The Stack: January 16th & January 23rd, 2019 – Avengers, Justice League, Naomi, And More!

by Sage Ashford

In lieu of missing last week, this week’s The Stack will include comics from both January 16th and January 23rd. The result is a concentrated dose of amazing comics, so strap in.

Avengers #13
“The Girl Who Punched the Dragon”
By Jason Aaron & Andrea Sorrentino
Color Artists: Justin Ponsor & Erick Arcieniega

Avengers BC remains the best part of a Jason Aaron Avengers run that’s actually getting better every arc. We travel back in time to visit the first Iron Fist ever, a young woman who killed Shou Lao the Undying as vengeance for her murdered pupils, only to gain a strange new power.  Avengers BC does an excellent job of painting the picture of this early Marvel era, crafting myth and story out of what was only scattered minutae we normally would’ve only heard in abstract descriptions of a character’s backstory otherwise.
This group of Avengers exists in a harsh world–one manipulated by dark forces, demanding heroes to protect it.  Odin and a Phoenix looking suspiciously like Jean Grey aren’t exactly the best they have to offer, but at the dawn of humanity, it works. They don’t even have a word for “heroes” yet, so having ones who don’t fit into the mold we know of today feels right. It’s also like Aaron’s giving us glimpses of what’s to come in terms of threats of the modern day with each one of these.  Last time it was the Wendigo, this time it’s Mephisto–each time he breaks up the existing story to remind of us about all the ancient and terrible threats the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes of today will have to face, both allowing his stories to breathe while setting up for future tales.  Great stuff.

Detective Comics #996
“See Paris and DIE!”
Story and Words: Peter J. Tomasi
Penciller: Doug Mahnke
Inkers: Jaime Mendoza and Mark Irwin
Colorist: David Baron

Knowing now that this book is headed towards an introduction of the Arkham Knight in the comics, and that the Arkham Knight won’t be Jason Todd this time around, I’ve done something of a 180 on this series.  I still think the Bat-books need a fresh set of eyes and ditching not one but two different teams in such a short time span wasn’t the best move on DC’s part, but the base concept here works for me.  There’s a character now trying to destroy everything that helped make Bruce into Batman, and so far he’s been fairly successful, taking out everyone from Dr. Leslie Thompkins (the closest thing Bats has ever had to a care physician) to the man who taught him how to hunt, Henri Ducard, all the way up to the ninja where he learned the bulk of his fighting ability from. (Bonus points for the Kyodai Ken reference here instead of generically deciding Ra’s Al Ghul taught Bruce everything he knows.) Since we’re heading towards issue one thousand, a story where characters like this are brought to the forefront feels like a trip down the history of Batman, reflecting without lazily relying on flashback sequences.  It’s solid stuff, and watching Batman be challenged is always good since it’s so rare, though it’d be nice if he was allowed to save more than just a main cast member like Alfred.

Guardians of the Galaxy #1
Writer: Donny Cates
Penciller: Geoff Shaw
Color Artist: Marte Garcia

It’s been a decade since the original Guardians of the Galaxy (for the present) launched, kicking off a franchise which would create two films which made nearly a billion each, a cartoon series, and even a video game.  The characters have undergone quite a few changes in that time, going from intentionally working to save the universe, to being a collection of adorkable pirates/ne’er do wells. And while I was never a fan of the shift brought on by James Gunn’s films, it seems we’re gradually headed back to what started it all, with the universe in ruins after multiple catastrophic events.
When it happened in the 2008 series, Peter asked as many of the major movers and shakers as possible to stand with him to protect the universe from any new threats, to be proactive rather than reactive.  Of course back then, despite the Kree and Skrull being torn apart by two major wars happening back to back, Quill was ignored and forced to form a team based off people whoever was willing to say yes.   Ten years later, Quill’s change in personality means the team (or what’s left) doesn’t really want anything to do with saving anything, but get dragged into it thanks to the events of other major movers and shakers.  The result is a team which is reminiscent of the one from 2008, minus Drax, Rocket, and Gamora and plus a Cosmic Ghost Rider and Beta Ray Bill.
Right now it’s up in the air where everything is going, but with a new set of villains and a familiar (yet different) cast of heroes,

