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 DECEMBER 4TH, 2008
Jump from the Read Pile. If you were gonna sit down and write an instructional manual on how to properly set up a premise, and do so in a way that entices readers to come back for more, the final result would look a lot like this comic book. Take old DC property that borders on being ridiculous. Check. Place in modern day environment -- in this case 2003 Iraq. Check. Use writing skill to quickly flesh out characters. Check, courtesy of Frank Marraffino. Toss in a twist that you could get from the solicitations, but is played out very well in the actual artwork. Check, thanks to Henry Flint with Lee Loughridge on colors (the look on the Stuarts' faces is priceless). Add some of the uncomfortable giggle value of some profanity and some playfully intended racial tension and you've got a Vertigo title worth watching. Great fun.
Jump from the Read Pile. Sure, writer Brian Michael Bendis has a man-crush on the character Luke Cage. Nothing wrong with that -- the heart wants what it wants. Here, in a private moment between Cage, his wife Jessica and his baby (what's that kid's name, anyway?) we get a look inside the roots of the relationship and reinforce the importance of their bond, which is made all the more striking by the realization (Rashomon'ed from "Secret Invasion"#8, which we'll discuss in a little while) of a terrible mistake. Art from Billy Tan, Michael Gaydos and Matt Banning tells the story well (save one slightly unclear bit in the Cage home, the linearity of the page is more "Powers" than anything else, but that's not a bad thing, just unexpected, and the pacing of the scene at the screen door is amazing) and this issue even features actual members of the Obamavengers, er, New Avengers. Good stuff.
Jump from the Read Pile. When an elder god comes back, all blessings and what not, some people can't help but suspect something. This issue (following up on the last page of the previous one), those suspicions come to light, as all kinds of craziness comes out, revealing facts from some of the crossovers (saving you the need of reading them) and setting up a big figh scene. Y'see, Gog wants something -- endless worship. Or else. The problem is that this had already divided the Society down the middle, but that rift heals, for ill or naught. This storyline has been circling the basket for a while, and it finally steps up this issue, with everybody showing their cards and settling on a side, including some who might surprise you. The only possible deficit this well-run issue could have is that it doesn't get into the reasons why a being as powerful as Gog would desire the adulation of his lessers. Not hugged enough as a kid? Bad acne during adolescence? Everything else ran smoothly on a tight script from Geoff Johns and Alex Ross ("DId you just punch a bolt of lightning?") with art by Dale Eaglesham and Nathan Massengill.
Rusty reveals some serious secrets in an issue that showcases chickens coming home to roost (really, how far do chickens get that they have to come home?), almost spelling the end of two characters. The mystery of Captain Comet's amulet gets even more mysterious, Doc makes one of the biggest mistakes a remarried man can make, and the soap opera stylings run as smoothly as a Swiss timepiece. Another confectionary classic from Jay Faerber, and for Yildiray Cinar and Jacob Baake to evoke such emotion from robotic characters is an accomplishment as well.
Jump from the Read Pile. Another title that's been flirting with coming home, this issue finally steps up its game with mystic bullets finding old friends and finding old love to help understand new circumstances. Phil Hester, Ande Parks and Guy Major deliver an artistic performance that covers multiple genres, from classical imagery to the gritty streets of Los Angeles. Jai Nitz' script jams in a lot of information while keeping up a snappy pace. There's an interesting set of guest stars at the end and a last page twist that's very surprising. Everything fell into place this issue, just like in "Justice Society," and it's wonderful to see.
Jump from the Read Pile. This could have easily gone wrong. A little known cosmic entity, a nearly unstoppable power on a rampage and more estrogen-fueled heroes on panel than you're probably used to ... this could have fallen in on itself many ways. When you've got Peter David handling the script, that improves your odds a lot. The artwork of Muhmud A. Asrar, Scott Hanna and Val Staples doesn't disappoint as well, while weaving in elements of current Marvel events (although the Sue Storm/Lyja meeting was surprisingly cordial), adding some fun bits of levity ("She's the who now?" "The Celestial Madonna." "Great. So who are you, the Galactic Britney?") and a bittersweet ending including Valkyrie that hit just the right spot. A nice surprise.
Jump from the Read Pile. Hilarity -- Chuck and his team are chasing down a spy with plans on the presidency, which goes from jumping out of planes all the way to climactic showdowns at Mount Rushmore. Chuck's Intersect flashes are again shown very smartly, capturing the effect from the show. The Obama-inspired candidate follows through on the events of the real world while also borrowing some language from one of the biggest media icons of all time. That's all fine, but what makes this issue really worth having is the last part -- the origin story of Captain Awesome. Sure, it may make a case for parental neglect, but it's also showcasing a pantheon of awesomeness that even further cements the case for a spin-off show. "I was just relaxing in my Man Room, replenishing my electrolytes and other vital fluids." That's great stuff.
