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 22ND, 2009
If you drink and screw and kick butt all over several dimensions, some of the details of your life might slip your mind. Which is why you hire a professional biographer and get him special and exclusive access to the mystical land of Pei Ling Island, one of the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven. However, when the story's not exactly as glorious and spectacular as you remember ... well, let's just say that the book of your life may not be what you'd want to hear. With great delicacy and superb craftsmanship, Jason Aaron delivers a script that's one of the best origins in recent memory, with a phalanx of artists along the way including Mico Suayan, Stefano Gaudiano, Roberto de la Torre, Khari Evans, Victor Olazaba, Michael Lark and Arturo Lozzi. Then, just when you think you're sated, there's a backup story with Luke Cage and Danny Rand trying to give back to an impoverished family and getting imbroiled in turf wars that have plagued generations. A very satisfying read all around.
This series, apparently, already ended: the next four issues are an "extension" created by the publisher as a bridge to the new ongoing series. Why? Well, think about, say, the TV show "Scrubs." It's a long way from its funniest periods, and soon will lack even its focal point and protagonist. Yet it'll be back for another season for reasons financial if not creative. Similar shtick here. Ironhide and Optimus Prime throw back some intoxicating brand of energon while reminiscing about the good old days. Meanwhile, Starscream ponders and frets while Megatron barely clings to life. Does that sound like anything actually happened? A shockingly weak effort that minimizes the accomplishments of the previous issues.
What does the Panther God of Wakanda have to do with Atum the Demogorge? How much does Cronus weigh? How many entities has the primordial goddess Gaea had sex with exclusively to spawn someone for revenge? What's the deal with Venus from the Agents of Atlas? All of that information is contained within these very informative pages, which cover everything from Joe Quesada's stillborn Santerians to the two sets of Celtic deities that inhabit the Marvel universe. True, many of the pantheon entries are repetitive in their initial paragraphs, but from the map of Otherworld to the intricacies of the Celestial's Olympia, the core information here leaves certainty where doubt and guesswork existed previously. Sure, they made Sekhmet primarily male (weird) and the facts behind They Who Sit Above In Shadow remains vague, but overall things make good sense that this sourcebook is a worthy addition to any collection.
What the ... guest writer? Uh ... that's unexpected. Hm. Jack gets stranded in the jungles of west Africa in the late 19th century ... and ... what exactly happens here? Nothing, huh? The story doesn't even so much end as stop. Jack was the inspiration for Tarzan. Okay. If you say so. But as issues go, there's maybe two actual laughs here (giggles at best) and this title surely misses the talents of Bill Willingham. Kind of a bust.
Jump from the Read Pile. There's a lot of smart things done here, as Hercules battles his own mortal shade "Heracles" for the fate of his father (at one point literally slapping the snot out of his enemy -- ew), while asking some important questions. "Why do you persist in talking in old-timey Shakespeare talk? We're from Greece! From two thousand years before Shakespeare! It makes absolutely ..." (punch) "... no!" (punch) "sense!" Pluto and Zeus (not Hades? No, and honestly it's best not to try and get your head around it) have an old argument and Amadeus Cho gets some very disheartening news. The Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente script has some surprising emotional depths in its pugilism and parley, and the art team of Ryan Stegman, Terry Pallot, Raul Travino and Chris Sotomayor deliver the action and the intimacy with equal aplomb. Good stuff.
Normally, when a series has three kick-ass issues in a row, the fourth is a gimme, automatically winning a ride home. This issue leaves that theory a little suspect. The series spins its "Rashomon" perspective towards the DJs Seth Bingo and Silent Girl (fun fact: she's less silent than Silent Bob), where Seth spends most of the issue berating everyone and almost everything and Silent Girl subtly plays the voice of reason ... and all the records. There's magic afoot despite the club's leanings, such as when a Blondie record is pulled out that automatically creates a dance floor sensation, the way the music illuminates a whole room of people and even in the sniping internecine chatter between Seth and Silent Girl. There's fun here, but it's not a lot, an issue that has a lot less dialogue (and less dancing, truth be told) while adding little to the mythos. The David LaFuente drawn backup "Roses" is sneaky in its smartness, and helps, but this issue's surely a downbeat from the raw fierceness of the last two, like the song a DJ plays in between the ones you really have to dance to.
Jump from the Read Pile. This column is not well known for Spider-Man fandom, but this issue literally does it all. Spidey being funny while beating people up? Check. Peter being sweet and funny and a little sad and funny again all within panels of each other? Done. Super villains getting fought for reasons that make sense and have actual motivation? Tough, but handled nonetheless. Awesome art by John Romita, Jr. over an efficient, crafty Dan Slott script? Got it. Toss in the Winter Soldier's Avengers (Spidey and Wolverine could practically star in a mini-series at this point) and the FF, a creepy surprise for an old favorite, a heartwarming Mark Waid scripted backup (that adds a lot to the character), three more solid back ups from Bob Gale, Zeb Wells and "Galactica 1980" fan Marc Guggenheim and you've got one hefty comic book that's actually worth every cent of the five dollar cover price. A great surprise!
