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 16TH, 2009
Jump from the Read Pile.
So it all comes down to this? The hidden hand of Doctor Doom has been revealed (at least to the reader) as being involved in many of Wakanda's troubles, as the nation's well known xenophobia makes it turn internecine (sadly likely) while the titular Princess-Regent decides -- perhaps foolishly -- to go toe-to-toe with the Avenging Son of Atlantis, who said, "I can hear a school of fish change direction half an ocean away. When the currents in the deepest part of the ocean alter by a single degree, I know it." That sounds annoying, but apparently it's true. However, what's much zanier is T'challa's secret plans involving a freshly remixed Dora Milaje militia while Storm inadvertently cheeses off the locals. Three other guest stars show up (with one interesting party missing -- more on that in a bit) and with all seriousness, M'Toka and N'Dega could have their commentary show on Marvel.com every day and it'd be a hit. A terribly well-balanced and well-considered story that works well in the larger narrative while giving the individual issue buyer a nice chunk of storytelling, smartly told by Jonathan Maberry and the art team of Ken Lashley, Paul Neary and Peter Pantazis. Nicely done.
This issue is ... well, it's a little confusing. No questions there. The undead space dog, a cosmic speech about the nature of everything, a giant cosmic entity frozen like an invulnerable statue on the Washington Mall ... and Kadeem Hardison. Wait, what? Yes, all that's true. However weird things are getting as this series starts to wind down (the series is allegedly ending in six more issues), the kooky ideas keep coming. Worthwhile if you've been along for the ride, but this issue's very, very insular and leaves out anybody who hasn't been along for every twist and turn.
Jump from the Read Pile.
A very interesting surprise, taking its direction from the current Daredevil series. It could almost be better labeled, "What if Daredevil was serious about running the Hand?" Instead of Hugo Natchios getting accidentally gunned down by police snipers ... Matt Murdock was, taking Elektra's place as the one resurrected by the Hand into a murderer. The Advocate spreads terror on a global scale while Agent Natchios works hard for Nick Fury's S.H.I.E.L.D., but their doomed romance had to draw them together once again. Karl Boller's taut script delivers a story that mines the familiar materials, leaving gritty noirish nuggets for readers to enjoy (in how it tied up the stories of Phil Urich, Foggy Nelson and Wilson Fisk) while treading some new ground in this Elseworlds-style continuity that leave it irrevocably different from the 616 that we're used to. Nicely done.
Jump from the Read Pile.
A done-in-one story with a reimagined Tripwire and Beachhead working their way through "pre-Colombian structures." Framed with a thriller triteness of calling back for advice from an expert (Tunnel Rat puts down a fork and picks up a holographic map) while bullets fly in the field and anonymous bad guys meet lethal fates. There's just enough tension to make things seem like there's a realistic threat (especially with the water) while using the framing device of the call home to excusably absent the reader from the immediacy of things. Excellent work.
By noting how often Skrulls were standing around, this installment reinforces any retconned case for how long the Secret Invasion was cooking behind the scenes. It may even be convincing, looking at Tony Stark's meteoric rise into government position after government position (with seemingly no regard to the consequences for his actions nor any self-consciousness of the broken lives he left in his wake). Also, during this period, a character named Ezekiel had a long, tedious character arc through "Amazing Spider-Man" that could, at best, be described as "limp" and Chris Claremont wrote a lot of "X-Men" issues that were soapy but not exactly good, including a bunch of "House of M" related stuff. Again, however, the value of this index is that you can know exactly what led Spider-Man to be in Ghana (seriously) or appreciate how a US cabinet minister worked with a foreign terrorist on domestic soil (also happened, largely to cheese off Tony Stark), or even know what "R'Chel" means (less than it should ever matter) without ever having to, say, read all the original crap. Take an hour and you can read more than a year's worth of three different comics series. That's good to have on hand.
The hated Adversary has made his big move, and he wants to be in charge, demanding a kind of run-off election based on a platform of fear and security. No, this isn't a story about Arnold Schwartzenegger, but a puppet master of old who is back with new plans for domination and victory, all while a diminutive flying monkey makes his desperate last stand against one of history's most dangerous witches, Baba Yaga, and her three virtually deathless warriors. Sure, Gepetto has talking points that could have come from John McCain, and sure, Ozma's magical manipulations have a nice bit of balance (with a magical reveal to close the issue) in an issue that doesn't even have almost any of the series' well known names. Interesting stuff here.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Six solid buys, and that's a good start.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
Remember how the Sentry has been getting played out by everybody from Frank Castle to Morgan Le Fay? "Dark Avengers" #12 finally gave the Golden Avenger a chance to step up and do something impressive against somebody worth talking about. Victoria Hand also proved herself pretty darned smart (while getting almost completely naked -- don't ask, it was kind of unnecessary). Why wasn't that enough? The rest of Osborn's Avengers stood around less effectively than Luke Walton when Kobe doesn't feel like passing, and the ending ... no, that wasn't right at all. Good to see the Sentry finally actually do something really, lastingly impressive, though.
