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 24TH, 2008
Jump from the Read Pile. Bang! In a gritty, hard boiled tale, the title character borrows from both the Bruce Wayne and Frank Castle schools of crimefighting, using technology, gunfire and determination to pursue an agenda against the elements of organized crime. This issue picks up where the character left off guest starring in "Nightwing" (and referencing it obliquely), bringing the pain to disparate criminals, hunting for the perpetrators of big crime (the election bombings, remember that abominable "DC Universe: Decisions" mini, which even those other reviews panned? Another oblique reference to that, which picks up a loose end left undone over there). Why? It's hard to say -- the lead character's motivation, identity, rationales, history ... all a cipher. That's possibly the only real criticism you could have of this issue, which has well realized supporting characters, a great atmosphere for crime fiction and fast moving and up-close artwork from Rick Leonardi, John Stanisci and David Baron. Backgrounds aren't so much of a focus for either the art team nor the writing, and it moves fast enough to keep that from mattering, theorizing that somebody who wants to shoot criminals probably doesn't need them. Quite re-readable nonetheless.
Jump from the Read Pile. Speaking of unexplained issues, how a fifty-foot tall giant robot exploding and smashing through San Francisco becomes a challenged eight or nine foot tall cyborg isn't openly explained, but chances are that the latter piloted the former. That minor quibble settled, this issue shows exactly how Gigantic came to be and why he's back on earth. Problem is, like Mojo and Longshot, the network's not happy to see their star go off script, and the reveal he has in mind changes everything for the entire species. Big ideas, coherent plot, solid action, a touch of pathos and an ending that's a shocker. What else could you ask for? Here's hoping this mini can keep it up.
Shapechanging secret agent Ezra Lowe is having a bad day, as he is taken at gunpoint by his co-workers and forced to confront the idea that he's gotten the Wolverine treatment, barely posessing a single idea in his brain that is his own. Even more so than "Gigantic," his issue's heavy on explanation, winding through alternative history and building up a backdrop for this world of extrahuman spies. There's a great last page reveal, nice storytelling around a lot of needed exposition.
Jump from the Read Pile. This column is an advocate of guidebooks -- that's no secret. The idea of having a definitive commentary on Mr. Negative's energy projection rating or Scorpia's strength (25 tons? Really?) is fine and dandy. However, this comic has another real strength that's a great service to fans everywhere -- picking up after the Mephisto deal, this bullet points out the story lines dominating Peter Parker's life. The reason why this matters? These stories were terrible. Parker locking lips with JJJ twice (trying to perform CPR, but still)? The Freak's rampage (imagine Darwin gone horribly wrong ... on drugs)? "Spider-Tracer Killer?" Kraven's daughter? Overdrive (wasn't he an enemy on "Teen Titans Go" who stole Cyborg's car? Or isn't he like that Bochs guy from "Alpha Flight?")? Worst of all, Anti-Venom? Wow. Had you spent actual money on all these comics ... that'd be horrible. However, catching up on all of it, plus getting guidebook data on these wackos, for just five bucks? Sold. Seriously, these days, Spidey works best as an ensemble player or a guest star.
Half of this issue is taken up with Lt. Peregrine's husband having an ... interesting trip with Premise Keepers, trying to get a grip on his personal "identity crisis." That's interesting stuff, revealing a weird corner of the Top 10 universe, but the capture of an old man giving away powers is as interesting (and has a great panel with ice that could easily be a poster). Add to that a great showing by robotic officer Joe Pi (shades of "Hill Street Blues" energy there, really great character work with him and his partner) and the always stunning artwork. There's even a few more of the in-jokes that used to be such a joy with this series (the "This isn't a beer gut. It's the fuel tank for a sex machine" t-shirt's a classic). Well done and fun stuff.
Jump from the Read Pile. Looking ahead -- you'll get a chance to meet the Iron Fist of the year 3099 (and he's a surprise, last name and all) ... as well as the Fat Cobra of that era (who's considerably less fun and/or cool). It's a done-in-one story about determination and hope that sneaks up on you, with lucid artwork by Timothy Green and Edward Bola and a patient but crafty script by Duane Swiercznski. Not much one can say without spoiling it, but this issue is a treasure, another step in building a greater legend for the property.
Jump from the Read Pile. A limited release comic produced by an actual Iraq veteran (writer and co-artist Sergeant Richard C. Meyer), this issue has a lot of surprises. First of all, the storytelling -- kind of a flashback thing, working in a similar structure as Kyle Baker's "Special Forces" -- is adept and smart, a big surprise for a relative neophyte. Second of all the art -- while lacking some polish in a face or two and what have you -- remains very detailed, very well composed and has good kinetic motion in the action sequences. Third of all, according to many third party reports which have very similar tones, it seems very accurate in its fidelity to the experience of US troops sent to fight. Fourth, the story here is thrilling, filled with uncertainty and tension, moving smartly from point to point while fleshing out characters like clearing an area of hostiles. If you ever got a chance to check out the FX series "Over There" then you'd probably recognize the tense balance between humor as a coping mechanism and the horrors of young men dying fast and hard. This story doesn't cheerlead the war nor does it dehumanize the "enemy" (the armed forces the soldiers struggle against get little panel time period), but focuses on the intensity and intimacy of the soldiers' story itself, monologuing a bit at the end about what the soldiers get if they come home and what the lead character feels they deserve. A huge surprise, a very mature piece of literature, and a distinctive honor to the men and women in uniform, regardless of what you personally think of "why" they're there.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Five jumps and even the worst of the purchases -- that "Spider-Man" madness and Vigilante's unidimensionality -- entertained greatly.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Unknown Soldier" #3 continued a trend of improvement, as the titular character was faced with a completely impossible situation and just had to kind of "soldier up," with the voice in his head ready for it. This book makes "Scalped" look cheery by comparison ... but if the title keeps picking up steam this way, it could start making it home.
