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 13TH, 2010
Jump from the Read Pile.
Victor Von Doom wants to succeed where Ulysses Klaw and so many other conquerors have failed -- taking over the vibranium-rich technologically advanced land of Wakanda. Pretending to assist xenophobic agents provocateur, T'Challa, Shuri and Ororo seem effortlessly moved from the playing field, leaving the former Lord of the Wakandas to say, "I just threw the woman I love to the wolves." When checking out Doom's plenipotentiary, even Reed Richards added, "This broker is demonstrating a disheartening level of technological sophistication ... even I don't have a cloaked satellite. Not in orbit yet, anyway." Old punching bags (Crusher Creel and even a Mandroid) get nifty (if visually unremarkable) upgrades with even Hydro-Man trying to build upon his appearance back in the Christopher Priest "Black Panther" series (#13 or #14) and be somebody ... with less impressive results. Given the nice twist at the end, this issue made the leap with another complex and engaging script from Jonathan Maberry and clear if quotidian artwork from Will Conrad and Peter Pantazis.
Jump from the Read Pile.
Vril Dox is back doing what he needs to do, and it's great fun watching him manipulate kings and heroes, all. Despero said to Dox, "The way you play them against each other, I always wondered why you pretend to champion law and order." Dox responded, "The law is useful, Despero, both as a tool and a bludgeon." Along the way, lots of B-list spaceborne characters (Kanjar Ro, Captain Comet, et cetera) get treated well and shine within very limited amounts of space, performing some of what Marvel's doing so well with their "Reign of Kings" and "Annihilation" storytelling in grouping characters and letting a skilled writer rehabilitate them through action. Even Starro the Conqueror, who was more a weird joke than a threat, has become a character with some drive and pathos, borrowing a lot of his demeanor from Marvel's Ares. Tony Bedard's been great at this all the way back to CrossGen's "Negation," and when he can give Vril Dox enough screen time, he easily hits it out of the park. Good stuff.
Tony Stark's brilliant plan to combine Cap's shield, Pepper's repulsor-powered heart, Thor's lightning and spirit knows what else succeeded in bringing his body back, but something's missing. Don Blake, like any good doctor, called in a consult and Stephen Strange pops up. Meanwhile, Tony's having some kind of fever dream about his parents and his technology while Norman Osborn's goons close in on the erstwhile corporate titan with murder in their minds. The art of Salvador Larocca and Frank D'armata continues to astound, and Matt Fraction wields a script that does a great deal to enhance even the lowliest of supporting characters while giving some great moments to names you know ("Trust me. I'm a doctor"). The ending's a little abrupt, but overall, the effect is a good one.
The team's on a mercenary mission that probably ends without getting paid again, only this time they're up against Amanda Waller's most recent iteration of the Suicide Squad and every dead supervillain and meta-convict at Belle Reve, shmucking around with Black Lantern rings and axes to grind (or violins, as the case may be). There's a lot of fun parts ("I see. Hitting me. Was that what that was supposed to be?") due to a great script (hard to do in a crossover) from Gail Simone and John Ostrander, plus some great artwork from J. Calafiore and Travis Lanham.
Jump from the Read Pile.
What do you need to make a great classical Spidey comic book? Solid jokes from the lead, preferably from both identities: check. Peter's love life going all wacky, maybe even implying his money woes: done. Violent fisticuffs with some iconic villain: no problem. All of that is here, as a new man wants to carry the mantle of the Rhino as the villain who formerly carried the name follows Huey Lewis' lead, "those who were the farthest out have gone the other way." That's all well and good, but the post Civil War backup story about how he essentially got out of the game (ignoring the continuity challenge presented by his appearance with the Punisher for the holidays) is a wonder and delights so much that its addition makes this issue a must-have.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Five great, highly re-readable comics. Great start.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"S.W.O.R.D." #3 was a hair's breadth away from making it home as Abigail Brand and Henry Peter Gyrich struggle for control of the alien-centric organization while the mysterious Unit plays all sides against each other. Hank McCoy has a real star turn here, fielding calls from Doug Ramsey as if speaking to a resurrected teen hero is perfectly normal, all while quipping up a storm. Had fewer things made the jump, or economic times been better, this issue would have been strong enough to make it, but its meandering middle drew it just far enough away.
"Magog" #5 had some weird bits of arcana which expanded on the mysterious subplot of the previous issue in a way that was less than satisfying. However, the main plot still had some teeth and didn't wander too far, but the more mystical Magog gets the farther he is from his strengths as a character.
