel's excellent Annihilation series.

 Justice League
This month's Justice League is a Justice League vs. Suicide Squad tie-in, featuring the story of how Max Lord learned the location of the "Lost Prisoners" (more on that later) he freed at the beginning of the event, during an intense prison showdown with Amanda Waller.  In this altered timeline, Checkmate is once again headed by Max Lord--and rendered even more defenseless, as Lord manipulates the rest of Checkmate's royal members into being removed from service.  This leaves Max as the sole controller of the massive spy organization.   If this sounds eerily familiar to you too, don't worry--we're all just having 2005 flashbacks.

Of course, if we're at the part where Max is head of Checkmate, I'd really love if we skipped ahead later this year and got to the part where Checkmate is a kick-ass comic showing the spycraft that happens in the DC Universe.   With Spyral, The Court of Owls, and a rejuvenated H.I.V.E. running around just to start, that's a book that's begging to be brought back.

 Justice League of America - The Atom Rebirth
I love that Ray has chosen this incredibly garish "research rig" along with a catchy "code name" and yet still tries to pass himself off as something other than a future Justice League member.  This week started one of the four tie-ins we'll be seeing in the lead up to the new Justice League of America series we'll be getting from Steve Orlando (Supergirl, Apollo & Midnighter).   I wasn't really sure before, but its books like this that convince me the end of Rebirth simply isn't going to be any kind of massive reboot that restores the pre-Flashpoint universe.  It's basically a complete re-working of not only Ray Palmer's origin as The Atom (turning him into a Type A, charge headlong, almost swashbuckling sort of hero), but Ryan Choi's--explaining how they worked together before The Atom was a thing, and how Ryan actually helped Ray with his adventures in the Microverse.

By the end of all this, at best I'm expecting an Infinite Crisis-level rejiggering that leads to the timeline being a little less "smushed", but that's about it.  Still, the 2006-2010 era of DC Comics has some of its best stories in it, so perhaps its not all bad?   As for Ryan's new origin--I like the idea of him and Ray being partners, but I may be slightly irked that he seems to be allergic to nearly everything.  Still, in just these 20 some odd pages he goes out of his way to show how he wants to overcome all that--and seeing a character actively trying to improve makes all the difference for me.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad
This is Superman's reaction when, after being freed from Belle Reve by Batman and shown the "Lost Prisoners" by Amanda Waller, they finally get to the leader of the group--one Maxwell Lord.  This is actually a fantastic scene, because it's the most direct tie to the original pre-Flashpoint universe we've seen since Wally West came back.  If you'll remember, this version of Superman is the original, pre-Flashpoint variety.  But usually when he has flashbacks its mostly to nineties events, otherwise he talks about the "old" universe in kind of vague generalities...until now.

For those who forgot (or weren't reading comics then), Max Lord was once a gladhanding liason for the Justice League during the infamous sitcom "Bwahaha" version of the 80's.  After that largely successful run ended, the book was re-tooled by Grant Morrison and the team became the same joke in the comics that it was in real life...except for the missing Maxwell Lord.  In 2005's Countdown to Infinite Crisis, it was revealed that Max had conquered the global spy organization Checkmate and had been amassing files on all of them with the desire to bring them all down, deciding they were unworthy of protecting the planet.  How did Max, who previously had all the swag of a used car salesman and the charisma of an informercial character, pull this off?   A unique form of mind control, that allowed him to "push" people into doing things they wouldn't normally.   And though it took years, Max eventually gained control over the biggest potential asset possible: Superman.

On the verge of being caught, Max sent Supes into battle against his friends...and forced him to fight Wonder Woman, who was just barely able to hold him off and break the hold Max had on him--if ever so briefly.   But once Max revealed he could claw back into Supes' mind whenever he wished, Diana was left with only one choice: break his neck.  It was one of the most iconic moments of late 2000's DC, and the actions of both Max and Diana left the Trinity shattered for months. This is a person that Superman shouldn't just recognize, he should be pissed.  And so he is, with Josh Williamson creating a tiny moment that should've excited literally every continuity geek reading.

As much as I'd love to like Lady Bullock here, I'm going to need her to be corrupt.  Otherwise this is some of the most idiotic detective work I've seen since Hong Kong Phooey.  With literally zero going for a proper motive, we've simply decided that someone who at one point was a non-violent offender and served their time, has decided to murder a person they can't even prove she knows.  Because "I try not to overthink it".   If this is how Bludhaven cops do their jobs, no wonder it seems more dangerous than Gotham--half the people in jail have to got to be innocent, while the real crooks keep getting to commit crimes while the cops are left wondering where all the illicit activity is.  "I mean, we locked all the crooks up, right?"

