The Buy Pile

Thu, October 1st, 2009 at 1:34pm PDT

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

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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 30TH, 2009

"Astro City: Astra Special"
Astro City Special: Astra #1
(Wildstorm/DC Comics)

Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson have captured something really special with their determinedly thorough cosmology, and this "special" takes a look at another unexplored corner of Astro City, this time examining the Jenna Bush-esque "first daughter" of the First Family super team. This means a wide variety of kooky things happening around the circumstance of her college graduation (it's never mentioned what she majored in), which has all of the paparazzi and pomp and circumstance of somebody who's known only the most fantastic of fears and never taken even those all that seriously. The story's a teensy bit short but still has its moments of interest, as Busiek stretches his creative muscles to create a sensation that's almost Kirby-esque while honoring the trappings of the modern world. Great stuff.

"G.I. Joe Cobra: Special" #1
G.I. Joe: Cobra Special #1
(IDW Publishing)
Jump from the Read Pile.
Whoa. If you think you know anything about Cobra, if you think you know anything at all about Tamox and Xamot, you're completely wrong, and this issue shows you why. This issue -- written by Mike Costa, somehow, as a mirror of itself in a way that's so clever and so well depicted by Antonio Fuso and Lovern Kindzierski -- gives every inch of the twins origins, echoing Orwell while delving into the deepest depravities, piggybacking on Destro's motives and ultimately, bravely choosing new directions. The vistas of possibility here are so staggering in their vastness ... wow. It borrows just a hint of the things people think they know about the characters and runs so far, so fast ... a real accomplishment.

"Jack of Fables" #38
Jack of Fables #38
(DC Comics/Vertigo)

Back once again -- this series was so close to losing its regular place on the Buy Pile, with a number of mistakes and mis-steps that were, frankly, boring. This issue is a step back in the right direction, as Jack's son starts to show some personality that's worth checking out in his quest to become a hero. The title character, sadly, is part of a weird inside joke that's more for readers of the previews copy than for any in-story reasons, and that's not so good. But the illegitimate son of the Frost Queen and Jack Horner has a little bit of spark, and that's enough to stay on board. For now.

"The Unknown: Devil Made Flesh" #1
The Unknown: Devil Made Flesh #1
(Boom! Studios)
Jump from the Read Pile.
The first mini-series was "okay," a mystery story set from the mind of a skeptic who was running out of time. The framing device in the opening "catch up" text, reprinted here to try and avoid spoilers. "Catherine Allingham was the world's greatest detective. Together with her assistant, James Doyle, she specialized in cases that hinted at some connection to the afterlife -- doorways to the unknown, murdered angels, anything that might yield some clue regarding the greatest mystery of all: what happens to us after we die? Catherine's quest was especially urgent. She had only six months to live. That was one year ago." Wait, what? Exactly. The very underpinning of the detective's drive to discover has a new, fascinating flaw that's examined here with great delicacy by writer Mark Waid. This mystery story unfolds with great skill and the artwork of Minck Oosterveer and Andres Lozano laid out the story in a fascinating, easy to follow and perfectly maneuvered manner. Such a pleasant surprise from Boom! as it flourishes under the editorial leadership of Waid.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Two great jumps, the regulars at least pulling their weight, that's not bad at all.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

"Secret Warriors" #8 was fairly close, especially driven by the interplay between Dark Avenger Ares and his son, who have a relationship that is supremely complicated to say the least. That whole "Nick Fury captured by HAMMER" thing gets resolved (from a certain point of view ... hang on, we'll get back to that) all rotating around the axis of two Greek gods working through some issues. Why didn't it make it home? The axis was most of the meat -- the rest of the "story" didn't really mesh well.

"Die Hard: Year One" #1 was not bad, an introduction to 1976 New York City that had some of the period's requisite charm (not quite like an episode of "Life on Mars," but not too far from it), doing some fun character vignettes but never actually telling a story (while connecting a few of them). Still, watching the proto-McClane has some entertainment value.

"Thunderbolts" #136 had shooting and stabbing and running and betraying and hiding and lots more, looking at that "Nick Fury captured by HAMMER" thing from another angle and playing with lots of old friends in fun new ways. That Black Widow thing? Still unresolved. Well, a Black Widow thing is unresolved, another one gets cleared up quite well. Nice action scenes, but really only a switch of camera angle from "Secret Warriors" with a slight diversion tacked on.

"Green Lantern" #46 was surprisingly not bad, once you walk past the contrived elements. Sinestro shines, showcasing why he's been an A-list super villain for so long, and there's a team up of sorts that's kind of okay.

Black Cat teams up with the title character in "Amazing Spider-Man" #607, which was very, very close to making the cut. The intimacy of the Mike McKone/Andy Lanning/Chris Chuckry artwork was interesting, and Joe Kelly's script did an okay job as well. The romantic interplay between characters was the strength, while the actual plot just kind of stood around as it happened.

