The Stack: Nov. 7th, 2018 – Batman, Blackbird, Champions, Deathstroke & More!

by Sage Ashford

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you true believers! This is not a dream or an imaginary story! Bottom of the Pile is no more! Yes like most things comics, we’ve undergone a bit of a reboot here, as I thought the concept of Bottom of the Pile, talking about mostly the comics I enjoyed the most every week, was too limiting.
Instead with The Stack, we’ll be easing up on the “review” aspect and doing a greater focus on commentary, with only a few “spotlight” comics a week getting more in-depth discussion. It’s my hope that doing this will allow things to be more timely and let me cover a wider range of comics, though I’ll be doing my best to remain as positive as possible rather than just using this as an opportunity to crap all over everything.
Anyway, there’s a dozen comics in this first edition, so let’s get into it!

Batman #58
“The Tyrant Wing Part 1”
Writer: Tom King
Artist & Cover: Mikel Janin
Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire
I love when a problem I have with an issue is solved by the time I reach the last page.  The big twist of King’s run a couple months ago, and presumably the focus of his run going forward, has been that Bane’s basically in control of all the suffering Batman’s gone through lately. He’s been manipulating things behind the scenes to try and break Batman once again.  That’s cool, but it’s involved subjugating many of Batman’s biggest villains to get the job done, and you’d think at least one of them would have the guts not to tolerate that. It’s one thing to show them working together, but having one bad guy demand the others kiss the ring devalues the entire rogues gallery unless it’s like…Darkseid or something.
Enter Penguin. Now Penguin is usually the first Batman villain to roll over because he’s not terribly physically imposing, and Bane tries to use him to carry out another “punishment” on Batman, but first reinforces his control by having someone close to him murdered. This results in the first open dissent, as Penguin refuses to carry out Bane’s orders, presumably to enact some form of revenge. So far, things have gone entirely in Bane’s favor, but it seems like he’s about to learn fear doesn’t garner as much obedience as respect. Also, Tom King gets in his bag when he deals with lower tier villains so this story will likely be pretty solid.
Speaking of lower-tier villains, we’ve all been wondering about whether or not that was Flashpoint Batman working with Bane. It felt like a red herring since it involves a character from another universe that’s so indelibly tied to the overall meta-story of the DC Universe that King might not even have an interest in, but now I’m not so sure. Right after this scene–which mysteriously only included Bane and Flashpoint Bats rather than the whole gallery of Bat-villains from the end of Batman #50–the story shifts directly to the cave and brings up Bruce’s fight with Zoom in The Button.

Blackbird #1
Artist: Jen Bartel
Writer: Sam Humphries
Layout Artist: Paul Reinwald
Colorist: Triona Farrell
Letterer: Jodi Wynne
Designer: Dylan Todd
Editor: Jim Gibbons
…It’s entirely possible the name of this series should’ve just been “Hypebeast Mages”.  It sounds hilarious at first, but it’s the kind of eye-catching aspect that lures you in, while Jen Bartel’s beautiful art makes you stay.  All jokes aside, last month my main criticism of Blackbird was the first issue didn’t quite set up the weirdness of the world enough. This issue takes care of that by fully immersing Nina into the world of the paragons, a strange world that feels reminiscent of Harry Potter but if it were aimed at the Instagram crowd. This is where Bartel’s artwork shines–everyone’s beautiful, fashionable, and so damn cool it’s almost anxiety inducing.

Champions #26
“Warriors of the Weird Part 2”
Writer: Jim Zub
Artist: Max Dunbar
Color Artist: Nolan Woodard
I feel like the real tragedy of the Champions being trapped in Weirdworld is Ms. Marvel doesn’t remember who she is.  Kamala’s such a huge geek there’s no way she wouldn’t find some enjoyment in being a mage on a quest to save a mystical land from an evil warlord.

Deathstroke #37
Story: Priest
Pencils: Fernando Pasarin
Inks: Jason Paz & Sean Parsons
Colors: Jeromy Cox & Carrie Strachan
…Whose idea was it to create a virtual reality simulation for Batman’s rogues to get better at fighting Batman?  No wonder every three months Gotham is turned upside down. Instead of actually helping the denizens of Arkham get better, they’re letting them run training operations for when they inevitably break out, which feels even weirder when you have an actual member of Arkham’s psychiatric care admitting it’s basically a revolving door.
I guess it could be a form of “7D Chess” though? After all, designing complex virtual reality simulations like this would be absurdly expensive. Maybe Bruce fit the bill for that so he could learn all of their strategies and constantly stay one step ahead of them?

Death of the Inhumans #5
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Ariel Olivetti
Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire
“Death of the Inhumans”, a comic in which only a bunch of irrelevant Inhumans died at the hands of a villain we’d never met before, for reasons that didn’t seem to exist outside of Marvel’s need to tell us the Inhumans’ overall importance to the Marvel Universe is dead now that they’ve got control of the X-Men again. I hate being so cynical, but this comic is a collection of some of the most talented people working in comics today and it’s just been five issues of nothing.  I struggle to see even one way in which the Inhumans as a franchise are better off at the end of this.   Like Spider-Geddon, it would’ve been better to put these characters somewhere else until someone had a vision for them.

