The Buy Pile

Thu, November 19th, 2009 at 12:58pm PST

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

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 NOVEMBER 18TH, 2009

"Mighty Avengers" #31
The Mighty Avengers #31
(Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
Yes, last issue was disturbingly, overwhelmingly stupid. Yes, The Unspoken seemed like a bit of a straw man. Forget about all of that -- the story starts here and takes off here, and all that went before is irrelevant. This issue showcases so many characters so well -- Pietro being confronted with his own mistakes, US Agent being true to his nature, Clint Barton reveling in his work, Amadeus Cho and Hercules working their amazing chemistry together -- all in a plot that has tons of action, but features crafty development as it moves. Writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage deftly wield each player in this story like a chess piece, perfectly playing their role and working together. Even the previously callow Unspoken (who borrows a shtick from Nemesis Kid) gets some depth added to his motivations and his struggle, making a wonderful parallel that really gives Hank Pym a chance to shine. Fun superhero comics here.

"The Brave and the Bold" #29
The Brave and The Bold #29
(DC Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
A huge and pleasant surprise, recommended by Comics Ink owner Steve LeClaire. Yes, it focuses on Brother Power the Geek, in his (according to LeClaire) fifth appearance ever in comics. Batman narrates in a way that both humanizes and normalizes his psychosis, while the anachronistic, animated mannequin struggles with the concept of change and modern morality while remaining true to his own internal compass (and era-specific lingo -- "Have a nice day" hits with such impact late in the issue that it's really remarkable and deserved a way bigger artistic treatment). Speaking to the isolation and decadence of our modern society (which is not to say that that's all that exists, but it's a lot of what Brother Power the Geek sees as not being so "groovy"), J. Michael Straczynski's absolutely elegant script balances classical icons of western culture with the ongoing frustration that which came before has with that which must follow. Quite a remarkable comic book, actually.

"Powers Encyclopedia"
Powers Encyclopedia
(Icon/Marvel Comics)

This is a big one: comprising almost everything that happened in the series and thousands of years, this issue tells the tale on capes, crooks and cops. Sure, it has, literally, scores of grammatical errors, from malapropisms, to typos, to incorrect uses of verb tense. Sure, it draws the title's surprisingly insular perspective, referencing no fewer than half a dozen comics creators (even going as far as putting Warren Ellis in as a character and giving him a gun). Sadly, it also ignores clearing up a wide variety of things (What does FG3 stand for? How about TRK? Where do names like Triphammer and Teague come from?) while repeating several story elements through multiple entries without any extra enhancement. Still, it's a definitive reference work, with absolute figures on power levels (all important for "who'd win?" conversations), and can catch up even fans who abandoned the title years ago within its pages, so it's worth having to chronicle the series' advancement, if nothing else.

"Phonogram: The Singles Club" #5
Phonogram: The Singles Club #5
(Image Comics)

This issue, strangely enough, is far more comprehensible than some previous installments, as lead character Laura Heaven is straightforward in everything, from her self-loathing to her constantly quoted song lyrics, leaning heavily on The Long Blondes and Morrissey. She's able to stop and take a long look at the people around her, because she serves as an observer more than a participant, and in the words of writer Kieron Gillen in the explanatory essay (really a necessity for some readers), "as viewed from another character's perspective ... their actions weren't nearly as noxious as they initially appeared." The "Rashomon" style storytelling here allows that kind of reflection, opening the book on each character and their story while taking nothing away from the rest. Laura Heaven is painted here as a sad figure, effortlessly wielding power over events and people, unable to assume anything resembling a confident stance while being misunderstood by almost everyone around her. Wonderful, engaging and brilliant.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Hot damn, that's a great stack of comics, even dealing with the fact that Olympia in "Powers" ended up probably being the inspiration for Captain Dynamo.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

"Nola" #1 is a compelling first chapter to BOOM! Studios' latest adaptation-ready mini-series, an in-depth character analysis of a woman pressed to the wall in one of the greatest disasters to strike the United States. It is, however, all set up and no actual plot development, so it's a wonderful bit of foreplay that doesn't exactly go anywhere.

"Dark Avengers" #11 brings back the spectre of 1980s crossovers, Owen Reece the Molecule Man, and he's got his own private little Broca Beach. That, of course, goes against Norman Osborn's flawless vision of control, and that means that bad people have to engage Reece, and ... well, he's not an easy man to engage. Freed from his 1980s limitations, the Molecule Man can control anything -- there are no molecules past his abilities, and the only two words he worries about in his perfect little world, set in his old home town, are "Reed Richards." Even Victoria Hand gets some nice backstory and character development. The problem is that this issue plays out in kooky little scenes and not one single narrative, the Sentry, again, is made out to be a complete beyotch, and Owen's former sense of stuttering self-doubt is gone, replaced with cold, calculating certainty. It's interesting and worth watching, we'll see where it goes.

