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 FEBRUARY 4TH, 2009
So, how exactly did Megatron and his Decepticon army kick the Autobot's shiny metallic behinds? You find out -- in gruesome detail -- in this issue, which also explains The Swarm, how Optimus ended up in critical condition and why the surviving Autobots are a powder keg poised to explode. With brilliantly charismatic artwork from Guido Guidi, EJ Su and Josh Burcham, watch brother turn on brother, the sick brilliance of the Lord of the Decepticons and see many of the questions that haunted this series answered with brutal finality. Amazing work.
Norman Osborn is winning the media war, his no-nonsense clarity before news cameras painting Tony Stark as incompetent at best and traitorous at worst. Meanwhile, his hired guns set about taking apart anything and everything with the Stark name attached to it, while Tony and Maria Hill start to counterpunch and Pepper Potts struggles with the legacy she has been charged with interring. "Oh I think going bonkers is completely imperative," Tony says at one point. After a long, dark season that turned him into the Orwellian boogeyman that haunted the Marvel Universe (despite inspiring a few of his more disturbing partisans), you can see the turn, where Iron Man can finally find redemption for playing a part in so many deaths and all the pain of the Civil War. Moreover, with fantastic transitions and dialogue, as well as another amazing art performance by Salvador Larocca and Frank D'armata, this comic hits all the right buttons. You have to wonder, however, how he and Reed as "futurists" didn't see this coming. Or did they? Fascinating stuff, taut and intelligent, and even has a pretty interesting preview of "War of Kings" in back.
Jump from the Read Pile. Duane Swierczynski turns in a page turner with this one, as the Immortal Weapons of the Cities of Heaven (deny that you'd go see a band named that, go on, try) make their way to the hidden Eighth City, finding out its purpose and details about its twisted citizenry. The clearest thing you can say about why this issue is so good is the intimacy of it -- the claustrophobic conditions where most of the action takes place (despite getting some great big perspective shots all along the road, including a great panel of Danny's apartment from the exterior), the simple act of Danny drinking a glass of water, the futile struggle of the Weapons to use force where spirit is required. You can give just as much credit to Travel Foreman and Matt Milla's innovative senses of camera angles and shading, which brings the already savvy script to life in a very cinematic fashion.
Despite several people wishing otherwise, there will be no allegations that Danny Rand practices a form of Eastern "fisticism." That is all.
Ah, what would a book about a group of villains be without the twists and outrageous turns of plot? After the very, very upsetting revelations from last issue, you find out exactly what Jeanette's deal is, get an insight on who's waiting in Gotham (maybe) and that last section ... whoo! Add to it a retelling of one of the Six's stories from a very twisted perspective and you've got a comic of great entertainment value on your hands ... if you possess a certain "moral flexibility."
Speaking of "moral flexibility," Marvel's team of good guys playing bad goes head to head with Norman Osborn (that guy's everywhere these days!) as Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz and Jana Schirmer really show up for the job on artwork (virtually any shot of Namora is ready for computer wallpaper or a poster), but Jeff Parker's crafty script weaves subterfuge alongside organizational brinkmanship while casting the lead characters in simple overtones -- Venus the seductress, like a more effective Six model from "BSG," Namora as the belligerent bruiser, Gorilla Man as a less brainy and more exasperated Hank McCoy and so on. Solid work with another Asian Marvel character drafted into the action at the end, and a fun backup set in Marvel history that casts the events in a distinctly more fantastic light than one might have expected and features Wolverine (for people who're into that sort of thing).
