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 APRIL 1ST, 2009
Watching Pepper Potts transform herself into a heroine (what's most fun is that she has no conception of what to do once she takes off the "heavy rescue and recovery" suit) is fun, watching Maria Hill go after a weirdo in a warehouse is ... well, adequate. However, watching Tony Stark simultaneously get dumber and still fight for his life is much more compelling. Inside a tiny underwater lab, he's caught off guard when Namor comes calling with the fury of the sea at his back. This sets off a close-quarters clash that's brutal, fascinating and kinetic, and there you find the real meat of the story. Norman Osborn's closing in on Tony, and that's compelling to watch as showcased by Matt Fraction. The disturbing lack of foresight (or even circumspection, really) displayed by Hill and Potts is just something to keep the pages turning. Of course Salvador Larocca and Frank D'armata turn in a gorgeous looking book, and if you don't expect that by now, you don't look at the names of artists often enough.
Jump from the Read Pile. Take to heart the four lessons of the House McCullen, and they will give you a brilliant framing device for an action packed, fascinating look at the forces that built the man behind the metal mask. The Scottish family have "profited from the one constant in human history -- war" through the US Civil War, the Franco-Prussian war and onwards. "A gunseller never judges his clients," and when trying "to expand into new areas" proves a little different than planned, then comes the shooting and the running and the blowing up of things in a way that's witty (thanks to Chuck Dixon's tight script) and interestingly depicted (thanks to the artwork from SL Gallant and Art Lyon) that's worth the time, and has important things to teach as well. "Each time two countries, two causes or two tribes have gone to war -- a Destro has been there. Trading lead cor gold in a way no alchemist ever dreamed. Death for cold hard cash." A great character piece with wonderful moments of action as well.
The sixties flashback stuff? Whatever. Again, the real action is front and center in the present day, as Namora and Venus share a really nice character moment, Norman Osborn comes by to visit (and how fun is it that the Sentry falls so easily into the role of Osborn's muscle?) and the cover showcases a "misunderstanding" with a shield-slinging hero. The good stuff's enough to outweigh the slow-moving flashback (which is fine by itself but less compelling -- read pile material by itself) by enough of a margin that you're not bugged by it, and the action sequences in both are great. Plus, there's a fun bit with swimming.
The last issue of this pleasant series answers several questions (you'll love what happened to Race), has some surprises (i.e. "what happened to Liz"), leaves you with a cliffhanger (not cool, Faerber!) and has some really nice art (the party scene is gorgeous). It's not exactly "going out with a bang," but keeping the steady, dependable confectionery soap opera stylings of the series, this had a good balance of action, romance, laughs and drama. Thanks for all the fun ... even though the Blackthornes totally never got the development they needed.
In possibly his most suicidal move yet, Deadpool has developed a major crush on the extraordinarily lethal Yelena Belova, also known as the second Black Widow. Also, it's quite possible she likes it. Hard to tell, you know how spies are. Anyhoo, the Merc with a Mouth is the man with a plan, and the Thunderbolts really don't know what they're dealing with as an old friend comes by, again Norman Osborn makes a fun appearance (getting his Darth Sidious on for kicks), and Deadpool's delusions are as fun and kooky as ever. Better than the previous issue (you could actually skip straight to this one and you'd be fine) and pretty enjoyable.
Jump from the Read Pile. You know those super inspirational moments where Captain America starts talking and men start getting that glint in their eyes (yes, like that opening section of "Secret Warriors" #1) like force multipliers are starting to apply and the other side gets a surprise? This issue is like that, told completely as a flashback in a tale told by Tracks (called "Commander Wax-n-Buff" by Cliffjumper) in what's clearly a moment before Sunstreaker's big surprise in "All Hail Megatron." A really well done story, nicely done in every way.
Jump from the Read Pile. First of all, it's free. You can't beat that. Second of all, when you really read about them, a lot of the New Mutants' stories were stupid. However, when you read about them for free, that's funny. Hidden civilization in the Amazon looking like the descendants of Kim Bauer, practicing the culture of ancient Rome? Doug Ramsey got whacked by a guy making men out of apes? A Native American woman with beef against white people ends up joining the Asgardians in Valhalla? Seriously? That's bad crazy if you paid for that stuff, but intense hilarity for free.
