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 JANUARY 2ND, 2009
Jump from the Read Pile. Extradimensional invaders are at the door while Princess Projectra has, essentially, gone amok. The leader of the Legion is conflicted and vulnerable, needing Invisible Kid to explain it all. The team's working its way towards a solution, faced with an enemy they can't find to punch. On levels technical and interpersonal, this issue succeeds in humanizing the characters, keeping the enemy wholly mysterious (in a good way, not a "we don't know how to make them distinctive" way) and still driving the plot forward. Solid work here.
Jump from the Read Pile. Imagine if "Wanted" wasn't so open about its hatred of all of its readers, and was driven more by characterization than mercantilism. You'd probably have something close to this brilliant, engrossing issue by the "Sleeper" team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, pouring a delicious deluge of noir into the extrahuman genre. Zack Andersen is a former super villain given a chance at "normalcy" and chafing at its restrictions. He said, "The disguise was like a second skin between me and this place. An empty layer of truth between all the lies. And beneath that layer, I felt alive for the first time in years. Literally years. And that, really, is where all the trouble started." Brubaker and Phillips put you right down on the street, right next to the character in an intimate way. Fantastic work here, paced perfectly and depicted with almost effortless ease.
Jump from the Read Pile. This issue seemed like a fairly standard punchfest for several pages, sprinkled with some fun dialogue and interplay between two sets of characters that writer Dwayne McDuffie knows inside and out. The banter sparkles: "Less talking, more hitting!" "Something you should know about me. I don't respond well to sarcasm." Then, just a little after the center staple, the plot takes a surprising turn with a conversation that reframes everything, and a poster-worthy last page reframes it all once again. Great surprises, great action and crisp visual storytelling featuring poster-worthy art from Jose Luis, JP Mayer and Peter Pantasiz.
Jump from the Read Pile. "It's a Christmas miracle!" Truer words rarely spoken, as this deeply funny issue sits Frank Castle and a Gatling gun atop a surprising rooftop, planning to whack a new crew before they get started. Maybe you saw the preview posted here at CBR and saw some of the excellent humor here. But a surprise guest star (who had one of the best lines: "They're stickup men with illusions of grammar ...") and Castle's implacable determination make this a comical snowfallen interlude with a relatively small body count but a sense of antici-(say it)-pation that's breathtaking. Too easy to spoil by discussing details, suffice it to say that this is a standalone issue that could easily be a re-readable holiday classic (far better than the grim "X-mas Special" that came out a few weeks ago) and a suitable capstone for a series that was often on-target.
The battle for Golden Boughs begins in earnest with storybook characters going at one another, blood lust in their eyes. The fearsome weapons of Mister Revise are released, unstoppable Doubling Rooks in the skies as just what's inside the Bagmen is revealed. On the other side, the Bookburner's Knifejohns leap into the fray, and the sheer weight of his army is poised to overflow the battlements. Meanwhile, the title character stays focused on the things so important to him -- sleeping with hot women, looking good, eating tacos and talking trash. At the end, the Pathetic Fallacy makes a realization that seems insignificant on the surface (to even some characters in the issue) but once considered has huge possible ramifications. Covered in a canopy of snow, this all happens with tons of the kind of in-jokes once enjoyed in "Top 10," and more of Bill Willingham's snappy dialogue. Fun stuff.
Jump from the Read Pile. No big spoiler, in that the series is solicited for months to come, but the last page surprise is ... well, addressed here, as the latest Dr. Polaris continues his south-of-the-border rampage ("I expected a little more from you. The big bad protector of El Paso and the legacy of a hero with some renown"). Meanwhile, romance blossoms amidst the chaos ("Wait ... are you pregnant? Is it mine?"), there's an interesting turn when local talent gets upset and the title character makes a strong stand for being "a hero for everyone, no matter who they are, where they come from or how they got here. Oh, and by the way ... the guy who's responsible for all this? Rich white guy. Just sayin.'" Sure, the artwork has some concerns (check the faces of the Latinos who address Polaris -- WTH?) but still a great thrill ride with fantastic views along the road.
Jump from the Read Pile. Homaging up some pages from Watchmen, Doom is finally victorious over all in this wonderfully detailed elseworlds tale. Pick somebody, anybody. Doom takes 'em on. Dealing with global warming, his mother's indentured soul, the threat of the superhero community (his solution for Tony Stark is particularly brilliant), the Celestials, Atlantis, Attilan and even unconquerable Wakanda ("Wakanda fell in just under an hour"). Wielding the power of the Beyonder, then (as the cover shows, so no spoiler here) sliding on the Infinity Gauntlet for kicks, Doom's drive for pan-galactic domination is relentless and enthralling. The ending, however, is so poetic and so balanced (in all the ways that, say, the conclusion to Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series wasn't) that it almost hearkens that final "Majestic" story by Alan Moore ... with a much more ruthless undercurrent. Stellar work here. Oh, but then there's that "What if the Runaways became the Young Avengers" backup, which you can just as easily forget about.
Jump from the Read Pile. The surprise of the club scene is the biggest reason to buy this issue, but it's the through line of the Joker's quotable whimsy and lunacy that drives this along, making it a must have. Add an Azreal joke, great pomposity from Maxie Zeus gone off his meds and more of Onomatopoeia's murderous madness and you've got another pretty fun book from Kevin Smith ... that's on time, as well!
