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 28TH, 2009
In many modern comic books, the curse of what some call "decompression" has twenty two pages pass by with almost nothing happening. Worse, sometimes you'll get a comic book where stuff happens, but it doesn't seem to tie in with anything else or matter. Those problems are completely non-existent in this issue of "G0dland," which may not match the solicitations promise that it's "better than the best sex you ever had," but it's pretty darned good. First up, you've got cosmic powered hero Adam Archer hitching a ride along "a galactic vein" to "slide down the razor's edge of enlightenment" with a mother/son duo of equally zanily powered space adventurers. Then, two of Adam's sisters delve into mysterious realms of dual identities and backroom secrets, most of which consider the taking of the Capitol and murder of most of the politicians in DC to be a parenthetical issue, compared to the threat of the Almighty Decimator's landfall in Antarctica. If you can handle all of that, you'll find the last bit even wilder, as long lost Leela Archer reveals the reason behind her newfound powers in a confrontation with "licensed entropist" R@d-ur Rezz ... at a four-star restaurant in space? If your wig hasn't been blown completely off by the sheer insanity of this series, get yourself a chin strap and make sure it's tight. This is great work by Casey, Scioli and Crabtree.
Jump from the Read Pile. The centerpiece here is AIM, who get an interesting offer from Norman Osborn courtesy of his trusted operative Karla Sofen ... or at least their accountants did. They're an ambitious bunch, that set of accountants, and they must also have a thing for disaster movies, given what they do here. The issue shows a little Kansas City Shuffle as Sofen proves herself every bit as dangerous as the man she works for, and as for her predecessor Carol Danvers, Sofen's theory seems to be "anything you can do, I can do better." Also, more lethally. Deliciously mean, wonderfully scripted by mister Brian Reed and the Sana Takeda artwork is quite easy on the eyes (is that painted work? Nice). The only possible problem with the issue is the unexplained Saudi Arabian opening and its equally vague denouement -- without that, this issue would be a near perfect done-in-one.
Jump from the Read Pile. There's so much good in this issue that it's hard to even get a grasp on it. Dr. Light serves as a wonderful window into the action, her sterling characterization shining through as clearly as her nyctophobia and determination. Meanwhile, the interplay of Firestorm and John Stewart -- snarky neophyte and grizzled veteran -- was a nice narrative flame that's enhanced by the gasoline injection of Hardware being introduced. Vixen manages to be the exasperated voice of reason, and these characters drive this issue toward brilliance. The Shadow Cabinet, Icon and Zatanna play along in largely secondary roles, while action dominates the work (from a crimelord getting an F-22 Raptor to open combat in the Shadowspire). Seamlessly integrating Milestone's Dakota into the DCU (yes, once upon a time they were in separate dimensions -- SUPERBOY PUNCH! Get over it) and with this issue's gems of dialogue (Stewart: "You're smarter than us. We get it." Hardware: "Maybe the general principle, but the magnitude of the gap ..."), brilliant art (courtesy of Rags Morales, John Dell and Pete Pantazis) you've got a comic so good that it makes you wonder how the heck they could fire the writer of such amazing material in a debacle that's reminiscent of Marvel's "The Crew." Que sera sera ...
Jump from the Read Pile. Speaking of comics jam packed with stuff going on (in a good way, and admittedly, that's a hard balance to reach), Adam Warlock goes toe to toe with Emperor Vulcan, a polite conversation with the Inhuman royal family turns into a hostage situation (you'll never guess who sets that off), and the Legion of Super ... er, Imperial Guard continues to showcase its inspirations in new clothes. The big crossover-affecting conclusion this leads to is splash page big, and the art from Brad Walker, Victor Olazaba and Jay David Ramos really presents the moments -- from Warlock's show of power to the intimacy of Crystal confronting Medusa -- with high degrees of skill and panache. Hands off to Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning for crafting such a wonderful tour de force of dramatic elements working in synchronicity.
All the disparate elements come together as the Genres struggle to work together ("there's the stun setting. Then the kill setting. And the not-only-kill-but-completely-disintegrate-the-guy setting"), the Page Sisters go with their strengths, Hansel takes the direct route and then takes a trip and Kevin has a very serious discussion with his twin brother Writer's Block. Oh, and a unicorn gets shot in the face. Many elements that have gone along parallel paths join up and start shooting in a very entertaining way, providing laughs and shocks as they go. What's weirdest here is Mister Revise and the Pathetic Fallacy -- with their powers, this whole issue could have been done in two pages, but they both have thus far refused to even act. Last ditch secret weapons? It's hard to say. But it's surely interesting to watch.
