The Buy Pile

Thu, July 16th, 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 15TH, 2009

"Dark Reign: Mister Negative" #2

Dark Reign: Mr. Negative #2 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Extrahuman crime lord Mister Negative seems to be doing all right. The Hood's sent a squad of his super second stringers in and have the whole of Chinatown cordoned off by Norman Osborn's HAMMER troops (what does that stand for, anyway?), but the man known as philanthropic billionaire Martin Li has held them off pretty effectively. As the cover here shows, he's corrupted Spider-Man and turned him into a relentless engine of violence ("The stronger the 'light' in a person's soul, I've found ... the 'darker' they become when corrupted by my negative touch") who -- somehow -- is even funnier than he normally is. Suffice it to say his battle with Lightmaster delivers one of the best lines this year -- way too good to spoil here. The lead works as a determined character with secrets and who values the loyalty of his followers even as he throws them away. A very pleasant surprise.

"Fables" #86

Fables #86 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

How exactly do you stop the boogeyman? Mister Dark narrates the tale of his own undoing, showcasing the magical talents of country warlock Dunster Happ, who develops his natural talent into doing some pretty impressive things, along the way revealing some of the inner workings of the Adversary's imperial ambitions and the scale of power he came to wield. You also see how delicately strands of this series are woven together -- a hint here, a minor element there -- to make a cohesive storytelling tapestry that borders on the magnificent. You've heard it here before and you'll here it again -- "Fables" is the best book on the stands, month in and month out, and this issue is an excellent self-contained example of why.

"Deadpool" #12

Deadpool #12 (Marvel Comics)

Once again, the wonder of tacos takes center stage as Bullseye, er, Hawkeye and Deadpool elongate their murderous game of cat and mouse with sharp objects, explosives and firearms, all while Norman Osborn looks exasperated and doesn't realize that this is actually a love story. A very, very, very sick love story. Along the way, a lot of money changes hands, you find out that another one of Osborn's foot soldiers is just waiting for the ride to be over and find out why it's not safe to drive around certain taco trucks. Not much of a cliffhanger if you read previews, but a fitting close to this very funny chapter, brilliantly scripted by Daniel Way and visually presented by Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco and Marte Gracia.

"JSA vs. Kobra" #2

JSA vs. Kobra #2 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. If you live in a world where people shoot lasers from their eyes and regularly lift buses over their heads, you really have to step your game up if you're in a mind for terrorism. When you're also a magic-using religious cult, that gives you some fun defenses against infiltration and some real surprises for people not expecting it. So who's the right people to go up against you? If you picked DC's superteam where the median age is 45, you'd probably be freakin' crazy, but that's who's facing off against the new Kobra, who always zigs when you think he'll zag and pulls a Kansas City Shuffle on Mister Terrific and Power Girl that is as effective as Palpatine's early works. There's not much plot you can discuss without spoiling vital elements, but the face of terrorism in the DCU is way scarier than anything we could face here.

"Agents of Atlas" #8

Agents of Atlas #8 (Marvel Comics)

In a classic case of bad luck, good-guy-helming-supervillain-empire Jimmy Woo's off the reservation at the wrong time when an unobserved pseudopod of the aforementioned criminal network makes a fatal mistake while just doing their jobs. Meanwhile, Norman Osborn gets miffed, there's a meeting in a hot tub and ... oh, right, HULK SMASH! Dancing in the periphery of the Marvel universe and providing another element of instability in these interesting Dark Reign times, this series regularly delivers surprises and delights.

"DMZ" #43

DMZ #43 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

There's a cult of killers in the divided streets of New York City, and the things that go bump in the night carry jacketed lead. The one this story focuses on, a former cop named Tony carrying around a load of sorrow and regret that could weigh down an oil tanker, deals with some of the pain of his past Anakin and the Tuskens style, and while this issue feels like it happens way too fast, what is there has meat on its bones. Good stuff.

"Incognito" #5

Incognito #5 (Icon/Marvel Comics)

Sex and violence and answers as rogue witness protection client Zack Overkill goes off the reservation for good and he's okay with that ("when I pass out afterwards, even in my dreams I feel sore ...") as the noir vibe meets the modern murderous sensibilities of books like "Wanted." Ed Brubaker can write his natural ass off when he wants to, and on this series he combines the frustrated tension of "Sleeper" with the space aged craziness of something like the good periods of "The Authority." The big surprise at the end is really worth coming back for, as well.

"Poe" #1

Poe #1 (Boom! Studios)

Jump from the Read Pile. Ready for a surprisingly engrossing detective story? A man goes mad over the tragic death of his family and ... no, he doesn't start gunning down criminals, wrong book. No, he goes all Adrian Monk with it, see, except he's in Ye Merry Olde England! Hooked yet? Sneaky like flipping channels and landing on something you'll end up watching all the way through, J. Barton Mitchell's script is enthralling, while Dean Kotz and Digikore Studios deliver an world that looks lived in and convincing. The blackbird gag is very smart as they follow a sort of Dick Wolf period procedural between the character building bits, and the "Sixth Sense" shtick could have some legs also. Quaff yourself some absinthe and get literary, it's good for you.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

That's a damned fine stack of comics, boyo.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

Hank Pym really did have a lot to show off in "Mighty Avengers" #27, with a getaway that'd make Prometheus jealous in its complexity. That was cool, but the introduction of a long lost Inhuman as an "omega class threat" was a little fast by way of a retcon (and one that contradicts what's commonly known)) and didn't seem like something Hank Pym could handle, honestly. Okay, maybe this issue wasn't that great after all ...