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Two underachievers and one that just barely made it work ... still, the jumps makes the good outweigh the bad here.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Executive Assistant Iris" #2 is pretty close to the mark, with a kind of Japanese school for Black Widows, and it largely fell down only in its choice of main dramatic antagonist, which seemed a little too facile. Still, this series gets more interesting as it goes along, and it'll be good to see which way they go next.
It's almost as if Hunter the White Wolf had taken a role in the creation of "Avengers: The Initiative" #26, which advises a host of bad guys to follow in the path of the Thunderbolts and the Dark Avengers, playing the heroes publicly while engaging in evil privately. The Taskmaster makes a good start here while the Hood continues his meteoric rise as a big time player with bad strategic applications (following a similar path here as done with the Punisher, only with a much bigger and more dangerous target). Still, this issue needed a little more actually happening and a little less of what we've already seen in other tie-in books.
The shade formerly known as J'onn J'onzz got all the best lines in "Green Lantern" #44, making this issue pretty good from an action packed Geoff Johns script. "I'm as powerful as Superman," he says, black ring on his finger as he smashes a huge building just to take a swing at Hal and Barry. "Why does everyone forget that?" Perfectly personifying the Zombie Lantern raison d'etre, he admonished, "Justice is dead, Barry. And the rest of the universe is about to catch up." Why not better than an Honorable Mention? Hal and Barry both had none of the steely reserves of determination we've come to expect from our heroes, dodging death as it dogged their steps. Close, though.
Blastaar makes a surprisingly good turn as king in "Nova" #27 while Richard Ryder continues this storyline's solid "feet on the ground" look at what's happening in the War of Kings. A Strontian's the axis upon which this issue rotates, as none of the statecraft nor strategy matter more than fraternal devotion. Truth be told, had Buy Pile issues been read more closely, this would have taken the spot of "Jack of Fables" or "All Hail Megatron." Shame, that.
Scarlett goes to the wall, choosing personal loyalty over the demands of protocol in "G.I. Joe" #7. The problem is that there are two halves of this issue: the introduction of Cover Girl and the secret tribunal for Scarlett, both of which had solid elements but neither of which had enough to work in a whole issue, and neither of which worked well together, being wholly different tonally.
Once again you get a look at the inhumanity of man to man -- and super man -- in "Life and Times of Savior 28 #4. The analogues of masked stereotypes crowd around like Brutus and Marc Anthony, while the title character keeps asking, exasperated, for the same things that haunted John Lennon. Which is part of the problem -- nothing new here.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" #16 was an okay freewheeling tale of time travel and dire consequence, playing on the acts of the War of Kings to show a future so dark that it can barely be seen. It was a little open ended, and while it did explain Starhawk it did so with an "explanation" that was far from clear. Not bad, though.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Incredible Hulk" #600, "Supergirl" #43 (being "meh" is an improvement for this deathly dull series), "Dellec" #1, "X-Force" #17, "Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance" #3, "Gemini" 4, "Gotham City Sirens" #2, Power Girl" #3, "Cyberforce: Hunter Killer" #1, "Wednesday Comics" #3, "Invincible" #64 (PUNCHING!), "Black Panther" #6
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
"Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds" #5 was, in a word, abysmal. From its "Wanted"-style ending to the "what the heezy?" climax confrontation, this series of pin ups and "where's Waldo" scenes gives future writers free reign to play with any Legion and any Legionnaire they want, but not by doing so with, say, a logical story or a comprehensible chain of events. The art's great -- and yes, it was great to see Tyroc -- but this mini series was one ongoing train wreck from the last page of the first issue.
Speaking of awful, "Ms. Marvel" #42 is a shock to the system, given how good this series has been recently, with Carol Danvers (sort of) punching and blasting Karla Sofen a lot, so much that somebody serious had to be sent in to stop it before it wrecked half of the "good parts" of Los Angeles. Very, deeply, seriously -- WTH?
"Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps" #2 was also really, really bad. The idea that the Sinestro Corps, searching for a rapetoy of all things, created one of their worst enemies (Red Lanterns and Sinestro Corps members don't really get along well, do they?) is both goofy and sad, like rings are just flying around the universe looking for somebody, anybody, to land on and make into an omega-class threat.
Would you believe that a future science scion of Bruce Banner is a gamma ray-powered Jedi equivalent? You shouldn't, but "All-New Savage She-Hulk" #4 goes a long way to try to convince you anyway, giving Lyra the female fighter from the future the ability to perceive and become one with the Force, er, ambient gamma rays, and a new misson to protect a world she originally came to kill. Wait, what? Get that garbage outta here.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Ran out of time before "Dark Wolverine" or "Dark Reign: Fantastic Four" could get read. Otherwise, it was kind of a mixed bag, a rough challenge.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
The week was kind of an ordeal, but the bright lights shone out pretty well. Let's say that's a thin win.
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 this column is taking the first year away from San Diego Comic-Con in ... spirit, it's hard to remember how many years. Enjoy, and if you're there, avoid the killer jumbo squid, as there's one less dangerous man in San Diego to stop their advance.
Don't forget that there's no such thing as The Hundred and Four.