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 DECEMBER 3RD, 2009
Some years ago, the author of this column ran across an online novel recommended by John Rogers written by Michael Alan Nelson, and found it to be an amazing, engrossing read. It's craftily characterized and brilliantly told. So now that BOOM! Studios comes along to adapt it, how would they manage it? The answer's "with flying freaking colors," as artist Francesco Biagini and colorist Stephen Downer bring the terse text to life, losing little in translation. With gems of dialogue ("She was pretty by most standards, gorgeous by others. But her beauty was like a rare and exotic bird she kept caged behind the bars of her perfect teeth ... it flew away the second she opened her mouth" or "Is that your dog?" "God, I hope so"), smartly done action and the kind of grim anti-hero characterization that Clint Eastwood might do if he was a little less tense, this issue's a work of art and a pleasure to behold.
When the title character goes into the practice of espionage with another legendary Fable, both arguably on the same mission, at first it's all eyebrow raising romantic tension ("I am a prince, after all. With my friends, I always let them see the knife coming") and another great dose of action with a magical spin on it, this issue once again packs in just enough story without crowding any of the plot points while letting the characters breathe and live. Great work from Chris Roberson, Shawn McManus and Lee Loughridge.
Jump from the Read Pile. Store owner Steve LeClaire told many customers today that this issue is "the best comic of the month." The month, fun fact, is three days old. First of all, if you don't have any ability to have an affection for western comics, this won't work for you and you should walk away. However, even fans of modern revenge tales (from Chuck Bronson to Jason Statham) should find something to love about this very well crafted done-in-one, drenched in blood, recriminations, gunfire and regret. With a mean, unflinching ending and shooting - spirit, all the shooting - this issue tells a hard tale with two fisted bravado, and the creative team of Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart throw it down in a major way. Maybe not the month's best book, but damned fine storytelling nonetheless.
Jump from the Read Pile. The gods of ancient China are ... well, they're pretty peeved at the atheist policies of the People's Politburo. They've got a full tank of smackdown that they're ready to pour it all over the Asian countryside. Taking a note from the Book of Ghost Dog, some say "sometimes the old ways are best," and more than one member of the titular team may have some problems figuring out which side he's on. The threat of nuclear annihilation, otherdimensional experiences, crazy kung-fu concepts and of course, lots of shooting and punching. Not as groundbreaking as the last issue, but still pretty good (even though Lalo Martins promised an education on matters of Chinese culture, but this has yet to arrive).
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Pretty entertaining all around.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Siege: The Cabal" was a "maybe," as it talked about what was gonna happen more than actually showing it. Norman Osborn and Victor von Doom have a bit of a misunderstanding, Parker Robbins doesn't know who to shoot and Loki plays all sides against one another -- as he should. This all leads to an interesting bit with the U-Foes that played a bit too dryly. The ideas are worth watching, even if the execution didn't quite hit a high water mark.
If you liked the essay on superhumanity in the first issue, "Supergod" #2 is up a similar alley and actually did a little to create some characterization with a "Truman Show"-styled section, but it was still more framing device than actual story. Wild, crazy ideas, though.
"Hulk: Winter Guard" had both great dialogue ("Never underestimate the science of punching") and some surprising facts (apparently, the Red Guardian is not just witty, but is one of the "world's foremost experts in engineering"). Unfortunately, the story serving as the bread for a Hulk-tastic sandwich (reprinting a great old Peter David/Dale Keown story) spoke to the generational nature of the team (and yet drew no connection with the Winter Soldier) didn't quite have enough substance.
Magog is continuing his rise as a character worth watching in "JSA All-Stars" #1, training super heroes military style and beating up ... super communists, or something. However, quibbling with Power Girl, listening to King Chimera's smugness and having some pretty forgettable fights didn't do much to sell the issue. Honestly, give Magog Manchester Black's old crew and he might be able to take care of some business.
