The Stack: March 13th, 2019 – Blackbird, Power Rangers, Transformers & More!

by Sage Ashford

The independent comics won out last week, with books like Blackbird, Power Rangers, and the new Transformers taking over as some of the best comics. Also, Jim Zub and Dan Slott continue working on the best Iron Man run we’ve seen since Matt Fraction in the late 2000’s.

Avengers: No Road Home #5
Writers: Jim Zub, Mark Waid, & Al Ewing
Artist: Sean Ikaase
Color Artists: Marcio Menyz & Erick Arciniega

If nothing else, thank the No Road Home crew for allowing us to get some of the classic, but lesser known Avengers a spotlight.  Though Monica makes an appearance in the new Captain Marvel film, she’s…not exactly in the form fans would expect, so she’s not exactly receiving the same kind of boost in popularity in the social conscience that Carol is.  Still, she’s never been more powerful than she has lately, which is…deeply concerning as a fan of the character.  Already the book is asking the question whether or not Monica is even human anymore, which typically means two things: either she’s about to sacrifice herself to stop Nyx and save Earth…or she’s about to be turned back into a human again.
Neither of those are appealing to me, so let’s cross our fingers for the third option: coming out of this weekly Monica either gets a solo comic or leads a different Avengers squad.  It’s the least likely option, but it’s still a chance: Zub, Waid, and Ewing are killing it between No Surrender and No Road Home.  Working together they’re able to give us the scale the Avengers deserve with a roster full of cult favorite heroes.  An Avengers weekly might be a bit much, but if they switch to being bi-weekly and maintain the same team, we should at least be able to get one last event out of them?

Blackbird #6
Artist: Jen Bartel
Writer: Sam Humphries
Layout Artist: Paul Reinwald
Colorist: Triona Farrell
Letterer: Jodi Wynne
Designer: Dylan Todd
Editor: Jim Gibbons

So we’ve made it to the final issue of this arc, where most of the mysteries introduced in the first issue get a proper resolution. Our hero has learned the truth to what happened the night of the earthquake that changed her family’s life, confronted her mother about it, and finally been properly inducted as a Paragon. It’s a happy ending for Nina, as she becomes the Magical Girl she’s always wanted to be.
….Except I keep coming back to this page.  The Beacon is clearly disappointed, even if he does invite Nina to become a Paragon.  For decades now in comics, one refrain has haunted every magic story: magic comes at a cost. We know just to access these powers a Paragon has to die, but if being a zombie mage wasn’t enough, it turns out things run much deeper.  The Jackal hints there’s another cost to magic, one that “makes a Paragon’s courage curdle in their guts”.  Nina’s mother explains she never forgave her parents after they committed murder, then hints that she inducted Nina’s sister Marisa over her because she loved Nina too much.
Wanting nothing other than to be let in to this world of magic, it’s clear what happens for Nina next.  What happens when the thing you want turns out to be a nightmare? The Beacon explains the allure of power is too great for most Blackbirds, those who abandon the fold of the Paragons. Does that mean it’s too late for Nina, and she’ll have to sacrifice far more than her life to satisfy these twisted rituals?
All of these questions are much more interesting to me than the BDSM group of androgynous hotties we see at the end which are clearly the next threat, but I suppose everything has to be handled in proper order.

Saban’s Go Go Power Rangers #18
Written by: Ryan Parrott
Illustrated by: Eleonora Carlini, Simona Di Gianfelice
Colors by: Raul Angulo

This is what BOOM’s Power Rangers should always be doing. One of the best parts of early Power Rangers was the interconnected nature of its universe. We didn’t follow a new team every year, we watched an existing one battle the forces of evil. They grew, they would leave the fold and new players would be added, but there were always elder statespeople who had been there a season or more prior.  We saw them knocked down, forced again and again to find new ways to access the Morphing Grid.
The 90’s Power Rangers universe was full of terrible threats. It wasn’t merely the evil sorceress Rita, or the horrifying Lord Zedd. It was the mechanized Mondo Empire, the threat of Lord Vile, and more.  Zordon didn’t just pick a team of “teenagers with attitudes” because it was funny–those were all the options he had. He needed young fighters who couldn’t be corrupted and wouldn’t flinch in the face of massive armies of evil.
So this issue, delving into the past before Zordon was doing his Supreme Intelligence impression? It works. Even better is we get to see Rita be more than just a comedically evil witch. We learn she was meant to lead a totally different life until it was ripped away. She’s another victim of this unending galactic war. It’s beautiful storytelling, and my only complaint is that this all feels more aimless than I’d like. I’d love for this to be heading somewhere–to see how Zedd and Divatox and the other villains which we’ve rarely ever seen fit into the comic book canon.   But for now this is excellent, and I look forward to more.

