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, Jason, Vince and Sally) 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 JUNE 4TH, 2008
Jump from the Read Pile. NOTE: The cover seen here is slightly different from what's offered at retail, which has Stark's left hand raised in more of a firing position. Iron Man starts off taking on Advanced Genocide Mechanics (the destruction of an entire people for a price, apparently) complete with their own super villain who forces Tony to do some on-the-fly brainstorming on new ways to get around. It also shows Tony's frustration, showcases (briefly) some international heroes, has Thor show up for a tense moment, gets Pepper angry and has Ezekiel Stane shows up to press the flesh. In this comic? Literally everything is right. The art? Flawless, thanks to Salvador Larroca hitting all the right notes. The script? It practically levitates, thanks to Matt Fraction, who's truly hitting his stride as a writer these days. Pacing, visual storytelling, coloring, characterization ... wow. One more issue like this and "Invincible Iron Man" with this team will be a buy-on-sight title. Fantastic.
Jump from the Read Pile. Let's say you pick up a Batman comic. You're gonna have certain things you want from it. You're gonna want some Batcave, you're gonna want some smart detective work, you're gonna want some crime and so forth. Paul Dini knows what you want. He knows what you need in your Batman comic, and he delivers big time. A mysterious series of murders attracts the attention of the Bat and Gotham's newest private investigator, The Riddler. Add in a jealous interlude with the Catwoman and a guest appearance by Detective Chimp (seriously, it's kind of good). But it's the keen mind of Bruce Wayne that shines through, doing the hard work and coming to a conclusion that leaves the preening Edward Nigma baffled. Fun, smart and self-contained.
Just when you think you know what to expect from this series, a classic Jay Faerber twist draws you right back in. Superheroics run full speed on the first few pages before internecine struggles between the family members and a felonious assault and kidnapping in order to save someone else. Yeah. Quicker than some issues and confectionery in its way, there's room for a surprisingly quiet moment with Rusty and real development of the tension for Surge, while giving Minutiae a moment to develop a bit of foreshadowing. Good stuff.
Jump from the Read Pile. If you don't know anything about this storyline, it doesn't matter. The combat and characterization here speak for themselves with Willow having some interesting aeronautics, Dawn meeting her match (in a deliciously Japanese way) and the first vampire shows why his name has been carried down through the ages. Don't slow down to breathe, because you'll miss something in an issue that provides everything hardcore Whedonites enjoy while giving the casual fan some room to hold on to. Xander has some serious moments of emotional clarity here, and the Japanese interlude comes to a messy conclusion and -- perhaps best of all for some readers -- there was some more girl-on-girl action. Did this issue miss anything? Don't think so. Excellent!
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Three jumps? Woo hoo!
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
Surprisingly, "Justice Society of America" #16 was very close to being really good, as the god Gog reveals that he's a leftover from the Third World (not the Jamaican reggae band, nor the area of the planet called "developing nations" suffering under the legacy of colonialism, but precursors of Darkseid and Highfather) and shocks the JSA with an apparent show of altruism and miraculous feats of healing. He's big and he's powerful and he apparently comes in peace ... and the JSA doesn't know what to make of it. Their inability to do much more than stand around and look like slack-jawed yokels was the major problem with this issue, but it remains interesting.
"Punisher War Journal" #20 was also closer to the mark as Jigsaw posts a bounty of fifty million Euros for the head of the Punisher while G.W. Bridge pulls in Silver Sable, Domino and the Contessa (which is much funnier if you've read recent "Avengers" issues) to help figure out the latest Frank Castle-related madness (in being called a terrorist). Frank engages in some very intensive combat with members of The Hand (also funny if you've read "Avengers," which writer Matt Fraction must know) and keeps up the close edge between gallows humor and violent action. The pace could be a little more even, and with lower gas prices or other economic factors being different, this issue would have made its way home.
"Nightwing" #145 continues one of the most compelling runs on this series, edging closer to being something to buy, as Dick Grayson jousts with Talia Al Ghul (putting some serious fear into her) while becoming the target of her Kreigstein-styled subordinate, who fields a squad of winged superhumans after the title character. The plot's smart if a bit too busy for its own good.
