The Buy Pile

Thu, December 24th, 2009 at 5:44pm 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 DECEMBER 23RD, 2009

"Incredible Hercules" #139
The Incredible Hercules #139 (Marvel Comics)

On one side, you've got many of the ancient names of myth.  The goddess Hera CEO-ing The Olympus Group, a literally divinely inspired corporation with the likes of the Titan Typhon and gods and goddesses including Arachne, Eris (who here claims to be Ares' sister, not daughter), the monster Argus, Cephalus the Huntsman and a gang of gorgon-inspired Amazons.  On the other side and led by Hercules, you've got Avengers New and Mighty, including Spider-Man, Quicksilver, US Agent, Wolverine, Hank Pym and the always kooky Amadeus Cho working the angles.  At stake?  Well, Hera finally reveals her plan (which, truth be told, belies a dangerous misunderstanding on her part of ... well, a lot (including Paul Dirac's theories, basic commerce and more), the big battle is joined (and figures from Greek Myth do pretty well holding their own against the heroes of today) while Amadeus works hard to not get the job Athena chose for him.  Between the action and the backstory there's just enough going on for it to all meld together interestingly, thanks again to a well-balanced script from Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente with creative and engaging artwork from Rodney Buchemi, Reilly Brown and Guillem Mari.  Some things worth noting: Zeus and Quicksilver sharing a very fun moment, Amadeus using other people to do his will ("What the hell, kid?") and an "amazing" line from Peter Parker ("I prefer to think of myself as an irreverent commentator on the mundane foibles of everyday existence. Like a Thurber or Keillor! Except I do it while kicking people in the face!") that are all gems that help this issue shine.

"Unknown Soldier" #15
Unknown Soldier #15 (Vertigo/DC Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.  Taking things a very different direction, the latest man with the bandaged face and the legacy of warfare has taken a vow of peace and been ritually cleansed of his many, many sins.  He lingers around a Ugandan refugee camp, wondering what to do next, when the inevitable brutality of the region thrusts him back into the kind of life he simply cannot avoid anymore.  This is one of the very few comics where very little can happen and it can still be compelling, visually, plot wise and looking at character development.  The lead character's morose voiceover exposes the political realities of the area, brings out character in even the briefest interactions (the doctor, Captain Kamalie) and never looks away from the way of things while still managing to entertain.  Brilliant, challenging work. 

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

One buy, one jump, both great and all for less than ten bucks.  Sweet.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

"Dark Avengers: Ares" #1 was very close to making the cut, as Norman Osborn's mission to have the God of War teach his brutal lessons to a hard core group of soldiers did give some pyrrhic instruction on loyalty, winning and what it takes to defeat the enemy.  However, it fell just short because of the same things that made "Unknown Soldier" work -- this took on nothing more than an empty shirt antagonist and cannon fodder that wasn't very visually compelling, whereas a character with this kind of power and longevity could do more (as started to happen in "War Machine" before that got all scattered).

Catherine Kane gets a well-developed origin in "Detective Comics" #860, which details how her war on crime (and it's a much less psychotic one than that of her inspiration) began, making both the timing of her appearance and how she's able to compete in the dangerous world of Gotham City costumed crimefighting.  However, the "scattered" section here again intruded, making a stream-of-consciousness style moment, and the tortured family relationship that feeds an almost-forgotten meta-story happening almost seems like it takes away from the character's newfound depth, giving her a "Joker" of her own.  

"Criminal: The Sinners" #3 was another solid work of noir, introducing more violence and sex and trouble aplenty for AWOL army sergeant and former criminal Tracy (yes, he's a guy) Lawless.  A new wrinkle to the story comes from an unexpected direction as disparate criminal elements struggle with bloody challenges to their organizations.  Nothing wrong, but nothing stood up and said, "well, check this out, pal!"  