Superman #9
“The Unity Saga Part 3: The House of El Part 3”
Script: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Ivan Reis, Brandon Peterson
Inks: Joe Prado, Oclair Albert
Colors: Alex Sinclair

If it turns out Jon is actually evil as an adult, here’s where we get his supervillain origin. The other shoe has to drop eventually, right?  It’d be one thing if someone else were doing Young Justice, where Kon-El (90’s Superboy) had returned, but Bendis writes both and still decided Jon had to be a teenager?  There’s got to be a reason for it, and there’s a better chance than not it has something to do with him being eeeeeeevil.  Particularly with this issue, where we find out he landed on Earth-3 and wound up directly in front of the Crime Syndicate, where Ultraman kidnapped him and left him trapped near a volcano for months.
Bendis gets dragged sometimes for not quite nailing the voice of certain characters, but I like his take on Ultraman. He’s the inverse of Superman, so he simultaneously has a superiority complex thanks to his powers, but is also a coward and he can barely keep it together. So he has Jon as a weird surrogate son who he both tries to groom to be like him but also confesses all his weird hang-ups and lets out how he’s buckling under the pressure of being the “head” of a supervillain group running the entire world.
Fortunately that doesn’t seem to be the direction things are going.  And while I’m sure Bendis has a plan which initially restores Jon to his “rightful” age, hopefully there’s some time between that where Jon can finally qualify for the Teen Titans…and lord his height over Damian for a few issues.

Tony Stark: Iron Man #9
“Stark Realities: Part Four: With a Heart of Steel”
Writers: Dan Slott w/Jim Zub
Artists: Valerio Schiti & Paolo Rivera
Color Artist: Edgar Delgado

I seem to love every issue of Tony Stark: Iron Man more than the last, and issue 9 is no exception.  Tony being an adopted child was an idea introduced six years ago now, but it’s only with this arc within an arc that the book tries to reconcile the history we’ve always known and the parents he’s always had in Howard and Maria with what things are now, with Tony’s birth mother Amanda Armstrong.
This is all done through a loving homage to the sixties and seventies-era for Stark–the stories that came out of the original Tales of Suspense comic and his eventual self-titled book. (They even include his theme song from the late sixties cartoon!) This is the Stark who was constantly balancing his life as an inventor and superhero with that of being the most eligible playboy bachelor of the blue bloods and owner of the biggest weapons manufacturing company in the world. A man who always effortlessly defeated the villains, kept a woman on his arm, a drink in his hand…and for whatever reason had constant encounters with Communist scientists and villains to prove the superiority of capitalist engineering.  Whether it was Slott or Zub who wrote the majority of this issue, it hews fairly close to how things were back then.
Of course, the truth is things were more complicated, even then.  The Invincible Iron Man was never quite as invincible as he seemed: doomed to wear a chestplate just to keep his fragile heart beating, constantly alienating those closest to him because of his dual lives and the danger that came with being a superhero, and an impending battle with alcoholism barrelling down at him in the second third of his original comic.  I suspect this was intentional; Stark is misremembering his past because eventually he’ll have to confront both it’s harsh reality as well as what awaits him in the present. He can’t afford to be a playboy with a devil-may-care attitude, and his enemies are much more dangerous now than they were then.  That’s why much of this Controller arc barely sees him dealing with the guy–Wasp and Rhodey are handling Stark’s light weight.  He was a threat to Tony back when his suit was made of transistors, but like many of Iron Man’s Silver Age villains, he lacks the foresight to deal with a futurist who’s survived battles with time travelers and gods.
One other thing: this issue is absolutely gorgeous.  Rivera and Schiti do an excellent job of selling the blockbuster action fight scenes while doing such a perfect pastiche of those Silver Age stories it feels like I’m reading those old Archie Goodwin stories. Beautiful stuff, and I’d love to get a flashback comic with art like that.

Transformers #1
“The World in Your Eyes Part One”
Written by: Brian Ruckley
Art by: Angel Hernandez, Cachet Whitman
Colors by: Joana LaFuente

I’ve seen some objections about this book, largely stemming from the story going back to the well of the Autobot/Decepticon War, something the last IDW comic book series left behind back in 2012. As 20+ year fan of the Robots in Disguise, I commiserate with those who have those concerns, It’s the only thing we’ve ever known, and a large part of the second half of the IDW-verse was about showing us getting away from that.
But…look at that page.  This opening issue sees writer Brian Ruckley giving us something we’ve never seen before. A pristine Cybertron.  Sure it has familiar faces, but it’s long before we got to see any of them scarred by a never-ending civil war.  The original IDW universe attempted this, but it was through a byzantine collection of one-shots and mini-series that you couldn’t piece together on your own unless you had a Wikipedia article.
We’ve never had the opportunity to see a world where it all went wrong. Better yet, this even looks like a world worth saving–this issue shows us a Cybertron with wonders undiscovered both by the reader and our POV character, Rubble. Even the stories we got pre-civil war in the original series were always this dystopian nightmare of a society brought on by the Functionists’ obsession with forcing people into specific jobs based on their alt modes, and the discrimination ‘bots suffered as a result.
But here? Optimus and Megatron aren’t bitter enemies yet; they even seem to have a begrudging respect and friendship between one another. The Decepticons don’t even exist–they’re still working on their name, and judging by this issue they’re referring to themselves as the “Ascenticons”.  This is a chance to see all the Cybertronians in a new light. A chance to see characters pick their sides–betraying friends and family while staying true to their believes.  A chance to break our hearts anew…if they don’t just rush to the boring “and now the aeons-old civil war is on Earth” parts, and I’m here for every second.  Show me how it all begins, and make me into a blubbering mess by the end.

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