Hawkman #8
“Catacylsm Part One: Requiem”
Writer: Robert Venditti
Penciller: Bryan Hitch
Inkers: Andrew Currie & Andy Owens
Colorist: Jeremiah Skipper

If the 2010s have taught me nothing else, it’s that Robert Venditti is an absolute master of science fiction storytelling. Through his time on X-O Manowar, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, and now Hawkman, he’s managed to craft distinct sci-fi worlds that are all fun to immerse oneself in.  This issue sees Carter go far back enough to meet himself on Krypton, right as the planet is about to explode, in the hopes of discovering the weapon necessary to battle the Deathbringers.
Though I’ve been reading Superman comics for nearly twenty years now, this might still be easily one of the best issues about Krypton as a whole I’ve ever read. Most likely because most other stories about Krypton are really about how its destruction affected Earth and Superman–this instead focuses on Krypton’s history and the legacy it leaves behind, and through someone who isn’t directly affiliated with Superman or “The House of El”. Both still come up, but they’re contextualized properly instead of dominating the entire discussion of a story about an entire civilization’s culture.  Finishing this made me wish someone at DC could spend more time delving into the societies of all the alien cultures in the DC Universe.

Immortal Hulk #12
“All On That Day”
Writer: Al Ewing
Pencils: Joe Bennett, Eric Nguyen
Inks: Ruy Rose, Eric Nguyen

As someone inexperienced with the Hulk, I’m still not surprised this is a retcon to Bruce’s origins. It seems to rewrite the very core of the character, adding mysticism and a sad sense of inevitability to who the character is that wouldn’t have been there in the 70’s or 80’s. There’s another moment I could’ve snipped from the comic with Hulk in tears, but I couldn’t decide whether I hated that moment or loved it–it teetered between being a cliche or complex portrayal of the Hulk as Banner’s uncontrolled id, unable to cope with the pain constantly inflicted on him by those who don’t understand the one thing the character’s been saying since the beginning: he just wants to be left alone.
So instead I settled on this, an even greater moment that explores the other end of the inevitability to who Banner becomes. Ewing explores how he was always destined to become the Hulk after his father discovered the “truth” behind gamma and the green door, but that’s all surface-level superhero stuff. The meat of it all comes down to Banner’s anger issues, perpetuated through a cycle of physical and verbal abuse he suffered through his father, who suffered the same thing because of his father, Bruce’s grandfather. I’ve always disliked the Hulk because I saw him as a guy who couldn’t deal with his anger, and here Ewing is showing how the guy would’ve needed a decade or two of psychoanalysis to even get close to untangling all his emotions after being raised by a guy who never wanted or loved him in the first place.  It’s the first time I’ve truly felt sorry for him, and make me wish the schmuck could go back to being the Banner who was bankrolled by SHIELD.

Justice League #16
“Escape from Hawkworld Conclusion”
Story: Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Pencils: Jim Cheung and Stephen Segovia
Inks: Cheung, Morales, and Segovia
Colors: Tomeu Morey and Wil Quintana

When you look back through Justice League history, a constant has been J’onn J’onzz’s presence as a key member there.  Though he often lacked a solo book of his own to find refuge in when other Leaguers rotated in and out of the comic, the fact is the Martian has been the staple remaining when everything else changed. Despite this, creators tend to prefer focusing on Superman or Batman or any number of other heroes who already have their own comics and receive plenty of development there.
But while I could be misreading things here, Snyder and Tynion’s Justice League seems to be going in the opposite direction. While everyone’s getting an individual focus from arc to arc, J’onn has been positioned differently. He formed this new version of the League. He’s the reason they’re aware of the Totality and what’s going on. And now his origin has been retconned to place him at the center of everything happening–in effect, making him what he should have always been in Justice League comics: the main character.   That’s pretty awesome, even if this feels like the complete 180 from the story being told over in Orlando’s maxi-series.