It's a shame that, even in Atlantis, Black people ended up getting enslaved, but "Robert E. Howard Presents Thulsa Doom" #2 manages to have some interesting moments nonetheless as the title character works his way into toppling an Atlantean despot and plays the requisite man of mystery role. Unfortunately, the role is mostly rote, and there's little outside of the visual appeal of the character's forceful facial expressions to sell the story itself.

Loki and Doom almost made "Thor" #603 a keeper, as Donald Blake and Sif in the flatlands was just kind of weird. However, the idea that the Warriors Three now own a restaurant ... that's awesome, who wouldn't pay just to check that out? How much trouble would it be to get food out of the kitchen with Volstagg in there? Anyhoo, some pieces worked but more didn't.

"Unknown Soldier" #12 closed down the "Easy Kill" storyline with lots of action and some character development, but it was good, not great. The visual storytelling was very Jason Bourne, and that was all right, but the reveal on the actual antagonist wasn't much of anything and needed more room to actually be somebody.

"Dark Reign: The Hood" #5 brought this storyline to a dramatic conclusion, with Parker Robbins facing off with ... wait, really? Force? This guy? Also working out with ... White Fang? A weirdo stealing The Punisher's shtick? Really? Naw, dude. Robbins had a lot of great ideas and good energy, and the mob edge was cute, but most things -- counterpoints especially -- in this issue didn't stand up to the job.

Bruce Wayne getting nervous and romantic in "Batman: The Widening Gyre" #2 was pretty good (aw, it was nice to see Bruce, back before whatever stupid way they'll bring him back), but chasing around a fat guy on a roller coaster was ... well, kind of embarrassing (and he even admitted it) and again (common theme this week) there wasn't that much of a story here.

Once again you can see the chessmanship of Norman Osborn in "Dark Reign: Lethal Legion" #3, as he's apparently a way better strategist than tactician. If you liked his Kansas City Shuffle in "Thunderbolts" then you'll like the surprise here (and that doesn't tell you anything, honestly), which was only weird because they colored the albino Nekra as a normal white lady. Not as much of a problem as the talkiness and attempt at procedurals (for how to do this, please see "Bullseye's Greatest Hits"), but, as Brad Metzler once said, "sometimes, artists just draw white people."

"Wonder Woman" #36 was better when Giganta sat down with Diana and talked about their man problems, borrowing a page from the first issue of "Marvel Divas." Achilles' attempts at being a character don't succeed so much, and he's not developed very much. So... dialogue good, Achilles -- even when trying to play politics -- not so much.

Mac Gargan has some problems with his boss in "Dark Reign: Sinister Spider-Man" #4, and also gets less-than-favorable treatment from the mayor, J. Jonah Jameson. This leads to Daken and Bullseye getting an outing in their old clothes, gang leaders enjoying a fun moment at the fair and some requisite half-naked beauty contestants. The plot was a little sloppy, but cute in a bad guy sort of way.

The Tattooed Man is out of control in "Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink" #5, with schizophrenic energy constructs exercising a will of their own and the League less than happy about a murder charge. The art continues to remain vague and the plot's meandering, but the steeliness of the lead has some benefit.

If something actually happened in "Punisher Annnual" #1, it'd been okay, given some great Spider-Man moments and Jason Pearson's great artwork. But outside of the requisite collateral damage, there was no actual consequence for virtually anybody, and things are pretty much the same at the end of the issue as they were at the beginning.

Layla Miller and a deeply decrepit Victor Von Doom worked out fairly well in "X-Factor" #49, but the Summers Rebellion just did some quickie smashing, the team in Detroit had a weird experience with Shatterstar, and this scattered plot didn't serve the strength of what really worked.

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

"Blackest Night: Titans" #2, "Sky Pirates of Neo Terra" #1, "Justice League of America 80 Page Giant" #1, "Hulk" #15 (but boy was it pretty), "Superman" #692 (... was that Sensor Girl? Oy ...), "Marvel Divas" #3 (cancer-tastic!), "Teen Titans" #75, "X-Force" #19 (but wow, that art and coloring have gotten pretty, good job Mike Choi and Sonia Oback).

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

In "Justice Society of America" #31, Eclipso said, "Your client isn't paying me enough to get involved in a bunch of cosmic, higher-orders-of-being stuff!" Eclipso. "The incarnation of the Wrath of God and the Angel of Vengeance who turned evil and was replaced by the Spectre." This guy got turned off, standing in an army of freakin' super villains, by going up against the JSA. Moreover, what the heck is Eclipso -- even in his funny hat -- doing working for money? So, yeah, that's a problem. Then there's the highly unlikely conclusion, the yammering back and forth between the team members ... this outlandishly didn't work.

"Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu" (Black & White) had "the Hitler twins," "Black Santas" and cross dressing female wrestlers. By page three. Out.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Things actually went pretty well, all things considered.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

There was no order for "Storm Hawks Special Edition" #1, so take that as you will. Also, there was -- for real, not messing with you, not stepping into a time machine or anything -- a comic called "Spider-Man: The Clone Saga" #1, which should be more proof of the industry's hatred of its fans than anything else in recent memory.

Even with all that said, two jumps, tons of okay stuff even when there was no story to support it ...

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, astro city, gi joe, jack of fables, the unknown

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