"Caped" #4 was not a bad ending to this mini, as many characters stepped up and played interesting roles and the plot was decent. However, the stakes didn't seem very important because the characters didn't really grab the reader, here or in previous issues, mostly analogues of characters we already know. Still, pleasant enough.

Dr. Thomas Elliot has a very nasty idea in "Batman: Streets of Gotham" #2 that could be more damaging to the Bat than back breaking, floods or even death. Which is, actually, kind of clever all by itself. But Dick Grayson's continual whining? Not so much.

"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" #1 has all of Phillip Dick's brilliance ... but the art doesn't really add anything to it. You could read the novel itself and get a very similar -- and less expensive -- experience.

"X-Factor" #46 has a lot of brilliant elements -- the craftiness of Layla Miller, one of the most inherently captivating characters created in the last decade, a cute surprise at the end, Theresa stepping up a little and so on -- but it's done in such a convoluted way that it doesn't quite work. Maybe Christopher J. Priest could have put such a complicated puzzle together, but then again, maybe not.

"Brave and the Bold" #25 continues the Milestoning-up of the DCU as El Paso's Finest tries to tag along with the surly and sometimes overextended Hardware in fighting Milestone's answer to AIM called "The System" and a DCU villain hardly worth mentioning. Perfectly disposable, honestly, but Hardware is fun in a crotchety kind of way, and Jaime Reyes' is always a good voice for narration.

"Doctor Who" #1 was quite pleasant in a pop-culture-y way, bamboozling and charming his way through trying to shut down a temporal concern like he was a more determined version of a Douglas Adams character. However, literally every other character here is like Luke Walton, standing around and waiting for the star to do his thing.

"Unthinkable" #3 ratchets up the action a bit and makes the thriller more thrilling while giving the steady characterization a bit of a break. The issue structure may inhibit this story's flow, as it might find a better balance as a single work, but the big ideas here are fascinating and the action you see is solid.

What gaineth a hero ... "Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter" #2 has the hero going to some extreme measures to take on Galactus and his heralds, ambitiously trying to deny the world-eater his meals. The last few pages are the best, as Bill makes some decisions that may go too far but follow his story arc effectively. The issue could have snapped up the pacing a bit more, or made the planet in question more than a rest stop.

"Unknown" #3 could have taken some notes from "Poe" on how to draw people into a mystery, as he skeptical protagonist didn't have much to make her relatable or interesting despite her House-styled snark. Like a poor man's "Da Vinci Code," it doesn't ask much nor give much in return.

The Hood's resurectees can't carry the panel time in "Punisher" #7 and Frank himself may be flipping out, given the offer on the table in front of him. Too scattered to get the job done.

This next issue should really go on the "meh" pile, but "Blackest Night" #1 is a big enough book that it deserves a bit of a look. The problem is that it's exactly what you expect. If you gave the basic premise to maybe 65 percent of comics fans, they could plot out something very similar, down to what page X dead character appears. Not good enough to even think about buying, not bad enough to despise, this big "event" comic has virtually nothing in it to inspire any emotional response whatsoever.

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

"Domino Lady" #1 (cheesecake noir without much plot? Uh ... okay ...), "New Mutants" #3, "Action Comics" #879, "Buck Rogers" #2, "Air" #11, "Timestorm 2009 2099" #3, "Descendant" #1, "Vigilante" #8, "Wednesday Comics" #2 (the Hawkman piece was good, but not four bucks of good for freakin' newsprint), "Dark Avengers" #7, "Nexus Space Opera Acts 3 & 4" (a big anticlimax after all the wait).

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

Does DC publish "Final Crisis Escape" #3 and comics like it just so reviewers can have something to hate? Is it a distraction from books they'd rather not get savaged? This issue is less incomprehensible than others with its game show stylings, but ... really, so what?

Any time you see "a very special issue," that's probably not a good sign, and "Captain America: #601 is no exception. Remember that big press-worthy thing that had everybody interested in this title last month? Let's ignore that and spend a whole issue on an out-of-sequence flashback (it goes back to before the Winter Soldier picked up the shield). Boring stuff, and insulting to have it include vampires.

Now, "Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps" #1 had some awfulness to it as well, as the Lame Lanterns, er, Blue Lanterns got a spotlight that made them either the stupidest or most deluded batch of creeps in the universe, and an Indigo thing just didn't make any sense at all.

Oh, Peter David -- crossovers never work for this property, and "Fallen Angel: Reborn" #1 reads like an issue of "Angel" that turned all fan fiction on a bender.

In "Titans" #15, writer J.T. Krul turns in another undersea story of people brooding meaningfully and talking a lot. Is that a specialty of his? Bo-ring!

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Not that great, honestly.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Three jumps and a lotta great buys can put up a good fight against the weight of boredom, incompetence and incoherency, but it'd ultimately lose. Let's regroup and try again next week.

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.

The writer of The Buy Pile will not be at SDCC next week, staying home with his expecting wife and planning for the Scion of Hannibal, shipping date December 2009. Have fun.

Oh, one more thing ... there is no such thing as The Hundred and Four. Yeah, it's like that ...

TAGS:  the buy pile, dark reign, fables, deadpool, jsa vs kobra

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