The Buy Pile

Thu, December 11th, 2008 at 1:28pm PST | Updated: December 11th, 2008 at 2:47pm

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

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 ...

NOTE: Staffers at Comics Ink have noted that people have come by the shop early on Wednesdays, looking for this intrepid columnist.  The thing is that this columnist works all day in Pasadena, then drives the 25-plus miles south to Culver City, never, ever arriving before 5:15 PM.  Well, unless it's a weird holiday or something.  If comics ship on a Thursday (or, like the end of the year, on a Friday), the reading and buying and what not all get done on Saturday afternoon.  Stalkers, please update your calendars.  Also, if you are there to assassinate this columnist, please don't do it near the shop, because the industry can't afford the bad press.  Right then, off we go ...

THE BUY PILE FOR DECEMBER 10TH, 2008

"Secret Six" #4
Secret Six #4 (DC Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.  When you look up the phrase "wrong fun" in the dictionary, you'll see smiling photos of the cast of this title, which is now officially a "buy on sight" title.  The team (there are only five of them, by the way, kind of like how Jurassic 5 has six members) have found out just what everybody's all worked up about, and the gravity of it starts team members sniping at one another.  Then they all head to Vegas, which plays out a little like "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" when CJ gets to Las Venturas, but with more violence.  Yeah.  Great twists at the end from Gail Simone's deliciously evil script, great art from Nicola Scott, Doug Hazelwood and Jason Wright.  

"Green Arrow and Black Canary" #15
Green Arrow and Black Canary #15 (DC Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.  New writer Andrew Kreisberg is here to play.  In one of the most intimate narratives of the year, taking place along "1.078 seconds," the titular archer has to make a snap decision to save the life of the woman he loves.  Along the way, you get his origin story, get status checks on all of the supporting characters and even stop a wife beater, with an ending that's smart and fittingly poetic.  

"Phonogram: The Singles Club" #1
Phonogram: The Singles Club #1 (Image Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.  Speaking of people who showed up for the job in a major way, the team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McElvie have made a virtually flawless single issue comic book.  The main story -- looking closely at the "phonomancer" Penny B as she takes in a night of clubbing with best friend and fellow musical magician Laura Heaven -- still has a lot of the idiosyncratic and somewhat insular vocabulary of people who enjoy a certain brand of pop music (Shalamar fans can go bite it, ditto for your Tom Petty aficionados).  However, this issue has a singular (no pun intended) focus and a narrative intensity that's both endearing and vibrant.  The previous series suffered from a great deal of drifting from here to there and getting caught up in the love of its own language.  This issue is like a laser focused on storytelling, and with two splendid backups (one drawing on the powerful and evocative artwork of Lauren McCubbin and a second humorous turn drawn by Marc Ellerby) alongside, all in a remarkably pretty package. That makes this a pretty good value at $3.50.  

"DMZ" #37
DMZ #37 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Apparently, it took a while for Matty Roth to make his way home from Staten Island, and it led to a number of surprises waiting for him on the embattled island of Manhattan, the centerpiece in a new civil war.  This leaves him single and stuck in a messy political situation that has no clear out and still, inexplicably, involves his mother.  Talky and leaving the lead character more confused than anything else, this is a good issue that had room to be great -- Parco Delgado's day one speech began to take off but kept itself in a holding pattern, and his "plan" borders on the lunatic.  Still, entertaining for all that.  

"Justice League of America" #28
Justice League of America #27 (DC Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.  The last time Icon and Superman met, DC's greatest hero almost got his head handed to him.  This time, for reasons that are largely unclear, he's alongside Hardware and the Shadow Cabinet, showing up at the doorstep of Dr. Light (the female one).  That's a whole lotta power on a mission with as much secrecy as the Legion had when they left Thom Kallor with the JSA.  Meanwhile, Hawkgirl throws a monkey wrench in her relationship with Red Arrow, Batman proves that Wonder Woman's faster than Superman ("Who's faster, Usain Bolt or Bruce Lee?"), Black Canary takes charge in quite an impressive manner and Vixen returns to the fold.  Sure, many Milestone fans will flock to this issue justf for the chance to see their favorites depicted by Ed Benes.  But underneath this, writer Dwayne McDuffie brings back his classic characters -- skimping just a bit on characterization, admittedly, but it's quite a lot of characters on screen at the same time -- with an intriguing set up and it's worth the look just to watch a master at work, playing with most of his favorite toys.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Four jumps, all good reading ... damned fine start, there.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy

The week's biggest surprise that came closest to coming home was "Fathom" #4, which had a much clearer picture of the plot, the struggle between the surface world and undersea peoples.  With just a bit more focus on characters, this could do it.  Quite an improvement.

