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 The Future Beating Victim) 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 17TH, 2008
Jump from the Read Pile. In another one of Marvel's effective anthologies, this issue has five stories set in a post-Norman Osborn Marvel universe. Of course, the first Jonathan Hickman-influenced story has been seen in other venues, but it's still pretty good, featuring Nick Fury's refusal to accept the status quo with a very inspirational cameo by a World War 2 legend. The Agents of Atlas make a big splash in forging a new path for themselves (so great to see them back in action), War Machine's got baggage, the Skrull Kill Crew seems a bit short on numbers and Mockingbird and Green Ar, er, Hawk ... uh ... Ronin try to hash out some old business. All told within a very small amount of space, all rereadable and all worth your time.
Normally, in this space, you'd see a review of the latest Bill Willingham-penned installment of the most consistent title on the stands. However, that won't happen this month. Why? Well, someone at Comics Ink -- and the suspects are few, hirsute, work in education and are vertically challenged. You see, in the issue that came home here, several pages of an early 90s issue of "Youngblood" have been stapled into the comic instead. This, apparently, was intended to be funny, and connected with jokes about the Youngblood hardcover a few weeks ago that was virtually impossible for the store to sell. However, this joke cost three dollars, which (now) can get almost two gallons of gas, or could get an Odwalla juice. It also interrupted the actual work being done here, which is like messing with somebody's money. It's the sort of thing that could make some people, without naming any names, extraordinarily upset. Upset and vengeful. So, sorry for not having this review available for you.
Jump from the Read Pile. Iron Man (stepping in to replace a murdered Ghost Rider, who looked awful in blue), Wolverine, Spider-Man and the gray Hulk, all set up in the Baxter Building. Okay. What will they do when Adam Warlock comes along, warning of Thanos' acquisition of the Infinity Gauntlet. None of Reed Richards' scientific wizardry, even with Stark around. Things play out very differently than they did in the original crossover, and in a very entertaining way. Paul Tobin's control of the characters is rock solid ("I heard you speaking my name," Thanos said, "but there was not enough fear in your voice." Spidey gets a good one near the end, but it's a bit of a spoiler itself), with his Logan being one of the most deceptively charming depictions in some time. In many ways, it's better than what actually happened, and would have made the Infinity War and Infinity Crusade never happen. Fascinating work ... but better yet, the "Final Showdown" of Mini Marvels' version of World War Hulk is haiku-filled and hilarious, ending (again) better than the real story. Fun stuff. The Runaways/New Avengers thing at the end is a throwaway. Quite a pleasant surprise.
Big bad Duke Lorraine has a lot to deal with in an issue that's intimate and action packed all at once, as a snaky advisor wheedles his way into the spheres of power. It feels like things are laboriously drawing closer to a conclusion of some sort, and sure, it's taking some time. Honestly, the ride isn't as compelling as it once was, as the details of this alternate world are less prominent than they once were and the characters here don't really do much that's new. Not bad, but not the shining star it once was.
Jump from the Read Pile. Paying attention is completely necessary for an issue that jumps back and forth in time to keep delivering hilarity in more and more extreme ways. What's making this depiction of the character so compelling, and a buy-on-sight title is the mixture of lunacy and cunning that makes everything work out in interesting and often funny ways. There's not much that can be said without spoiling the fun, but the zombies manage to be funnier and less cliche than many depictions. Great stuff.
This issue takes the lead character Blythe deeper and deeper into weird territory, but always with a grounding in strongly portrayed characters and giving the new ideas a proper airing out, helped by callbacks in the writing. There are new elements added to existing ones, making earlier events much more nuanced than before. This title's never overwhelmed, but its subtle charms are endearing.
... and we're back. Once again, Norman Osborn and H.A.M.M.E.R. are in, Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. are out. This leads Stark to set Osborn up, leaves Norman homicidally angry (kind of like, say, if somebody stapled "Youngblood" pages into his issue of "Fables" and removed the "Fables" pages so he couldn't freaking read them). Stark's playfulness and calm in the face of his failures works well, while the tension with Maria Hill plays well for the sake of chemistry. Again, more subtle and smart than the more high octane issues previously, but still pretty good.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
That "Rex Mundi" is losing steam, but otherwise it was solid (if not spectacular).
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Ultimate Fantastic Four" #59 was again carried on the surprisingly smart shoulders of a teenaged Ben Grimm, but the whole "Fantastic Voyage" shtick got old before it even started (Molevic = fail). Reed shows surprisingly "Batman-a-la-Tower-of-Babel" tendencies that could prove worrisome down the line. If the central conceit wasn't so ridiculous and foregone, perhaps it could have made the jump given the strong character work.
"Birds of Prey" #125 is a fun international romp, part buddy movie and part action thriller, as Oracle and Huntress take on the Caretaker, who's like Marvel's Collector mixed with Arcade on a calm day. Friendship and dodging assassins, not bad.
The underplayed ending of "X-Factor" #38 was better than the actual meat of the matter, using a little moral flexibility to get things done.
"Supergirl" #36 was not bad, to be an issue in this title, as confusion and emotion swirl around a high profile death, pushing characters deeper into ideological opposition. The central character's still as unadorned as a saltine, but whaddaya gonna do? This series would be better if her mom too over.
Avengers: Initiative #19 was okay, tying up "Secret Invasion" loose ends and revealing all the hidden Skrulls, wherever they were, in the Initiative.
Exactly why the end of "Thunderbolts" #127 went that way is a mystery, but Moonstone clearly doesn't know how to use the skills she has, prancing around like a preened peacock instead of a tactical-minded operative. Bullseye, you're better than that, man. Nice mean feel to it, though, fitting the expectation
"Soulfire: Shadow Magic" #1 was not bad, solid fantasy work that shows a lot of plotting improvement in Vince Hernandez' script. The art, as always, is gorgeous, and if the pacing would pick up a bit, this might get somewhere.
A funeral for a friend headlines Neocon Aveng, er, "Mighty Avengers" #20 (much like "Fables" where ... oh, never mind), with an in depth examination of people reacting to the loss of one of their own (plus a lotta splash page "recaps"). Far better tonally than it is in plot, feeling better than it actually is.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Batman and the Outsiders" #14, "Terra" #4, "Trinity" #29 (Damage Control, guys?), "Batgirl" #6, "Robin" #181, "Tangent: Superman's Reign" #10 (come on, people, pick up the pace), "Squadron Supreme 2" #6, "Spider-Man Noir" #1, "God Sized Thor" #1, "Uncanny X-Men" #505 and "X-Factor" #28.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
Re: "Age of the Sentry" #4. The Sentry with a gun is like getting hammered by Thor and then having him call in to get you audited. That's just uncalled for. Oh, and the story is hokey and retrograde. Moving on ...
Re: "Stormwatch PHD" #17. Aren't all the Wildstorm books kind of telling the same boring story, just with different characters. Post apocalyptic horror gets loose, blah blah blah. Fail.
Re: "Ex Machina" #40. Complete fail. Wholly self indulgent, its meta approach of putting the creators in the comics? No.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Call it a wash, because so little great couldn't overwhelm so little horrible, leaving us in the middle with so much just making adequacy.
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's final review is late. New content is normally posted every Wednesday, but a year-end "new material" hiatus will take place shortly.