Bottom Of The Pile: Oct. 3rd, 2018 – Blackbird, Justice League, Shatterstar, Superior Octopus, Tony Stark: Iron Man

by Sage Ashford

After a brief break to deal with the Summer Anime TV Guide (part 4 coming soon), we’re back with Bottom of the Pile, the comic article covering some of my favorite comics to hit the stands every week. This week’s a bit more Marvel heavy than usual, as the House of Ideas is really knocking out of the park.

Blackbird #1
Writer: Sam Humphries
Artist: Jen Bartel
Layout Artist: Paul Reinwald
Colorists: Nayoung Wilson, Jen Bartel
Letterer: Jodi Wynne
Designer: Dylan Todd
Editor: Jim Gibbons
Another new series coming out of Image, Blackbird’s story follows a young girl named Nina who has a premonition about an earthquake. When her premonition comes true, she’s able to save her family…almost. When her and her sister find a piece of a road bridge about to collapse on them, they’re saved by a giant magical creature, and a young woman who commands everyone in sight to forget. But Nina finds herself unable to forget, and years later is still changed by the experience.  But not all change is good–the events surrounding that one night cause a domino effect–her parents wind up divorced, her mother dies in an accident, and several years later Nina is a drug addict, burned out and living in her sister’s apartment, still trying desperately to make some sense of the world. In the midst of all this, on an otherwise normal night, Nina begins to have encounters with magic once again. In rapid succession, she encounters a palace of light and sees the wizards (known as paragons) within, sees her sister kidnapped by the same magic creature which saved them on the night of the quake, and runs into her old kitten…which now has a third eye, and can talk.
I’ll admit, I jumped into this because Jen Bartel’s art is some of the most beautiful work I’ve seen in over a decade. Though their styles are dissimilar, it inspires the same sense of amazement I had when I first saw Alex Ross’ work. But while Ross’ specialty is emulating reality, Bartel seems to have fused the expressions and softness of Japanese manga while still maintaining the realistic proportions and look of Western art, and each page is a visual treat.
Still, while the art’s great I’m also digging the bootleg Harry Potter story we’re getting here. Nina perfectly walks the tightrope between being sympathetic enough to want to keep reading while also being a horrible person.  Between not being taken to Hogwarts and having her family be torn apart because of infidelity and death, Nina’s become this broken person who’s clearly drowning in the events of her past, and while her sister’s given her a life raft, that just means she can splash around without dying. Well, maybe–that drug problem’s gonna be an issue eventually.  So on the one hand you understand her…but then she’s also really shitty.  When her sister gets kidnapped by a giant magic creature, her first thought is “why does she get to be whisked away and not me” instead of…y’know, being concerned her sister’s going to die.
If I have one criticism about this book it’s that it probably should’ve been longer. It’s got enough of a hook to bring you back for the next issue, but I would have liked to see more of the magic that’s been eluding Nina and learn about that world. Still, that’s arguably the best compliment-disguised-as-complaint ever: I want more of what I just read, so this did well.

Justice League #9
“Good Morning, Moon”
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Jorge Jimenez
Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez
Superman reassembles the moon while under attack from an alien species that can feeds off of solar energies. In the middle of this, Bruce encourages Superman to allow him to build some better defenses into the moon for the future, but Clark refuses. Elsewhere, the remaining heroes of the League discuss their lives and the dangers they’re currently dealing with–both with the new Legion of Doom and with other, stranger threats hinting at storylines to come.
Sometimes a panel just puts a smile on your face.  Seeing all the heroes gathered together for reasons that aren’t the usual cosmic threat or sad funeral following a cosmic threat?  Yeah, I’m all about that.  The new Hall of Justice is continuing to help foster the sense of community Rebirth has been about from the beginning–one that was lost when the New 52 was begun seven years ago.  It remembers the League isn’t just the team Snyder’s writing about, featuring characters from Titans and the new Justice League Dark, and there’s even an awesome cameo from Ferdinand, Wonder Woman’s personal cook.  While I understand how it can be limiting, I’m a sucker for deep cut continuity, and a reference to my favorite Wonder Woman run of all time is a sweet spot, and reminds me just how much Snyder clearly loves these characters.
I’m also completely into how Snyder develops the team without being too obvious about it, by introducing the unique “rooms” each member of the main League has, subtly defining these guys and giving us a glimpse into how he sees the team.  Aquaman’s underwater room exudes regality, while Flash’s room is a mix between a gym and a lab, and Batman’s a total emo boy who won’t let anyone into his room. Did I mention how much I’m enjoying the League poking fun at Batman?  As someone who spent so many years writing the character, it’s good Snyder hasn’t turned Batman into a “pet character” who overrides the rest of the team.
The ending of this issue is a bit silly, with Clark revealing it’s Bruce who summoned the Coronavores attacking him in the first place, but it’s not a big deal since this is more of a breather issue.  This is the most fun I’ve had with the League in quite some time, raising the profile of the team where it should be while delivering first-class widescreen action every issue.