Jump from the Read Pile. Set wholly in the movie continuity, this collects two web comic exclusives (that really deserve a wider audience) with a new story as well. In the Iron Man story "Fast Friends," Paul Tobin's command of the interplay between Stark, Rhodes and Potts works perfectly (especially Stark) while Ronan Cliquet and Chris Sotomayor's artwork captures the personalities and energies if the actors well (no change for the Don Cheadle recasting though). The next two stories focus on showing the bas-ass-ness of Nick Fury, from standing up to a rampaging Hulk (while morphing Moe's Tavern into "Kirby's") all the way to international intrigue and triple crosses between comrades. Surprisingly nuanced, intensely developed in a small space, this is as fun to re-read as it is taking it in the first time.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Holy crap -- seven jumps? That pratically makes the week a win by itself!
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Vixen: Return of the Lion" #3 was an improvement, showing the team dynamic of the Justice League with great deftness while mixing it in with plot-driving dialogue from Vixen herself. The ending of this issue is far too abrupt, and in a week that didn't already have seven jumps, this probably could have made it home.
"Immortal Iron Fist" #20 was also close to making it home, with flash backs and forward worthy of the good seasons of "Lost," and Danny Rand powering up like John Casey on "Chuck" last week. The problem? A very underdeveloped issue with Danny's assistant and artwork that's a big deficit in the storytelling.
"Sword" #13 gave up more information about what's actually happening, as the second of three immortals is revealed as a Mexican drug lord (whose method of extracting product is certainly not what you'd expect). The problem again is the glacial pacing, which is less of a problem here than it has been in previous issues, but remains a lingering concern.
When looking at "Hulk Family Green Genes" #1, it's a little disturbing to think of Bruce Banner as a deadbeat dad, and most of the material here is instantly forgettable (including an attempt at barbarian storytelling with Skaar, even lamer looks at Thundra's test tube baby and a reprint), the Joe Fixit/She-Hulk Vegas interlude did interest and brought back what was attractive about the gray Hulk.
There's a big surprise last page for "Terror Titans" #3, as a great deal of electrical interference brackets a meeting between Dreadbolt and his assassin father while Clock King runs the Dark Side Club more efficiently than Darkseid himself. Sure it's fun to watch the chemistry between Ravager and Clock King, but the rest of the team doesn't have much to offer by way of personality.
"Marvels: Eye of the Camera" #1 was a very good "Man on the Streets" take on the start of the age of Marvel, looking at the struggles of photographer Phil Sheldon. If your interests lie in such intimate, personal-styled stories, then you'll likely enjoy this gem from Kurt Busiek. The only concern here is essentially "Rashomon-ing" stories you already know.
"What if: House of M One-Shot" was a surprisingly close Elsworlds strory featuring powerless Avengers and X-Men facing a virtually endless army of ninjas (Did you know December 5th was the Day of the Ninja?), evil scientists and Nazi-inspired mercenaries. Peter Parker's inspirational rallying cry worked well, but the titular story with the Runaways didn't really accomplish anything.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Cable" #9, "Authority" #5, "X-Men Noir" #1, "Trinity" #27, "X-Infernus" #1, "Terra" #3 (the plot was limp, even though the dialogue and artwork was solid), "Kull" #2, "Secret Invasion: Front Line" #5, "Youngblood" #6, "Criminal Season 2" #7, "Hellboy: The Wild Hunt" #1, "Eternals" #6.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
Re: "Punisher X-Mas Special 2008." Nothing gives you the holiday spirit like murder sprinkled with racial slurs. Jason Aaron is a great talent, but this one's a clunker.
While we're at it, "Batman" #682 is another case of feeling like somebody slipped you a mickey and rogered you in a dirty bathroom. Which is basically how it feels reading many incoherent modern Grant Morrison works -- how the mighty hath fallen. Really, when people are editing this, it's hard to see anyone seriously thinking, "oh, yeah, this makes sense, sure thing, sure fire."
Seriously, can we stop with the power-free camping trip in "Superman: Supergirl Maelstrom" #3? The stuff on Apokolips might be interesting if it had some room to develop, but it just seems ... blah.
Is that all you've got, "Secret Invasion" #8? A moronic reboot? A climactic battle barely shown? This is what we waited for? Embarrasing, sophomoric, ill-conceived, dull and offering a big death in fast forward. Completely unacceptable.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Mostly okay, despite some reeeeally dumb things happening.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Seven jumps trumps "Secret Invasion" and super-camping.
Got a comic you think should be reviewed in The Buy Pile? If we get a PDF of a fairly normal length comic (i.e. "less than 64 pages") by no later than 24 hours before the actual issue arrives in stores (and sorry, we can only review comics people can go to stores and buy), we guarantee the work will get reviewed, if remembered. Physical comics? Geddouttahere. Too much drama to store with diminishing resources. If you send it in more than two days before comics come out, the possibility of it being forgotten increases exponentially.
Furthermore, as if this reviewer here wasn't obnoxious enough with his opinions, he's part of an effort to teach writers about how to do the work at The Hundred and Four, where this week Ritch Hall 2 submits a record review. New content is posted every Wednesday.