"Secret Invasion: Dark Reign" wasn't bad, where the Illuminaughty (blame Wizard World Rosemont for that one) meet much more quickly than Stark's version, settling up on the hows and why fors that they'll achieve the day evil won, as this final crisis leads to a world where the bad guys run the show, and ... hang on, which company are we on again?  In any case, the art was solid but not amazing, and that could have helped sell this a bit more.  Also, to be honest, with Norman Osborn thinking more like a politician and less like a super villain, doesn't he owe Christopher Priest's creation Hunter the White Wolf at least a name check, or a fat government contract?  Just saying ...

If you like the idea of horror comics set in space, "Green Lantern Corps" #31 would do it for you, a creepy, disturbing story about murder and mental domination, about hypnotic sweat and betraying your friends.  Not the cup of tea for this reviewer, but certainly well done and worth buying for those who enjoy that sort of thing.

"Adam: The Legend of the Blue Marvel" #2 was okay, but took a lot longer than the first issue to get anywhere.  Marvel's earth was filled with racist thought in the 1960s, all the way from personal invective to public policy -- shocker!  What's that?  All that happened in the real world too?  All that's still happening, Obama notwithstanding?  Well, good points, but Kevin Grevioux' script treats you to an indictment and history lesson all the same.  Maybe the next issue will move the story forward instead of spending so many panels looking back.

You'd wanna like "Final Crisis" #5, with many great moments (the opening five pages were fantastic, Mary Marvel's quite something to see in action, and Darkseid monologues like nobody else in the business).  The problem with this, and so many post "X-Men" Grant Morrison comics, is that at the end of it you feel the same way -- like somebody who woke up sticky and alone, having some vague memory of having a good time but unable to really comprehend the string of random images floating in your brain, or possibly even captured on a camera phone.  However, by the way, "It calls itelf 'Granny Goodness'" (emphasis added to spotlight the typo) ... unacceptable.  Okay, the editors are overworked.  Fine.  We get it.  But even Gmail's spell checker would have caught that.  Let's try a bit harder, especially on a high profile issue like this, shall we?

Speaking of Grant Morrison, Paul Cornell plays like a poor man's version of the mad genius in "Captain Britain and MI-13" #8, which had its share of zaniness in otherworldly realms and with magic swords, but was just not coherent enough to make it all work and certainly never took you to the heights Morrison is capable of manifesting.  

"Final Crisis: Revelations" #4 was okay, as Vandal Savage/Cain wields the Spear of Destiny and runs amok on some really serious powers, all while chanting Darkseid's name.  Tying the whole Religion of Crime into Anti-Life was a neat trick, but the "Dogma" style tying of the presence's virtual hands seemed a bit facile.  

"Elephantmen" #14 was not bad, almost spending enough time on the big picture -- combat in space, war between superpowers -- but got bogged down a bit in a hospital, which went way too slowly.  Interesting ideas, though, and a bit of tragedy for one girl.  

The art was gorgeous in "Transformers: Maximum Dinobots" #1, but the title's misleading. Only Grimlock has dialogue, and there's more Sunstreaker on panel than any Dinobot.  Really a continuing chapter in the overall narrative the company is presenting, IDW needs to just quit with the one offs and make an ongoing series.  

The "Meh" Pile  Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title

"Trinity" #28, "Invincible" #56, "Civil War: House of M" #4 (lost some momentum), "Nightwing" #151, "X-Men: Ghost Boxes" #2 (or was it really "X-Men: The End?"), "Superman/Batman" #54 (which is almost an improvement for what's been one of the consistently worst titles on the stands), "What If Captain America: Fallen Son" (not as whiny as the original, thankfully).

No, just ... no ...  These comics?  Not so much ...

Sorry, okay, "Action Comics" #872?  The Kandorian Kryptonians are supposed to be smart, right? Yet they're gonna fall for a shtick as predictable as that?  Also, The Creature Commandos were a wholly useless cameo (Marvel's version didn't work out so well, why did anybody think this one would be better?), Superman's suffering from a big case of Cassandra Complex and honestly a lot more "captured alien thriller" stuff between Brainiac and Luthor would have been better.  

Speaking of comics that failed, "Titans" #8?  The extended drug trip?  No. Plus, how many times are we gonna recycle this same basic story?  Tedious.  

It was sad to see an unspoiled Ralph Dibny in "Booster Gold" #15, and the sophomoric behavior of the title character and his sister didn't do much to make this issue a keeper.  I think Hiro Nakamura is telling us something -- time to stop with the time travel.  It's not helping.  We're looking at Cable too, but let's try and stay on topic.  

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

The dumbest stuff wasn't that bad, some ambitious attempts ... that's not a bad thing.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Four jumps plus harmless reads equals win.  Go comics, woo hoo!

THE BUSINESS

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 this column's writer finally takes a look at "The Dark Knight."  New content is posted every Wednesday.

TAGS:  secret six, green arrow and black canary comic, phonogram comic, review

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