WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?
Every week Hannibal Tabu (journalist/blogger/novelist/poet/karaoke host/jackass) goes to a comic book store called Comics Ink in Culver City, CA (Overland and Braddock -- hey Steve and Jason) and grabs a whole lotta comics. These periodicals are quickly sorted into two piles -- the "buy" pile (a small pile most weeks, comprised of planned purchases) and the "read" pile (often huge, often including comics that are really crappy but have some value to stay abreast of). Thursday afternoons (Diamond monopolistic practices willing, and yes, it used to be mornings, but management asked for it to slide back some), you'll be able to get his thoughts (and they're just the opinions of one guy, so calm down) about all of that ... which goes something like this ...
THE BUY PILE FOR MAY 7TH, 2008
NOTE: When compiling the initial list of comics to buy for this week, nothing stood out as a guaranteed purchase.
Jump from the Read Pile. Whoa. What can you really say about a comic book like this? For the first time in many, many moons, Tony Stark comes across not as a nascent super villain nor as a confused bureaucrat. From patching up a space shuttle to the half naked starlet in his penthouse, from an elevator meeting with Pepper to a fast-moving subcontinental fight scene, this is a Tony Stark that's smart, confident, competent, determined and handling business. Add to that whip-keen characterization of Tony's latest antagonist (who's fresh off of a run with The Order) who has a speech that's just what you want ("You wanted me to invent a cigarette that actually made the smoker lose weight. Which I did. Congrats. You're the men that'll keep big tobacco alive decades after it should have been driven into the ground. Listen, fellas. I make and manufacture nextgen weapons for terrorists and freak show lunatics. And I'm saying this. As that guy -- what you do is completely evil." Fantastic). If it were just Matt Fraction's spandex-tight script, continent hopping and delivering action and character development at a high level ("... cotton and spandex. Three for $9.99 at Target. 'L-A-M-B-O-R-G-H-I-N-I.' Have fun blowing up the bad guys"), this would be an accomplishment. But Salvador Larroca's amazingly detailed artwork -- the reflection on the armor's faceplate, the amazing leap from a 44th story window -- takes this issue from "that's great" to "holy crap, that's awesome." From a standpoint of sheer craft, this issue is virtually flawless. Again, whoa. Great work here.
Jump from the Read Pile. This series has quietly been stepping up its game for months now, but this issue finally breaks through. With a short interlude in the PRC for foreshadowing, this issue skydives and kicks butt in alleys and flies around town and generally gives Bruce Wayne's ward a showcase of his skills and development that never lags nor goes too fast for the reader to enjoy. The modern altruist hero is done to perfection here, with Dick Grayson using all the resources and skills at his command to do his "job" while keeping his regular life going as well. The verbal showdown with a major figure in the DCU was a nice bit of wordplay with a menacing finale, and the whole issue was very well balanced in terms of pacing, plot and character development.
Jump from the Read Pile. Sometimes, however, you gotta enjoy some crazy and this issue is an excellent vignette in that vein. Harassed because he had one incident of cannibalism, Mac Gargan -- the current holder of the Venom symbiote -- gets an interesting offer from some old business associates (including Mister Hyde), which leads to involving his "boss" Norman Osborn. Now, let's just add up the crazy here. Venom -- who eats people and talked somebody into killing themselves once. Check. Mister Hyde. Madman scientist and strongman hyped up on his own wacko juice. Okay. Norman Osborn. World class loon and currently grinning like a madman as he runs his own little army of psychopaths under the arguable supervision of Tony Stark. The idea that this would end badly for somebody is inevitable, but the way in which it does so is deliciously entertaining in the most inappropriate of ways. Sure, Ben Oliver's art could have been less rough at the edges, but he tells the story well enough and with clarity. Plus, best use of USB flash drives ever. Nicely done.
Jump from the Read Pile. Sunil Nair's panel placement was a bit hinkety this issue -- jagged ups and downs in the reading of the story -- but a royal audience, gunfire, political maneuvering, didactic rhetoric and a revolutionary front gave this issue a lot going on. Complicated and smart, this alternative history series has challenging and well-conceived along similar (but less epic) lines as "Rex Mundi." The continued struggle of Detective Jack Madison to find justice in a system even more challenging legal system than our own continues to fascinate.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Fantastic work given that nobody was guaranteed a spot -- way to hustle out there, everybody!
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
Matt Fraction's energy was clear in the comic that was closest to making it home without getting it done, "Punisher War Journal" #19. Jigsaw's monster making machinery was on display, a mix of Pavlov and drill sergeants with a carefully constructed trap closing in on Frank Castle spilling blood everywhere. The problem? We've seen Frank be smarter than this recently -- the idea that he'd get this comfortable and this complacent after events in recent issues either says he's a lot dumber than we've ever believed or getting too old for this &%$#.
The week's biggest surprise was "Pretty Baby Machine" #1, a throwback crime story featuring Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson and Machine Gun Kelly, all facing the overwhelming power of Al Capone. Imagine three charismatic super villains struggling under the yoke of the Kingpin (if you see that comic come out, you'll know where the idea came from) that does a great job establishing characters and the omnipresence of Capone while struggling with very muddy, very hard to discern artwork. Will this be the next "Under The Cape?" Could be ...
"Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas" #1 was damned entertaining, showcasing more of the scoundrel playboy Tony Stark that's (frankly) more fun than the oppressive government toadie we've dealt with for so long ... but for four dollars, there was nowhere near enough story here to make it worthwhile. Great fun for maybe a buck and a half less, because this issue flew by.
"Foundation" #5 was a bit too fast for a finale, racing through its final act and conclusion with only a little time for a great line about disarming a bomb and some brief action. It didn't really carry through the promise of the stronger early chapters.
Another pleasant surprise was "Dynamo 5 Annual" #1, which characterized the late Captain Dynamo as ... well, a douchebag (while being a great friend to Doc Noble) and showed how little the team knew before they started to get their act together. The bereaved wife Maddie comes off well, and the anthology-length stories are well crafted enough, but they're all so short that none of them are around long enough to satisfy, and they don't gel well as a whole. It's like a nice set of DVD extras, though.
If you liked the rough energy of "Fear Agent," you'll likely like Rick Remender's turn on "Atom" #23, where Ryan Choi finds himself in a brutal new world he may have created, fighting to save his own life and the lives of his neighbors against an increasingly problematic scientific oddity gone wrong. The supporting characters are almost fleshed out, but not so much. Not bad.
Western fans will likely enjoy "The Man With No Name" #1, which follows the Tim Duncan example in mastering the fundamentals -- taciturn protagonist, gunfights, dusty abandoned streets and a heroic struggle. You should definitely be a western fan, though, because this is an immersive experience.
"Foolkiller" #5 was an okay closing that leaves the character with a tolerable new springboard for any further adventures. A father makes hard decisions, there's the requisite show of blood, the action is solid ... but there's not much to distinguish the title character from any of a host of other determined badasses shooting people for their own idiosyncratic reasons.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" #14 was kind of fun with its romantic entanglements and the whimsy of Dracula working alongside them. Plus, Buffy's "big" sister gets a nice moment that was very cleverly conceived, but the art remains -- at best -- serviceable and the story's pacing isn't quite as well conceived as the episodic structure that spawned this.
The ending to "Gemini" #1 was an interesting choice, and the romantic tension between Luna and the title character worked, but the expository Dunder-Mifflin style control room was dry (the "numbers" didn't do much to leave an impression). At half or even two thirds the price, this'd do the trick.
If "House of Mystery" #1 had come out ten years ago, it'd be pretty good. Now? This Vertigo throwback is just a collection of weird and unfocused moments with some remarkable imagery (the fly scene will not leave your brain for days, like the idea of Nick Cannon married to Mariah Carey ... which may not be a good thing) and attempts at ambiance.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
It would have been nice to review "Big Badz" #1, but it wasn't ordered by Comics Ink. Which is a review in and of itself.
What exactly happened with that fight scene in "New Dynamix" #3? Where'd that octogenarian come from? The captions conveyed the emotions of the characters adequately enough, but it seemed like perhaps there was some kind of disconnect between script and artwork here.
Once you get past the too-crowded and busy artwork in "Transformers Movie Sequel: Reign of Starscream" #1, you might realize that -- hang on -- you've seen most of this story in the actual movie! Naw, dawg. That ain't gonna work.
If the "Rann-Thanagar War" was lackluster and boring, why not add religion to it? Because it would still be boring? Oh. Well, nobody mentioned that to "Rann-Thanagar Holy War" #1, which (inexplicably) has turned the Rannians into religious nutcases worshipping a goddess who nobody on their planet knew during the Clinton presidency (or even the first Bush one) and projects space gods as comfort during crazy times. It's also unusual how entire planetary cultures switch deities like some people change cell phone plans. "Unusual" of course meaning "stupid." Oh, and for some reason, Bizarro is in here. Seriously? Let's never speak of this again.
The "WTH?" award is back with "X-Factor: The Quick and the Dead" -- seriously, WTH?
How does "Supergirl" continue to be so lunkheaded and remain on the stands? In this issue Kara forgets to pay attention to what she keeps talking about, accidentally makes a normal villain into a much more super villain and manages to whine throughout the issue as well. This is the new "Superman/Batman" in terms of probably being the worst monthly on the stands.
Okay, "Secret Invasion" #2 -- did you intend to make Clint Barton seem like a complete freaking moron? His "veracity" test could be sussed out by even a mediocre telepath, let alone an entire species dedicated to kicking human butt. Add to that the fact that the fight in no way needed to happen (too many smart people acting dumb again) and this is another bit of evidence that maybe the Skrulls could be right ...
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
There were a good many books that were just "eh" -- not bad enough to clown but not good enough to commend -- this week ("Star Wars: Legacy" #14, "Young X-Men" #2, "Action Comics Annual" #11, "Nova" #13, "Midnighter" #19, "War That Time Forgot" #1, "Avengers/Invaders" #1). By the numbers, though, okay outnumbered awful.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Four jumps, a toughly contested victory for quality over extreme dumbness ... can't complain about that kind of win, even if it feels pyrrhic.