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 JUNE 3RD, 2010
What's funniest about many "classic" stories is how often the plots leave one wondering a simple question: "why?" For example: "Mandarin sent his minions to retrieve diamonds to fuel a weapon designed to blanket the world with hate-rays." Then there's Janet Van Dyne having a super villain work as her chauffeur for weeks at a time. "After foiling a fur theft, new hero, Yellowjacket, shows up for an Avengers meeting in place of Goliath, informs them he has killed Henry Pym and demands to be made an Avenger." Not only do the stories strain credibility in terms of character rationale, but it makes you wonder what people thought about when they were writing this sort of thing. Still, this weird look back at what was alright in years gone by ("Meet The Fang, Arch Fiend of the Orient" or even "Chapter Two: Burn, Whitey, Burn" in some possibly ill-considered adventures in Harlem). Also, Hercules and Thor were great pals at one point, and hung out pretty regularly. Interesting stuff...from a certain point of view.
Sometimes the old ways really are best, as DC borrows a page from the M-11 school of thought with an automaton created two millennia ago. Yes, that's right -- a 2,200 year-old artificial intelligence that has enjoyed upgrades and combat enhancements that are the best the DCU's PRC can pull together. The problem of being too smart for your own good is examined, and that legacy almost toppled the whole Chinese government to enforce the will of a dead emperor. The "mystery gods of ancient China" plot got pushed to the background a little, allowing this issue to be much more of a character piece, but it's still pretty entertaining.
Jump from the Read Pile. There's a twist mid-way through this fun, well-crafted issue that makes things much more complicated than anyone might reasonably expect from a Marvel comic. That's the selling point, really, although there's a lot more to recommend. Sure, the script's one-note characterization for several of the supporting characters was less-than-inspiring, but the art was top notch - you actually had the ability to tell an unmasked Hawkeye apart from an unmasked Steve Rogers, which was hard in comics from earlier years (Steve parts his hair on the right, Hawkeye parts his hair in the middle). The action here is top notch, some really intricate levels of Marvel history are explained quickly and clearly and there's a really amazing level of synergy between Jim McCann's script and the artwork of David Lopez, Alvaro Lopez and Nathan Fairbairn.
Jump from the Read Pile.
Fair warning: this column is unavowed in its adoration for the future in general and the Legion of Super-Heroes in specific. As well, writer Paul Levitz borrows a narrative framing device from this new series' most effective storyline, giving Clark Kent a very different perspective than the one you may be familiar with from the likes of "Smallville" or even "Secret Identity" or "Birthright." His longing for a sense of freedom, a chance to not shoulder the burden of so much responsibility for his level of power, and takes a "personal day" in the 31st century. Levitz' script does such a great job displaying the simple degrees of joy that the teen aged Kryptonian feels as he follows a simple agenda while saving lives and even fitting in a game of baseball. For the long time fan there's so many winks and Easter eggs and in-jokes that it's hilarious, and for the neophyte reader there's the simple sense of possibility that the Legion has always embodied, the flawless sense that anything can happen and everything can work out all right. The artwork from Kevin Sharpe, Marlo Alquiza, Marc Deering and Blond could use a little more polish in terms of facial differentiation and expressiveness, but the overall effect is one of openness and potential. Surprisingly effective in its optimism.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Three solid performances and a license to be right about certain facts of the past from two jumps. Nothing wrong there.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"JSA All-Stars" #7 was very, very close to making the mark, with Judomaster's emotional farewell to Damage as a framing device for some really remarkable character work. The issue had ups and downs, violence and redemption...honestly the only problem this issue had, literally the only problem, was that it tried to cover too much ground in the space of 22 pages. Probably should have made the jump, in retrospect.
"Darkstar and the Winter Guard" #1 had some very strong merits on its side, including a deft usage of craft in building up the characters and in some really solid artwork. However, the plot didn't have much to say for itself and the last page reveal was (as so much in comics is these days) way too "Inside Baseball" to have the impact it should have had. Still, interesting work from a creative team that clearly has some skill and chemistry.
