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 25TH, 2009
Alas, poor Tony Stark ... we knew him well. The man in the armor is, for all intents and purposes, a vegetable. After leading Norman Osborn on a chase literally around the world, one of the finest minds in the 616 universe has been erased and rendered empty, leaving nothing but a holographic recording and a body of friend behind. All the secret identities in the Superhuman Registration Act database? Gone, as is the secret to how repulsors work ("Oz is too stupid to figure out how to make repulsors on his own anyway," Stark's recording said absently). Six pages are spent with said recording chattering away about both his thoughts on Norman Obsorn's Dark Reign and how he plans to "reboot" ... if his closest friends agree to it. It's odd that Reed Richards isn't here, but to be fair, almost everyone in this issue is a criminal wanted by H.A.M.M.E.R., so perhaps saving Reed some criminal consequence is Tony's way of being nice. There's a weird recurring bit that's probably in Tony's coma-addled brain, something about Howard and Maria Stark and some kind of symbolism, while Whitney Frost is still having some problems letting go. In any case, talky or not, the conversations in this issue are interesting and it stirs the pot even if it doesn't manage to bring it to a boil.
Jump from the Read Pile.
The next generation of Ultimates is on deck in Paris, and they're after Ultimate Steve Rogers. Why? He's AWOL, chasing down the international terrorist the Red Skull, who happens to be his illegitimate son. Still with it? Cool. So Ultimate War Machine is -- to put it kindly -- impressive ("I got shoulder-guns, I got pulse-cannons, I got tank mode, for cryin' out loud, my chest beam alone could wipe out a major city"), "Nerd Hulk" is nothing to sneeze at (he eventually says, "Would you please stop using that codename? It's totally insulting and massively upsetting") and the new Chinese Black Widow has the honor of being Ultimate Nick Fury's ex wife (Fury: "Six months, two weeks and five days. Vietnam was less traumatic"). Alongside a "reformed" super villain and an unconscious Hawkeye, they pepper Cap's steps with high caliber gunfire and extrahuman punching, all while the Ultimate Red Skull plays a game all his own with AIM and Gregory Stark provides the brain behind the brawn. Quite a nice surprise, summing up everything that happened already and raising the stakes with some continuity business from "Ultimate Fantastic Four" from when Ultimate Thanos came to play. Add in some wickedly entertaining dialogue (covering YouTube, daytime TV and more, all without using direct references that could date the material) and you've got one hell of a comic book.
Jump from the Read Pile.
Norman Osborn has captured Luke Cage, a man who he feels wronged him on a personal level. The "now we're not the only outlaws" Avengers (back when it was Cap vs, Steve in the not-so Civil War, it was easy to call them "liberal Avengers" against the backdrop of Ares, the military minded Carol Danvers and the totalitarian Tony Stark, but we can safely say that metaphor is officially retired) want him back. That's the comic book, in a nutshell. But when you mix in a "looky loo" (writer Brian Michael Bendis' interpretation of the "Ocean's Twelve" gag -- who knew that the Winter Soldier was a George Clooney fan? -- but it's probably more commonly known as a Kansas City Shuffle to those in the know), a twist at the end that's simply wicked, a bunch of unbilled guest appearances and Bendis' normal scintillating staccato dialogue (Spidey really shines in team environments), you've got a comic that puts together all the pieces. Like its aforementioned Ultimate counterpart, this issue does everything it needs to and frankly tells you everything you need to know from the last issue or two. Well done.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Two jumps, real emotion from a metal-clad man, that's all good. Still, that desert part was weird ...
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Chew" #6 was a pretty good start to a new storyline, with cibopathic special agent Tony Chu getting a new partner. It was very close to making its way home, with an almost "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" procedural plot with some nice banter, but its protagonist didn't do much to distinguish himself and the mystery was solved a little too quickly.
"Immortal Weapons" #5 broke the previous example of odd numbered issues being superior, as the Prince of Orphans shared his panel time with Danny Rand, and Iron Fist's Spider-Man-esque banter took space from the titular character's development -- and his kung fu. Still, interesting stuff, just not as focused as it needed to be.
A new installment in a fairly solid series of military tales, "Star Wars: Legacy" #42 showcased some tactical maneuvers and showcased the complicated new balance of Force users from three factions working alongside grizzled veterans who hadn't even been born when Nien Numb and Lando flew a "hunk of junk" out of a firestorm near Endor's forest moon. The plot's stronger than the characterization, and that imbalance keeps it from being a better comic, but it's surely not bad.
"Incredible Hercules" #138 was very close to the mark, with Hera showing her hand and Athena's assemblage of heroes showcasing the mortal ingenuity that makes them so valuable in this struggle, all while the last of the Titans is made a major threat and analogues were made to the sorts of things Neil Gaiman discussed in "American Gods." However, just as things were getting good, they stopped short, and that abruptness wasn't helped by a frankly dull Agents of Atlas backup.