Doctor Strange #7
“The Two Doctors Part Two”
Writer: Mark Waid
Pencilers: Javier Pina & Andres Guinaldo
Inkers: Javier Pina, JP Mayer, Andy Owens, Roberto Poggi, & Keith Champagne
Color Artist: Brian Reber, Jim Campbell, & Andrew Crossley
I had to go back and make sure I didn’t miss an issue here. Up until now, Kanna’s felt like she’s been frenemies with Strange more than anything else, looking at him with a mix of respect and irritation.  But this issue she’s outright head-over-heels for him; stealing glances while he’s shirtless, grinning like a loon when they look into each other’s eyes…  It’s uncomfortable, especially since Strange has already played around in her head after she tried to get a fragment of the time stone.  Eventually that part of the story has to come out, and it’s going to make Strange seem like that much more of a creep if they’re lovers when it happens.
Granted, maybe that’s the point?  The first few issues of Waid’s run seemed pretty intent on reminding us Strange is a horrible person, even though these past two have been trying to make him seem more like every other hero.   If the point is to eventually make a statement on how Stephen’s a dick, then I’ll forgive the overall weirdness of this issue.

Immortal Hulk #8
“His Hideous Heart”
Writer: Al Ewing
Penciller: Joe Bennett
Inker: Ruy Rose
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Who knew all you had to do to make Hulk interesting again was turn it into a horror comic?  Joe Bennett is doing the work of his career on this book, managing to make the world seem perfectly normal until Hulk is involved, but effortlessly managing the kind of body horror that sends literal chill up one’s spine, like showing Hulk’s vivisected body reassembling itself around a scientist who threatened him. Al Ewing’s setting out very specific rules for how his version of the character works, and it’s turned an already ridiculously powerful character absolutely horrifying.
Miss me with this “the Hulk had crossed a line” junk just because he’s taken a life, though.  I don’t think there’s a single natural disaster ever where the kill count comes out zero. There’s no way a guy who’s literally a sentient, walking disaster hasn’t taken lives in the quadruple digits after all his years of wandering the Earth.

Justice League #11
“Drowned Earth Part Two”
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art, Colors, Cover: Francis Manapul
It’s not shown here, but I have to say: I love how Superman has a themed eyepatch.  Where’d he get it from?  How often does he even need it?
Seriously though, Snyder really knows how to ratchet up the tension in these big event books. Counting Metal, this is his third major DC event comic and in each one he manages to make things look as completely hopeless as possible before the big turnaround. Still, him and Tynion are on fire with Drowned Earth, giving us that “big event” feel without the cliches of having to kill a billion characters to do it.  At the same time, while this book is still very much “Superfriends, but for adults”, they still manage to keep the nostalgia to a minimum.  They’re creating new characters and new concepts so frequently it feels like a new mythology is being crafted right before our eyes: the Graveyard of the Gods, the Tomb of Arion, this would make one part of a fantastic open-world Justice League RPG.  I can’t help feeling like this is what the New 52 was trying to do seven years ago, as while the camaraderie between heroes (and now villains) remains, everything else seems to be being made as they go along.

Spider-Geddon #3
Writer: Christos Gage, Dan Slott
Pencilers: Carlo Barberi & Todd Nauck
Inkers: Jose Marzan Jr. & Todd Nauck
Colorist: David Curiel
This week Spider-Geddon takes a break from needlessly killing characters we never have to actually see to bring everyone’s friendly neighborhood Tokusatsu Spider-Man into the war, and poke fun at stereotypical Sentai rules.  Why don’t giant robot battles just start out with the most powerful attack?  Now in Power Rangers, the Americanized version of Super Sentai (the originator of giant robot battles), they explained this away by introducing the rule that Rangers are to “never escalate a battle unless forced”.  Spider-Geddon offers a different explanation, however–it starts off having that universe’s Spidey complain its “not honorable”, but eventually he just admits it’s flat out boring to win a fight that way, neatly including both the in-universe and practical answers to Otto’s question.  I appreciate that somehow this guy is more of a “big gun”, even though the father of the Inheritors wrecked Leopardon without being given a growth spell during Spider-Verse.