Justice League Dark #7
“Tales from the Otherkind”
Writer: James Tynion IV
Penciller: Alvaro Martinez Bueno
Inker: Raul Fernandez
Colorist: Brad Anderson

This issue should’ve launched three months ago, as it’s a pitch perfect Halloween story, right down to the chilling closing page. Up until this issue, we weren’t really aware of what The Otherkind were capable of, and had no idea who they were outside of the Upside Down Man. This issue changes that by introducing more members of their group, and showing just how powerful they are in a series of terrifying mini-stories.  There’s a meta aspect to what goes on in this issue, with each one growing worse and more macabre, until you realize the real issue is you’re even hearing them at all. This is a staple in magic-focused storytelling–particularly in DC/Vertigo books, with the idea being abstract things like stories and names offering concrete power. Given the power the Otherkind already have, giving them a “level up” seems like something the entire team could be concerned about, though there’s a bit of hope given at the end when we get a glimpse of Zatara and another legendary magician offering something to help the heroes out.
Looking ahead, we see the Justice League Dark will eventually have to turn to the Lords of Chaos for help with this, which raises questions.  If the Lords of Order and Chaos aren’t magic…what are they? This book sees the Otherkind go at some major heavy hitters I would never have referred to as “magic”, but Doctor Fate summoned these creatures without a second thought? Shouldn’t he be just as concerned?

Naomi #1
Writers: Brian Michael Bendis & David F. Walker
Artist & Cover: Jamal Campbell

I spent most of this issue wondering exactly what Naomi was about, and it wasn’t until I got to the last page it all clicked for me. Unlike most heroes, Naomi is a girl living a perfect life. She’s got a loving family (though she’s adopted) and some amazing friends and lives in a perfect, almost idyllic little town where super-fights never happen. While I’m still not sure where the story goes, I love “perfect girl goes looking for imperfections” as a story hook.
And if nothing else, for now its enough to marvel at Jamal Campbell’s amazing art work.  For him to be such a relatively new creator he’s remarkably complete, with excellent panel layouts and backgrounds and characters that are simply gorgeous and exude the wonder that should come with a superhero comic. Hopefully he sticks around DC Comics for quite some time to come.

Shazam #2
“Shazam and the Seven Magic Lands Part 2”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Marco Santucci
Colorist: Mike Atiyeh

It sucks to have an artist switch happen this early on, but Marco Santucci is a superb fill-in, having his own spin on that classic, Americana style Eaglesham usually evokes so this issue won’t feel out of place in the long run.  This issue features our charming cast of kids being sent on adventures to a wide variety of different kingdoms (or “Lands”) while watching them learn how to use their powers.  It’s something we could spend a couple years telling stories in, but Johns seems determined to only spend time in a single land per issue, which I hope means this is just an introduction to these places and not that he’s planning to leave after the first year of stories or so.  There’s so much going on in just this one issue you can never tell–there’s also mysteriously a man pretending to be Billy’s father, and the appearance of Dr. Sivana and Mr. Mind.
It’s good the world of Shazam is seeing a meaningful expansion like this just in time for the film. If it’s as good as it looks it should lure in a new audience, and honestly what Johns is setting up here would be great for a cartoon series.  A bunch of kids traveling to seven mystical lands sounds like something right out of a 2000s era Saturday morning show.

Superman #7
“The Unity Saga: The House of El Part 1”
Script: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Ivan Reis, Brandon Peterson, Jason Fabok
Inks: Oclair Albert
Colors: Alex Sinclair

This is a truly baffling decision. Kids in superhero comics get aged all the time–we can only get so many stories out of babies or children, it’s easier if they’re teenagers. But at 10-12, Jon was old enough for for plenty of opportunities to tell stories with the character.  He was likable, he could believably use his powers, and he had plenty to learn from his father. It all worked well, so this change is already weird.
But what makes it more weird is we’re introducing Kon-El at the same time, who’s a few years older than Jon Kent is here. What separates them? That this is Clark’s real son? Even weirder is Bendis is writing both Superman and Young Justice, so you’d think he would’ve wanted a way to make them different himself.  The easy guess is one of them is going to go evil and get taken off the board for a bit, which I hope isn’t the case. I like Jon, but having grown up with Kon-El I’d definitely be rooting for the original Superboy.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #90
Story: Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, & Tom Waltz
Script: Tom Waltz
Art: Michael Dialynas
Colors: Ronda Pattison

With ten issues left til 100, they aren’t even trying to pretend like they’re building things up slowly; multiple plot threads are paying off right now.  The war between Bishop and the Mutanimals is heating up already, just moments after Bishop scored a major win on Burnow Island. Meanwhile, Bishop gains an unexpected ally in Metalhead. The macro-series one shot with the biggest story lead was Leonardo, where we learned Karai was coming to take control over the Foot?  Well, this issue she confronts Splinter.  It’s all happening at once, which leaves me concerned for where this series goes post-100. I was just starting to adapt to this series taking the place of the IDW Transformers, but that could all come to an end in just ten issues.
What I appreciated about this bit with Old Hob though is they aren’t doing the usual “it’s humans against mutants” storyline that’s been seen so often. But after years of dealing with people lashing out and destroying them for no other reason than they exist and aren’t the same as humans, the line in the sand is drawn at a surprisingly reasonable “people who aren’t trying to kill me”.  For now, at least. That gives me hope this story will continue to be as compelling as it has been for the last twenty issues.

