The Buy Pile

Thu, May 14th, 2009 at 2:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

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 MAY 13TH, 2009

"Fables" #84
Fables #84 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Please, never, ever even consider calling it a comeback. Jack of Fables is back in the book that introduced him to comics, and he's got his usual combination of bluster, bravado and completely not paying attention to what's happening around him. Which is very, very different from the grim energy of the Fables on the farm, facing the influx of Fabletown refugees and unknown threats from every angle. This leads to natural instincts coming to bear -- greed, horniness, fear-driven idolatry and the like. On their own, such things might be dour, but with Jack Horner at the helm, you can just add a Maury Povich moment at the end and voila, that's entertainment!

"Gravel" #11
Gravel #11 (Avatar Press)
Jump from the Read Pile. Combat magician William Gravel keeps his own counsel, despite what appearances seem to be, as he goes about solving the murder of Avalon Lake a soldier's way. This issue's a crafty bit of sleight of hand -- fitting for a book about magic users -- and features a flashback to Gravel on the ground in 1991 Iraq. Solid, smart stuff that makes you grin slyly at the end.

"Unthinkable" #1
Unthinkable #1 (Boom! Studios)
Jump from the Read Pile. Way back in 1995, author Tom Clancy published a book predicting the use of a commercial airplane as a weapon of mass destruction. Nobody thought about that seriously for another six years, and then everybody considered it weirdly prophetic. This comic book picks up where that left off, positing tragedy-stricken author Alan Ripley as a member of a clandestinely-funded consortium of thinkers and visionaries who consider what possibly could go wrong. The problem only comes when their nightmare visions of the future start to come true with lethal consequences. A thought-provoking comic book that posits big ideas and bigger conspiracies, with a relatable lead with some real character development.

"G.I. Joe: Cobra" #3
G.I. Joe: Cobra #3 (IDW Publishing)
Jump from the Read Pile. Who'd ever have thought that Chuckles could not only carry a series as the lead, but shine brighter than most Joes ever have? The Joes' most secret of secret agents is so deep undercover that he may as well be magma, bedding beautiful terrorists and doing a lot of unspeakable things. Be warned: this issue features one of the most disturbing things an undercover agent has ever had to do, as well as a whole host of "ends justify the means" atrocities along the way. Which is, in a word, freakin' awesome -- imagine "Sleeper" set in the G.I. Joe continuity. Great, great storytelling here ... and while Antonio Fuso has an excellent sense of pacing and visual narrative, his sense of detail leaves a little to be desired.

"Secret Six" #9
Secret Six #9 (Marvel Comics)

Best book of the week, hands down. Gotham's gone wild and Bane's got a grudge of sorts which leads to he, Catman and Ragdoll engaging in a mission of mercy that has everybody confused about what's happening. "Heroes?" Catman asked. "You think he means us?" "The definition is extraordinarily fluid," Bane replied. The dialogue's great (especially when Ragdoll makes a horrible realization about himself: "Creamed corn! Donut holes! Silverback gorillas! Heaven help us all, gold-plated doorknobs!"), the action's very well depicted by art team Nicola Scott, Doug Hazelwood and Jason Wright, and of course every line of Gail Simone's wicked plot, looking at a Bat-less Gotham, just works. Great work.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Three jumps, two great comics alongside -- that's a very good start!

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy

Nick Fury sits down with old friends in "Secret Warriors" #4 as Daisy Johnson goes recruiting in the outback. The issue was interesting but fleeting, not really settling issues on the Nick Fury side (Gabriel Jones needed some more room to operate here) and not taking enough time with Eden Fesi.

Vril Dox is still selling people on his new idea in "REBELS" #4, but even as the title's star, he's not given enough room to operate. Moreover, the ultimate antagonist (now revealed) is hard to take seriously give the goofy and simple takedowns of the past, despite Grant Morrison's revamp (that's all you'll get as a possible spoiler). More Dox and this series can shine.

