The Buy Pile

Thu, December 10th, 2009 at 12:58pm PST

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

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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 9TH, 2009

"Invincible Iron Man" #21
The Invincible Iron Man #21
(Marvel Comics)

All the king's horses and all the king's men, indeed. In a mythical assemblage worthy of Hercules, Tony Stark has assembled Earth's Mightiest Heroes from as far away as beyond the grave (don't bother waiting for the end of that "Captain America: Reborn" series, because its conclusion is shlepping around all over the place this week) to put Iron Man back together again. While what's left of Tony's consciousness learns a lesson from a repeating fever dream, and Whitney Frost plots her bloody revenge with The Ghost (who borrows a trick from Helen and Harold Jordan), a small town in Oklahoma sees a reunion of some of the 616 universe's biggest icons. The nice emotional pull comes from Pepper Potts, who expresses an interesting point of view that started in the last issue. The actual mechanisms behind how this works are, at best, ridiculous. However, "impossible science" is just another day on the job in genre fiction, and the presentation by Salvador Larocca and Frank D'Armata make Matt Fraction's fantastic-minded script seem plausible. The only thing that seems odd, even amongst this company of heroes, is that they never discuss the things Stark is responsible for or how to approach him once he's back. Still, darned good comics at the end of the day.

"Magog" #4
Magog #4
(DC Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
The titular badass has been tracking down trouble for some time, finally finding what he wanted by doing what he thought he'd never do - surrendering. Enter valley girl sadist Chelsea Sanders, a strange mix of fetish wear and technological savvy with a secret agenda that even the grim faced warden Macklin can't discern. Meanwhile, some otherworldly business is calling Magog's name all the way from somewhere called Albion, which he blissfully ignores as he plies his lethal trade through an ocean of anonymous armored fodder. The dialogue here is top notch, expressing character and leaving the action scenes room to breathe. This issue finally achieves the promise this series has been hinting at, brushing across the grounds covered by the early Fraction issues of "Punisher War Journal" of a fairly normal guy essentially murdering his way through extraordinary circumstances.

"S.W.O.R.D." #2
S.W.O.R.D. #2
(Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
You can say a lot of negative things about Henry Peter Gyrich, but he's extraordinarily consistent and possesses a level of institutional stamina that's alarming. He'll go to enough meetings and stick around long enough to get promoted into some kind of dangerous position. This time, he's snuck his way into co-running the Earth agency charged with policing aliens and has used the distraction of his colleague Abigail Brand (chasing after her half-brother and engaging in hilarious dialogue with her boyfriend Hank McCoy while dodging Death's Head, who makes a nice guest appearance) to round up...well, almost everybody who disagrees with him, borrowing heavy from the Norman Osborn handbook. Sure, this issue must happen before that "Dark Avengers" annual from a week or two ago, but the action's great, the dialogue's great and the plot moves zippily from start to finish.

"Phonogram: The Singles Club" #6
Phonogram: The Singles Club #6 (Image Comics)
NOTE: The cover shown here is not what was available at retail.
The sixth perception of that one, strange night at the club comes from Mr. Logos, more commonly known as Lloyd. A pretentious virgin and nascent magician, he thinks he's got all the answers, but doesn't even know where to get a blue book in reality. The almost metatextual formatting of this issue might throw some off, but when it really shines - in conversation with his flawed "hero" David Kohl, in his aborted journal entry about his taxi ride with Laura, and even in the supplemental essay at the end - the story conveys the character's struggle and shallow depths with deft skill. Again, Jamie McKelvie could draw a phone book and make it interesting, so with Kieron Gillen's clever script (he turned in the previous comic reviewed, too, come to think of it) he's free to run amok. The two back up pieces are wonderful exclamation points to what is essentially a feel-good issue. The love of music is as much a part of these messages - one set in a dive bar, one traversing the world - as is magic made with it. Great work here.

