The Buy Pile

Thu, October 22nd, 2009 at 1:28pm PDT | Updated: October 22nd, 2009 at 3:29pm

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 OCTOBER 21ST, 2009

"Invincible Iron Man" #19
The Invincible Iron Man #19
(Marvel Comics)

In the words of Xzibit, "so it all comes down to this ..." Tony Stark's played his last card, and Norman Osborn has tracked him literally to the ends of the earth. While all that's going on halfway around the world, Maria Hill and Natasha Romanov (what's that? You saw her over in "Thunderbolts" and "Secret Warriors?" Don't worry about all that right now) are following the lead of "the former secretary of Tony Stark," with all the attendant shooting and explosions and facepalming and people being taken into custody that could attend such events. In a word, "wow." If Matt Fraction wasn't born to write this book, spirit only knows what other wonders lie in that crazy, shaggy head of his. Again, Salvador Larocca and Frank D'armata turn in another museum-worthy art exhibit full of pages, and this issue perfectly captures the characterization of each and every player involved, from Victoria Hand being in over her head (more on that later) to Norman Osborn at the height of his megalomania. The final tearing down of the carefully constructed Tony Stark is happening right here, and it's a marvel to behold -- no pun intended.

"Chew" #5
Chew #5
(Image Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
This whimsical, sometimes kooky, little story took a major turn for the "holy crap" this issue, stepping up its game a great deal, solving the mysteries that drove its creation and shaking down the main characters, leaving them forever changed. The churlish writer, John Layman, is so far from the rule book that he may have never even seen it, and while Rob Guillory's visceral, rough-hewn artwork may not be everybody's cup of tea, his sense of pacing, drama and visual storytelling are outstanding. A very pleasant -- but shocking -- surprise.

"Incredible Hulk" #603
Incredible Hulk #603
(Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
Bruce Banner is way, way smarter than you think he is. Scary smart. Even by the standards of people like Reed Richards, he's one seriously crafty bastard. "You know," he said at one point in this issue, "it just now occurs to me that maybe the real reason I became the Hulk ... was to protect the world from Banner." When you realize he was in a room with Logan, Skaar and Daken while saying this, it gives you some of an idea how much cool the good doctor brought to the table this issue. Daken, however, showcased a lot of why he's almost more dangerous than his father, Logan enjoys a nice frosty beer and Bruce Banner speaks softly while wielding both a big gun and some rather crafty technologically-crafted super powers. Whatever you think is going to happen this issue, it just doesn't, and it sucks you in then sucker punches your expectations with something even more amazing. Note perfect characterization, skillful and intimate artwork from Ariel Olivetti, Guiseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith and Elizabeth Breitweiser.

"The Stuff of Legends" #2
The Stuff of Legend Book 1, Volume 2
(Th3rd World Studios)

Speaking of surprises, this deceptively innocent story has teeth, like a Pixar story that had Clive Barker as an editor. Last issue the inspirational core of this rag tag team of toys come to life was slaughtered, and they still journey on to rescue the boy who played with them from the clutches of the surprisingly spooky Boogeyman. It's not easy to take a cliche concept like a "boogeyman" and give it some real resonance, but the story from Mike Raicht and Brian Smith, alongside Charles Paul Wilson 3's artwork, gets the job done. This time, the gang gets caught in the twisted town of Hopscotch and is forced to play a game with rules that make Vegas look forgiving. Nice expanding on the characters of Harmony, Maxwell and the Princess, while doing some very sly foreshadowing and defining of this mysterious world in "the Dark." Such a pleasant surprise, and eternal thanks for Marvel's C.B. Cebulski for spotlighting this on his Twitter feed.

"Thunderbolts" #137
Thunderbolts #137
(Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
This team has done something amazing in redefining failure as victory, this time forcefully recruiting Danny Rand and brainwashing him into becoming Norman Osborn's newest killer ... with one minor glitch. The only one Rand has a problem killing -- after simulations of punching Spider-Man's heart out, perforating Captain America's skull and giving Wolverine an adamantium/vibranium headache he'd never forget -- is Luke Cage. Osborn forges ahead anyway, possibly avenging a perceived slight while stacking up a pretty big body count. "You know -- this was truly enjoyable," Osborn said as his team captured Rand. "I think I felt my heart rate go up for a moment." All of this happens while Rick Remender's script fleshes out characters deftly -- from Ant Man's hopeless pop culture frat boy-ism to Scourge's military discipline and the deep bond between brothers. As well, Luke Cage's Harlem diner battle (not sure what a waitress looking like that is doing in a Harlem diner, but whatever) all while wearing an EPMD baseball cap (fan-tastic!) was dynamically rendered by the art team of Mahmud Asrar, Rebecca Buchman and Bruno Hang. A great surprise, done in one.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Bang! That's one hell of a stack of comics there, pal!

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

"Dark Avengers" #10 was -- again -- less of a story and more of a series of scenes strung together, some of which worked -- Karla Sofen's weird interlude with Hawkeye and Victoria Hand getting herself stretched to her limits while getting called out by the eternally crafty Daken. Then, the Sentry gets abused again, which really makes you wonder why exactly he's considered such a threat since he gets beaten up at least twice a month. Still, the atmosphere is enjoyable even if there's not actually so much happening here.

