WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?
Every week Hannibal Tabu (journalist/blogger/novelist/poet/karaoke host/jackass on Twitter) 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 28TH, 2009
Jump from the Read Pile. Most of the best parts of this comic book have nothing to do with its title character, but instead focus on the almost buddy-comedy chemistry between Weapon 13 (more commonly known as "Fantomex") and Noh-Varr, the surly insect-infused man-child from an otherdimensional Kree empire. Logan spends most of the issue under the influence of something that makes Hexus the Living Corporation look tame by comparison (and was grown right here on 616, who knew?) but still gets in some good lines, some solid glaring and his requisite amount of bloodshed. The Udon Studios-drawn back up story has some slightly cliched elements to it, but packs an emotional punch nonetheless. Writer Jason Aaron is throwing down on this issue, giving each character a different kind of snarkiness -- Noh-Varr's exasperated "fish out of water" sense, Fantomex's scoundrel-esque charm, Wolverine's world weariness, Osborn's megalomania -- and balances all the elements with grace and aplomb.
It might be hard for the average person to muster up sympathy for the struggles of the famous and powerful, but Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson give you a surprisingly tender look inside the all-too-earnest world of a super-powered scion who shoulders a huge legacy of heroism. Astra takes her "normal guy" boyfriend on a trip to see wonders beyond the understanding of the common man, giving him experiences akin to dreams and yet they teeter on the precipice of something common to every heart, everywhere. Surprisingly nuanced, Kirby-esque (or maybe even Morrison-esque, if you take "All-Star Superman" into account) with its nonchalant presentation of the fantastic, this comic is a subtle gem in the diadem of Astro City's body of work.
Amadeus Cho finds out a lot more than he probably wants to know, as Athena's plans stand revealed while hyperminds struggle. The secret, beautiful underlying truth, however, is closer to the words of Dilated Peoples in "Marathon" -- "pace yourself so you can face yourself/run hard, you really only race yourself." Unlike some other comics, the flashbacks are used craftily in storytelling and push the plot along, instead of serving as yammering exposition. Managing to tie things into "The Twelve" was a nice addition (what happened to that series, anyway?), and this issue hit pretty much every note perfectly.
Fun fact: this issue also marks the first time this series has gotten a standing berth on the Buy Pile, and is now considered "buy on sight." It's that good.
The actual titular character is a detriment to the story, and something ridiculous happens to him that's not entertaining at all. The cover, likewise, is a ruse: of the characters depicted there, only one is in this actual issue, and he's the best thing going. Thrown into heroism with only the scarcest pieces of information handy, he's not as immediately successful as he might like, but ultimately finds out some interesting roads to getting to what some would arguably call success. There's nothing new that one can say about the stellar artwork of Russ Braun, Jose Marzan Jr., Andrew Peopy and Daniel Vozzo, who depict the face of a damsel in distress with such character on page 3, who capture Jack Frost with such gumption on page 14 and who tell the story so smoothly as if to seem effortless.
Jump from the Read Pile. Sure, some of the notes of space opera here may be a bit familiar, and yes, the name of a superbly dangerous gang of creatures may put you in the mind for either Soundgarden or Paul Anka ("... won't you come ..."), but this issue is a great balance between action scenes, character development (especially for the ancient centurion Philo as well as for the Worldmind and the nano-tech powered bounty hunter Monark Starstalker) and well-planned plot development. It puts a whole new spin on the Mindless Ones ("... a long time back someone ... don't ask me who ... found a way to enslave them things," said Philo in very fitting exposition. "They put gangs of 'em to work mining neutron stars 'cause they could stand the gravitational extremes"). Fascinating ideas, even if the "we haven't seen the last of him" card is played a little too easily. The star-spanning personal pathos for Richard Ryder was also a nice cliffhanger to use, and all around this issue was a pleasant uptick across the board in quality, as the series has hovered near the "good enough" line for months.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Stepping up to do the job, fantastic. Great comics all the way around.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Dark Avengers: Ares" #1 was close to being "good enough," but for silly reasons. Drinking, shooting, blowing stuff up ... yeah, that's all good. However, this comic was high on speeches that'd make Denis Leary smile and low on actual plot or character development. Good for quotes, not so much for spending actual money.
