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 Quislet) 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 JANUARY 7TH, 2010
The title character actually appreciates the issue's conclusion far before it happens but doesn't realize it until it's too late, in a wonderfully delicious bit of storytelling weaving her centuries of activity into characterization. She continues to twist Aladdin around her finger as he channels his best Han Solo. Back home, however, the "assistant" Crispin at Cinderella's (cover) shoe store has gotten ambitious and it's creating quite a stir...never good for a secretive community. All this while having a complicated discussion of religious and cultural expressions, engaging in international espionage on two continents. Everything's going right and it's wonderful to behold. Delightfully entertaining and (with Chris Roberson's nimble script) the first example of the "Fables" stable working away from Bill Willingham's direct involvement.
Jump from the Read Pile
First of all, this comic book is just barely, tangentially a "Blackest Night" tie in, and in so oblique a fashion as to not even matter. Second of all, this is really a hidden "Secret Six" issue, and that series is damned good. Third of all, Amanda Waller is back, and she's not happy about the fallout from "Salvation Run," especially since her favorite triggerman now hates her freaking guts. Fourth of all, Bane's a weird protective dad-sort, while Scandal Savage wants to be a cheap date and (brace yourself) Ragdoll is the voice of reason -- super hilarious. Using Black Alice's diary entries as an internal framing device works well with the rhythms of the team's dialogue, a well-organized masterpiece like fine Swiss clockwork showcasing characterization while doing the double pincer plot closes in with such delicacy and skill that you'd be shocked until you saw the experienced hands at the wheel: Gail Simone, John Ostrander, J. Calafiore and Jason Wright. You're in good hands there.
Don't call Michael Jackson, but the title character is going back to Indiana, revealing some of the magic behind this deceptively street level story, showcasing some of the magical realism that makes this story such a joy ever since its debut as an online novel back in 2005. The author continues with his deft adaptation, cutting only what's needed to make it fit the format and infusing this with such immediacy and kineticism (one great two-page splash does a lot to move the plot and wow the reader) and Franscesco Biagini and Stephen Downer turn in quite a fun and evocative art show. Loving this series without reservation.
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The device of framing one character per issue is still working, as the "Chinese Superman" is revealed to be a living manifestation of the Buddha working as a government sanctioned and commanded superhero (which must make things very interesting for the DCU's Dalai Lama, let alone the likes of their Soka Gakkai International). Seeing no dichotomy between his "enlightened" state and serving a regime that has almost as long a legacy of oppression as the US, his character is expanded upon (down to a Lois Lane love triangle analogue) in a manner that borders on cornball but never actually crosses the line. It leans over it, sure, but actually setting foot into the land of cliché never happens, a tough balance to pull off for writer Tony Bedard. The plot's moved along well -- why would "divinities" do the things happening here? -- and the balance of politics and punching happens deftly. No idea how well it depicts Chinese society and life, but it's interesting stuff.
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Remember how you thought Tim Drake had gone nuts? Well, you were partially right, even leading the Demon's Head to call just to say, "You are a very dangerous young man." Combining fighting skills that borrow on the lessons of Wayne, Shiva, Grayson and even Connor Hawke, Drake makes his way through the Council of Spiders, here made pretty interesting by both the art from the Marcus To/Ray McCarthy/Guy Major team and also by the characteristics infused from Christopher Yost's script. This series has been edging along closer to making things work, much like the reborn Superboy (who really probably has gone insane) and this issue breaks through, fulfilling Tim Drake's promise in simple "black and white" terms. He may be nuts...or he may be DC's Don Quixote, and right to boot.
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Bringing the noirish detective story into the modern day, Dex Parios is still trying to track down an heiress despite the pesky inconvenience of somebody shooting her twice in the chests, surviving thanks to the wonders of kevlar. However, while the machinations of the procedural occur, Dex shows some character depth in caring for her developmentally disabled brother while trying to maintain some fairly interesting personal relationships (even trying to start one). This is a less hopeless style of comics noir than you'd see in "Criminal," but it's not bad at all, and the lead character is the right mix of rakishness, skill and desperation while supporting characters get decent chances to shine. Sure, the coloring could be more vibrant, but there's nothing wrong with Lee Loughridge's work here, and Matthew Southworth has very screen-influenced art stylings that mesh well with the script.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Four jumps, six great comics, that's a hell of a start.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
The next big thing in event comics, "Siege" #1 was pretty good, using Volstagg to inadvertently create another Stamford, except this time ending in thousands of deaths at Chicago's Soldier Field, justifying Norman Osborn's desire to invade Asgard. Then again, is it really Norman's desire or Loki's never ending need to screw with people? Honestly, it's hard to tell, and that's a good thing. In any case, this issue set some pretty big things happening, and they could have benefited from maybe ten more pages of actual story content. Not bad, though.