"Killer: Modus Vivendi" #2 is still really talky and very much playing the Michael Westen card way harder than it should. But some actual murder happened this issue, but even there in a kind of abstract way. Ambitious but still not exactly -- pardon the pun -- hitting the target.
There were good elements in "Joker's Asylum: The Riddler" #1, looking at the unique pathologies of Edward Nygma, and it was detailed in a very delightful way. The ending, however, left a great deal to be desired, sapping the comic of a great deal of its impact.
"Hercules: Twilight of A God" #1 read like a sequel to the "Prince of Power" mini from the 80s, down to its Skrull sidekick and the Rigellian recorder. This means a whole group of somewhat anonymous scions for the Olympian and a dynasty of ill repute. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's nothing really compelling about this continuation yet either.
"I, Zombie" #2 was solidly "TV good," a cutesy premise with a voice over protagonist that'd fit in well on SyFy or Oxygen. The plot's not boring and the art is great from Michael Allred, but three bucks a month, though? It's good enough to not switch channels if it came on TV while flipping through, but not quite enough to justify this expense.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Avengers: Prime" #1, "Serenity: Float Out," "Vengeance of the Moon Knight" #9, "G.I. Joe Origins" #16, "Red Robin" #13, "Irredeemable" #14, "Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers" #3, "Authority" #23, "Thanos Imperative" #1, "Transformers: Ironhide" #2, "Codebreakers" #3, "Bulletproof Coffin" #1 (an acquired taste perhaps) and "Dust Wars" #1.
No, just...no ... These comics? Not so much ...
"Brightest Day" #3 was a continuation of trying to tell stories through abruptly stopped vignettes. This kind of "trailer park" storytelling has been happening throughout a crossover or two from DC, and shows no signs of abating due to swelling sales. It is, however, objectively crap. From the simple standard of basic narrative storytelling -- beginnings, middles and ends -- this doesn't stand up to the test, no matter how well drawn or how robust the sales. No simpler way to put it than that.
To tell you exactly which stupid cliche trope that "Justice Society of America" #39 fell into would be a spoiler, but it's an old one, and a bad one at that. Really pointless waste of paper here.
The problem with "Sparta USA" #4 is another spoiler that this column will not reveal, but it happened at the end, and it took the dwindling good parts of this series and made them unimportant. Also, the football scenes were boring. That didn't help.
After such a strong start, "Nemesis: The Impostors" #4 just kind of sputtered to a stop without answering any of the relevant plot questions raised at the start of the mini-series, created a weird new element and generally didn't resolve anything, but just ran out of pages. Distressing and frustrating.
Speaking of not explaining anything, "Red Hood: Lost Days" #1 started out with its biggest mystery unrevealed, but added some justification for some of the added darkness in Jason Todd's personality these days since he's stubbornly refusing to be dead. In all the ways the "Nemesis" book frustrated at the end, this issue decided to get some of that in at the beginning. Grrr.
There was a big heapin' helping of WTH from the likes of "Greek Street" #12 (even more incomprehensible than normal) and "Heralds" #1 (Marvel books in Vegas rarely go well). Baffling, bewildering stuff here.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
There was a slight edge to the crappiness this week, with seven truly bad comic books compared to six all right ones with a not inconsiderable pile of "just here for the ride" stuff in between.
Some reports noted that there was supposed to be a "Tom Strong" book this week, but it wasn't at Comics Ink. Maybe there was Nazi overload. No telling.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Two jumps has the very, very slightest advantage over a week of reads that failed by a thin margin. Any win is a win, so you've got that going for you.
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.
Oh, and there's blogging too: I'm back with a newly unified blogging platform thanks to (yes, I'm eating crow for even saying this) WordPress and the theme-adapting styles of Suuru Designs at the Soapbox. That's where you'll find Commentary Track blogs on these reviews, normally within a day or two of their publication. Enjoy, you bastards.