You find out, beyond a shadow of a doubt, who will not carry the totem in "Black Panther" #4, which also sees the end of a long-time antagonist. Again, if this issue could have picked one of the great ideas here to center in on -- Storm's spirit quest, Wakandan politics, T'Challa's sister -- it could have fleshed that out and done some solid work. The ambition is here, but the execution is not.

Same problem in "X-Factor" #43, which could have used a whole lot more Layla Miller and a whole lot less Rictor and Theresa. The bits between Jamie and Layla, however, are solid freaking gold, but there's almost too much going on for you to notice.

Babs and the Calculator have their huge confrontation in "Oracle: The Cure" #3, where she battles him digitally and in "meatspace" over the Anti-Life Equation and his ascendancy over infospace. Why's this a problem? Well, for someone so smart, the Calculator's behavior in the ending here didn't make any sense at all. Grim justice is served up here, but it's not really going to leave an impression on you.

Jen Walters shows up to play in "All New Savage She-Hulk" #2, which spends most of the issue wrecking parts of New York City in a fight scene, flashing back to a little bit of this hybrid's sob story and bringing in The Sentry and Norman Osborn for kicks. Good action, good dialogue, weak plot.

One word describes the best part of "Toyfare" #143: "Bizarrobama." 'Nuff said.

"Dark Reign: Hawkeye" #2 may show signs of dissociative disorder as the lead character does what he does best and that presents a problem for Norman Osborn (who does present a creative solution). Which is all well and good until he starts cracking up. The last issue was at least on the same street as the brilliant Way/Dillon Bullseye series, but this one has driven around the corner -- not all the way to "bad," but not as good.

The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title

"Azreal: Death's Dark Knight" #3, "The Unknown" #1, "Action Comics" #877, "Elephantmen" #19, "Titans" #13, "Umbrella Academy: Dallas" #6, "Unwritten" #1, "Stormwatch PHD" #21.

No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...

"Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers" #1 was -- to use the terms of the week -- unthinkably uninteresting, unknowably conceived and irredeemably stupid. The fact that the Thunder Frog flashback was that much of the issue boggles the mind.

"Green Lantern Corps" #36 featured one of the most insulting retcons since "Superboy Punch!" Really, the attempt at a creepy dialogue between two characters just didn't work, as well as not making sense (as in "why bring this up now all of a sudden, and how could anybody believe that weak bill of goods?) and the bit with Sodam Yat was very Bill Foster (sorry if that's a spoiler). Abominable.

"Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape" #1 had Grant Morrison ambitions on a shoestring creative budget as Nemesis ends up all Number Six in a psychedelic prison with DEO alum Cameron Chase and the whacked out Count Vertigo. Trying harder may have helped, but this issue just clumsily plunked fingers down on the keyboard without rhythm or drive.

Also terrible was "Dark Reign: Young Avengers" #1, a series of narcissistic young extrahumans operating under their own rules. Confused in plotting, muddy in art, ill conceived all the way around and with a predictable last page that did nothing to thrizzle. Sorry, no.

"Booster Gold" #20 posits an alternate reality where Frank Rock was alive in 1952 while also retconning the origins of an international hero (urgh) for no apparent reason and honoring The Fonz. Stop now, please.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Five truly awful comics versus eight ciphers and eight "good enoughs." That's okay.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Great buys plus an average of "okay" in the reads counts as a win.

THE BUSINESS

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.

JUST ONE MORE THING ...

Today, a seventeen-year-old named McKinley came into Comics Ink, anxious to get started in comics. Saying he wanted smart stuff that blew up, he was directed by the staff and this reviewer to "Special Forces," "Invincible Iron Man," "Casanova," "Secret Six" and -- when he could come back for TPBs -- Christopher Priest's "Black Panther." After just a few pages, he was delighted and talked about coming back. Just something nice to see, so welcome to fight club, McKinley. Since this is your first night ...

As well, an awesome chili place opened up next door to Comics Ink, and in gratitude for all of the customers who come over based on staff recommendations, they brought over free fried potatoes, which many customers enjoyed ... before rushing over to sample the goods. Good energy goes around, kids, just saying.

TAGS:  the buy pile, fables, unthinkable, gi joe, secret six

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