The Buy Pile

Thu, September 17th, 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 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 SEPTEMBER 16TH, 2009

"Dark Reign: The List - Daredevil" #1
Dark Reign: The List - Daredevil #1 (Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
Things have changed. Up is down, cats are lying down with dogs, sheer madness everywhere. In a turn towards "dark" comics that'd make the 90s applaud, Matt Murdock has turned in a major way. Turned mean. Turned serious. In taking on the leadership of Wolfram and Hart, er, The Hand, which is an evil transnational cult of ninja assassins and death cultists who also happen to hold a massive corporate empire with holdings in banking, shipping, energy futures and more. He takes on some rituals reminiscent of either the Aquarian Gospels or Klingon puberty and seriously annoys Norman Osborn in the process. Which brings Bullseye back to his old tricks and leads to a really impressive cadre of corpses. This issue does a great deal of character development for its protagonist (the last pages are particularly challenging) while fleshing out backstory and giving supporting characters interesting moments (Tarantula and White Tiger as loyal subordinates, Lady Bullseye and Kingpin as additional threats, and so on). In its simplicity, this issue wins big, and that's a great joy to see.

"Agents of Atlas" #11
Agents of Atlas #11 (Marvel Comics)

The war between the divided elements of the Atlas Foundation comes to a very savvy conclusion with combat on the air, sea and land and multiple robot-on-robot conflicts that illustrates the weaknesses of cloud computing (think about that for a while). Fighting in other dimensions, even! Two dragons even faced off! A lot happened and when the dust all settled, the pieces come to find some very, very interesting places to be, all playing into the plan of ... well, that'd be telling. Really great storytelling from Jeff Parker, Dan Panosian, Gabriel Hardman, Elizabeth Dismang and Sotocolor.

"JSA vs. Kobra" #4
JSA vs. Kobra #4 (DC Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
This mini-series stepped up in a big way, giving Mister Terrific gets a chance to act like the third smartest person in the world, looking at what's really happening and starting to get a grasp on what the new head of Kali Yuga, Jason Burr, has in mind ... but does it happen too late? After detonating a half million tons of liquid oxygen off the coast of Mangalore, India (and it's a much more impressive fact than Don Kramer and Michael Babinksi's art could convey, unfortunately), Burr developing a more cavalier attitude towards his efforts, Power Girl getting a Carol Danvers-esque steely determination that she could sorely use in her own title, Jay Garrick providing the experience and support that the older generation of heroes makes the older generation so valuable and some good moments for younger characters also. This takes the scale of this story to a more serious level, melding seemingly disparate worlds seamlessly. Fascinating to see where all this is going.

"The Invincible Iron Man" #18
The Invincible Iron Man #18 (Marvel Comics)

The metaphor is in full effect here: for years, through Extremis and Civil War and more, Tony Stark has been built up into more and more until he became one of the most hated men in the Marvel Universe. In this issue, the "unmaking" of the maker is almost complete, losing his simplest abilities but still using the relentless volume of his brilliance to make a mad dash and finish what he's started while facing the legacy of his own past. In another part of the world, a subplot with Madame Masque leaves Osborn's trusted subordinate Victoria Hand with a big surprise and has Osborn chomping at the bit. So much good stuff came along here, with perfectly balanced plotting from the masterful pen of Matt Fraction. This will surely be remembered as one of the defining runs on Tony Stark, and this issue is another fantastic piece of that puzzle.

"MODOK: Reign Delay"
MODOK Reign Delay (Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
In case you didn't know, Norman Osborn runs the show and MODOK wants in. Imagine that weird voice mail scene from Swingers played out with a crazy floating head super villain guy. That happens in a big way, and gone is the brilliant schemer from "MODOK's 11" as well as the terrifying presence from Christopher J. Priest's prematurely cancelled "Captain America and the Falcon" series or even the damaged genius from recent Brian Reed-penned issues of "Ms. Marvel." Instead, he's played as a nerdy high school loser thrown back into his old ways when assigned by Osborn's Initiative to Erie, Pennsylvania. There's a panel here so funny and so surreal that it has to be seen to be believed, and when Madison Jeffries gets involved, well, it's all just hilarity at that point. Good clean fun, and funny enough to justify the four bucks.