Speaking of things that stopped suddenly, "G.I. Joe: Origins" #9 had the same problem, building up some good camaraderie a la "The Italian Job," with individual roles getting sussed out fairly easily, but there wasn't enough room in this issue for everything to work out well and still have a satisfying episodic conclusion.
"Criminal: The Sinners" #2 was also not bad, sticking to the gritty streets Tracy Lawless strove to avoid. Like time spent playing a "Grand Theft Auto" game, things that initially seemed simple get less so, involving no fewer than three organized crime families with a ruthless hunter from the Army closing in as well. In stronger economic times, this kind of simple noirish entertainment would work, but as things stand it just wasn't enough.
"Detective Comics" #859 was an interesting bit developing the basis of Batwoman's skills and her origins as a character, which was well balanced against current events, but seemed a little facile in the face of some other revelations of the same sort. Good, but not great, partially caused by a weird "Cain Heresy" section which had unclear artwork and threw the momentum off somewhat.
"Son of Hulk" #17 had a lot of build up for one very, very impressive moment, where the son of Bruce Banner has words with one of the major powers in the Marvel Universe and essentially makes that power cry out like a b***h. That -- like the last page of the recent issue of "REBELS" -- was almost enough, but the road getting there didn't quite make it work.
Ready for surprises? "Galactica 1980" #3 wasn't bad. Really! Sure, the pre-pubescent Doctor Zee is a warmonger that'd make Don Rumsfeld shiver in his Haliburton-supplied gold-encrusted BVDs. Okay, the language of the colonies is close to Aramaic (a language that has a three-thousand year legacy ... which isn't even in the top three oldest languages on the planet ... whatever), which is weird in that the split between the Colonials and the people of Earth would have happened thousands of years before the first syllables of Aramaic were ever spoken. Ignoring all that, the basic plot had some solid story beats and there were some acceptable plot moments. It's kind of like when George W. Bush managed not to throw up or actually do a keg stand in the middle of his first presidential debate -- the people who made it are skilled, even in the face of clearly ridiculous material.
"Thor Giant Size Finale" showed true heroism from a man with no excuse for it as Doom continues his plan to milk immortals for their delicious god juice ... that didn't come out right. Hm. In any case, there's betrayal and bloodshed, treachery and tragedy and ... well, it's all a good deal of sturm und drang but it doesn't really conclude anything at the end.
"Northlanders" #22 proved something. It's a good series that, truth be told, doesn't fall under the aesthetic tastes of this column. It's well drawn. It's well plotted. The characters are solidly presented. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this, like a delicious slice of tiramisu, but that doesn't mean everybody has to like it. Fair acknowledgement of a show of craft and with certain variances -- more dynamic art, a different format from the standard 22 page comic into perhaps longer form storytelling -- this series might have a wider appeal. As it is, it's great if you like short stories about hardscrabble living in environments suitable for vikings.
"Hulk" #17 was a surprise, in that it was actually close to good. The Red Hulk, in voice over, discusses the parallels between himself and his green predecessor and the importance of keeping his secrets. Likewise, for the first time he shows a kind of weakness -- information. He doesn't know who the Red She-Hulk is, he doesn't know what plans are happening around him, he doesn't know how to stop the leakage of information. It's a different side of the character and the depth is a good thing. Plus the art's really pretty, even if the plot doesn't really go very far.
Imagine, if you would, that the ridiculous elements about "Smallville" never happened but took the same basic elements, and you'd be following along with "Superman: Secret Origin" #3, which borrows some Richard Donner elements in introducing a clumsy, bespectacled Clark Kent to Metropolis and a Daily Planet that borders on bankruptcy under the thumb of the bored corporate titan that is Lex Luthor. Familiar and unimposing, this ground was covered in "Birthright" a few years ago and of course "The Man of Steel" back in the era of the very first Crisis, so if you like the scenic route including great artwork and coloring, go for it.
There was an attempt to do some character development at the end of "Avengers Initiative" #30, and there was an attempt at explaining the multiple appearances of this antagonist this month, but if the issue is essentially concluded with chatter, even with all the screaming and thrashing around, it's not much of an event, is it?
"The Web" #3 gets points for incorporating some modern social media stuff into its mechanism, making the titular hero online all the time (and having Oracle as your website developer isn't bad), and the "franchisees" shtick was cute. Still, things took a while to get there.
Mark Waid turned in an old-school performance on "Amazing Spider-Man" #613, which felt much like the classic 1967 animated series, that was entertaining and in quality level similar to "Criminal," as Electro and the Mad Thinker have some business dealings and that's a bad spot of business for the Web-Spinner. The fact that it threw in some modern zeitgeist over economic challenges was cute.