"Die Hard Year One" #2 again set things up effectively, and it allowed the younger John McClane more of a chance to shine. But the entire yacht interlude seemed not to accomplish anything, and the chase scene with the girl seemed to drag things along a great deal. This might play out better had it not been serialized, or if it wasn't for sale. For free, like on TV, this would be awesome.
"Secret Warriors" #9 wasn't bad, even thought it was mostly fighting and running with Osborn's elite again taking it on the chin and Ares getting pretty upset. Which is rendered well artistically, but could have had more actually happening.
"Smallville: Secret Origin" #2 was a feel-good nostalgic remix of either "Birthright" or "Smallville" (depending on your personal predilections) giving the Legion another chance to meet Kal-El for the first time. Again. Which felt good, one would suppose, but would you replay the day you met that nice guy at work more than once?
The art style of "Guardians of the Galaxy" #19 didn't really serve it so well, as hugely important events flew by in small panels and with very little grandeur to them. A great transformational scene got played very briefly. Matters of great importance were happening, but you'd have to be careful, or you really could miss them.
There was an interesting emotional undercurrent in "Unknown Soldier" #13, where a refugee youth somehow latches himself on to the new man holding the killer's mantle, and it's not bad, but it spends a long time building up the supporting character and doesn't succeed in making him anybody worth really getting invested in. The grit and brutality of the lead character was still kind of interesting.
"Avengers: The Initiative" #29 had too much going on, as Trauma gets an interesting change in his life, Penance has none of the coolness and swagger of his limited series, Night Thrasher gets an unbelievable proposition and Taskmaster's suddenly the paradigm for competency. Remember when Deadpool kicked his butt by dancing? Yeah, not bad, per se, but not great.
"Hunter's Fortune" #1 was an interesting set up for another adaptation-ready story, a slacker inheriting the fortune and quest of a famous archaeologist. There's a number of stock characters here as well, but the dialogue's kind of cute and the art's okay, so it's at least worth checking out.
Doctor Gregory Stark is the best thing in "Ultimate Comics Avengers" #3, even though the Ultimate version of War Machine is cool and Nick Fury gets some good lines. The ultimate destruction of lots of property in a foreign capital, however, doesn't even advance the overarching storyline a little bit.
Finally, "X-Factor" #50 tied a lot of long-standing knots together, changing the perception of Layla Miller a great deal, giving a new spin to the story of Trevor Fitzroy and generally telling a very complex story ... that's reach exceeded its grasp. Really? With Doom and the power blasts going around and Jamie kind of fighting himself (again) and the metatextual references ... it was just a whole lot more than 22 pages could safely carry without cutting everybody like the budget for a California state park.
CORRECTION: Emails came in, noting that this issue was actually 32 pages, and not the 22 pages reported previously. We'd like to issue our sincerest apologies to fans and the creative team for misreporting this number. From a reviewing standpoint, however, if the content of 32 pages felt like it was 22 pages that were overpacked, this probably -- in truth -- should have been a 48 page issue. Still, sorry for the miscount.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" #1, "Batman" #692, "Dynamo 5" #25, "Blackest Night" #4, "Eternal Conflicts of the Cosmic Warrior" #1, "Detective Comics" #858, "Hulk" #16, "Green Lantern" #47, "New Avengers" #58, "Justice Society of America" #32, "New Mutants" #6 (although Cipher's new "language skill" has some possibilities, but the rest of it wasn't working as well), "Superman" #693, "X-Factor" #50, "Teen Titans" #76, "War Machine" #10, "Wonder Woman" #37, "Punisher" #10, "Star Wars Legacy" #41 and "World's Finest" #1.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
"Ms. Marvel" #46 ended months of shooting and punching and flying around with a whiny, weak and makes Karla Sofen look like a complete loser. Truth be told, everybody looks pretty loserish here. Not a good look for anybody involved.
