The Buy Pile

Thu, June 4th, 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 JUNE 3RD, 2009

"War of Kings" #4

War of Kings #4 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Stepping up from "pretty good" to "oh no they didn't!" this issue features the events of "War of Kings: Ascension" tying in and leading a fifth-tier character to step up in a big way, Crimson Guard style. The Inhumans don't wanna fight and the Shi'ar wanna fight too much, Lilandra gets all Padme on the Shi'ar parliament and Ronan finds time for a quiet beachside stroll (or float) with his new wife (and Quicksilver's ex) Crystal. This mini started out pretty good, and has been steadily improving with every single issue, finding its stride amidst interstellar expanses and transgalactic conflicts by making every moment personal and involving characters that we can get to know. When has anybody been this much inside Gladiator's head? Who's ever heard Ronan's contemplative side to this degree? All while never stopping with the blasting and the punching and the yelling? That's good stuff, Maynard.

"Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three" #2

Astro City The Dark Age: Book Three #2 (Marvel Comics)

Heroes grow darker, beating savage justice out of their enemies in the streets, while villains grow ever more desperate and violent. Royal Williams, however, doesn't care about any of that. He doesn't care about capes and masks, he doesn't even care about his brother's fanatical quest for revenge against the man who killed their parents, doesn't care about the internecine struggles of ganglords or the paramilitary organization he abandoned, one that still didn't know he was working undercover to bring them down. Royal Williams cares about laying low, staying off the radar, and trying to survive these tumultuous times. Meanwhile, his aforementioned brother can barely notice when love looks his way, can't focus on anything outside of his own thirst for retribution. Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Alex Sinclair have laid out such a rich and vibrant tapestry of stories that have resonance and character development while never sacrificing the plot, moving ever forward. Tour de force comic making here.

"New Avengers: The Reunion" #4

New Avengers: The Reunion #4 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Despite the fact that the word "counterterrorism" is spelled wrong in big letters at the top of the first page (ow ow ow ow ow, editors really are overworked ...), this issue does a great job of bringing Bobbi Morse back to the Marvel Universe in her own Sidney Bristow sort of way, complete with a massive hand-to-hand fight scene (which could have been a bit more kinetic, but that's a teensy point), being psychoanalyzed by the Scientist Supreme and an emotional moment to bring the house down. The artwork and coloring by David Lopez, Alvaro Lopez, Daniele Rudoni and Marco Patrucco was good but not great, but Jim McCann's script sang out and carried the day. Don't worry if you missed the rest of the miniseries (as this column did), this issue does it all.

"Jersey Gods" #5

Jersey Gods #5 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. A huge meteor hurtles through the inky infinity of space towards the planet Neburon, and its semi-divine populace has blah blah blah blah ... whatever, screw that noise. The good stuff really starts to happen in this issue when Barock (he's no president, worry not) bursts into a Port Newark warehouse after literally traversing some of the weirdest space this side of "G0dland" to get to his girl. Even when the artist tries to use "summon" as a sound effect (wait, what?), the over-the-top nature of this book and its Kirby-tastic tone gets the job done. A bit more of a climb than "War of Kings," this series may have finally found its way in its plucky female lead Zoe, whose snark and sassiness make the ineffable nature of the powers above more believable, more grounded. More, please?

"Agents of Atlas" #6

Agents of Atlas #6 (Marvel Comics)

There are things you don't know, things about Namora and her cousin, the avenging son of Atlantis. Things some may find creepy. Things some may find intriguing. Nonetheless, those things are revealed here as a secret Atlantean enclave is revealed as the long absent Wakandan-born spy Derek Khanata suffers a slow job market after the downfall of SHIELD. The goal's finding a way to get at the ever-present Norman Osborn, but team member Namora finds something much more unexpected under the sea. Interesting, good action, Gorilla Man's always good for a few good one liners ("The name's Spoozy McGasbag. Good to meet'cha"). The ending doesn't really settle anything, but it's a great ride getting there.