Shatterstar #1
Writer: Tim Seeley
Penciler: Carlos Villa
Inker: Juan Vlasco
Flashback Art: Gerardo Sandoval
Color Artist: Carlos Lopez
On Twitter, Tim Seeley pointed out how it’s kind of a backhanded compliment to tell him how surprised you are this Shatterstar comic is any good. But it’s fucking Shatterstar–he’s a joke character who was completely boring until someone made him bi and even that barely made him stand out.  Of all the characters people want to have their own solo series, literally no one was asking for a Shatterstar book, even in light of him appearing in Deadpool 2. (Which should be obvious because he wasn’t even in the film long enough for anyone to care.)
But Seeley has found an angle that works and made Shatterstar #1 one of my favorite comics of the week.  It’s a pretty common angle to be fair: bringing these fantastical heroes closer to our world by showing how they deal with mundane, every day situations has been used a lot in the 2010s. In Shatterstar’s case, he’s decided to become a landlord over an apartment of super-powered individuals from alternate dimensions.  I wasn’t sold on it at first, but then the book introduced lil Pug-Smasher here, and I’m a sucker for adorable talking animals.
The benefit to a guy like Shatterstar, who’s been around for so long but never really had an extended focus, is there’s a lot of room for a writer to define the character without having people jump down their throat about how it isn’t accurate to what’s come before. Still, Seeley works within the framework of what is there to make someone who feels like he fits into Shatterstar’s history–a restless man attempting to find his own way in life, and has attained some measure of peace until it’s all torn away from him. It’s a tad disappointing to have the basic idea behind the first issue destroyed so soon, but if this book has any longevity there’s a chance we could return back to it later, so its fine.
The closing reveal was also a gutpunch of a revelation and left me even more invested, even if it was a subtle reminder that in comics nothing ever really changes.

The Superior Octopus #1
Writer: Christos Gage
Penciler: Mike Hawthorne
Inker: Wade von Grawbadger
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
In the aftermath of The Clone Conspiracy, Otto Octavius has come back to life in a younger body and with a renewed mindset.  Still seemingly operating off of Peter Parker’s conscience, he’s come back with the intent to make right what went wrong the last time.  He’s moved across the country to San Francisco, and intends to bring his brand of justice and protection to the city–which means employing D-List supervillains as his eyes and ears, killing off HYDRA agents who still think he’s a part of their organization, and watching over Anna Maria from afar without establishing any sort of romantic involvement.
This book pretty much exists for those of us who wound up liking the Superior Spider-Man book. Free from the bits where it makes Peter Parker look like a total ass, Superior Octopus is supremely entertaining. Just like before, you know he’s building up this destructive house of cards, and that it’s only a matter of time before it all crashes down on his head.  He can’t help getting in his own way, and it even seems like his actions here have inadvertently awakened the Inheritors and is the reason for the return of the Inheritors!  Now admittedly, this was a threat Peter and the others should’ve killed, they still seemed to have a handle on the situation before Otto came along.  Nonetheless, Gage is doing a great job of setting up what will eventually be a massive trainwreck, and with luck this book will remain popular for a decent length of time so Otto can stay a “hero”.  He’s so refreshingly terrible at it, and after multiple great Slott stories about the character as a villain, there’s really no need to return him to being a villain again for some time.

Tony Stark – Iron Man #5
“Self-Made Man Part 4: Love Bytes”
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Valerio Schiti
Color Artist: Edgar Delgado
Stark Unlimited has caught the love bug!  Using the a new matchmaking app, everyone in the company is falling in love…or at least, that’s how it seems, until it’s revealed all of their new S.O. are just evil robots trying to hack into Stark’s databases. This leaves Stark and Janet (who’s seemingly become his latest love interest) to figure out how to take out all these robots–without anyone dying including the robots, lest they incur the wrath of Jocasta, Friday, and the dreaded robotic HR department.
Okay, first off from now on I think literally every vehicle Stark gets on or into should have the ability to transform into some kind of Iron Man armor.  Even if he’s in a private plane–it should be capable of transforming into a giant Power Rangers-esque mecha and fighting a kaiju.
Anyhow, while I’m not necessarily comfortable with the pairing of Janet and Tony, I am in love with how many different plates Slott manages to keep spinning. He’s developing a background romance between new Stark Unlimited employee Andy Bhang and Tony’s mother, we’re still exploring the idea of Stark being human or not, and we’ve still got the irony of security officer Bethany Cabe being the group’s biggest security leak. It feels like Tony Stark’s got an actual world to his life again instead of the vastly stripped down version we got from Bendis’ run.
You could complain about how we’re four issues in and the mystery villain is still a mystery, but I actually into that. It’s a throwback to those old Silver and Bronze Age era comics where Stark would have some villain plotting on him for half a year before they finally put them into the forefront. Right now it’s more important to allow him to establish some sense of status quo and a supporting cast again–this isn’t some new hero, Iron Man isn’t going anywhere so there’s plenty of time to play set up and bring the bad guy in when Tony actually has something he can lose.
See you in seven.

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