"JSA All-Stars" #2 led (sort of) by Magog and Power Girl, one half of the JSA have to find their lost member Stargirl, who's been captured by yet another version of the Injustice...Society? Gang? Hard to remember. In any case, the art's good, the combat's top notch and the characters hit the right notes, but there's not much to it beyond that.
"God Complex" #2 was about as good as the first issue, introducing an interesting new character while trying to keep the status quo making sense (hard to pull off). More good action, more okay heroics, but it never seems to step up and do anything past the same old steps.
Surprisingly, "Deadpool Team-Up" #897 almost made it home in spite of its dueling spirits of vengeance. Deadpool was in fine form, using his...unique talents to their best benefit. Goofy Ghost Riders didn't work as well, though, so this was just "okay" and nothing more.
Again the art and action were good in "Haunt" #4, but the fairly pedestrian story beats -- taken in by his dead brother's organization, the damsel in distress bit, yadda yadda yadda -- didn't do anything special.
New writers Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman stepped in to shake things up in "Authority" #18, which has somebody coming forth to carry the Carrier home. Who's gonna tag along for a ride to the stars? Who's staying home? How many Wildstorm guest stars can we cram into this issue? Not bad, but it kind of took a slow path, not really making much seem urgent. You can almost feel these comics reaching to be something better, but not really getting it right or being able to reach far enough.
"Marvel Boy: The Uranian" #1 stepped back in time to visit Bob Grayson's 1950s start in the McCarthy-era 616 earth. Even then, it made sense to be frustrated at the media and for people from other planets to find the provincialism and mental limitations of the average denizens. A good start, but not quite ready for prime time.
"Forgetless" #2 was an interesting look at the night life in the hands of murderers and scoundrels, centering more on ambiance and vanity than actual characterization and plot. Tighten up the plot somewhat and this could be something.
Again, "Doom Patrol" #6 was weird. It was a little weirder than normal, existing as a largely existential examination of Larry Trainor, who is not what anybody thinks he is. Not in any remote way. Which is...well, kind of interesting, but kind of creepy. However, under this logic, if "Dark Wolverine" didn't make it, neither will this, for the same reasons. Good for future handbook writers, though.
Checking in on "Savage Dragon" #156 showed that it has all the Silver Age-infused punching and bombast that...well, that it's had since its inception, really. However, here two Savage Dragons battle one another, and one knows who he was before he woke up an amnesiac in a burning crater -- a megalomaniac conqueror. Maybe two actual things happened here and the rest is just punch punch punch.
"Greek Street" #7 again started to clear things up, with the stripper storyteller getting off the pole and into the action. As well, Eddie's weird moment starts to come to light (and nobody wanted that) while the Furey's long for the days of old (maybe they watch Fox News). Things are still very scattered and don't seem to find their way very well, but it's still improving.
Speaking of Fox News, "Siege: Embedded" #1 gave Marvel their very own Glenn Beck with Todd Keller while Ben Urich again scores an interview to beat them all and Norman Osborn plays fast and funny with the First Amendment. Again, interesting in an oblique kind of way, but too tangential to stuff that actually happens.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Mighty" #12, "Buck Rogers" #7 (great visual design on the wardrobe, just really blah storytelling) "Superman: World of New Krypton" #11, "Cable" #22, "Hercules: Knives of Kush" #5, "Weird Western Tales" #71
No, just...no ... These comics? Not so much ...
"Gigantic" #5 was...really, just a big disappointment. After all of the big ambition and possibility from the early issues...for this to be happening, well, it's...it's sad, really. The ending of this miniseries just fell flat, and honestly, Rick Remender is better than that. Oh well.
How many issues of a non-"Max" Punisher series have you seen using racial slurs? Go on, count 'em up. However, every single Max mini-series has one within the first issue, often within the first three pages. "Punisher Max: Get Castle" #1 keeps that proud tradition alive. We get it. Some of these writers get some kind of weird giggle using "those words," be it in front of a crowd at Wizard World Rosemont or with Frank Castle pointing a gun at somebody. Does it add to the storytelling? Not really, no. Is it worth it? Not really, no. Let's just forget it ever happened, okay?
Again working on being abysmally annoying, "Blackest Night: Wonder Woman" #2 starts out with an extended look at Mera and Diana's fight...except it's not really that fight...and Batman's kissing her...wait, what? When you find out what it's all really about, it's actually worse. Fan fiction at its height, this belongs on Iron Rod Studio, not on comics' stands.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
The bad wasn't outweighed by the mediocre, and the tolerable was almost good. That's not bad.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Four jumps, minimal horrible-ness, let's say it's all good and start with a happy new year.
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, where I also post (mostly) weekly commentary tracks about these reviews.