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 7TH, 2009
There are five hundred and eight bricks in question. That's serious business. The brothers Aaron and Tig are back, and they're downright cheery. Junior's back, and he's quite determined. The team's falling in on each other and Cheshire has a bad day. With funny dialogue ("it's not dainty!"), solid action and the last couple of pages ... well, if they don't disturb you, there's something deeply not right inside your dome piece, home piece. This series just keeps on doing the job, and it's a sure winner between Gail Simone's alarming script and the intimate, detailed artwork of Nicola Scott, Doug Hazelwood, Rodney Ramos and Jason Wright.
Jump from the Read Pile. Black Bolt, lord of the Inhumans, is ... upset. This is bad news for many, many people. As you may have noted in the preview posted here at CBR, the Inhumans are on the road and they're setting up a lot of widows and orphans amidst the stars. With Maximus playing his best "Crazy" Dr. Baltar (no hallucinations, just whimsy and mad genius), Crystal acting as the reluctant voice of reason and Karnak explaining it all like Clarissa, the Inhuman royal family makes quite a compelling cast here, as written by star-spanning scribes Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, with Paul Pelletier, Bong Dazo, Rick Magyar, Joe Pimentel, Wil Quintana and Mike Kelleher making these alien spaces feel realistic using their artwork.
Jump from the Read Pile. It's all about the fight scene between Uncle Sam and the title character, as the involvement of blade-handed villain Vorpal is almost parenthetical. Sure, the Freedom Fighters are in this, and outnumber their mystical adversaries 3-1. It's still a struggle all the way down for the patriotically themed team, and their leader doesn't do so well in the fight dialogue department. Sam: "You think America has blood on its hands? I know who you are, Chato. I know what you've done." El Diablo: "Of course you do. You're the surface of the American dream. But I'm the guts." Later, Sam said, "The American dream is a bigger idea than you can wrap your little head around, son. America is above your quest for vengeance." El Diablo: "Tell that ... to the Indians!" Tons of that make this a great issue, and while the ending's a little "whu-whu-whu-whaaaaaat?" the whole package works. This mini is catching fire in its second half.
Tony Stark shows his smarts here, with some interesting character work done around Maria Hill and Norman Osborn revealing his plan while maintaining concealment around the fact that he's stark (no pun intended) raving bat**** crazy. There's great emotion, great tension, some Jason Bourne-style action and some of the snappiest dialogue in comics, all courtesy of the probably genius mind of Matt Fraction. Toss in deeply cinematic artwork by Salvador Larroca and Frank D'Armata and you've got high quality comics there, pal.
Jump from the Read Pile. First of all, the script from Frank Marraffino could be considered, by some, as racially insensitive. It uses terms that many could find insulting. It dodges the importance of these issues by being interesting, funny and smart, often at the same time. Understanding that the only way racial slurs can even be properly understood is by creating an entertaining context for them, this issue places a tank crew in the Iraqi desert alongside the ghost of a Confederate general hell bent on helping them, whether they want it or not. Toss in quotes from Cypress Hill and Third Bass while enjoying the artwork of Henry Flint and Lee Loughridge (as good with up close facial expressions as they are with panoramic battle scenes) and you've got a series working hard at proving itself worthy of "buy-on-sight" status. Maybe Marraffino has found a way to use all the nasty racial slurs he could think of and get away with it. Like "Rescue Me," it's still damned entertaining.
Jump from the Read Pile. Brace yourself: after noting that Marvel has published over 32,000 comics/magazines/whatever since October 1939's "Marvel Comics" #1, this issue is the start of "a project that aspires to catalog as many of those issues as possible." Go on, roll that bad boy around on your tongue, get a feel for it. Don't believe it? All right, how about September 1965's "Where The Juggernaut Walks?" From Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, apparently, Juggs threatened Professor X, Johnny Storm gets a call for help (and drives a Corvette Stingray) and Chuck builds a (seriously) "mento-helmet." The Red Barbarian makes his only appearance ever in June 1963's "Tales of Suspense" #42, while Norton G. Fester makes his first appearance in "Amazing Spider-Man" #36, way back in 1966. Not only the characters appearing, but where they'll appear next and the creative team and the plot and the locations where the action happened ... wow. Screw back issue bins. Forget about eBay auctions. Here it all is, broken down and simplified. Fantastic.