"Ambush Bug Year None" #7 was, bar none, one of the worst comics of the year. A lengthy and overbearing inside joke that features DC executive editor Dan Didio as not only a character but as the primary antagonist, and had as its best part the opening credits. If only the creative team had simply written, "We quit" to explain the lengthy delay on the issue coming out than to have done this shlock that insulted people in the industry and the fans at the same time.
The last pages of "Dark Reign: The List - Punisher" were dumber than when Frank Castle was an angel. Really. First of all, Norman Osborn needs to throw literally everybody in H.A.M.M.E.R. at killing one unpowered guy, and it's not exactly an overpowering victory. Again, nobody came out of this looking too impressive.
"Buck Rogers" #5 opened up something really, dangerously, overwhelmingly stupid. There's a force attacking and hungry for ... even talking about it would lower your IQ, but there's a surprise reveal that should really qualify this series -- which wasn't that bad -- to be taken off the shelves and burned. Even Twiki would be an improvement at this point. Wow.
Do you think the Sentry is tired of getting beaten up like a fifth grade girl? In "Dark Reign: Young Avengers" #5, he once again gets smacked around ... yeah, and given the cast, there aren't a lot of serious people here, so the idea that a guy with "the power of a billion exploding suns" shows up and things keep happening isn't a good sign for our pal Norman.
There's a little more support given to a disturbing rumor floating around the web in "Blackest Night: Titans" #3, as the heroes have virtually the same heart-wrenching experience that other DC heroes had in their crossover books. Maybe a little lamer. Yeah, that's probably right.
At the end of "Fantastic Four" #572, things from the perspective of most of the characters are exactly the same as they were several issues ago. That's the first sign that this is a bad comic book. Then you add the fact that some really crazy stuff happened -- infinity gauntlets, celestials, entropy weapons -- and none of it mattered even a little bit ... and this is a huge yawner. It's shocking that the mind-boggling talent of Jonathan Hickman created this travesty.
In the "oh no they didn't" category, "Gotham City Sirens" #5 takes on The Joker ... sort of. Let's just say that there's something from "Batman #186 reappears and ... well, it's dumb. Really, tragically dumb. Even insultingly dumb. Make it stop.
Remember that "Fantastic Four" issue from a while ago? It's just two reviews back. Anyway, "Marvel Divas" #4 had a similar problem -- at the end, nothing changed from the beginning. Of the mini-series. Also, Daimon Hellstrom is kind of an almost criminal pervy creep, Jericho Drumm is apparently afraid of said creep (lame) and there's almost none of the snark and charm that made the first issue such a guaranteed home run. Admittedly, there was a nice application of craft, tying plot points together across multiple issues, but it wasn't enough by a long shot.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Ten "okay," nine "oh no" and a whole mountain of heavily DC-flavored "meh" in between. It's like a lameness sandwich. Oy.
Oh, and according to the shop, "Ultimate Comics Armor Wars" #2 was misprinted and recalled, so no telling what that was about. Coulda tipped the scales either way.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Despite reads that were not only arduous to get through and ultimately cancelled themselves out, the jumps carry the day and the week's a 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.
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.
Oh, and before we forget, this week is almost the last chance to pre-order "The Untamed" from Stranger Comics, a dark fantasy story about how an unscrupulous man facing purgatory seeks vengeance against his enemies, yet he is conflicted with the hope of redemption and salvation in the eyes of his daughter. It's in Previews right now, pages 285 and 286 sku #OCT091072, and is beloved by both "Watchmen" producer Lloyd Levin ("What's not to love about Jones and Bertging's THE UNTAMED: it's a Sergio Leone, Frank Frazetta, William Blake fever dream mash-up. And that's just where it begins!") and master of horror Clive Barker ("THE UNTAMED promises to be an epic tale, conceived and crafted not only with a great love of comics, but also a profound understanding of the power of visionary storytelling"), as well as lauded by Comic Book Collectors' Blog. Check "The Untamed" out at strangercomics.com!