"Secret Six" #10

Secret Six #10 (DC Comics)

With another mysterious McGuffin to safeguard and another mission from someone called Mockingbird (it was Alexander Luthor last time, but that can't be the case here, right?). Well, a former Wonder Woman named Artemis has gone decidedly rogue alongside a ruthless and cultured Mr. Smyth, people who trade in people, and characters who regard the lives of others more disposably than a normal person considers tissue paper. "There is no joy, no personal satisfaction in all the world like owning a human being," said Emil, the apparent majordomo of this clandestine operation. When you get that in mind, you'll have an idea of the kind of people who've hired the team, who largely shrug off the atrocities ("Okee dokee," Deadshot said as he was asked to do something reprehensible). The issue's largely set up, but Gail Simone's script has some great moments between characters (Bane and Scandal Savage in particular) and more great action depicted by Nicola Scott, Doug Hazlewood, Mike Sellers and Jason Wright.

"Official Index of the Marvel Universe" #6

Official Index to the Marvel Universe #6 (Marvel Comics)

What do we have this time? Ooh, Jim Rhodes' start as Iron Man, as well as his headaches and craziness caused by a poorly calibrated suit. That's kooky. Hm, mostly gangland styled stuff between The Arranger, Hobgoblin, Kingpin and the Rose, except for some goofy one-offs like "Red 9 and Red Tape" in "Amazing Spider-Man #264, Spidey chasing a guy all the way out to Scarsdale in "The Commuter Cometh" or even a goofy bit with Crusher Hogan. Meh on all that. Ooh, but here are some "modern classic" issues of "Uncanny X-Men" covered, including some of the Silvestri period from 1988, addressing the sticky matter of Genosha, the even more confusing Inferno, Jubilee, Gateway and Psylocke's first transitions from a weirdly dressed Englishwoman to a much sassier ninja-fied Asian girl. Hm ... okay, none of that makes any sense either. Oh well.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Some fantastic stuff alongside some pretty good stuff, and that's a good thing to lead off with.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

When Hank Pym said "It's on, b***h," to Reed Richards in "Mighty Avengers" #25, you knew you weren't reading your father's Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Jocasta's sudden move to save the hidden interdimensional lab (which turns out to be the brainchild of the dearly departed Bill Foster) turns out to be a problem that can be solved by the last artifact of Black Goliath's genius ... which Reed Richards has and won't share. So Hank Pym decides to get all Danny Ocean about it and talks his crew into taking down the Baxter Building. Cute set up, but slow, so very slow.

Wasting no time, "Dead Run" #1 gets you all the facts you need fast -- post apocalyptic world, largely self-involved courier finds a reason to care about something and make an impossible cross-country drive. As a matter of fact, this was a great idea when Larry Young called it "Black Diamond," but this approach is a lot less poetic and abstract, going for the direct approach. Worth watching.

Getting back to modern slavery -- which seems to be all the rage this week -- "Punisher Max: Naked Kill" #1 has a secured skyscraper jam packed with kidnapped women from around the world forced to do snuff films and service a monstrously endowed genre superstar. The only problem for Frank? He has to go in completely unarmed, then try to kill everybody. Sound like a problem? It's a book that does exactly what you think it will, which is okay ... but not exactly "run out and buy me" quality.

Speaking of meeting expectations, Snake-Eyes does pretty much what you'd think he does in "G.I. Joe Movie Prequel" #4, and most fans could have scripted this issue themselves given the premise. Which ain't bad, but it's not exactly inspired either.

The kookiness is toned way, way down in "Batman and Robin" #1 as Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly suit up the love child of the Bat and his first protege to continue the quixotic struggle for justice in decidedly sci-fi trappings. There's good dialogue but a bit too much navel gazing, and the new "threat" of Pyg is just weird, not actually interesting.