"Dark Avengers Annual" #1 seems to believe that Noh Varr hasn't been seen since running out of Karla Sofen's bed (uh ... well, except for that Weapon X weirdness with Fantomex and Wolverine, but maybe they missed that) but gives him a one-on-one fight with the Sentry ... hang on. While we're here, let's deal with this. The Sentry has ... what is it now? The Sentry allegedly has the "power of one million exploding suns." However, Noh-Varr, who has the power of a super cockroach, manages to elude him without any real problems. Here's what's wrong with that: if the Sentry's such a badass, yet the first person who says, "Hey, Bob, how you feelin' today? Thought about stabbing your wife to death yet?" can get him all weirded out, then essentially he should be more afraid of The Initiative's Trauma than anybody else. He's a paper tiger -- he'd be better off being sent into battle with earplugs, or an iPod blasting MP3s from Dead Prez. So anyway, that notwithstanding, the artist formerly known as Marvel Boy scores some time with a girl, knocks down some parts of Manhattan, takes an important call and has two old dudes check him out. Which is all right, one would suppose, but isn't anything really new.
In "Strange" #2, the good doctor is like a poor man's version of ... well, himself, finding an unexpected apprentice, negotiating with interdimensional powers and generally being much more humble than he used to be. Again, not bad, but with spoiled heirs don't help make the sort of story that needs to find its way home.
Dara Brighton loses the PR war in "The Sword" #20 as her immortal enemy manipulates the media. Dara, however, takes care of fighting soldiers and the air force. Which is okay, but it didn't work out so well for her.
"Fall of the Hulks Alpha" would have worked better as either a flowchart or a video game, as it retcons an interesting bit of history into the 616 universe and puts together a team that's kookier than the Janitor's Brain Trust on "Scrubs" (yes, it's still on the air) and is suspiciously Hulk-free for the most part. Surely informative, but not so much a story as the opening text crawl for one.
The Thunder God barely shows up in "Thor" #604, as Balder and his Asgardian warriors set themselves on a path against Victor Von Doom's Doctor Mengele-styled regime and Don Blake does some investigation on who tried to kill him (taking some time off from rebooting Tony Stark). There's one slightly creepy bit, and some inspirational god speeches and another "this all leads up to ..." sort of feeling.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"What If? Secret Invasion," "Iron Man Requiem," "Authority" #17, "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" #5, "Haunt" #3, "Iron Man vs. Whiplash" #1, "G.I. Joe" #12, "Blackest Night: The Flash" #1, "Uncanny X-Men" #518, "Invincible Presents: Atom Eve & Rex Splode" #1, "Nova" #32 (interesting take on Egyptian spirituality ... and by "interesting" that means "probably inaccurate"), "Greek Street" #6, "Black Widow and the Marvel Girls" #1, "Superman: The World of New Krypton" #10 and "X-Force Annual" #1.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
When a comic book is about undead people coming back to tug at the emotions of the living, you know it's not going to exactly be high literature. However, when things fall into Arlington National Cemetery ... well, "Blackest Night: Wonder Woman" #1 goes too far. Way too far. When asked "does this comic hate America," the answer came back, "no, but it stalks America coming home and then tries to forcibly sodomize it, then cuddle afterwards ... and then do it all over again." So wrong on so many levels.
In "Psylocke" #2, the title character chases down former Hand luminary Matsuo and fights ninjas. No, this comic book isn't actually from 10 years ago, it's happening now. Because Psylocke's back, she's ninja-tastic again, and she's doing stuff that ... well, she did ten years ago. Nothing wrong with that, one would suppose, but have we really not gone anywhere since then?
"The Mighty" #11 falls prey to a sadly predictable problem for any Superman-class extrahuman in finding somebody worth punching. The predictable shots of the captain's wife agonizing over what she sees, the close-focus shots of the fight to cover up the fact that it's less a fight than a beating ... whereas "Irredeemable" got better, this series suffered. Shame.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Nine okay, three really bad ... and fifteen "meh" comics. That's a preponderance of mediocrity, which makes the reads essentially a wash.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
The forgettable is outweighed by the good stuff that got purchased, so that counts as a win despite the week's reads being a little yawnworthy to get through.
For the last few weeks, this column has been hyping the hell out of from Stranger Comics.
This week, brilliant new fantasy from Stranger Comics called "The Untamed" #1 was expected in comics shops. It wasn't there. Not due to any truck full of books spilling somewhere in middle America, not because of any external cause, but because they got some new, crazy pages from another project that were too cool to leave waiting for their own scheduled release. Call it "the relentless pursuit of excellence," and I'm excited to see what was so cool it meant holding back.
Back to new business: not 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, which has featured lots of commentary tracks on these reviews plus a lot more wackiness.