Jump from the Read Pile. Facing the problem faced in Mark Waid's "Empire," Megatron sullenly strides across the broken face of the Earth, considering what to do with the complete power he's obtained, with Starscream as a persistent Iago in his auditory receptors ("Who would have thought the worst move you could have made would be to win?"). Meanwhile, internal factions within the Decepticons start to fall in on one another while Kup leads the Autobots to desperately try and regroup (giving new character Drift a chance to show his stuff, while Perceptor got "scary. When did Perceptor become scary?") and the last human powers standing make a fateful, almost Linderman-esque decision. Complicated internecine struggles make this much quieter than the previous issues filled with sound and fury, but still compelling work.
Jump from the Read Pile. The central monologue of Lincoln Red Crow, not a spoiler at all, is the axis upon which this tour de force spins and does so well. Almost like the mantra of many super villains (and some presidents), he said, "My name is Lincoln Red Crow, and I consider myself an honorable man. Spiritual. Respectful of my elders. Kind to animals. A friend of nature. A tender lover. A benevolent politician. An honorable man, sure, but that doesn't make me a nice guy." When Red Crow shows "what I'm capable of," it's something to see, like when Jack Bristowe broke out of being tied to a chair and whacked a bunch of guys on "Alias." Challenging work like "The Sopranos" or "Californication" (the first season) but imminently readable, and almost a standalone, barely recognizable as the last chapter of a longer story.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Eight jumps? Holy crap, 2009, way to throw down the gauntlet! Fantastic stuff.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Star Wars: Legacy" #31 brought a long-standing storyline to a big conclusion ... but you can barely tell from the matter-of-fact visual storytelling. Big changes for the galaxy as a whole and characters in particular, tying the "Vectors" storyline up while settling a lot of things on Coruscant ... really, there was too much here for a single, regular sized issue. All interesting ideas, even if they were crammed into the back seat of a 1978 VW Beetle.
Gog was less than godly in "Justice Society of America" #22, which tacked on a saccharine post script to "Kingdom Come" and even had time for two characters to suck face. Still, given the teamwork and chemistry, this issue stayed close to making it, if only the final "fight" had been more of a, well, fight.
There's improvements in "Cyblade" #2, which brings up this week's second reference to the TV show "Alias," as this series has taken on some of the show's energies (from the good early seasons, maybe "Welcome to the Dollhouse" as well) and given it a superhero spin. A tragic, twisted love story is intertwined with lost memories and angst. Not quite strong enough on the "why" behind the story, but working its way to being somebody.
In a way you might barely be able to accept, the real Hank Pym has dinner with the deceased Janet Van Dyne in "Avengers: Initiative" #20, working through some issues and figuring out just how far back he was swapped out. Meanwhile, Gauntlet reactivates the Shadow Initiative and we finally find out who Mutant Zero is. Emotional and talky, it's not a bad issue in its way.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" #8 suffered from an overabundance of good ideas. Adam Warlock's crusade against the Universal Church, "King" Blastarr's plans for Peter Quill, the Badoon's weapon testing ... all of this was interesting and given way too little room to breathe. Where many comics spread things out too far, this one instead tries too hard in each issue.
The super-powered gang the Y-Men (seriously, even though there are completely different Y-Men in "incredible Hercules" this week) in "Young X-Men" #9 are a tricky bit of business, as Ink figures out a way to deal with the problem that's quite innovative and solves a lot of problems at once. Getting better, but not there just yet.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Batman" #684, "Superman" #683, "Final Crisis: Secret Files," "Teen Titans" #66, "Captain America" #45, "Marvels: Eye of the Camera" #2 (outlandishly slow), "Ultimate X-Men" #99" and "Incredible Hercules" #124.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
Do not read "Ultimate Hulk Annual" #1. Don't pick it up, don't look at it. Zarda from "Supreme Power" meets the Ultimate Hulk, naked and looking for pancakes (nobody wants to know where he kept his money). Things happen here that you will not be able to unlearn. Consider yourself warned. Ew.
"Green Lantern" #36 is almost so bad that it's good. Almost. The Blue (Hippie) Lanterns appear to showcase their much slower selection process (days of interviews with the renegade Guardians) and their powers (amplifying and using a X'ian Coy Manh-esque ability to pull out a person's fondest desire) while Red (Rage) Lanterns drain Sinestro like he was Dexter's brother in season one and the Love Lanterns (whatever color the Star Sapphires were) "convert" a Sinestro Corps member ... by the time you get to the plan for Hal Jordan, you might be laughing so hard you'll throw up your spleen. Not in good way. Wow.
Speaking of abominably bad, "Kick-Ass" #5 parades lameness and incompetence as accomplishment as "heroes" seek popularity more than justice. This issue could almost be seen as an indictment of comics fandom and a statement of unabashed hatred for the fans who have poured so much money into Mark Millar's coffers. Honestly, that's just kind of sad.
Dark Arcana? Justice Arcana? The tarot focus has gone a little bit too far, "Trinity" #31. Can we stop treading water and get somewhere.
"Fantastic Four" #562 featured the Funeral of the Invisible Woman, with Sue Richards giving the eulogy. Don't freak out -- it's all time travel lunacy, again, chatty and emotional in an okay way. However, when Doom talks about his "master," the "first super villain," he's probably not talking about Apocalypse, Varney the Vampire anybody else that won't become a retcon. Which is sad, in a way.
Ultron? Seriously "Avengers/Invaders" #7? Stop it! Just ... just, stop it!
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
The bad stuff really stank, but there was enough good stuff to outweigh it.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Eight jumps and a tough fight in the reads that won on numbers leads to one hell of a great way to start 2009.
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.
The Hundred and Four is on hiatus until February 18th.