"Secret Warriors" #11 skips past the whole "god of fear" stuff that happened last month, dancing back and forth between one of Hydra's big names, HAMMER and Nick Fury's ongoing global game of chess, as Fury brings some of his myriad "black ops" teams together for the first time and talks about moving towards a bigger plan without actually doing anything.  Great ambiance, little actually happening.

"G.I. Joe Origins" #10 was the kind of comic that, back in the Marvel day, would have featured a lot of great character close ups with personality, some interesting angles on art shots that would be memorable.  The script was there, with the Joes doing a by-the-numbers assault on terrorists holding a US embassy, even down to a NSA-styled spook pulling the strings and being a jerk.  Unfortunately, Andrea Mutti and Tom Feister turned in artwork that showed up for work, but didn't put in any effort worth noting.  Sad, as this could have been one of those issues you looked back on like Hama's "G.I. Joe" #8 and really said, "that was something!"

"Guardians of the Galaxy" #21 was a quick and weird procedural, as the "we're not lamer than the Wanderers!" team called the Luminals (they are, actually, lamer than the Wanderers, BTW), screw up in a major way that leads to fighting and yelling and motions issued and, right, just a bit of worshipping.  Again, nothing overwhelmingly wrong, but it was pretty talky and Phantom Menace-ish in its actions.  

Taskmaster gets his first chance at the brass ring in "Avengers: The Initiative" #31, and he wonders if he's good enough.  Surprisingly introspective and using pretty good framing devices to showcase the craziness here, but its Rashomon look at "Siege: The Cabal" #1 and the stench of desperate men who've never had a real chance to win takes something away from it.  

The artwork took a lot away from a very cute Kansas City Shuffle in "New Avengers" #60, which assumed a lot of things were clearer than they actually were, but has Bucky and Clint's team figuring out Norman Osborn's nasty little surprise and working on dealing with it while keeping a certain steel-skinned hero for hire.  Not bad work, though.

Doctor Doom has gone ahead and cheesed off a whole lotta Asgardians in "Thor" #605, and that means the hammer must fall.  The good doctor has an idea, you see, and that idea requires lots of dead gods.  However, is he in for a beating, or has he figured it all out?  The answer, sadly, is a story that's a smidgen retrograde even as it's depicted interestingly.  The scenic route to somewhere you've essentially already been is still a trip to nowhere new.  

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

"Spider-Woman" #4 (better as the motion comic on Hulu), "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow" (yes, even with girls kissing), "Blackest Night: JSA" #1, "What If Astonishing X-Men," "Star Wars Legacy" #43, "Gotham City Sirens" #7, "Black Terror" #6, "Green Lantern" #49, "Tracker" #2, "Jack of Fables" #41 (just when it was getting good again), "Dark Tower: The Battle of Jericho Hill" #2, "Superman" #695, "Teen Titans" #78, "Iron Man vs. Whiplash" #2, "Web" #4, "Powers" #2, "Absolution" #5 and "Fall of the Hulks: Gamma."

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

"Captain America: Who Will Wield The Sheild?" shows itself on the cover as "the aftermath of 'Captain America: Reborn.'"  However, unless you've accidentally fallen into Doctor Who's phone booth or hitched a ride alongside Time Lost Batman (and yes, a few more months of "Reborn" would have led to a Time Lost Captain America, certainly), you've never seen that issue because IT HASN'T SHIPPED YET!  Yes, the affects and all are already happening, but the actual reason why remains in the coffers of the Mouse House of Ideas.  So, aside from that, it's possible that the meeting at the end of this could be a set up for the end of the Dark Reign (who better?) ... which would actually not be that great an idea either.  Oy.

Frank Castle is a Frankenstein-styled monster meting out monster justice in "Punisher" #12.  Really.  He's fighting to avenge wrongs committed against the Morlocks, er, monsters living in the sewers under Manhattan, and somehow Norman Osborn hasn't come down here and harvested everybody for his own purposes.  Really.  This comic, and all the ones that follow in its "Franken-Castle" path, are the parents of all facepalms.  Oy.  