Jump from the Read Pile. There's a ... when they ... wow. Look, something happens at the end of this issue that's either the stupidest thing Marvel has done in years, or the single most shocking revelation to hit comics in an even longer period of time. First there's the much previewed throwdown, which showcases Quake's character (loving the stronger female characters in Marvel's book these days) and makes for a good fight scene. Plus you get some of Nick Fury's Lessons in Espionage, an interesting XBox session with the adolescent god of fear, a meeting in the Oval Office ... and then that surprise. The Jonathan Hickman-specific backup pages -- straight from SHIELD's old AUTOFAC data storage/remote mainframe detailing secrets of organizations that are both grandiose and borrow the aesthetics of the TV show "Lost" (multinational organizations of great secrecy, secret bases with code names like The Sandbox, The Dragon, Black Ice and Gehenna) that provide seeds for tons of future stories. The sheer informational density of this issue makes it a value, and each fan will have to decide for themselves if the game has been changed forever or if Marvel has finally, completely gone too far. Either way, this will not be an issue that will leave you quickly, as this secret will have you mentally re-examining things that happened years and years back in a whole different light.
Jump from the Read Pile. Doing his best Ozymandias impersonation, Clock King reveals his plans to Ravager, as well as his reasons. Meanwhile, the issue uses Disruptor as a framing device for the story (smart) while giving Copperhead a really twisted bit of characterization and a moment with TNTeena that's pretty wrong in and of itself. Clock King has left behind his laughable predecessor and is growing up to be somebody serious, and in this series we're really seeing the bad guys win in the ways the company's marketing has promised.
Jump from the Read Pile. The man who saved Frank Castle from the Sentry isn't exactly Micro, but he'll do in a pinch, as Castle realizes the struggle ahead of him and even borrows a page from the Peter Parker School of Crimefighting as well as some wonderful new toys. This issue is all sturm und drang with Osborn orchestrating and Frank shooting people. Which, truthfully, is just about what you'd like -- be it Kingpin, Ma Gnucci or whoever's at the top, Frank Castle's journey towards putting a bullet into them is always a thrill ride, and this is no different. Another case of naughty fun in a week overrun by it.
Jump from the Read Pile. Nobody has more naughty fun than the merc-with-a-mouth, who struggles with his own schizophrenia, issues of fidelity, extreme desire for tacos (has he been hanging out with Jack of Fables?) and -- oh yeah -- a giant half-fish psychopath with super strength determined to rip his head off. At the end, though, the titular character has way, way bigger problems to deal with as Osborn calls in more professional help to end the reign of humor. This issue originally got put back on the Read Pile due to the sheer weight of the week's purchases, but it's good stuff that doesn't take itself too seriously, and demanded a berth in this week's Buy Pile.
Jump from the Read Pile. Jefferson Pierce continues his journey towards heroism, donning his wig and mask and putting his foot and a lightning bolt into Suicide Slum's local thugs. Which is all fine and dandy until he gets two surprises -- one on the cover, which is wholly new to the street-level savior, and one which is emotional and completely takes him by surprise. Add in a beautiful woman making a dangerous offer, Superman braving diminished powers (which make more sense now, given the cover's reveal) and real gravitas in the storytelling and you have a winner, brought with great detail (look at the store signs, they're gorgeous) by Cully Hamner and Laura Martin.
Any form of guidebook gets purchased by this column, as long as its thorough and authoritative. This fits the bill. Did you know that the Kingpin made his once called himself The Brainwasher, running a disco where MJ worked as a dancer? True stuff. How about The Master Planner? This guy apparently only made one appearance, invented a "proton beam hand weapon" and just wanted Cap's shield so he could swipe some Tony Stark inventions ... that'd been gone for months. Well, maybe you didn't know that Professor X invented a "mind machine" that could "transmute matter into radio energy that can be beamed into space" ... whatever that means. Sure, you could plumb through back issues all day to discover this kind of lunacy ... but now you don't have to! Awesome way to discover what the drugs of the past really did to people's brains.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Six jumps? At a whopping eleven total purchases, the week almost wins on this alone!
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"El Diablo" #6 was very, very close to making it home, with fantastic character work and a good set up for the character. Howeverm, an anticlimactic fight scene with a laughable "big bad" was too much to accept.