Jump from the Read Pile. The reason to buy this issue is not the fun banter between Herc and Amadeus Cho (Hercules: "You know what the difference between you and me is? I make this look good." Amadeus: "How do you even know that line?" Hercules: "Netflix."), although it's great fun to see these characters together. It's not Herc's always-fun flashback history lessons ("I should have been grateful. Who wouldn't trade fiery agony for Hebe's dewy meadows? But we're talking about eternity here. And you know that woman collects Beanie Babies?"), although they're a treasure too. It's not even the powerful artwork of Ryan Stegman, Terry Pallot and Raul Trevino (the "father Zeus finally took pity" panel could be a poster, the last page and the big splash with dead characters were great images). No, the thing that's really worth the price of admission, that really made this fun issue jump from the Read Pile, is the writing of Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, which posits a brilliant spin on the afterlife that casts many Marvel resurrections in a surprisingly smarter light. How so? Well, they recast Erebus ("the region of Hades that abuts the mortal world, where the dead first arrive and many stay here ... those who believe they have unfinished stories and ache for a chance to be reborn") into a glitzy casino where people can "gamble all day, hoping against reason to be selected for resurrection (although, to be honest, more of them win than you might ever expect") and even posits a great reason for the differing views of the afterlife from different spiritual perspectives. It's brilliant. The more you read it, the more sense it makes, the more it calms the tremors from Bucky and Johnny Blaze and even Madelyne Pryor (judged too harshly, "Uncanny X-Men," just serving as a doorway for "What happens in Hades ..."). When you add in Hera's shows of power, Amadeus' gaming skill ("I have no idea why people make such a big deal about this game") and the beautifully rendered finale and this is an issue that'll creep into your consciousness weeks down the line.
Jump from the Read Pile. Excellent storytelling and characterization. A "Final Crisis" tie in book. Many people may believe these two things to be mutually exclusive -- that's largely been the stand of this column -- but this week, Eric Wallace had a little something to say about that. The "Eureka" writer slowed down from his normal 60i frame rate to deliver an intimate story about Mark Richards, a former bad man with super-powered tattoos who proudly declares "I'm a cape now" and flashes his JLA membership card (gained in a one-shot where he stood at Black Lightning's side) in service to Washington DC community sometimes called "Liberty Hell." The Tattooed Man struggles with finding time to spend with his family (a theme we'll return to in the Honorable Mentions), skepticism about his redemptive path from law enforcement and his own inner demons. There were two impediments to this issue -- the sometimes hard to read art and coloring of Fabrizio Fiorentino and Michael Dimotta, and the "WTH?" last page (which could be good, giving a mystical realism overtone or bad in a normal "WTH?" kind of way) -- but they were overcome with the skill in which RIchards' story is revealed (the police interview snuck in some good exposition and character motivation) and the forceful, complicated nuances of the character himself. Well worth watching and keeping.
Yes, Bishop and Cable's time traveling tussle over a future neither of them understands has some narrative concerns. Many of them play into this uneven "handbook," which lacks a lot of the detail and thoroughness of Marvel's normal reference offerings and ends up being repetitive in aiming for "Rashomon" but hitting schizophrenia. The writing here is notes from the perspectives of Cable, Cyclops and two anonymous third person views, finishing up with an interview (this ain't Wizard!) with "Cable" writer Duane Swiercyzinski, itself immediately sapping this issue of its reference value and turning its vital last pages into an ad. Looking for authoritative power level comparisons? Detailed character histories? Hard facts about heights or abilities? No chance of that here. A four dollar wolfish disappointment that snuck in with the word "handbook" as its sheep skin.
Just when this series seemed to have gone too far with the Disney-inflected alternate universe version of Captain Valor, this issue comes along, drifts along the side of the road, hitting those raised bumps, wobbles ... and rights itself into an ending that's both heartwarming and surprising. The deftness with which this story drives right at a tree only to shock you by leaping aloft is simply breathtaking. Taking the tropes and cliches from the genre and twisting them into hilarious and brilliant new formations, this issue ties it all together and makes it work. Well worth every step of the journey.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Warts and all, even with that "Handbook" suckerpunch, this was a great week of purchases.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
Due to the delay in shipping caused by Diamond's Memorial Day outage, reviews didn't happen until Saturday afternoon, and "Aliens" #1 was sold out. Which, some would say, is a review in and of itself.