What's sad here is that Rich was once one of the youngest heroes in the Marvel Universe--pretty sure he started at age 16.   If you think about it in terms of the sliding timescale, for Rich and Sam to both make sense, Richard and Peter Parker had to have been in high school at the same time.  In any case, Richard makes one hero who's wondering when all that Marvel heroes suddenly became children.  Can we go for two...?

The Unstoppable Wasp
And there goes number two.  Mockingbird's a little more justified though--by the time she came on the scene she was at least in her mid-twenties, early-thirties.

In any case, The Unstoppable Wasp is probably the nicest book you're going to read all month.  Nadia Pym is literally the happiest, sweetest girl walking the Earth in this comic--handing out sweets and hugs and compliments to everyone she meets, making it impossible to dislike her without being an utter dick.  So even though this book was just a tad too light-hearted for how I like my usual mainline superhero stories, I'll still give this book until its first arc is over with.


Have you ever read a comic that puts a big, goofy grin on your face?  Just an earnest sense of child-like enjoyment?   For me, that was this week's Superman.  Honestly, as much as I've found the Adventures of Super-dad a change of pace from the typical Superman stories, I haven't been a huge fan of the book itself.  It's certainly unique just because this is one of the more static characters in the DC Universe, but ultimately it mostly doesn't give me what I want from a Superman comic.

...Y'know, until this issue.  Kickstarting the newest arc of Pete Tomasi's Superman, Multiplicity begins with Earth-30 Superman landing on New Earth after running from a strange alien race known as The Gatherers who are seeking to collect versions of Supermen for something called "The Lyss" made by their master, Prophecy.    Multiplicity takes the coolest thing DC's done in half a decade--Grant Morrison's Justice League of the Multiverse--and finally puts it to use in an Earth Prime story.   Despite making such a big deal out of it in 2006, the stories that have involved the multiverse since it came back have been locked away in crossovers, bad, or both.  (Hello, Countdown: Arena.)    Multiplicity might be the first story in a long while that's none of these things, and hopefully doing this the door's opened for us to see other DC characters get to explore this wide range of alternate universes.   Don't create a new toy box if you're never going to open it.

The Unworthy Thor
Jason Aaron has really put the Odinson through the ringer.  After months of being unworthy, and weeks of being brutally beaten and caged by The Collector and his men in an attempt to reach the one surviving hammer from the Secret Wars event, Thor finally manages to get free with the help of Beta Ray Bill.   But its too late--overcome by rage and shame, Thor explodes on Bill and nearly full-on attacks him before other enemies distract both their attention.   After seeing them off, Thor is left with a new test...the test to see if he can raise Stormbringer, and regain the glory he feels he's lost since Mjolnir was stripped from him.

The story has unfolded a little slower than I'd like, but ultimately its a question that Thor should've had asked of him ages ago: are you still worthy, and what constitutes being worthy to begin with?  Being deemed so centuries ago doesn't mean he shouldn't still get tested from time to time, and see what lies underneath all the hair and the muscles and bravado.  Ultimately, the fact that he feels incomplete without his hammer makes sense in a sad sort of way.  Thor, a viking god, feels most at home when he's in the midst of battle....and with his best weapon taken from him, not only is he simply less effective, he's less of a warrior...and thus, feels like he's less of a person.  Hence his break down in this issue--unable to weather the indignities foisted upon him since Original Sin ended, he finally just...snaps.  It's an unfortunate state of affairs for the original God of Thunder, but something he must see and overcome before we build him into the King that Jason's been hinting at since his run began.

 U.S. Avengers

And finally let's top things off with a little subtle election talk.  U.S.Avengers was an iffy concept to me at first--I was bothered by the idea that the comic didn't simply continue being about the New Avengers--but this issue was really fantastic.  Al Ewing introduces all the main heroes, and easily differentiates them all with a simple hook: showing what it means to them to be an American.   Through this question we come to understand these characters better...but also since it's a superhero series we get to see them storm the base of a group who believes that we live in a "post-truth world".

I certainly hope this comic doesn't get overly preachy, but if its going to have smart, subtle commentary like this I'd love to have it continue so maybe people can learn from Ewing and stop being so overt with their own. 

And that's it for this week!  I'll be back this Thursday hopefully with Deathstroke, Detective Comics, Hal Jordan, the Justice League/Suicide Squad stuff, and more.  Look forward to it~ 


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