With its limp, saccharine last page, "New Mutants" #8 played its "Mechanical Blackest Night" card, bringing more characters back from the abyss and having Selene's pawns generally revel in their weirdness.  Also, Doug Ramsey spent most of the week on his back for ... well, he was freaking out, one would suppose.  Is this title really necessary?  

Ignore the cover of "Uncanny X-Men" #519 -- that development only factored in for the last few pages.  In the main case, Scott does battle with a sliver of the Void, which makes you realize that the Sentry really probably is a loser if these guys don't even have the power of one exploding sun and they did all right against this super-endless dangerous energy that haunts Bob Reynolds' every step.  Also, the whole thing holodecked the whole issue, and that's always a yawner.  

Remember our discussion of the scenic route?  Using Artie Maddox, Leech and two members of Power Pack (all of whom got their start in the 90s, so the idea that they're all kids still is sadder than a homeless person masturbating in public, but there are some theories about all of that), "Fantastic Four" #574 pulled an old gag (a slight and less destructive variant of the events of "FF" #245, not to mention "Fantastic Four Annual" #23, "X-Factor Annual" #2, "New Mutants Annual" #6, "X-Men Annual" #14) also recently used by Layla Miller to essentially plant seeds for future stories.  Big whoop.  Also, Valeria Richards is completely taking on a role as the new Layla Miller, and if she gets a buddy book with Amadeus Cho (especially written by, say, Mike Carey or Warren Ellis), the whole Marvel Universe could get much more interesting.  Here, however?  The Great Sadness returns.

"What If Spider-Man House of M" was instantly forgettable and instilled more sadness, as Peter Parker somehow became even whinier than he can often be in his own solo books.  Given his "Hercules" appearance, is there any more proof needed that he's strongest in team environments (these days at least)?  

More proof?  "Amazing Spider-Man" #616 was less "bad" than "depressing," as Flint Marko borrows one of the less useful pages from the Book of Jamie Madrox and Spider-Man is a lot less funny and a lot more ineffective in a struggle that has no winners.  Not a comic book you'd wanna look back on with fond memories.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Nine okay, seven bad, eighteen mediocre ... again, that counts as a wash, as the mediocrity overpowered everything else (even that moronic Captain America and Punisher stuff).  

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Well, true enough the week is literally soaking in half-baked attempts at adequacy, but it cost about eight bucks.  From a business perspective, that's good, but as a comics lover, it's ... what's that word we keep using?  Right -- sad.

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, including commentary tracks for these reviews (last week I answered specific criticisms from someone with a ... was it a pod complex? Tod complex? Something ...) and what not.

Also, no, the Spawn of Hannibal has yet to be born, now running thirteen days past the due date.  This column may go MIA should an appearance coincide with comics release dates, so consider yourselves warned.

In past years, this columnist represented the days of Kwanzaa (which starts on December 26th) in The Comic Reel, but new writer Erik Amaya doesn't seem likely to follow that tradition.  So you'll have to check out what it's all about on the official website and freaking bugger off until there's an update next week.  

Finally, next week, there will be reviews (including some surprises) of the one comic slated to come out, plus hopefully a report on a major comics confluence.  A lawyer (look to The Hundred and Four for photos and more details by ... uh ... Monday or so.) believes that Namor needs to flap the wings on his ankles in order to fly ... and has spent the better part of the year building his case, despite a set back from a mis-reading of a John Byrne issue.  In any case, next Wednesday at 5PM he will be at Comics Ink in Culver City to present his case and set the matter to rest for once and for all.  This columnist will be on hand to help hear the case.  Unless a baby comes up.  It's slated to happen with or without The Buy Pile's august and oft-loathed reviewer.  FYI.  

TAGS:  review, incredible hercules, unknown soldier, buy pile

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