"New Avengers" #53 was surprisingly close to the mark despite a very weird last page, in part due to the new status quo it established (for as long as it lasts, or until Neilalien storms the Marvel offices). The page and panel layout was a little hard to follow at times but the Hood's relentless quest for the Eye of Agamotto was bracketed by the great Bendis banter we've come to expect (Spider-Man's bit with Luke Cage was the business, and "Bucky Cap" is the way to go).
"Rapture" #1 was not bad, with a Spectre analogue and lost love in a post-extrahuman-apocalypse setting. The actual "what happened here" could be clearer, and the art's nothing to write home about, but the tangibility of the connection between the two romantic leads was well done.
Another surprise was "Amazing Spider-Man" #595. This column has often found Peter Parker's own titles surprisingly mopey, whereas his guest appearances and collaborative efforts have frequently had more entertainment value. This issue was good in a Tobey Maguire kind of way (read: "not as funny as he is in the "Avengers" books) as Norman Osborn's ascendancy chafes while Harry Osborn's positivity inspires, even with the developments that affect his character. Peter's better out of costume than in. Plus, "Mayor J. Jonah Jameson?" Seriously? That's both interesting and stupid, which is an unusual combination that's hard to evaluate. Not buying material ... but not something to ignore anymore either.
"Star Wars Legacy" #36 was a fairly engaging mix of space battles and interstellar politics, testing a tenuous alliance under the most extreme circumstances. A hair more development on the lead characters to make them more important to the reader and this would have come home. Even as is, it's a nose ahead of similar efforts in "Nova" to make a big cast of relative unknowns work.
The action sequences in "Dark Reign: Elektra" #3 were spectacular -- that "duck" splash page is poster worthy, and the strategy of the battle scene were on point -- as an old friend draws closer to getting reacquainted, but it was literally sound and fury signifying nothing. Good empty entertainment, but not great empty entertainment.
Speaking of, the fight scenes in "Sword" #17 were really great, a good example of how to display scale in combat, but there's so little storytelling in these pages that it would almost be better if the Luna Brothers just saved up and did it all as a TPB. The flight and the fight were awesome, though.
The Eighth Capitol City of Heaven storyline concludes in "Immortal Iron Fist" #26 which takes a kind of dim view of K'un Lun's presiding policies (and the Thunderer in particular) while dealing with the sins of great-great-great-great-keep-going-a-while-great-grandfathers. The dim coloring and muddy art are still a considerable impediment, especially with action scenes, and the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" sentiments (Danny's talkiness, the dirtying of K'un Lun's legacy) were less than attractive.
It was as shocking to see "Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk" #6 on the stands as it would be to see an issue of "Battle Chasers" ... okay, maybe not that big a shock, but still ... this issue was a mildly pleasant surprise as Nick Fury shows all his cards, Logan shows his skill as a hunter (which is not the same as a detective, despite what many believe) and Bruce isn't as smart as he thinks, despite a great bit of improvisation at 35,000 feet. The ending was solid but the journey was just okay.
Nobody, apparently, messes with Momma, as "War Machine" #6 did more to make American Eagle look cool than service the title character himself, but this issue was okay as it continued Jim Rhodes' quest for justice. The story could use a smidgen more clarity (in scripting, not in art), though.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Teen Titans" #71, "Nova" #25, "Gotham Gazette: Batman Alive" #1, "Fathom" #7, "Green Lantern" #41, "Ignition City" #3, "Last Days of Animal Man" #1, "Starcraft" #1, "Superman" #688 (why is it so hard to make Mon-El interesting?), "Darkness" #77, "Squadron Supreme" 2 #11, "Wildcats" #11 and there was no order at the store for "Cursed Pirate Girl" #1, which some would say is a review in and of itself.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
"Justice Society of America" #27 featured Obsidian going nuts (again) a threat from World War 2 popping up (again, but it's not Nazis, surprisingly) and a story that's just passe. Make it stop.
After "Wolverine" #73 is on stands, we finally get the abominably fan-fiction minded "Wolverine" #72 makes its tardy appearance and it's plain creepy. Johann Schmidt wearing Bucky Cap's uniform? "Acts of Vengeance" run by him, and actually working? A Nazi-redecorated White House? The story continuing in a one-off? Really, please, make it stop or post in in your blog where it can be avoided!
"Wonder Woman" #32 is bad, largely because of the weaknesses of the antagonist Genocide. It's so hard to come up with an adequate character to punch Diana in the face. Also, what's with the anti-Amazons? That stuff has no real development, nothing to distinguish it from anything that matters. How can this come from the same genius who delivers the wonder of "Secret Six?" For the love of feminism, make it stop!
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Great buys and five jumps -- even with a ding -- overcome adequate reads for a week that wins big.
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 may have an announcement soon.