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 (how?) 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 MARCH 11TH, 2009
Whoa. This series has always kicked things up a notch, but this month, this month writer Shane McCarthy stepped up his game so dramatically in scale that it's like watching somebody go from Pop Warner to the NFL. This issue leans on the IDW internal continuity but never actually makes you think, "wait, did I see that?" Everything you need for this flawlessly presented issue is held within these pages, from Kup's wonderful characterization ("That's where you think this is? That's where we are? Jokes? Pallin' around?") to the wonderful interplay between Bombshell and Starscream, to the brilliant elements called back from this series and previous ones ("I'm trying! It's too slick!") and a denouement involving Sunstreaker that's so big, so well developed and so striking a change that your TF fandom may never be the same. All with Guido Guidi, John Wycough, Josh Burcham and Kris Carter bringing the visuals in a way that's both so wonderfully composed and also so skillful in its visual storytelling that this issue sets a new high water mark for a series that was already kicking butt with both feet. Wow.
You could call it a "funeral for a friend," as the Fables gather to say goodbye to one of their own who was a hero to them all. People deal with it different ways -- Rose Red with despair, Little Badger with introspection, Pinocchio with madcap plots and so many with simple tears. There's an interesting turn of events for the erstwhile Adversary, the start of a probably overdue confrontation and scrambling to secure things before the next storm hits. Guest artist David Hahn and colorist Lee Loughridge have a different dynamic than the regular Eisner-winning team, but it's a refreshing change that's well fit for the somber mood of this story.
Any definitive guidebook is a guaranteed buy because knowing stuff is good. That's out of the way. So what kind of wackiness can you find from Marvel's early days in this issue? Well, you get a break down of "The Night Gwen Stacy Died," which is a big thing to note, and a slew of "never seen again" adversaries for Tony Stark (Night Phantom, Mercenary, Overseer, Slasher ...), plus the debut of Magneto's antarctic volcano base. Yes, lots of things seem a lot more ridiculous when synopsized this way, but the savings in time spent digging through back issue bins are worth it. Great reference material.
Given that Kyle Baker puts one of these issues out a year (it's almost an annual, seriously) he'd have to completely haul ass and make it something worth the wait, right? Mission accomplished -- in a visual spectacle, this issue takes intensive, pulse pounding action and uses it to tell a story. Toss in a wonderful bit of political satire with the brave (and well-fed) men of Greywater Worldwide and you've got a fascinating comic book that delivers on every level. Baker's attention to detail has never been sharper, from the shadows on Felony's impossibly lean torso to the crosshatching on the handle of a handgun. Amazing stuff, despite the fact that it ships less frequently than "The Ultimates."
Remember "The Order?" Well, Matt Fraction does, and this issue looks back at Henry Hellrung, Tony Stark's AA sponsor and introduces a brilliant contact system (which nods its head to future Rhodey Don Cheadle's movie "Traitor") while Maria Hill finds something unusual in Texas and Pepper Potts learns to fly. There's a pretty good fight scene between two airborne armored combatants (that had a very smart side bit) and plays into the Dark Reign with a nice piece of continuity. This series has never hit a discordant note, and this month's no exception.
Things are crazy everywhere, as Zander Cannon, Kevin Cannon, Gene Ha and Alex Sinclair deliver a better-than-expected Alan Moore homage, bringing the reader back to Parallel 10 and its super powered law enforcement professionals. Irma Geddon faces some hard truths, partners Duane and Pete struggle with challenges in their friendship and a short man in the cells has a plan. Explosions, crying, running, shouting and one big honking gun, as disparate plot threads tie together crisply. All you'd need is the thousands of background in-jokes and it'd be like Alan wasn't spitting venom on everything connected to AOL Time Warner. Fun stuff.
Jump from the Read Pile. A very pleasant surprise, as J.M. DeMatteis uses a very crafty framing device to depict this impossibly powerful man solely through the memories of others, showcasing a man who spent his life trying to find the right way only to be killed when he finally believed he'd discovered it. If you liked the art on "G0dland," you'll like this as well, a less whimsical style but still very old school (with an indie spin) in its sensibilities thanks to Mike Cavallaro and Andrew Covalt. The scene in the nursing home is a wonderfully subtle moment, the disgust and surprise on the title character's face at the Times Square rally was well depicted and the pacing on this issue is so perfect that you could set a clock to it. Fantastic work here.