The Green Lantern #1
“Intergalactic Lawman”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Liam Sharp
Colorist: Steve Oliffe
This might be my favorite first issue for a Grant Morrison comic book ever.  There’s a much-needed focus on being approachable, and Grant’s managed to tone down his habit of tossing a million concepts at you as second to make a first issue literally anyone could pick up and read.  He’s also perfectly straddling a line to create a comic that acknowledges Green Lantern’s pulp roots and Hal’s backstory (there’s a mention of him having been a traveling salesman once) while not really feeling like it requires you to know anything more than what’s in this issue.
Morrison’s working in the shadow of a giant on this book. Geoff Johns’ near decade on the character made Green Lantern into such a big deal DC actually gave him a film (yeah I know it sucked) and a cartoon, things no one would’ve believed possible during the 80s and 90’s.  And like every character that manages to get a landmark run, the question afterwards is always the same: what do you do next with the character?  But Morrison’s something of a giant himself, and from the looks of things he’s figured out what’s needed to carry the character forward is to return him to basics.
This first issue has no sign of the other colored Corps, no mention of his long histories with villains like Sinestro or Hector Hammond, not even any appearances of the other five human Green Lanterns.  Come to that–Hal Jordan himself isn’t even seen until twelve pages into the issue, as Morrison instead spends time building up his version of the DC cosmic universe. Still, once Hal appears, Morrison wastes no time establishing what he sees as his vision for the character.  Rather than leaving him as a high-flying test pilot who’s worshiped by the Corps as the greatest hero ever, he’s a bum who hitch-hikes and can’t hold down a real job because he’s devoted everything to his job…but when he puts on the costume, he excels so much he makes an impossible job like policing a part of the galaxy look easy.
Liam Sharp’s amazing, too–he’s effortlessly shifted from the heavy fantasy he was doing while working on Wonder Woman to embracing the hardcore sci-fi inherent to the Green Lantern concept. He helps make space look weird and inscrutable–not just with its alien species, but with the outlandish architecture.  But thanks to his talented pen it never looks anything less than undeniably cool, so you instantly understand why Hal seems so bored with everything that happens down on Earth.
There were a lot of rumors Morrison wouldn’t be around for more than a year long run, but this extra-sized issue also manages to lay that to rest as well. The final few pages make it clear he’s got plenty of stories he wants to cover, and unless we’re going to hit the gas for the next eleven issues it looks like he’s settling in for the long haul, and I couldn’t be happier.  As both a Green Lantern fan who’s desperate to see the character’s profile continue to rise and a longtime Grant Morrison geek, this idea is as good as it gets for me.

Transformers: Lost Light #25
“How to Say Goodbye and Mean It Part 2”
Written by: James Roberts
Art by: Jack Lawrence
Colors by: Joana Lafuente
I never would have guessed James Roberts’ six year cyber-epic about a bunch of broken people cooped up on a ship making each other less broken through the relationships they formed would have very much in common with Ken Akamatsu’s shonen epic Negima, but here we are.  Pressed for time, both series decided to use their last issues as extended epilogues focusing on the adventures of their protagonists…and both series involved abusing alternate universe shenanigans to give their fans a happily ever after.
That’s not to say both endings are completely identical, though. Akamatsu’s final issue chooses to elaborate on the lives of his protagonist in the happily ever after timeline, leaving himself the opportunity to tell stories later in the “broken” timeline in his sequel series UQ Holder.  For Roberts, since this really was him saying goodbye, we instead spend most of our time in the regular timeline, giving us the “final” endings for these characters we’ve followed since 2012, skipping between the present day and hundreds of years in the future.  Not everything we see is sad, but it’s like every reunion: some people have passed away, others have gotten married, some are doing better while others are doing worse.  More than anything, the bittersweet part comes in that they’re not together any more. Their journey (and the story) is over.
….At least for one version of them. In a call back to a plot point from the 2014 “Slaughterhouse” arc, the scientists of the group recall the Lost Light’s unique quantum engines are capable of creating duplicate copies of the Lost Light. Rigging the engines to replicate the accident, the end scenes reveal there are two Lost Lights–one remaining in their universe, and another transplanted to an entirely new one, allowing a version of the crew to continue traveling and experiencing the mysteries of existence forever.  It feels a bit like Roberts allowed us to have our cake and eat it too, but never let it be said I’d turn down a happy ending.  Plus the last scene of “our” Rodimus, drunk, depressed, and uncertain if their experiment even worked is enough sadness for two universes.
I don’t think it’s possible to say enough about how incredible it is a book like this even exists. Transformers was a cartoon meant to hock a bunch of toys at 80’s children, and our nostalgia for those old G1 ‘toons has always given us rose-colored optics and made us remember them more fondly than they probably deserve. But here James Roberts crafted a 100 issue (check the final Author’s Note) that pushed the limits of creativity, giving us stories about apartheid, corrupt governments, people suffering PTSD, and discussions about gender identity–all through the eyes of a society that was nothing like humanity and yet all too familiar at the same time. Whatever happens afterwards, I wish him and everyone else involved in the creation of the IDW TF universe nothing but the best.

X-Men Red #10
“The Hate Machine Part 10: Mutant Nation War”
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Roge Antonio
Color Artist: Rain Beredo
After ten issues of going back and forth with Charles Xavier’s weird vampiric twin Cassandra Nova, Jean Grey’s finally come up with a seemingly fool-proof plan to shut Nova and her manipulative telepathy down. But uhm.
If Magneto’s helmet is so easy to mass replicate, what exactly’s stopping every anti-mutant army…or every army for that matter…from incorporating that technology into their helmets?  It can’t be expense–Tony created enough of these to outfit Namor’s Atlantean army and the X-Men and it apparently only cost “a few million”.  It can’t be time either–it took him all of a week to make these. Even if you assume Tony’s a genius and he worked faster than anyone else could…how much more time could it take?  A month (four times longer), two (eight times longer)?   No wonder the mutants are constantly getting wiped out–technology is clearly the superior evolution for humanity.

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