The Buy Pile

Thu, July 2nd, 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 JULY 1ST, 2009

"Secret Six" #11

Secret Six #11 (DC Comics)

When class warfare and ideological differences get between the team and a paycheck, it's ultimately an ancient whim that introduces internecine conflict and starts all the blood flowing. In this issue, the team has signed up to protect an island full of slavers doing something so "completely nuts" that its hubris borders on biblical. Okay, sure. That, however, is really just a backdrop as Wonder Woman's "sister" has a bad day, Deadshot gets threatened, laid, chastized and threatened again (all in the space of maybe twelve hours). There's more fun, but it'd be a spoiler to tell. Suffice it to say that Gail Simone's wicked script fits well inside of Nicola Scott/Dough Hazelwood/Mark McKenna/Jason Wright artwork, at once intimate and kinetic. This series is a real gem.

"Marvel Divas" #1

Marvel Divas #1 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. The pitch probably went like this: "Sex and the City ... but with superheroines!" Patsy Walker as Carrie, Monica Rambeau as a politicized Samantha, Felicia Hardy as a surprising Miranda analogue and Angelica Jones as a tragic ... what was the name of the annoying one with black hair? Doesn't matter. The roles almost fit on the ladies, but casting Jericho Drumm, Daimon Hellstrom and Thomas Fireheart as varying degrees of charming or hapless romantic interests worked out well. Likewise, the faux-but-not-really jealousy of "the a-listers" rang true. For male readers, this can give them the illusion that they're in on the female mind. However, for neophytes or females, this issue didn't delve deeply enough into the characters (there was hardly time, and not even proper breakdowns to start the issue) of either gender and there's hardly a quotable in here. Call in Daniel Way, or Joe Kelly, or -- shocker -- maybe even someone like Gail Simone, and this could have been something sparkling. With the serviceable script from Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa this potential gem remains rough hewn. Fascinating idea, adequate execution, and just good enough to make the cut on its moxie and ambition alone.

Also, a promise was made to Scandalous of Girls Entertainment Network that if this issue could be said to suck from an objective and craft based perspective, she could punch this reviewer in the stomach. We'll see how that works out.

"Official Index of the Marvel Universe" #7

Official Index to The Marvel Universe #7 (Marvel Comics)

Apparently, Peter David revealed who the Hobgoblin really was (which now seems like a non-story, but back in 1987, when Ronnie Reagan was still in power, it was a big deal). Also in that wacky year, Iron Man fought (and this is not a joke, it really happened) Flex, a "fitness fascist" and "crazed vegetarian bodybuilder." Really, although he was apparently too lame to make a list of Iron Man villains that included even Actor and Man-Bull)! This Index also notes the 1991 struggle where editor Bob Harras allegedly chose "hot new artists" over Chris Claremont and they still went off to create Image Comics and make a gazillion dollars. Yes, this will save you a ton on both interesting and crappy back issues, and if you were a collector in the 90s, those Romita and Lee and Portacio covers may give you a shiver of nostalgia. Armor Wars! Mikhail Rasputin trying to take over the Morlocks! Peter Parker fighting in Berlin, guest lecturing at Empire State University on "ohmic resistance" (yep, "ASM" #301, nine months before registering for classes there ... and isn't he a chemist?) getting locked in a looney bin and hanging out with 1988 Eddie Murphy (how much of that got erased by Brand New Day? Hard to say). Crazy stuff, and wonderfully indicative of how the old days made just as little sense as things do now.

"Irredeemable" #4

Irredeemable #4 (Boom! Studios)

Jump from the Read Pile. The Plutonian finally steps up in a major way, answering a question in a way that's super effective, visiting Singapore and scaring the hell out of some old friends, all after getting a chance to visit the UN. Spoilers aplenty in any details that could be revealed, but this is a show of power that impresses just how dangerous extrahumans can be and how fruitless resistance against many could become. This finally develops the main character, and now if the supporting cast can stop being so shell shocked, this can really take off (pardon the pun).

"Invincible Iron Man" #15

The Invincible Iron Man #15 (Marvel Comics)

Whitney Frost, the criminal known as Madame Masque and current squeeze of The Hood, has tracked Tony Stark to the wilds of Russia, and so has gal pal Pepper Potts. The problem is, Tony Stark's just slightly smarter than a normal person, and in this game, that's nowhere near good enough. Meanwhile, Maria Hill is the spy that went nuts in the cold, and the Black Widow wants nothing of it despite HAMMER troops (using old SHIELD gliders in a fun throwback moment) and Tony doesn't remember Happy Hogan. The problem is, Madame Masque is much more emotionally invested in this than the regular "walk in and shoot him" sort of person that this kind of job should go to (but who might lack the skills to actually find an even close to normal Tony Stark). A little too quick, but showing good action scenes and great tension, dragging the reader to the edge of their seat and then chopping off everything from the butt back. More great work from Fraction, Larroca and D'Armata.

"Agents of Atlas" #7

Agents of Atlas #7 (Marvel Comics)

Namor and Jimmy Woo have some serious subjects to discuss while the idea of a royal Atlantean wedding floats around. Meanwhile, Derek Khanata gets a job offer and Namora finds out some things she'd really rather never have known. There's also a cool backup story about the dragon Mister Lao featuring a surprise alliance between Master Plan and an Asian character you might not have expected to traffic in such questionable types. Great work here and fun stuff, even if it's a little insular (even with the "hidden warriors Q&A" at the end.

"Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three" #3

Astro City The Dark Age: Book Three #3 (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

This issue focuses a lot more on the heroic powers at work in the Astro City continuity, looking deep inside the lives and loves of the super team Apollo Eleven while continuing the undercover investigation of criminal organization The Pyramid. With a silver age spin and modern sensibilities, this is another gripping chapter in this saga of two brothers bordering the great events of many decades. Brilliant work.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

I believe the word here would be "wow" -- with "Divas" as the weakest, and even it being very re-readable, that's a great start.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

"War of Kings" #5 was solid, with the galaxy reeling from a big death last issue (if it sticks) and a dangerous decision by one of the most dangerous men in the universe. The erstwhile Darkhawk gets a little hard core, the Imperial Guard fights on (on every side of the conflict), Ronan and Crystal grow closer and Maximus just can't believe he's not the craziest thing around. The problem? All of this at once is too much. Hone in on fewer elements and make them personal -- the closeness of Medusa and Black Bolt for example, or the escalating megalomania of Vulcan and his often fearful subordinates -- and this can have a better framing device and execution.

This alterna-FDA gets much weirder, as "Chew" #2 illustrated a word where "cibopathy" is at least understood. The first issue was good and this one's better, narrowing focus on key characters and doing some weird CSI styled flashback storytelling, but it's still just a procedural, weird weapons and zany action notwithstanding. Which isn't bad at all, but isn't awe-inspiring.

The problem with "Gravel" #12 is the arguable lead story -- murders in the Major 7, which is almost predictable in what happens and what's ahead (although ethnic magician John B's savviness was a pleasant surprise). The creation of a new Minor Seven, however, shows many more sparks, and just doesn't have time to shine. Maybe it needs a mash up.

"Greek Street" #1 is, in its own way, as ambitious an undertaking as "Marvel Divas," but both took itself too seriously and was far too vague and unfocused for something with art at this level. You'd need an artist with a facility for faces and identities -- Gene Ha, perhaps, or Salvador Larocca -- to make the visual storytelling more clear. It reads like a "Twin Peaks" knock off TV pilot in storyboards, and while it has interesting sources and ideas, it doesn't quite stick the landing.

"All will and no heart." That's what the Guardians want in "Green Lantern Corps" #38, and this issue accomplishes that, casting a dark cloud over the Guardians' stewardship of the universe in the same way "Star Trek: Insurrection" made the Federation seem a little skeevy. Which isn't bad, and had some cute moment with Guy Gardner, but is a long way from demanding a ride home.

One could say that "Mighty" #6 serves as a prequel to what's happening in "Irredeemable," as people start to find out their endlessly powerful hero Alpha One has some skeletons in his closet ... and trunk, and pantry and maybe even in his gym locker. Working your way around the senses of a man who can hear and see all is attempted, tension builds between the lead and his captain ... but it still falls just short, as it never commits to its conspiracy mystery or the "secret life of the powerful" storylines.

When the title character does show up in "Transformers Spotlight: Metroplex," it puts to bed all discussions of the robots not being "giant" enough. But 'Plex has a reason why nobody knows him and nobody knows where he is ... and the reader gets no idea about why. Which is a dodge, and even turns the previously well-developed antagonist Six Shot into a one-note boogeyman. Mysterious, but really maybe only eight pages worth of story.

The last pages of "Sword" #18 are pretty smart, and there's some more of the great action from the previous issue, but since every issue so far has felt like it happens in about seventeen seconds, this just felt too easy. The flash backs almost worked for characterization, which has been in short supply recently, but ended up just a little vague.

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

"Dead Run" #2, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" #26, "Cable" #16, "Star Wars: Invasion" #1, "Final Crisis Aftermath: Run" #3, "Deadpool: Merc With a Mouth" #1 (surprisingly toothless and unfunny), "Escape from Wonderland" #0, "Destroyer" #4, "Atomika" #9 (what the heck is happening? This has been gone so long, it's hard to remember).

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

Oh, originality ... SPOILER WARNING, but in the same way Bruce Wayne has found somewhere new (or old) to be, "Captain America Reborn" #1 shows that Steve Rogers is not dead, he's ... well, honestly, it's too stupid to type, given the Red Skull's predilections in the original scheme. Unless Zola or Faustus ... no, that's dumb too. The premise is terrible, and that makes fruit from the poisonous tree hard to swallow, and the "Deep Impact"/"Armageddon" style parallel desperately calls for new blood and new ideas in the insular industry.

Dark turns for bright heroes, "Justice League: Cry For Justice" #1 has goodie goodies like Ray Palmer and Hal Jordan gritting their teeth and getting the idea to be proactive ... just like "Justice League Elite," and just like "The Avengers" many years ago when the Vision manned a holographic threat board. When you bring on Congorilla and some weird Starman from another planet, it just gets sad.

"Authority" #12 proves that there really is nothing new under the sun, or in it, as yet another one of their friends comes back as a threat, almost killing everybody left in the sparse world. Also sad, in that this has about as much originality as "Reborn." "Ooh, you remember X Character? What if we brought them back, but as a bad guy/threat?" Lame.

The Marquis of Death is so unimpressive that he drags all of "Fantastic Four" #568 down with him. Really? A pan-dimensional warlord that loves extinguishing Fantastic Fours. Reed would have never ran across this, as much as he loves poking around in other universes? For that matter, a league of Reeds wouldn't have formed their own version of Usenet to share data on this? Come on, now. Unacceptable.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Mostly meh, which leaves little impression at all.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Due to so much good and so much ambition shown (even in retrograde times, "Authority" and "Reborn"), let's say things went well.

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.

Be nice to Erik Amaya, who took over the daily Comic Reel this week -- it's a tough grind.

Finally, 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, marvel divas, astro city, secret six, irredeemableright on down to

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