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 30TH, 2010
Jump from the Read Pile. This is a very, very pleasant surprise. There's two stories here, featuring the Black Widow (not that weirdo blonde) and everybody's favorite mutant, Wolverine, small and self contained...and wonderful, in their way. In each story, Tony Stark's not exactly the smartest guy in the frame - with Natasha acting as the voice in his ear, teaching espionage, and Wolverine acting as a cheery partner. The real surprises here come from the upending of these roles into something zanier, and that's what makes this comic worth having. Sure, the actual twists - there's one in each story, and each one's a brilliant bit of characterization - get surrounded by great technological ideas, fun bits of corporate espionage and spycraft and of course lots of punching and blasting things, all happening on two continents. Stories that could have been mundane took some chances and got rather interesting with great scripting from Joe Ahearne and Karl Kesel. Brian Ching's artwork with Michael Atiyeh was top notch, and Eric Nguyen's solid action colored by Andy Troy overcame some weird facial moments. Great stuff here.
Reed Richards is worried that his old friend T'challa is going too far in his quest to fight back against Doctor Doom, and that means calling in some help. T'challa, however, is calling in help, too ("If one is willing to risk everything, then nothing is impossible") in bringing in Marvel's current favorite cover magnet (seriously, remember when Deadpool was super unpopular and you barely ever saw him?) to use a newly developed field of science ("...which combines quantum science with ancient alchemy.) to do all kinds of crazy things. Toss in four super-tall teenaged special forces females and some very kooky visuals and you have an issue that's pretty darned good...but could have benefited from some more of Doom's coldly bombastic chatter.
Jump from the Read Pile. With two words at the very end of this issue, Thor - and by extension writer Kieron Gillen - emphasized why exactly he's a hero. Without consideration, without any thought for his own safety, he said all he needed to say towards getting things done. This happens after Thor had a relatively long period of relative inactivity, attending some funerals. All the real action was going on in (one version of) Hell, where Mephisto got an indecent proposal ("Oh, my") and Bor's handmaidens bring endless pain to demons and Aesir alike. The artwork here easily could have leaned towards lackluster, but Rich Elson and Andy Troy made the locales infernal and mundane stand up and be noticed. This is high-octane storytelling, a perfect mix of the divine and the everyday, with gods standing on the ground and retaining their grandeur. Solid, solid stuff here.
Jump from the Read Pile. Wow. In the spirit of Organized Konfusion's "Stray Bullet," this done-in-one issue follows "the primary projectile tool of death on the planet" from its humble origins as the idea of a creative Soviet soldier in 1941 all the way to a single rifle being aimed at the series lead character in 2003, anthropomorphized into an impassive observer of the human condition in a tumultuous period for Africa. Along the way, "the lives I've touched and taken, the history I've made" is examined, from Idi Amin to Joseph Kony, from peaceful men protecting land and family to bloodthirsty poachers and the nimble little hands of child soldiers straight from Lupe Fiasco's "Little Weapon." Compelling, engrossing storytelling that simultaneously spotlights the post-colonial plight of the continent (despite Wolverine's assertions to the contrary in "Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis") while delivering a narrative that sets the scene for this contemporary conté. Wonderful, detailed work.
Jump from the Read Pile. Another wonderful surprise. First of all, yes, Firefly is now a Black guy. It's okay if you need to take a second to appreciate his Ralph Ellison-styled tactics, using research and preparation more than anything else and creating sabotage that's equal parts martial art and misdirection. The sheer detail with which he approaches his work (an interesting contrast to Spirit's profile last issue) and his simple joy in his work fascinates. Meanwhile, Tripwire has nerves of steel due to a secret that's revealed in these pages, a mastermind in bomb disposal and defusing who keeps his mantra - "no risk" - foremost in mind. To say more would be to tell too much, but suffice it to say Max Brooks has broken down two more classic characters and left a fascinating portrait that outlines motivations, methods and maps out their possibility. A treasure, even at four bucks.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Fascinating storytelling, important and escapist and back to inspiring. Great haul of comics, so far.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Mindfield" #1 was a pleasant surprise, streamlining some of the energy from "Push" and cutting down on characterization (which is part of its problem). The artwork is solid - duh, it's an Aspen title - and the premise of a clairvoyant team of federal agents has some interest, but the execution didn't take anywhere near enough chances in its fairly pedestrian storytelling.
Hindered by a lot of hype, "Invincible Iron Man Annual" #1 has a hint of the Jon Favreau-influenced movie DNA (Hi, Raza) and a "Bridge over the River Kwai"-inflected plot with more megalomania and less dignity. It's a tragedy, for certain, and well told in its way, but when you realize Mandarin has more in common with Fat Cobra than the great Khans (which is likely why Atlas has so little interest in him) and that he's got more cinematic hubris than Mark Millar...you start to look around and realize this comic is virtually Tony Stark free. Not that it's a bad thing, but altogether there's nothing you learn here that works well, and the biography method that made Fat Cobra a tragic legend makes Mandarin a less compelling twisted mirror image.