Mark Waid is one busy guy, editing comics for one company and writing for at least two more. His "Cyberforce/Hunter Killer" #4 was a pleasant surprise, with an effective antagonist in the suited and charismatic Morningstar (A weakened character said, "Stay ... away ... or I'll ..." "Vomit? Weep? Pee? Give me a hint," Morningstar replied dryly) and a team of tactical agents with some degree of characterization (the most given to Ellis). Toss in some corporate espionage and conspiracy theories and you've got an okay comic book here. Worth watching, to see if any of the other characters become anybody.
Speaking of Waid, "Strange" #3 was also fairly close, with an old "friend" calling in a favor while making an interesting connection between the Jon Benet Ramsey-esque world of juvenile pageantry and the subprime mortgage collapse (it works, mostly). The "victims" are a little too bland to feel much sympathy for, while the antagonist lacked a certain charm that could have been improved by borrowing from Jason Lee's character in "Dogma." Still, not bad.
Matty Roth has gone too far in "DMZ" #49, and even his long-time supporter Zee can't abide by his decisions. Meanwhile, the nuclear shell game Parco Delgado played with his "neighbors" of the Free States and US military may have been found out and nobody's happy with anything. Clearly this issue was ratcheting up the stakes for ... something, but it was just shy of being convincing enough to carry the day.
Kevin Smith mysteriously turns in another issue of "Batman: The Widening Gyre" #4, a talky, romantic-minded issue where the Bat violates Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #99 and gets uncomfortable with a relationship that moves too fast. The one that's about the girl is not what you might think. Greatly entertaining dialogue that never seems to go anywhere.
All the build up is cast aside in "Die Hard Year One" #4, which is balls-to-the-wall action as John McClane shows some of what made him the cinema legend and lots of bullets fly at a high society party. There were some interesting moments but it never really congealed into a whole chunk of culture that'd make you say, "yeah, that's what I need."
The one thing that was making Superboy interesting went away in "Adventure Comics" #6, which played more to the straightforward superhero fan -- nothing wrong with that, but it wasn't the crazy heights that the notebook shtick could have clearly gotten to. Maybe it was time to clear the way for Levitz' comeback, hard to say.
"Realm of Kings: Imperial Guard" #3 leaves Kallark's finest lost in space while he's bored senseless in the true field of death, the meeting at a big table. There was a mild riff on Han and Leia from "Empire Strikes Back" but with much bigger stakes and more vibrant art could go a long way to making this series stand out more.
Dick Grayson's settling into the mantle in "Batman" #695 despite one pesky and recurring vulnerability. This issue was solidly "all right" with a team up between somewhat unexpected allies and some cool visuals.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Green Arrow/Black Canary" #28, "Absolution" #6, "The Darkness" #82, "Batgirl" #6, "G.I. Joe Movie: Snake Eyes" #4, "Booster Gold" #28, "Farscape: D'argo's Quest" #2, "Nation X" #2, "Action Comics" #885, "Anchor" #4, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" #31, "Superhero Squad" #1, "Psylocke" #3, "Weekly World News" #1, "Shield" #5
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
"Galactica 1980" #4 ... wow. It was surprising that the middle two issues overachived to stand in the range of mediocrity, but this? This is the most unsatisfying Galactica ending since James Callis and Tricia Helfer walked through Manhattan streets. Adama flying a Viper, a weird chat with Baltar, just ... no. Really, no.
The main characters in "Dark X-Men" #3 are entertainingly crazy, but to see Nate Gray come in and take on the Avengers too (again, the Sentry is the easiest to deal with) with an ending that's weird and unsettling. There's really no need for this.
Do you like to see mopey, worried giant mechanoids? Well, if so, "Transformers Ongoing" #3 is the place for you. If, however, you're in search of awesomeness, that seems to be out of stock as Ultra Magnus intimidates, Hot Rod comes up with an outlandishly bad idea, Jetfire almost says, "I'm a scientist, not an engineer!" Bones McCoy-style and literally nothing goes write. Wait, sorry, the art's good. That's about it.
Speaking of whiny and navel-gazing, "Titans" #21 had a lot of Vic and Kory talking. Like, a lot. With the Teen Titans at the tower, it's hard to see why this team -- or title -- even exists. Really, this was painful.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Ten okay, fifteen "meh," four atrocious ... that's close enough to good, as the mediocre kind of just washes over you.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Three jumps, adequate reads, yeah, this is a winner.
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, which may be waylaid by the kind of sleep deprivation you can only get when you're around a newborn.