Speaking of hilarity, did you know that in 1975, Tony Stark got kicked out of San Diego Comic-Con? How about "Kitty's Kostume Korner?" No, this is it: Doctor Octopus homeless ... and then taken in by Aunt May! Again, when taken as a mass of lunacy like this, you really wonder what kind of drugs they had back in the day. Another great chance to catch up with formative eras of Marvel and find out that the stuff people are so nostalgic for makes just as little sense as the stuff we enjoy (or don't) these days.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
One freebie, two legitimate jumps (giving great storytelling to subjects normally considered lightweight), lots of laughs and Norman Osborn back to having fun and being kooky (the plane bit in "Invincible Iron Man" was fantastic) makes a hell of a good start.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Dark Reign: Fantastic Four" #2 was either the start of something brilliant or another excuse for Reed to play dumb. The revelation moment is really interesting if it goes anywhere, while the "sliders" and cute kids stuff was just filler.
The Kree and the Inhumans bring the pain in "War of Kings" #2, which was a good mix of Maximus as James Bond's Q, media manipulation in statecraft and counterbalance of the two different spacefaring empires. Nice bit with Ronan, not bad all around.
"Scalped" #27 was extremely, completely close, and in a week with fewer purchases would have been a no-brainer. Agent Nitz gets the spotlight, and you get such a thorough and brilliantly crafted dissertation of who he is as a character and why he does the rather screwed up things he does. An intense story of justice gone wrong, this just got crowded out by other jumps, and had "Invincible Iron Man" gotten read at the store, despite the great stuff with Tony, "Scalped" would have replaced it. Haunting.
Also extraordinarily close was "Gravel" #10, which took off in its second half but kept treading water in the first. Good atmosphere, and always good art, but it took just a bit too long to get to the good part, whereas some voiceover stuff could have served as a better framing device for more of the actually interesting material.
"Dr. Doom and the Masters of Evil" #3 was okay, but it was no "MODOK's 11."
"Mighty" #3 was a huge improvement -- almost good enough to be a first issue by itself. Taking great strides in making Alpha One into less of an archetype and more of a real character (with a weakness), it also did great stuff with the POV supporting character and his wife. Unfortunately, the issue just kind of stopped instead of having a dramatic arc, which was weird, and was a bit too close without providing the reader enough info to really get into the plot as well as it did the personal work.
Speaking of archetypes, Mark Waid's new masterstroke "Irredeemable" #1 was solid as a start and hits all the marks for the "world's greatest hero goes bad" premise, but since you know that walking in the door, this issue needed to be a little bit faster and a little bit meaner. It walked where it should have ran. Worth watching, but just not there yet.
"Black Panther" #3 felt rushed, as the artwork on anything on the "other side of the continent" was not pretty, Storm's whole bit was unclear and the sister's part was given short shrift despite her really interesting work there. Just a bit too scattered to work, another Marvel book which needed less of a divided focus.
There were many good moments of execution in "Flash: Rebirth" #1 (see later note about the JSA) but the high level concept is just too inbred. Bart? Really? That was just, what, a year ago? The sense of urgency -- of speed, if you will -- is tangible and well done, but the concept is so creatively bankrupt that it just takes the cake.
Remember that guy from the V Battallion? No, not Citizen V, the tough one! No, not Iron Cross ... oh, never mind. "Destroyer" #1 had the week's best quote ("Guns are for p*ssies!") and splash page, but while it had its cute giggle factor and even a nice romantic character scene, it's essentially "Brit" at Marvel plus a few years. Not bad, but not worth three bucks.
Everybody's using Webex these days! "Secret Warriors" #3 had Nick Fury looking up old friends, Daisy Johnson getting too ambitious and Hydra striking fast. Again, not bad, but stay focused and it works better.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Authority" #9, "Jersey Gods" #3, "Batman: Battle for the Cowl -- Man Bat," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" #24, "Teen Titans" #69 (who the hell is The Face?), "G.I. Joe" #4 and "Teen Titans Annual 2009" #1 (although, once again, it proves that Static is an endlessly serious badass in training).
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
Really, "Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye" #1? If you read the first series, this will make no sense. If you've never heard of the first series, this will make no sense. Like walking into a foreign film without subtitles, just ... wow, no. Even with that one good panel about the brainbow ... still, no.
While we're at it, no backsies, "Justice Society of America" #25! It's especially frustrating because there are moments, even in this issue, where writer Geoff Johns makes some nice moments in execution, the whole thing falls down in conception, all the way back to Adam's half nelson of Billy in the first place, but clear through to the sheer idiocy of the plot elements that happened on the Rock of Finality. Moreover, really, Adam? This possibility never occurred to you? You've been alive three thousand freaking years and you're that stupid? That's embarrassing. Do not let any angry old guys in bedsheets call your name, apparently.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
The week's reads remained interesting even when they didn't step up hard enough to actually merit a purchase. Shoulda gotten that "Scalped" book instead of "Invincible Iron Man" though.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Winning by a nice margin due to even the reads staying relevant, despite the idiocy of the Shazam family and the incomprehensibility of that "Seaguy" stuff.
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.