After all this time in the embattled streets of Manhattan, Matty Roth finally has a plan. That involves a surprising amount of inactivity and time to think while the whole world spins around him, wondering about what's next and what role he and the hilariously inappropriate package in his trunk will play. Everybody's in business for themselves, and Matty finally realizes that. Fierce, tense and deliberate, this issue changes some of the rules and does so in a way that regular readers will find riveting, even if new readers might find this hard to get a grounding in.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Boom! That's quite an impressive week of comics right there, pal!
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
If you don't know the word "flensed," don't take it as a typo, as "Invincible Iron Fist" #23 taught. Again, a crafty communications system was introduced and Danny Rand got another lesson in the hidden history of the Cities of Heaven. This issue was very close to the mark, but had a little bit of a pacing problem and Davos' planning just fell off the map. Still, interesting stuff.
"R.E.B.E.L.S." #2 was close to the mark on the strength of Vril Dox's arrogant charm (his Brainiac 5 dis was hilarious) making him closer to his 20th century predecessor than his 31st century heroic descendant. Still, Supergirl getting treated like a set piece was a waste (despite her limited intellectual ability in this incarnation), and the scattered plot (that whole Omega Men interlude seemed like wasted space) made it miss the mark.
"Adam: The Legend of the Blue Marvel" #5 talked a good game, keeping the science banter going and had the lead character show up as a major player on a virtually crossover scale, but the problems with the emotional scenes feeling jammed in, Tony Stark's Avengers being super annoying and a climactic fight that lacked both grandeur and visual clarity ... it just didn't close the deal.
"Batman: Battle for the Cowl" #1 was only okay in that it showed the losing battle as Gotham City wants to die, and die hard. But what's up with the guns guy?
Both "G.I. Joe" #3 and "G.I. Joe Movie Prequel #1: Duke" were okay, solidly developing character and marching through plot. Neither really stood up and did anything special, while both had challenges (the Scottish patois was distracting in the former while the dim coloring and lack of developing any character other than Duke and Rip Cord sapped the latter). Oh, and "brought undo attention to us" really could have used some editing.
The heroism and character work in "Captain Britain and MI-13" #11 was pretty good, but the antagonist is just too riddled with cliche and familiarity to be taken seriously.
Staying in the green for a sec, "Green Lantern Corps" #34 had some interesting ideas but couldn't slow down long enough to explore them, with even Guy Gardner expressing incredulity at the weirdness happening here. The Sodam Yat scene with his mom was a hit, the jagged artwork and scattered plot were big misses.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"The Amazon" #1, "Action Comics" #875, "Guardians of the Galaxy" #11 (you're better than this), "Booster Gold" #18, "Black Terror" #3, "Power of the Valkyrie" #1, "Super Human Resources" #1 (would have been better if something happened and the art wasn't so goofy), "Green Arrow/Black Canary" #18.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
This week's "Superman/Batman" #56 was the last issue this column will bother with. When this was all dealt with more effectively in Len Kaminski's "JLA: Foreign Bodies," why are we doing this "Freaky Friday" stuff again?
Ditto "Trinity" #41. Avatar-styled Bats, Supes and Diana versus ... Enigma, that magic lady and some weird strong ex-convict alien? Really? This'll be over in ... 11 weeks? Let's just wait it out.
Absolutely nothing happened in "Titans" #41 and it was boring. That's the review. If the issue won't try harder than it did, why should this column?
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Fantastic purchases, tolerable reads ... this was a good (if light) week of comics!
Fair warning: THERE WILL BE NO BUY PILE NEXT WEEK. For the first time in more years than it's worth remembering (more than four, that's for certain), this esteemed and oft-loathed columnist is taking seven consecutive days off and there's not a blessed thing you can do about it. See you in two weeks.
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.