"Deadpool" #18
Deadpool #18
(Marvel Comics)

Sure, Deadpool's nuttier than a day at a Jiffy plant, but people forget that he's actually quite crafty as well. His mad genius is on full display here as everybody tries to move with his crazy and ends up getting swept up in it. Norman Osborn's got guns all around and the coordination available to the powers that be, while Scott Summers has a body of mutant powers and a wealth of tactical expertise (which Osborn could frankly use, as he's not so sharp tactically or without having prep time) and of course the titular character himself, who's the Bugs Bunny of violence with a laugh and a spray of automatic gunfire wherever he goes. The balance of things, once again, shows how well writer Daniel Way balances humor with action and plotting, while the all-star art team of Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco and Marte Gracia again deliver in every way, from facial expressions (Wolverine's exasperation, Norman's smugness) to the visual balance of scenes (where's the shot coming from? Nice ...) was perfect.

"Secret Six" #16
Secret Six #16
(DC Comics)

Black Alice wants in. The reason why is revealed in these pages, and the how is "by any means necessary," and watching that alongside one of the greatest buddy relationships in comics, the sadistic Butch and Sundance that's Floyd Lawton and Thomas Blake, is great fun. After a wonderfully evil and atmospheric set up, the second half of the story happens in a strip club ("Only strip club I ever been in where there ain't any strippers," Lawton complained, "I been in convents got more exposed boob!"). Gail Simone's script, as always, captures the depravity and fascination of these desperate characters, and while the art from Peter Nguyen, Doug Hazelwood, Marm McKenna and Jason Wright is good, I feel it doesn't quite capture Simone's noirish cinematic feel as well as the still-missed Nicola Scott. For example, while "Yes, you can" was played well, with intimacy and intensity, Black Alice's response to "is that it kid?" needed a more dramatic presentation than a rain-shadowed profile. Dark and vile and wonderful in all the right ways, though, and that's always a pleasure.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Mmm, even though they're almost all populated with people most folk would cross the street to avoid (save the goody goodies in "Invincible Iron Man"), them's good comics.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

Vril Dox wielding a Sinestro Corps ring? "REBELS" #11 started strong, with the second generation Braniac ignoring the Korugaran's call to stay focused on his immediate problems, while the Black Lanterns find Starro the Conqueror too yummy to resist. However, despite the improvement of more Dox (including his son, now smarter than dad) and better usage of supporting characters, it still didn't really do very much.

There must be a renaissance for the Panhellenic pantheon, as "God Complex" #1 has similar energies to Marvel's current Olympian storytelling, showcasing an errant divinity turning away the tedium of immortality for the fragile, precious moments of mortal life. Yeah, whatever. As cliched as all of that is, the struggles of Paul to divest from his family business while they seek to bring him back Michael Corleone style has some elements of being interesting, tossing in extrahuman powers for kicks (in a world where that's not so uncommon). It was what could be called "TV good" - worth checking for if all it requires is reaching for it, but spending extra money on it in particular might be a stretch.

The tension between Shi'ar and Starjammers was pretty good in "Realm of Kings: Imperial Guard" #2, a spaceborne potboiler that shares some of what's been working in "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Nova." The characters get a little room to shine, the plot keeps moving and the stakes keep rising. What's most fascinating, sadly, is Kallark in the reluctant role of majestor over a vassal empire. His pathos over the fate of the regime he's dedicated his life to, his frustration at politics instead of action, his inability to see many of the problems around him, that's where some real dramatic grist lies. On the other hand, Mentor's playing from the Vril Dox playbook, and that's fun to watch (funny, given the Imperial Guard's likely roots as a play off of the LSH), while C'hod makes a weird kind of space captain, like Worf running the Enterprise. So, yes, those elements work, but there's a good amount of stuff just floating around that doesn't help as much.

"Red Robin" #7 had a lot to recommend it, including great tension and gravitas from the erstwhile boy wonder, all framed well by Tam Fox's terror and newness to this world. The Council of Spiders finally seem like somebody to take seriously (that guy with the hood's creepy), and even the Demon's Head getting the Sentry treatment (as discussed last week when looking at the "Dark Avengers" annual) was annoying but fleeting enough to ignore. Almost.