"Angelus" #1 was a "not bad" set up issue, acknowledging some kind of history for the property while using very evocative coloring and art (the lighting effects in particular were quite well done). The story itself, however, was a little bit thin in density of plot points and in detail -- for all the interesting work done with characters, there's little explanation of the more extrahuman elements here.
"X-Factor" #200 was so extremely close to making it home that it was ridiculous. Had it not cost five bucks, it would have been a jump, no question, based largely on the balance between Jamie Madrox and Valeria Richards. Those two were on fire in this issue, with the whimsical (and not ironic) title of "The Invisible Girl Has Vanished" as their lead (and with Sue Storm MIA here, it explains why she didn't pop up when her team appeared in "Black Panther" above). This whimsicality led the day while Monet got some bad news and Theresa O'Rourke may have had a one-night stand with Deadpool and faced some hard truths about her life. So much amazing writing here ... but it's still a hard economy out there, dude.
"Air" #16 finally tracked down the scoundrel-esque supernatural super spy Zayn and kicked him in the face. Then there's a lot of talking and some hugging and more talking. Nothing wrong with that, but it's a little ... facile, doncha think?
"Amazing Spider-Man" #615 was weird but not bad as Flint Marko took over a whole island for ... well, reasons both sweet and, well, frankly, disturbing. Peter Parker as a detective was a little "been there, done that," and this issue could have benefited from either a zippier plot or a lot more humor from the title character. Spidey should be funny, guys.
... and now, for something completely different. "Azreal" #3 was a gritty, intimate story about the title character's personal history and his brothers in arms, looking at a story about murder and regret. The ending is very murky and not exactly a heroic conclusion, but it was well written and challenging.
"Astonishing X-Men" #33 wasn't bad, with a real show of power from Scott Summers and a slight remix of mutant history, but kept its antagonist behind the curtain like a certain wizard (not so effective, as it gave nothing solid for the heroes to work against). Good looking book with great, quippy dialogue, though.
"Incorruptible" #1 was an interesting debut as "Irredeemable" literally scares a super villain straight, leaving the nearly indestructible Max Damage setting fire to his money, saving cops and generally doing things unlike a bad guy (and, apparently, calling himself Max Daring instead). It feels really brief, despite (counted 'em) having a perfectly normal number of pages, and just kind of skirts by the character by focusing on the plot. We've gotta balance things, kids, but this is a good start.
Hank Pym (who's gone so far as to get "new business cards" announcing himself as "Earth's Scientist Supreme") has an internationally adored team in "Mighty Avengers" #32 that has just as much public relations cache as Osborn's band of nutjobs and shows up at Project Pegasus in front of the cameras (can't arrest international darlings on TV, Norman!) to bring in an escaped major grade threat. Amadeus Cho "Oracles" the whole thing ("I hacked in using the wi-fi on my Kindle") while Hank steps into the role of science hero adventurer with gusto, and his performance is solid. This was a cute issue, but not cute enough for three whole bucks.
"Power Girl" #7 would have been better with a lot more Vartox. Who's Vartox, you say? Vartox is, in a word, awesome. Stealing most of his shtick from Maxima (remember when she flew across the galaxy just to hump Superman?), his whole world has been rendered sterile and he comes to the realization that all can be well if he just flies across space, shoots Kara in the face with his musk gun (not making that up) and then mounts her for some breeding. Really. That's a lot of his plan. The rest of his plan, if you can believe it, is even dumber. When you see this stuff in comics, it's hilarious. Why not buy it, then? He's not the actual antagonist here, and the thing that is brought out is (traditionally) a little bit out of Kara's weight class and a little bit bland, and Kara playing the straight role here (instead of actually joining in and being funny) was the wrong way for her and made the issue weaker for it. However, if we could get Vartox, Manga Khan and Ambush Bug in a regular backup feature for a comic ... that could really be something.
"Nola" #2 is a great second part of a graphic novel. Seriously. This story, even as it stands now, is not really best suited for the monthly periodical market. The characters are interesting, the artwork is smart and nuanced, but the plot itself doesn't really feed itself into this format. The last issue felt like an unsatisfying chunk, this one does the same, but if you read them together they feel a little better. All told, this will probably be freaking brilliant. You know what, while we're here, we may as well say the same thing about "The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh" #3.
"Ex Machina" #47 was intense but scattered, as a flying journalist serial killer didn't stop the mayor from playing politics but the issue again shorted out on sheer story density.
"Dark Wolverine" #81 was all talk. Literally. Admittedly, on some pages, riveting conversation, but this kind of thing -- again -- is just not three bucks worth of content to end up essentially where you started. The chemistry between Karla Sofen and Daken, however, is positively electric.