The Wild Storm #19
“The Wild Storm – Chapter Nineteen”
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Colorist: Steve Buccelato

I don’t talk about The Wild Storm much. Not because it’s bad, but because more often than not the plot feels like it’s moving at a snail’s pace. We’ve had 19 issues and it feels like most of the story could’ve been told inside of the first year. Understandable, since the Authority helped popularize decompressed storytelling. Still, this month Ellis cuts loose, explaining the purposes behind all these different factions, something I think should’ve happened much earlier.
Up until now, The Wild Storm has felt like a book you’d get much more from if you were a long time fan of the original universe. Even someone like me, with a cursory knowledge of the original place, has been largely lost.  But this issue sees them lay out the motives behind three of the biggest groups all at one time, and it’s the most invested I’ve been in this book since they initially hyped up this comic. It really feels like a “normal” world gradually being forced to adapt to all these secret societies, advanced technologies and alien races Ellis said was his aim when things began. I also appreciate the shout outs to DC Comics above, as apparently the ideal version of a planet helping Kheran society looks like Apokolips.
We’re five months away from the end of this series, and from this issue and the solicits it feels like all the pieces are finally clicking into place to turn this world into a proper universe again. Presumably we’re not far from seeing what DC has planned for where this goes next when Ellis is done with the initial run of 24 issues.

Uncanny X-Men Annual
“The Return of Cyclops”
Writer: Ed Brisson
Artist: Carlos Gomez
Color Artist: GURU-eFX

It feels like Marvel was always trying to tell a single story with Cyclops, and it didn’t matter how fans felt about it or the changes they made to keep us from reacting poorly, they found a way to shove the broad beats of that story into readers’ faces.  Coming out of House of M, the gradual shift Cyclops made from quiet boy scout to leader of a revolution made sense. His people, an entire race of individuals, was rendered inert. He spent years battling against people striking at his race while they were weak, putting aside old differences to form alliances, and even going out of his way to find a home for the mutant race where they could live without being attacked.
When the opportunity presented itself to bring back his people, he took it. And saw an entire group of “heroes” who claimed to care about the world but rarely ever bothered to help the mutants stand in his way. Mistakes were absolutely made–but Cyclops was by far treated worse than any other person who ever took the Phoenix power inside of them. Still, after realizing he went too far, he collected a new group of X-Men and tried to do better–the ending of Bendis’ run on Uncanny even saw him do a peaceful gathering of mutants in an attempt to show the world they were people, deserving of rights and fair treatment, rather than unhinged weapons and monsters.  But then, the character suffered an ignominious death thanks to the Terrigen Cloud, yet another device which wound up nearly wiping out the mutant race–sterilizing or injuring any it came in contact with, if not killing them outright. They blamed Cyclops for waging war with the Inhumans–even though the Inhumans essentially unleashed a biochemical weapon against the mutant race–long after his death,
With each one of these major moments in Marvel history, they spent so much time telling you how to feel, while most Cyclops got more and more popular. They never took the character over the edge and turned him into a proper villain, hopefully because cooler heads prevailed at Marvel, but they would have all the heroes who weren’t “morally compromised” constantly judge or look down on him. Even after forgiving characters who’d done awful things for far less valid reasons.  (The end of Children’s Crusade basically said people should forgive Wanda because eventually everyone would be mind-controlled or lose control and screw up.)  And now, at the end of it all, they’ve decided to bring Scott back and have the character himself admit everything he’d done since 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men was wrong, once again ignoring how most fans saw things to tell their own story.
It’s…frustrating, and a little insulting. But whatever. We got the best character in X-Men back.  Welcome back, Mr. Summers.
See you in seven.

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