"She-Hulk" #36 was another complicated political situation which placed Jen in a scary situation and forced her to make some hard, and sneaky, choices. It didn't quite satisfy, somehow, slapping an improvised band-aid on a hemorrhaging problem, but there were some moments of brilliance.
Much will be said about "Ultimatum" #2, with the deaths that happen here, which indeed make virtually no one seem safe (the double-blond team up especially -- not the earthbound one, the magical one). It's certainly bold, but it's hard to say whether or not it's actually good.
Just above "meh" level is "New Warriors" #19, which switcheroos two characters and shows a twisted future that's everything Luke Cage feared about the SHRA. The story zigs and then zags, and could throw you if you're not careful.
"Ms. Marvel" #34 was a surprise with a web-spinning team-up (again, the best of Peter Parker's modern appearances happen when he's not alone) that had an interesting conclusion (and one hard to pull off if she's gung ho to arrest him) alongside 80 teraflops of raw data on Norman Osborn. This title keeps lingering right near that border separating "mediocre" and "good," but so rarely crosses into the domain of the latter, and mostly just a toe.
Not so sure about the time travel implications of Loki's work in "Thor" #12, where we find out why he looks like an girl and get a scary look at his personal history. But Hela's posted up in Vegas, and that's interesting.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Brave and the Bold" #20, "Captain America: Theater of War, America First," "Wildcats" #6 (more of the same happening in all the Wildstorm books these days, but with the added fun of infidelity tossed in), "Reign in Hell" #6 (all over the place), "Trinity" #30 (same thing, invoking Joseph Campbell before bringing out Vandal Savage in an elseworlds setting), "Wonder Woman" #27 (she whines and bleeds through most of it), "Daredevil" #114 (more whining).
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
WTH Award Recipient #1: "Patsy Walker: Hellcat" #4. When the dad gets strapped to the car as a tire, this has gone completely off the rails. Plus, shacked up that way ... one almost longs for the clean, simple drug-induced lunacy of Grant Morrison and "Final Crisis." Almost. Wholly incomprehensible.
WTH Award Recipient #2 (not as zany): "Umbrella Academy: Dallas" #2. No idea WTH happened here -- just largely incomprehensible, by comparison.
Speaking of Grant Morrison, while "Batman" #683 reached valiantly for coherency, it fell short with its Alfred-centric take (helpful even as a delusion) degenerating into further navel gazing and time wasting, deferring actual plot developments. Again.
"Flash" #247 was lame, as the Queen Bee barely even showed up as a threat (remember when she used to take on the whole Justice League at once?) using such an easy-to-defuse "secret weapon" (and using the Skrull trick that failed so badly in "Secret Invasion: Inhumans").
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
The bad's mostly confusing, the good's mostly just okay.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Five jumps beats a washed out set of reads, so let's call it a big win with an indie shocker, great writing from a host of talents and big mayhem all around.
Many wondered about what happened with the whole "Fables" practical joke last week. The short of it is that last week's issue had been disassembled and put back together with pages from an early 90s issue of "Youngblood." This was infuriating because it messed with money -- it took three bucks of this column's money and returned a piece of unreadable crap (there wasn't enough of either issue to make out a whole story) and also screwed with the production of this column.The photo you see here is a container of gravy from Boston Market, purchased on the 24th. Adam often commented that he'd rather pound cold gravy than read several comics, and a reckoning of gravy was planned for that day. With or without the container, orally or not, that gravy was going into him, whether he liked it or not.
Unfortunately, he was spared this meaty fate. The actual culprit was store owner Steve. "We thought you'd appreciate the humor!" Steve protested, apologizing and offering some measure of atonement. "I'm honored that you'd think I could be that clever," Adam laughed nervously, not yet realizing that a code like Dexter's prevented his maiming. This week.
You can't exact revenge on your comics retailer. It doesn't work. Striking at him is striking at yourself -- endangering your discount on new comics, probably even necessitating moving to a new store and getting to know a whole new cast of crazies, a whole new layout. Life's too short. So the story ends ... well, sort of like "Secret Invasion" or "52" -- unsatisfyingly, with justice unserved and with no real consequence. Bah humbug all day on that.
But back to the real business of the column: 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, which is on hiatus until February 18, 2009 ... although that last Lupe Fiasco review will get online this week, god pound it.
Finally, today's the first day of Kwanzaa, representing unity, so happy holidays to you and yours.