"Wildcats" #17 should have been a big thing: the long rumored, often behind-the-scenes Tao stepped out and now controlled the Anti-Life Equation, er, the Creation Equation. On top of that, the whole Wildcats team got it too, essentially meaning that they all stood with the power of reality altering gods. That sounds huge, right? Not so much -- lots of weird scenes you'd more associate with Marvel's character Trauma or even DC's Psycho Pirate and art perspectives that were a little too up close and personal. Ambitious but fannish.
"Ms. Marvel" #47 was an interesting done-in-one where Spider-Man goes on a date with Carol Danvers. Seriously. We find out they're both "foodies" and had their dinner interrupted by a sudden surgery that they both had to ... oh, wait, that was an episode of "Grey's Anatomy." Right, here we go -- super fight, smashing and blah blah, Peter's broke, and so on. Truth be told, the "looky loo" from "New Avengers" could have developed from the conversations here.
With the inspirations of Shakespearean theatre, "Wonder Woman" #38 worked through old Amazon rivalries and weird applications of law (why would Achilles' men be bound by the law of a people they were sent to replace), but for all the dramatic urge coming along with the new "queen," Achilles is still an empty shirt and most of the supporting characters weren't getting the job done.
If "Secret Warriors" #10 wasn't so talky, it would have been good enough to come home, as Alexander, the son of Ares, faces something that could end lesser beings. However, for all the highfalutin' language and even a court of divinities, it had one actual thing happening (and, chronologically, happened after the soon-to-be-mentioned "Dark Avengers: Ares" issue).
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Powers" #1, "Gotham City Sirens" #6, "Dark Avengers: Ares" #2, "Green Lantern" #48, "Guardians of the Galaxy" #20, "Justice League of America" #39, "Justice Society of America" #33, "Jericho Season 3" #1, "Superman" #694, "Teen Titans" #77, "Unknown Soldier" #14, "Uncanny X-Men" #517, "Image United" #1, "World's Finest" #2, "Models, Inc." #4, "The Tick" #1.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
"Blackest Night" #5 introduced the idea that all life comes from white light, and black light can only represent death. Okay. Assuming that you're gonna go for that, this is where the storyline presents its big ideas that get played out through tie-ins. In any case, one rage-inducing Black Lantern is brought out which leads to a plot twist that ... it's bad. I mean, storyline bending, outrageously fan-enraging moment that ... wow. Also, Nekron? This guy can conjure something to take down the freaking Spectre? He couldn't even finish off Nathaniel Adam. Wow.
Speaking of undead people coming back to torment people they had an emotional connection to, "New Mutants" #7 features more of Doug Ramsey as he tries to reboot and the Hellions are back and ... look, it's terrible. Why? Partially due to a muddy script, partially due to unclear visual storytelling (possibly compounded by the script) and partially because undead characters parading around and torturing people who knew them is kind of passe right now. Ugh.
Warning: the cover of "Justice League: Cry for Justice" #5 is completely bogus. Nothing like that happens anywhere inside the issue. Moreover, the last five pages or so are not very clear (script? art? Hard to tell where that went wrong) in terms of what actually happened with Red Arrow and Congorilla while there was a lot of arguing and back and forth between people who've had similar arguments for many, many years.
Okay, crazy SPOILER WARNING. Normally we don't do that in this column, but for real, SPOILER WARNING. Remember in "Superman/Batman" there was a giant half Superman/Batman robot made by the Japanese juvenile version of Toyman that Captain Atom ended up flying into a huge Kryptonite meteor? "World's Finest" #2 has Toyman making a giant half Superman/Batman robot. Really. As for Damian the Boy Wonder and his snarky interaction with Jim Harper ... there was no reason for that.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Twenty ... holy crap, is that right? Let's count that again. Yeah, wow. Twenty honorable mentions. That's a huge freaking week of comics. Anyhow, that's essentially more good than bad, so that's good. But wow, that's a lot!
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Two jumps, twenty good reads, that's pretty good. Right?
For all of you whom celebrate a day of gratitude, food and family, we wish the best to you and yours.
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 -- I've been doing "commentary tracks" for the Buy Pile there a few times.
Sneak peek of next week: BOOM! Studios is putting out "Dingo #1," based on a novel this columnist first read as a serialized blog, a thriller with some twists that are simply amazing. Brilliant stuff, and a guaranteed purchase next week. Also, "The Untamed" #1 from Stranger Comics hits stores next week, and you should get on board. Fantasy comics with a diverse cast and deeply considered mythology, this is like opening up "The Hobbit" after never reading any Tolkien ... but much more visceral. Full disclosure: I work with Stranger Comics, but I have zero involvement with BOOM! Studios, so take all of that as you will.