"Fables" #88
Fables #88 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Everybody knows the opinion of this column: that "Fables" is, hands down, the best title on the stands. That's not a surprise, and surely not news. Very rarely does an issue even hit a wrong note, much less an entirely wrong chord, and this month is no exception as Frau Totenkinder reveals a lot of her secrets and delivers some surprises, all while King Cole and Gepetto tramp around the forest with their own agendas. "I'm here because all fairy tales take place in the woods," Totenkinder said, "... even those that don't." Meanwhile Baba Yaga and the most powerful of the Arabian djinn face off in the lost Fabletown business office while the cover's non-spoiler reveal happens on the last page. Brilliant comics making from the usual suspects and Eisner regulars: Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy and Lee Loughridge. As an industry, we owe them all a great debt for these many years of consistent entertainment.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Non stop. Wow, what a great stack of comics, and with such a range. Love it.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

"Blackest Night" #3 was a big surprise for not being as stupid as it could have been. Really, no, that's a good thing! The reason behind the Black Lanterns selections and their modus operandi becomes clear, and Ray Palmer breaks down the science of what's happening. The problems only pop up with the arrival of the Indigo Tribe, which acts both as an engine of exposition and presenting a solution for the crisis that's not only completely unrealistic but also overwhelmingly simplistic. Whether some of the online theories turn out to be true or not, the proposed plan saps the good parts of their quality.

Imagine you could sit in on the everyday conversations in a maximum security prison full of serial killers and psychopaths. Now imagine if it's not a prison, but Avengers Tower and the killers and psychopaths are the "heroes" there. "Dark Avengers" #9 gives you that chance, making even the most believing reader wonder how nobody has gotten eviscerated already. The tension between the characters is, to quote Coach Sue Sylvester, "delicious." But nothing really happens, so it's hard to recommend it unless you like watching crazy people grind against each other like unoiled gears.

"REBELS" #8 was very close to the mark, as Vril Dox settles some things with his "son," and the Khunds continue their ill-advised offensive. Despite the good dialogue and some cute moments, the "Return of the Jedi" homage was just all right and the whole issue could have used a little more oomph.

"Executive Assistant Iris" #3 was again a very solid issue, with the character and the art delivering an engaging little yarn. However, like an episode of "VIP," it's kind of confectionery, but its ceiling is never more than a "B+" at any point, and it never seems like it'll get farther than that. That's fine for TV, which is free, and if your budget is large enough to absorb a pop confection, go for it.

Another "almost" was "Air" #13, a complicated story about who is and who isn't a terrorist while weaving in Blythe's troubled love story with Zayn and introducing his gun-toting brother. It could use a touch more plot and a hair less politics, but it was pretty good.

As the end of a thriller, "Unthinkable" #5 was okay, like something that might be shown on a double bill with "The Sum of All Fears," as the familial ties come undone and a number of pre-revealed plot elements have a few more surprises than expected. If you caught this on cable on a Saturday afternoon, you'd have sat and had a blast watching this. For cover price ... well, it was all right.

Has Mainframe gone mad, or does he know what's really going on? In "G.I. Joe Origins" #7, Cobra's still an urban legend and the Joe team has never faced off with a terrorist organization of their scale. There's chatter and scuttlebutt and one technically-skilled soldier sees the pattern, but instead of being considered the canary in the coal mine, he's Cassandra, wailing futilely into the night. Is he nuts, or prescient? We have the benefit of hindsight, but it's kind of interesting to watch things back when people were much more innocent.