"Vigilante" #12 was the end of the line for the series and the character, a battery of gunfire and noirish dramas, but it leaves some unpleasant strings dangling loose. It was an okay crime story, but it didn't do a whole lot getting where it needed to be.

"Irredeemable" #8 was rough. We get a look into the Plutonian's homicidal motivations and find out that some people have secrets that are coming to light. However, the combat seemed to dominate the issue without progressing the story, despite great art and some impressive analogues of heroic ideals readers know and love.

You're Norman Osborn, right? You can now do anything. But you take the thing you've wanted to do for years, and make it #8 on your agenda? "Dark Reign: The List - Spider-Man" gets to the final item on Norman's list, but instead of hunting the Spider, the Spider comes to him, there's shooting and shouting all through Manhattan, and a powerful "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" styled monologue from Peter Parker to Osborn's face. It makes for good pomp and circumstance but doesn't really change anything from the start to the end.

A bittersweet ending to BOOM! Studios' Asian-themed tale of redemption in "Swordsmith Assassin" #4, which sees the story to (as they teach in school) an inevitable and surprising end,provides closure for all elements of the story ... but isn't exactly compelling. With stunning acting or amazing visual design, this could be translated into film with great impressiveness, but in the medium of comics, it's just a bit over "okay."

People forget that there are many ways to fight, and in "War Machine" #11 (guest starring a very belligerent Ares) Jim Rhodes takes the battle with Norman Osborn to the realm of the news media, as he's brought up on trial at the Hague for a wide variety of crimes against humanity. Normally Normy has that all covered, but this time Rhodes has a plan himself, and Ares wants his new "champion" to run amok. The recriminations and disorder in the court are okay, but it doesn't really have the bite or urgency that would get it done.

"Dr. Horrible" is a cute story framing the sing-along blog, showing the ridiculous nature of Neil Patrick Harris' character when balanced against the pompous strutting of Captain Hammer. For completists, this would be great, but it doesn't really win over anybody else.

The emotional LSH backup was almost good enough to buy "Adventure Comics" #4, but the overwhelmingly stupid meta-textual Superboy Prime lead story, with Black Lantern Alexander Luthor, made it impossible. That the Legion story was so good it almost overcame that, however, was a real accomplishment.

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

"Farscape Ongoing" #1, "Air" #15, "Invincible" #68, "Azreal" #2, "Incredible Hulk" #604, "Flash Rebirth" #5, "Realm of Kings: Inhumans," "Justice Society of America 80 Page Giant," "Thunderbolts" #138, "Outsiders" #24, "Realm of Kings" #1, "Supergirl" #47, "Superman/Batman" #66 

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

Sweet spirit singing. "Punisher" #11 was ... it was abysmal. It's difficult to say how bad this was. Between H.A.M.M.E.R. agents scouring the streets of New York for Frank Castle's body parts to ... really? "Franken-castle?" Could this reach the depths of Christopher Golden's 1998 series which made Frank traffic in angels and demons? It's close.

Speaking of really bad, "Transformers Ongoing" #1 was -- in turns -- whiny, incompetent (on the character's behalf), downtrodden and sad. A character's death is explained because of a paint job ... when a very similarly painted mechanoid stands right next to him. Optimus mopes around, there's literally one Decepticon in the whole issue (and that's a Stunticon, and not even one everybody knows) ... this is not the way to go, kids. Unacceptable.

"G-Man: Cape Crisis" #4 took a weird turn. It was an okay kid's series up until a very disturbing ending last issue, and now it's just on some "WTH?" stuff. Not things you wanna show your kids.

In a strange coincidence, there's a similarity between "Authority: The Lost Year" #3 and "Realm of Kings" #1, whereas a certain literary figures twisted visions dominate an entire universe. Okay, whatever, there's nothing new under the sun, yadda yadda yadda. However, the meta-textuality 

"Nomad: Girl Without A World" #3 ... really? Did people sit in a room and meet about this and say, "yeah, this is good stuff, we should go with it?" That happened? If that new girl Scorpion or May Day Parker were hundreds of times lamer, they'd still not wanna be this character. Wow.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

There was no order for "Talisman: Road of Trials" #1 nor "Drone" #1, so sorry. Mostly "meh" material here, worth passing by.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Two jumps beat a mass of meh-ness, so let's say we're happy with the way things went (despite an overwhelming belief in the world that this column hates everything including sunshine and hugs, which is so not freakin' true)

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.

FAIR WARNING: This column may need to take a hiatus in a few weeks. Writer Hannibal Tabu has, for the first time, spawned another life and that nascent child is due in early December. The management apologizes for any inconvenience.

TAGS:  the buy pile, phonogram, mighty avengers, brave and the bold

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