"Hulk" #18 had some similar things happening to the aforementioned "Dark Wolverine," but it had some other benefits. Whilce Portacio's artwork here is down right cozy, keeping its reveal very close to the vest and Jeph Loeb's script borrows (and does it well) from Peter David's brilliance in "Incredible Hulk" #377 and the widely revered "X-Factor" #11 (government agency, not private investigators). So there are some great elements here, but despite its revelations about character, its plot progress was nothing to write home about.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Realm of Kings: Inhumans" #2, "Batman" #694, "Farscape Ongoing" #2, "Vengeance of the Moon Knight" #4, "Authority: The Lost Year" #4, "Doctor Voodoo, Avenger of the Supernatural" #3, "Outsiders" #25, "Thulsa Doom" #4, "Supergirl" #48, "Transformers Ongoing" #2, "Ms. Marvel" #48, "Brave and the Bold" #30, "Daredevil" #503.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
"Green Lantern Corps" #43 is a comic book that ... well, there's just so much sadness to be associated with it. Guy Gardner's transition from Green to Red implies that anybody could be any kind of Lantern ... based on emotional circumstance. Many Lanterns saw their friends -- close friends, dear friends -- fall in front of them. Only Guy was so filled with rage that a red ring flew across the cosmos to find its way to his finger (and, if the process works properly, replace all of his blood with hate-filled bile/plasma)? Can we get Seth Meyers in here? Really? Then, for the huge impact of last issue to not even last twenty two whole damned pages? That's abysmal. Oh, and there's the fact that said change had a Black Lantern ring on and somehow fended it off before the memory download or whatever could complete ... there's just so much wrong here. It's amazing to see this kind of volume of problems. Amazing ... and sad.
Speaking of deeply sad comics, "Captain America Reborn" #5 has already been rendered irrelevant based on last week's "Invincible Iron Man" and whichever Avengers issue happened. It's like a taped playoff game where somebody already told you the final score. Why even watch anymore? In any case, with dazzlingly goofy lines like, "Zola built a cage for you in my mind!" (fun fact, Arnim Zola has a wee box for sensory input and a freaking plasma TV embedded in his chest ... and somebody, anybody trusted that guy to do something effective?) and a battle heavy on melodrama and histrionics that would make even Bill Shatner say, "Dude, dial it back a little," this issue gives you a Super M.O.D.O.K. Squadron (no), two Caps going blow for blow (no) and a sadness so grand that it could only be eclipsed by, say, a "Blackest Night" tie in.
More sadness? Got it. "Transformers: Bumblebee" #1 has the diminutive (relatively speaking) mechanoid taking over leadership of the Autobots. Really. If you know anything about the Transformers (and you'd have to to get here, as there's some stuff that takes some background information to get your head around), you recognize how sad that is. So Bumblebee's a sweet kid, but to be perfectly honest he's never been the brains of the organization, and that shows in a huge, huge way in this issue. Ratchet does a Three Bears-styled comparison with Bumblebee that's very cute but dangerously facile ... as the issue shows. Almost a test case for why someone could hate this property. Oy.
In the immortal words of the man who would be Blade, "bu-bu-bu-but wait, it gets worse!" "Justice League of America" #40 is a Blackest Night tie in. As such, it features simulacra of dead characters saying and doing things to rile up living ones, and then kill them and rip their hearts out. Okay, whatever. Normally, however, it doesn't have to happen in such a wildly misogynistic and borderline racist way. Does it? This is a comic book filled with hatred and it's really kind of noxious.
From the noxious to the beleaguered, "Cable" #21 keeps on raising Hope, the last mutant baby in the modern era (there are mutants in many possible futures, so one would theorize that mutants are born eventually) under the gun and on the run. Okay. So what will you see here? Time travel. Moving towards some kind of mutant destiny. Cable being a bad ass. Bishop's relentless, almost Roland Deschain-esque pursut of Hope's dead body. Or, as you may know it, "stuff you've seen for months now." There's one singular new element, which looks a lot to most people like an old element if you look at the cover (my, doesn't she look familiar?) but ... really, so what?
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Fourteen books interesting enough to note, five of the most resoundingly depressing comics in recent memory and twelve books so mediocre as to not engender a response either way. An optimist would call that a kind of win, a pessimist would say the needle leans towards negativity. This column, however, leans towards indifference, so we'll say "meh" to the whole bunch of it.
Also, to be fair, totally skipped "X-Force" #22, "Nomad: Girl Without a World" #4 and "Authority" #18 due to time constraints. No idea how they would have affected the numbers.
Oh, and there was no order for "Sherlock Ninja" #1, "Unknowns" #1, so there's that too.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Six great buys and a sad but ultimately forgettable pile of reads? Let's go ahead and call that 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, including a largely weekly commentary track for these reviews.
No baby yet, though -- the Spawn of Hannibal has yet to make its world debut. Baby notwithstanding, we plan to cover the last week of the year despite it only having one comic book out that week. Hang on to your hats, kids.