"Swordsmith Assassin" #3 was good, following the same "House of Flying Daggers" model, telling a story while growing closer to a goal, and takes quite an emotional turn at the end. He gets something worth losing and it changes a great deal in his quest, as he tracks his last sword across two continents. The story itself was just "okay" but that twist made it all poignant, but the story falls just short of what it needed to be.

"Air" #14 wasn't bad, filling in the backstory on Blythe's mysterious love, Zayn, and making a wonderful metaphor of fundamentalism as a sickness that strikes people when they're weakest. However, its best visual element happens off panel. Blythe's romanticism could be seen as lunacy, and the elements that created the counterforce headed by Zayn's brother is half-developed.

"Spider-Woman" #2 was good but far, far too quick. The events of the issue take very little time and happen mostly inside Jessica Drew's head, and it's like a commercial break compared to the hourlong episode that happened last month. It has the right feel and the right atmosphere, but maybe as much plot as a candy wrapper.

"Poe" #4 was another solid and serviceable conclusion to an adaptation ready story from Boom! Again, this would have probably worked better as an original graphic novel, but it hit its marks and got the job done, forging a believable, haunted hero in its literary protagonist.

"G.I. Joe" #10 introduces another formerly ridiculous character in a much less stupid fashion, borrowing pages from both the movie (arctic Cobra base) and the TV show (MASS device), while giving the Baroness some cache and showcasing some really grandiose displays of Cobra's reach and influence. Oh, the Joes are in the book too -- with Snake Eyes kicking butt on some Cobra troopers while Mainframe gets more and more desperate -- but it's really Cobra's show, and they hold your interest with their snottiness while still being largely derivative.

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

"Dark Reign: The List - Hulk," "Ex Machina" #46, "G.I. Joe Movie: Snake Eyes" #1, "Justice League of America" #38, "Elephantmen" #22, "Supergirl" #46, "Invincible" #67, "Dark Wolverine" #79

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

Hank Pym's role in "Mighty Avengers" #30 was one of the most insultingly stupid things to happen in comics in years. No question. He has a conversation ... let's just say that he chats with somebody who he should have no right to chat with, gets ascribed a title that makes no sense given that he was kidnapped and hidden away by the Skrulls for years, leaving the alleged role undone and untended. So even while Hercules has some fun lines ("As the Argonauts used to say to the ladies of Crete, welcome aboard!") the pathetic attempt at building Hank Pym up into being somebody past the whiny, identity-switching, wife-beating, wackjob he's been for years just fails.

So, you've got a relentless horde of undead jerks wielding power rings floating around earth, while on the other side of the sun, there's 100,000 Superman-level power dudes on a planet with maybe three or four corpses. Yeah, that's a strategic problem. "Blackest Night: Superman" #3 solves that -- dumbly -- while engaging in pointless fisticuffs between two people who are supposed to be friends, gives Martha Kent a flamethrowing fetish and wrecks Smallville again. That's just no good.

"Cowboy Ninja Viking" #1 is, at best, incomprehensible. Remember that three-voice shtick that Deadpool does these days? Well, imagine if each of those voices had an identity -- one a cowboy, one a ninja and one a viking -- and they argued over tactics and everyday activity, like Serpentor in the landlocked freighter on Cobra Island while Iron Grenadiers landed on the beach. Does that sound cool? It's not. Again, what's actually happening in this issue is anybody's guess, a mishmash of action and chatter that has little framing device and those three voices -- symbolized by a six gun, a katana and an axe in the thought balloons -- going on at length. Oy.

"Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance" #6 summed up everything that was wrong with "Final Crisis" itself. It's not only confusing and self-referential, but it's smug about it, mocking social media while trying to decry the "old" and wheeling out the ghost of "52" as well. The dazzling fact that Joe Casey, the genius behind "Wildcats 3.0" is responsible for this drivel is a testament to how far any of us can fall. Wow. Disturbingly bad.

In "Amazing Spider-Man" #609, a character says, with all seriousness, "What are you doing, injecting yourself with engineered dinosaur DNA?" There is at least one and possibly two clones in this issue. There's a lotta cheesecake in Peter's apartment all while the threat of impending death looms over him. Also, some people "remember" Peter's dual identity, whereas others were somehow made to forget it. Again, the idea that Marc Guggenheim, one of the brilliant minds behind "Eli Stone" and "Flashforward," could be responsible for this is ... it's sad, honestly.

The string of talented creators somehow producing drivel continues on "Power Girl" #6, which manages to take spaceborne super powered celebutantes and brings them to Earth, makes them rich and sends them, scantily clad, around the same city where Karen Starr heaves her pointless and hefty bosoms at unsuspecting passers-by. Oh, and the title character also shops at Ikea, then sets up some furniture. Really? Ikea? Is this what the industry in any way needs from one of the two biggest comics companies? This series is the new "Superman/Batman." Please make it stop.

"Skrull Kill Krew" #5 has the distinction of possibly being the first sign of what will actually topple Norman Osborn from his Dark Reign, with a minor, almost throwaway story detail used as motivation for his coming after the Krew. However, the rest of the book is abysmally tedious, blathering on and on and stacking up

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Six okay books, six mind-bogglingly bad books, eight "meh" books ... that's a wash.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Count out the reads because they essentially defeated themselves, but three jumps and three other really great books ... we'll call it a win nonetheless.

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, chew, invincible iron man, thunderbolts, the stuff of legends

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