Daken's smug manipulation again almost brought "Dark Wolverine" #78 home, with the character wielding tenseness and ambiguous sexuality to trick people into doing what he wants while erasing every trace of evidence that he was involved. The problem is that Daken is a one trick pony -- like "Executive Assistant Iris," where's it all going? Cute to watch for what it is.

Geo-Force and Metamorpho take on Clayface in a surprisingly smart "Outsiders" #22, where the villain tries to escape the clutches of Gotham City but catches some surprises. It was a cute done-in-one but didn't really stand up and accomplish anything that couldn't have been seen coming, although the use of scientific elements was refreshing.

Like "Unthinkable" was a good ending to a thriller, "Swordsmith Assassin" #2 was a nice installment in a martial arts epic, using some elements from "House of Flying Daggers" (some would say "Kill Bill") as a framing device, moving at an okay pace and but again not justifying the outlay of funds. With the right fight choreography and actors it could work as a movie.

Warning! "Transformers: All Hail Megatron" #15 has absolutely zero Megatron in it, let alone Decepticons of any stripe. What it does have is one of the craftiest things Prowl has ever done, explains that "cy-gar" Kup keeps chomping on and provides some background information on how the Autobots ended up with Decepticon footprints all over their aft sides. Good to know, but not worth the purchase price all by itself.

Warren Ellis' script on "Ultimate Comics Armor Wars" #1 almost brought this home, as Ultimate Tony Stark's rakish charm and Dean Martin-esque rationales for hunting down rogue elements using his technology seemed just a hair too facile. However, the character's almost begrudging heroism was almost good enough to buy. Worth watching.

If most of the information revealed in "Sword" #19 had been spread out through some of the prior issues, it would have made the "oh, this is just one long fight scene" side of them work better. Here, there's a lot of exposition and one really interesting revelation, but this still feels like it'd play better with four or five more pages.

"X-Factor" #48 was an improvement, moving closer to its previous heights with a simply wonderful Latverian guest star and some great chutzpah from Theresa Cassidy, but there are too many characters here and they're not being used effectively enough.

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

"Mighty Avengers" #29, "Batman and Robin" #4, "Punisher" #9, "Poe" #3, "Action Comics" #881, "Amazing Spider-Man Presents Anti-Venom" #1, "Green Arrow/Black Canary" #24, "Captain America: Reborn" #3, "Vengeance of the Moon Knight" #1, "War Machine" #9 (another case of Frog and Scorpion).

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

Let's take the basic idea of Savage Dragon -- superpowered person wakes up naked and anonymous somewhere in the US -- and give it boobs and blond hair. Then, just for fun, mix in some Thor and make it a Hellenistic deity sent to earth for some reason or other. Congratulations, you've just come up with "Athena" #1! Take your place in hell between Fran Drescher and Kathy Griffin.

Looking for things happening that you'll remember? Don't look in "Thor Annual" #1. Sure, some people died, but you didn't know any of them (and couldn't, as they were simply background elements, like furniture) and things are exactly the same at the beginning of the issue as they are at the end. Given that this issue was one of very, very few to accurately depict an element of ancient Egyptian spirituality, it's sad to see that nothing else really pulled off anything.

"Galactica 1980" #1 ... wow. Really? The developments of this plot are so outrageously goofy, the characters so bereft of any interesting nuances, the art so plain ... it's hard to imagine why this comic book has to exist at all. Marvelously ill-conceived.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Sure, the bad stuff was bad, but "Blackest Night" pulled out something to talk about, and there was way more "good" than "bad," so that's a positive.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Three jumps, only three bad comics (admittedly, time got short and "Batgirl," "Dominic Fortune" and more got skipped), this week wins in a major way.

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.

There are now two official ways to get Hannibal Tabu's blog-related wisdom. For all personal things, there's Hannibal's relaunched Soapbox and for his views on the weird, wild world there's The Hundred and Four.

TAGS:  the buy pile, fables, iron man, agents of atlas, daredevil

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