"Criminal 2" #3 is really good, a standalone origin story explaining the circumstances which led to the creation of the heroin-shooting femme fatale at the center of this new storyline. The narrative is well crafted, Sean Phillips' rough-hewn artwork works well ... but this issue is depressing. A solid showing of skill, but not something that this writer would like to read multiple times.
The first of the week's big "event" comics, "Trinity" #1 sets off a new round of weekly comics while essentially being just "Superman/Batman" featuring Wonder Woman. There's precious little story here, with a main section showing the three heroes in question meeting in their non-heroic identities (the "mask" of Bruce Wayne being the most effectively different) talking about a very similar dream. The Flash makes a very fast (no pun intended) guest appearance with his kids, and the back up story introduces a character who stands as the Anti-Batman (when, in fact, Prometheus does pretty much the same shtick) while working on bringing two old names back into the fray (while, fun fact, not noticing that one is working with his fin in another direction over in "Booster Gold" ... ah, hyperflies ... or is it just overworked editors?) as opposite numbers for Big Blue and Diana. A bit too vague to say anything good or bad about, but surely catching your attention ... for now.
"Nova" #14 is better in post-game analysis than it was while being read, as the last Centurion struggles with the Herald of Galactus (who makes a nice showing of character in grappling with who he is versus what he has to do) all while trying to keep a murderous spirit under lock before it can spill more innocent blood. Best here is how Galactus is presented -- as a fact beyond negotiation or reasoning -- and the turmoil within Norrin Radd. The title character is almost suicidally altruistic, and isn't much of a center to hold the issue together as far as a developed character. Still, the result here's not bad.
In the "early retcon" column, "Ultimate Origins" #1 takes us back to Ultimate Nick Fury getting the Isaiah Bradley treatment, Logan getting discovered by the government and other means of linking things together. Which, of course, seems a bit facile at this point. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't exactly good either.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
The first of this week's really, really not smart comics is "Secret Invasion" #3. There's something that many fans have suggested for some time. Even characters in the Marvel Universe have suggested it. But in this issue, it's said outright by a character here ... and if it's true, it's room for a huge reboot (as well as a similar shtick being done with another character), and if it's not, well, the Skrulls are still just messing with you, dawg. The body count climbs a little as the Initiative steps in and Jarvis lands on the helicarrier. The thing that everybody's gonna be talking about is almost an anticlimax, and as far as "story" goes, the Kirkmanesque inability for this issue to have a beginning and ending (despite the "reveal" with a character's return to action at the end) lands it on the pile with the stinky stuff.
"Rann-Thanagar Holy War" #2 isn't as bad as "Rann-Thanagar War" ... but it's not far from it. In the aftermath of a religious cataclysm, the formerly deterministic, scientific people of Rann are in the grips of an evangelistic renaissance that's less spiritual awakening than a coping mechanism for terror. Meanwhile, the once proud Thanagarians are, essentially, space pirates and freelancers like Comet and Bizarro are wandering around ... it could all congeal into something, in theory, some issues down the line. But it's not doing it here.
It's disappointing how myopic and unthinking everybody is in "Avengers/Invaders" #2, since the arrival of heroes from World War 2 could be useful for everybody. But instead of common sense, the fact that the Swordsman was among the parties who met the time-displaced Invaders on the ground led them to call everybody Nazis and start punching. When the Hippie Avengers, er, New Avengers decide to interject themselves into the situation ... well, that doesn't seem any smarter, either. Ah, whadda ya gonna do?
"Supergirl" #30 is, without a doubt, the worst comic of the week. Seriously. Given that "Supergirl" could easily be the worst ongoing comic on the market today, it's not much of a surprise, but there it is. This issue, Kara whines about not knowing what to do with herself, about people being disappointed in her showing up and not being her more famous cousin, about why her life is so awful because she's pretty and has super powers and blah blah blah. Fun fact, Kara has done the exact same style of whining in a preponderance of the issues of this series, when she wasn't busy being incompetent.
However, two comics brought back the "WTH?" Award. "All-New Atom" #24 dials back a lot of what's been said and done in the series in a confused way, and "Duo Stars Racers" #1 had art that was completely impenetrable. On both, seriously, WTH?
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
More good than bad, especially given the three comics that made the jump.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
We have a big win here, and that's a pleasure to see! Yay, comics!
... JUST ONE MORE THING