Speaking of creepy, "Pilot Season: Murderer" #1 had an interesting mix of "Dexter" and Mastermind Excello from "The Twelve," as a man tortured by his looks inside of the minds of others exacts fatal vengeance on those who would do wrong. His twitchy, hesitant mannerisms are starkly juxtaposed to his modus operandi and the end result is somewhat uncomfortable. Perhaps with an art team that could, say, work with the smoothness of a Kevin Maguire or a Jamie McKelvie or a Nicola Scott, the "acting" could carry it through that, but unless you're looking for a moodier, weirder sort of vibe than you get from Frank Castle (pre-monster movie) then this might not work for you.

Despite the fact that he looks like Zapp Brannigan, Tyrannus (not to be confused with Titannus) may or may not have been a pawn in "Incredible Hulk" #605, fighting against Mole Man ("pretty" versus "ugly") while the Fantastic Four essentially had to stand off to one side and kibbutz. The new "can't be bothered to talk to you because I'm so much smarter than you" Bruce Banner characterization is fun to watch, as his sly smile and absentminded wave at whatever people say to him. The issue could have used a bit more focus, but was close to the mark nonetheless.

Continuing where the last mini left off, "Farscape: D'Argo's Quest" #1 introduces more characters and expands the world framed by this quest for vengeance, reinforcing the casual xenophobia and complicated social strata of the Farscape universe. More "TV good" stuff from Boom! that probably electrifies the fan base.

Norman Osborn again can't figure out basic tactical applications in "New Avengers Annual" #3, as he's got Clint Barton stripped to boxers and in captivity but faces a lot of trouble as the women of the New Avengers rush to the rescue. Given how many people have waltzed into H.A.M.M.E.R. facilities in the last few weeks (Stephen Strange, Jericho Drumm, Peter Parker, et cetera), Norman might wanna look at some defensive measures instead of being on offense all the time. On the other hand, if he thought that way ... let's stick to the issue here. Jessica Jones-Cage suits up, as shown on the cover, and makes her "re-entry" into active duty meaningful, even though the last page of this issue - easy to see if you already read "Invincible Iron Man," but done here with a much cheesier effect - could drench you in sadness.

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

"Action Comics" #884 (Hal Jordan has a lotta nerve, and Lois' lead had very little "action" to it), "Nation X" #1, "Booster Gold" #27, "War Machine" #12, "DMZ" #48, "Hunter's Treasure" #2, "Doom Patrol" #5 (all the great quips in the world couldn't save this fistful, plotless issue), "The Anchor" #3 and "Titans #20.

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

"Adventure Comics" #5 is probably one of the top five worst comic books of 2009. Seriously. Yes, it starts with Superboy Prime on the cover, going through a mood ring phase (you really don't want to know) and then having a Patrick Duffy moment (be happy if you're too young to know what that means), but when this issue gets metatextual and shows Eddie Berganza, Dan Didio and other DC staffers in the pages of the issue it wanders dangerously into fanwankery, and then had the nerve to not have a Legion backup, but a terribly plodding Connor Kent lame fest. So ... Levitz is taking over this title, you say? Please let it be soon.

If the cover didn't let you know, Nate Gray is back in "Dark X-Men" #2 and borrowing a page from Silver Agent (or maybe Marzal), popping up here and there in an attempt to come back to the 616 reality in direct contradiction of everything that happened at the end of his series. Urgh. Ignoring the continuity bending lunacy that lives at the heart of Nate Gray, when you get to what Dr. Jarl is doing (creepy and just odd) and throw another god-level power at Osborn's Dark Reign (which, coincidentally, is pretty pasty) it's just overkill. The scant character work done with Mimic and Omega wasn't worth the price of admission.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Eight readable, nine "meh," two sucky ... the math says that ain't bad.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

On the strength of Mr. Logos, Black Alice, David Reid, Abigail Brand, Wade Wilson and even Pepper Potts ... that crowd easily outshines Superboy Prime, Nate Gray, Hal Jordan's gall and what not. We should all say "yay" and be thankful.

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.

The 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 (where "commentary tracks" for these reviews have been running for a while). Also, don't forget the Twitter feed for all sorts of lunacy covering music, comics, futurism, entertainment, politics, humor, blather and more.

Oh, remember that this column could go MIA at the drop of a dime, baby ... due to a baby - the Spawn of Hannibal is slated to be released ... heck, any time now! The management apologizes for any interruption in service.

TAGS:  the buy pile, deadpool, phonogram, magog, invincible iron man

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