For the first two thirds of the story, "Green Lantern" #55 was a fairly "meh"-styled story, with Lobo making what seemed like a gratuitous appearance. The ending, however, had quite a clever ending that took a very one-note character and added a whole new dimension. The property damage that masqueraded as a story for the first two thirds didn't make this worth owning, but there's some interesting developments here that fans in particular will find fascinating.
Realizing the limitations of his powers and positions, "New Avengers: Luke Cage" #3 gave the street-level superhero a chance to be creative in solving a drug problem in Philadelphia. Not bad at all, but the art and coloring didn't do this issue any favors and, truth be told, the first two issues could be wrapped up into probably six pages before this, which would have made a nice chunk of comics. Missed opportunity.
The kids are trying to be all right in "Teen Titans" #84, learning the mechanics of teamwork with Wonder Girl showing some confidence while Aquagirl (that's Aquagirl, right?) and Bombshell have a friendly undersea adventure. This was an issue that showed everybody looking for Raven (again) while fighting fairly anonymous problems...this would have worked better in the animated series.
The spy-flavored "Secret Avengers" #2 is back with a slow-paced search on the surface of Mars featuring mind-controlled soldiers, energy that defies analysis and Roxxon doing stuff they probably shouldn't be doing. It needed either a quicker paced plot or more stuff blowing up, as Rhodey (who made some appearances this week - a movie sure ups your popularity!) takes his eye off the ball, Natasha keeps Valkyrie in line and Steve Rogers improvises based on conditions in the field. The character beats aren't strong enough, nor is the plot zippy enough, but it's got room to be good in between those concerns.
If you liked the animated series, "Batman Beyond" #1 will be a favorite, as it feels like watching 15 minutes of Terry McGinnis, complete with commercial breaks. The dark coloring makes the printed page look much more muted than the sharp contrasts of the cartoon, and the actual villain bringing up old business doesn't exactly fascinate, but it wasn't bad.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"After Dark" #0, "Amazing Spider-Man Presents: American Son" #2, "Gotham City Sirens" #13, "Green Hornet: Parallel Lives" #1, "Angelus" #4, "Justice Society of America" #40, "Astonishing X-Men" #34 (surprisingly Bendis-esque for Ellis), "Prince of Persia" #1, "Web" #10, "Deadpool: Wade Wilson's War" #2, "Invincible" #73, "Star Wars Legacy" #49 and "Velocity" #1
No, just...no... These comics? Not so much...
Oh, Haircut-Gate, how quickly we forget the troubles of yesteryear ("There are things that we have been lobbying to do with the character that we have not been able to do as a direct result of the publicity that came about [because of the haircut issue]. So, not all publicity is good publicity." Greg Rucka, October 2003)..."Wonder Woman" #600 opened with some fairly normal stories to lull you into a false sense of security, with Diana doing normal Diana stuff - punching, talking to kids, flying around, having people look enviously/lustingly at her - before slipping into the JMS-created reimagining of the classic character, complete with gloves (no more silver bracelets, sorry, teaser movie poster), a cropped cut jacket straight out of Forever 21 and...pants! The most iconic legs in comics, the objects of fanboy lust on a global scale, and Jim Lee puts pants on them. Shocking. Also, fun fact, JMS' whole "make Diana an orphan like the rest of the Trinity" shtick has been done with divine dithering, a visual change and shaky memories way back in 2003 by Walt Simonson. Sure, they didn't try to fix her as a lass in her early twenties, but...okay, look. We get it. DC wants Wonder Woman to sell more books, carry her weight as a leg of the "Trinity" (and honestly, the Keres sound kind of interesting...even though they also sound a lot like the Disir). Getting rid of the teenaged white gorilla commandos was a good start...but a drastic reboot of many thing people know about the character, even people outside of the industry...that doesn't seem like the way to do it. Ill considered, dull execution...failing all around.
Lex Luthor took over as a lead character in "Action Comics" #890, facing a Superman-free Metropolis. What does he do? Cure cancer? Figure out how to rid the world of hunger of Jon & Kate? Of course not - he gets fixated on getting a Black Lantern ring (with all the rings in the galaxy now, he gets focused on the one kind that's not even around anymore while not even looking into any actual ring holders) while dating "Lois Lane" (way weirder than you expect) and generally being a shmuck. This is supposed to be interesting? Next!
"Justice League of America" #46 did the opposite of the "Green Lantern" issue this week, taking a perfectly "meh" worthy story and ruining it with an ending that elicited disgusted groans from two of three people who saw it at press time. Sure, both Shakespeare wrote that there's nothing new under the sun, but at least we could stop using the same old images over and over. Argh.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Three huge failures weren't enough to swamp the greater number of decent reads and the mass of "meh" holding down the center.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Four jumps, some pleasant surprises from areas with low expectations ("Mindfield") or previous bad experiences ("Green Lantern")...even with The Pantsening and Lex's lunacy, it was a good week worth of sequential art.
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.