"Black Panther" #1 worked hard at using "Lost" style storytelling to jump back and forth in time in order to reveal a story. There's just two problems, ones that overcame the lush artwork, the snappy dialogue and the compelling characters. First of all, "Lost" is often confusing using this technique, and they have a whole hour to get it right. 22 pages isn't enough. Second, "Lost" is on TV and the internet for free. Close, though, but not hitting the mark.
If there was some kind of definitive web resource outlining who the characters were and maybe some backstory to what's happened between them, "Jersey Gods" #1 could have been okay. However, by pressing "play" on a world that could easily be as complex as "Astro City" with none of the skill and craft used to create characters with depth and interest, the ones here are all less than three dimensional (no pun intended) and don't do much to engage the reader unless they're desperate for a new set of super powered characters to follow. Are these really gods? What's the nature of their pantheon? Where do they fit in history? Why are they in the modern world? There's no telling, and no matter how adequate the basic fisticuffs are, this doesn't do much to sell itself.
"Haunted Tank" #3 was good, but it was just treading water. The two Stuarts continue to yell at one another while it seems nobody outside of the crew and their enemies can see the spectral apparition. The Confederate presents his anachronistic worldview while his surprising descendant counters with modern science and the facts of racial and social politics that time has delivered as common knowledge. Like an argument between proponents of teaching intelligent design in science classes and, well, anybody with vaguely effective reasoning skills, all the punchlines are predictable if you've been reading along thus far. Time to step it up.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Cable" #11, "Mighty" #1 (good atmosphere, limp and cliched characterization), "Dynamo 5" #19, "Astonishing Tales" #1 (four bucks for a limp anthology and neophyte villains? Nah).
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
With shades of Crippletron, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" #22 is an early contender for "worst comic book of the year," featuring something so annoying that it makes Tribbles tolerable, an almost-clever attempt to play off the "vampire reality star" shtick. This ... nobody's gonna look back at this and be proud. Just saying ...
Also horrible? The long-awaited, anticipated "Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds" #3. This wholly incomprehensible attempt at retconning three continuities by having three Braniac Fives on panel at the same time (babble in triplicate is still babble) and the "return" of a character at the end that was so pointless and so fanfic ("ooh, ooh, what if we had X come back at the end! That would pwn!") that it reeks of flannel shirts, stacks of back issues, pizza pockets and weed. F. A. I. L.
"War of Kings: Darkhawk" #1 was whiny, lame and followed the same mistake of "Nova," "Ghost Rider" and probably even "Green Lantern" -- diminishing the individuality of the lead character saps them of their specialness. Darkhawk didn't have much to start. Maybe had he been "Plaidhawk" or something ("Chameleonhawk!" No, he'd have been a Skrull, er ... "Platypushawk!") then he wouldn't be so dull, but even his inner monologue is boring. Almost a page about whether or not to have breakfast? Fail.
Here at the Buy Pile, we've received a memorandum from the International Court of Justice at the Hague. The court's head honcho Rosalyn Higgins has issued a court order determining that "Trinity" #36 is incontrovertible evidence of the global sadism inherent in DC's editorial department, and should immediately be stopped in the interests of humanity. Given the outlaw regime at work, there's little chance this order will be obeyed, but it'll be used as evidence once that justice is finally served. For your own sakes, avoid this work to avoid having to fly overseas and testify.
Given the goo goo eyes that the titular character once shot across a balcony (way back in the 90s), "X-Men: The Life and Times of Lucas Bishop" #1 is kind of creepy when he introduces his "grandma," plus the book tries too hard to put a lot of modern mutants into the future while Larry Stroman's artwork is not well suited for this story. Poorly considered, poorly executed, poorly done all around.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Really bad stuff here ... but dude, six jumps!
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Despite the creepy Oedipal nature of Bishop, the idiocy of gestalts in "Buffy" and the continuing tragedy of "Trinity," the midground was still more good than bad. Let's call it a win!
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 will be back February 18th.