Jump from the Read Pile. Despite the cover's brave statement -- "DCU, Meet Static!" -- the electrical themed teen hero has only one real purpose in this issue, which is a much more interesting psychological study of the weird villain machine Clock King is putting together. His twisted relationship with Ravager becomes strained, Persuader learns a hard lesson, Bolt has an interesting time with Disruptor and Star Spangled Kid gets a whole host of cocktails. This issue is mean at the core and mean at the edges, with Sean McKeever's script illuminating the hostilities and tension between these legacy characters, while the artwork by Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson and Rod Reis gets the reader up close and personal with every moment.
Jump from the Read Pile. Just barely made it through the wonderful narrative framing devices ("Now I just want him home safe") and the thorough development of a part of Metropolis that's rarely ever seen, virtually a character itself. Equal parts "Lean On Me" and "The Principal" with shades of a prodigal son thrown in, the expository dialogue's thick but skillfully presented, The 100 seem credible in a way they haven't been in years and all around Jen Van Meter takes you inside the heads and lives of these characters, making them vibrant and important. A pleasant surprise.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Holy crap, six jumps? 2009 is kicking all kinds of backside already! Nice work, DC!
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Anna Mercury" #5 could have been enjoyable if it didn't feel like it was over in half a second. Not enough there to justify four bucks.
Speaking of ladies of action, "Vixen: Return of the Lion" #4 was okay, except for the antagonist used here doesn't have enough of a history to deserve the shorthand introduction and place in the script, especially given the "big guns" at play. Nice to see the title character figure out some things about herself, though.
"Mercy Sparx" #2 is still milking the ground tread by the CW series "Reaper," the title character wields low-level James Bond style gadgetry while trash talking a half-depicted supporting cast. Not in a bad way, but not in a compelling way. The angel dialogue seemed pat, but at least the action was solid.
Devil Due's "Rest" #2 was too fast and didn't have enough characterization to fill a thimble, but the plot was intriguing and the ethical and societal questions raised were as well.
Just when the series was picking up steam, "Sword" #14 stumbles, with the protagonist screwing up big time, an ambitious secondary character stealing some ill-deserved panel time, and the main focus of the struggle gets lost. Still looked good, though, and the core magical elements retain their luster.
Seeing how Frank Castle planned to deal with the Sentry was almost worth buying "Punisher" #1 for, but given that it was one long chase scene that required the Sentry (again) to be a moron, it just didn't add up.
"Blue Monday: Thieves Like Us" #1 was cute, with the week's best quote ("I come to the zoo to see animals in a controlled environment. If I wanted to see them humping and killing in their natural state I'd go somewhere else! Like the Bible belt") while smartly weaving in its own kind of a "soundtrack" (play along at home, if that's your thing) and drilling directly towards its niche demographic. Not for every comics fan, but not bad at all.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Faces of Evil: Solomon Grundy," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" #21, "Cable" #10, "Trinity" #32, "Eternals" #7 (WTH?), "Shrapnel" #1 (could have been something if the artwork wasn't so dark and hard to decipher).
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
The problem with "Superman/Supergirl: Maelstrom" -- and honestly, any comic with Supergirl in the present day -- is that she's a simp, a whining and self-absorbed fop barely capable of the lowest levels of competency -- her nickname could be "fail." With such thorough characterization running through her modern-day depictions (she was fun in "Legion of Super-Heroes"), she's like (pardon the pun) kryptonite for any story she's in, and this lame interlude with some Apokolips residents is no exception.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
One sucktastic book alone makes it a winner -- not much to hate.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Six jumps, one really bad book left on the shelf, no pages from crappy 90s comics stapled in ... that's one hell of a week right there, boyo.
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 18th.