Oh, there's gonna be a new chieftain in "Black Panther" #5, one way or another, no matter what that crotchety Panther God said. This all happens while T'Challa and Ororo argue about deals with a devil (never the devil, because you never know) and Morlun advances on Wakanda, which for some odd reason has left aside all of its mystic trappings for a purely deterministic approach. Getting back to its groove, but not really there yet.

"Irredeemable" #3 is almost ready for prime time, as the Plutonian takes a meeting with people who did not expect to see him and makes a big impression. This series has made a big deal about this Superman analogue being such a great terror, and for the first time the reader gets a real glimpse of it. In a creepy way at the end. The impossibility of the situation starts to sink in, and maybe, just maybe, this series will be ready to get serious next issue.

Sorry if this is a spoiler, but it might not be necessary for "Mighty" #5 to even be around with "Irredeemable" happening at the same time, especially since Alpha One is kind of a pansy for his stance, but nonetheless something's fishy and everybody starts to notice in this issue. That's pretty much it. Step it up here, guys, the Plutonian's way ahead of you on the chutzpah scale.

It's all sex and lies and tension in "Dark Avengers" #5, where Norman's team simmers towards a boil, Bob scares the hell out of everybody but Norman Osborn (who handles the resurrection deftly) and Atlantis Attacks like it was 1989 all over again. Again, it's got its mean swagger down pat, but needs to step up the plotting.

No shortage of plot in "Scalped" #29, which was intense in a very HBO sort of way, as is this series' inclination. However, it's so brutal so consistently, in this issue and in the series as a whole, that after a while the non-stop parade of bloodshed and intense sex and drug use just start to wash over you. The lead's making some kinds of decisions here, but they take forever to get through his drug-addled haze.

"Daredevil Noir" #3 was more of the same from the last issue, with the Bullseye Killer being revealed, Matt Murdock beating people up but getting nowhere and Wilson Fisk still laughing all the way to the bank. So, aside from the reveal, it's the same as last issue. Next ...

John Layman's delivered a nice surprise with "Chew" #1, the story of a cibopathic ("getting psychic impressions from anything he eats") police detective who lives in a weird alternate USA that has outlawed poultry due to fears of avian flu. So possessing chicken is a crime. Seriously. Interesting, but despite the kookiness and twists, this whole issue is a prologue to something else. We'll see what that is.

It's rather hard to believe what Sue Richards helps Peter do in "Amazing Spider-Man" #596, but the man's desperate. Harry Osborn goes behind the looking glass with his dad at Avengers Tower and Aunt May stays focused on getting hitched. Again, this series takes the Tobey Maguire approach (i.e. "Spidey's not really funny") and if that does it for you, this might be your cup of tea ...

A comic with a good grasp on funny dialogue was "Atomic Robo: Shadow from Beyond Time" #2, which had great interplay between its two leads but not much else.

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

"Ultimatum" #4, "Superman: World of New Krypton" #4, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Vampires," "Authority" #11, "Timestorm 2009-2099: Spider-Man" and "Final Crisis Aftermath: Run" #2.

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

"Captain Britain and MI-13 Annual" #1 reads like a missing issue from "Reign in Hell." More Brian, probably, kids.

To say that "Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye" #3 was slightly less incomprehensible than previous issues in that it had an actual beginning, middle and end that can be recognized isn't much to offer. The art's gorgeous, but why any of this is happening can't be fathomed.

It's sad that a comic book like "New Mutants" #2 is so mired in old business, in the leftovers from Chuck Xavier's mid-twenties dalliances that are still causing trouble today. Dull trouble, the sort that Len Samson straightened out before the Hulk joined the Pantheon. Gah.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Way less bad than okay, and that's okay.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

This is a win with great writing from the likes of Busiek, McCann and Simone with some solid performers at their side.

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.

TAGS:  the buy pile, war of kings, astro city, new avengers, review

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