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 JULY 8TH, 2010
Still crazy after all these years, the struggle between spy organization E.M.P.I.R.E. and the evil forces of W.A.S.T.E. continue with dimension hopping, high stakes gambling, prodigious amounts of gunfire and kidnapping sex robots as a backdrop for a complicated family struggle between a favored sibling and the family black sheep. Add the wonderful character asides cribbed from reality programming ("Too bad she was a robot - I'd have fancied violating several of that young lady's human rights, you get me? Spoils of war!") and wild ideas like "the Recreatonal Helimechanix Supercasino" (a "wow" inspiring idea if ever you saw one) and rape-hungry clones of a decades old super spy...look, if you look at the individual points, sure, it might seem like it's a whole lot to take in. However, with the sure hand of Matt Fraction, writing some of the best stylistic material of his career here, alongside the skillful visual storytelling of Gabriel Ba (with an interesting backup drawn by Fabio Moon that fleshes out some elements of the lead story), the madness becomes a symphony of fresh ideas, played out with flawless orchestration. So much fun it's worth four dollars.
This issue isn't done by the normal creative team. Given that it "takes place before 'Secret Six' #19," it might even be an inventory issue. Don't panic. Veteran writer John Ostrander has a firm grasp of the team's humor and dynamics ("Hey, it amused me") as well as their general experience as well as they are tricked into "the most dangerous hunt of all" with a cast of rich thrill seekers outfitted with high tech armor and weaponry. The script wades through waters of current events, gives the team members room to be themselves ("I think you do not yet understand the trouble you are in. I will come teach you"). It's a fun issue all around and seamlessly fits in with the series overall aesthetic even though it doesn't hit as hard as Simone's normal scripts (the reveal of "Junior," Catman's son, et cetera).
Jump from the Read Pile.
This column makes mistakes sometimes. The horrible week that a comic with "Hit-Monkey" made it home, for example. Typos slip in due to sleep deprivation and working on things in the middle of the night after seeing a whole family off to bed. The truth is that this comic, this wonderfully written and drawn comic, was a Buy Pile-worthy read. It deserves a berth here...but didn't come home. That will be corrected on Wednesday. Suffice it to say that Steve Rogers as a covert agent (once you get over the fact that the whole world saw his face in news coverage when he was assassinated) is really wonderfully entertaining. The issue's abrupt ending is perhaps its sole problem, as it gives the issue a feeling that this needed perhaps another four or five pages to really feel complete. Still, this is compelling work done in Marvel's underbelly with panache and clarity that has not been seen in this kind of work.
Two members of the team are left, but cancellation has cut this ten part miniseries down to nine issues. What's left to do? Mother of Champions and Socialist Red Guardsman stood in the spotlight together, showcasing their unique roles on the team and in the super powered hierarchy of the People's Republic of China. One's a talented theoretical scientist who walks a delicate balance between a possibly negative perception and serving her country according to her ability, the other feels "like some broken-down battleship...to be decommissioned." The end was a little bit of a shortcut - the trip to the moon needed a lot more than was shown - but it still felt right and there was never any question of the success for such an overwhelming extrahuman force.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Very pleased with this package of purchases.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Shadowland" #1 was very, very, very close to making it home. Finally fulfilling the promise of "Daredevil" #500, Matt Murdock has been changed by his affiliation with The Hand and it all leads up to a teaser image-prophesied re-enactment of a famous Frank Miller scene that effectively changes the boundaries for what justice means in Hell's Kitchen. Aside from the fact that the last page was a teaser image that came out already, the paragons of the "Heroic Age" didn't carry their weight in this narrative as the enticing foreplay for the climax took just a bit too long to get there. It's better to be bad, though, apologies to the Lady in Pink, and this issue was extremely close to making the jump.
"Batman and Robin" #13 was also rather good, in its way, but Dick Grayson's a little slow as a detective while Damian is mastering sounding like his father. The ideas here - including "infectious addictions" - are great, much like Morrison's more lucid moments on "All-Star Superman" or even "JLA," and the execution had less of the incoherency that's plagued his current work. Another issue like this and it might be a sign of a change for the better that's impossible to deny.
Making it quite a hard week, "Hawkeye and Mockingbird" #2 was also such a thin margin from making the jump that it was very hard to leave behind. The tension between Bobbi Morse and the rest of the world as she struggles to regain her place in a universe that moved on without her fascinates. Jim McCann's entertaining plot could use a little more focus - the Phantom Rider scenes lagged a little - but again, this was a major contender.
"Hellboy: The Storm" #1 recapped a number of other recent miniseries in discussing what's happened since the titular character left the BPRD. He also ends up in England, looking into three suits of armor that have mysteriously disappeared from a church. The weirdness associated with that problem, and with what's hiding in the back of his new girlfriend's rental car, is fairly interesting, but needs a little snappier pacing to make its mark.
"Darkstar and the Winter Guard" #2 was not bad, with a smart reintroduction of an old Marvel threat (made new again) and the less-than-helpful last page reveal from the previous issue made more relevant and more important to the reader. The tedious fight scene chewed up way too many pages, and the number of characters on panel makes it hard for some to get a fair share of development, but it was a slice above "TV good."
"Wolfskin: The Hundredth Dream" #3 featured a struggle between the magic of the ancient world locked in a struggle with the development of machines for war. This leads to some really impressive fight scenes and lots of things blowing up while people are dismembered, disemboweled or beheaded nearby. Wolfskin's supporting cast, in particular the priest and the magician, start to show some value. Still not complete in delivering a full experience but it's much closer to the previous two issues in this mini.
If you like the old school silver age feel of the "Spider-Man/Human Torch" miniseries, you'll likely be a fan of "Spider-Man/Fantastic Four" #1 as well, which looks back to a time when Peter was an ESU student. When Victor Von Doom uses his diplomatic abilities to wrangle Thunderbolt Ross into getting the FF as Latverian security, it can only get funny when Namor shows up for vengeance on...well, does it really matter? Things go all "Freaky Friday" and that becomes hilarious and there's nothing wrong with any of that, even as it's a little "Avengers Origins" in writing between the lines of Marvel history.
In "Red Robin" #14, Tim Drake Wayne doesn't remember the lessons of "Rock of Ages" as Damian gets a little emotional (again) as the overarching plot behind this blip on the radar - Red Robin's campaign against costumed crime in Gotham - moves ponderously on with more whackjobs falling to flashing fists and hurled melee weaponry. The one plot took away from the second, and that's why this missed the mark.
"Young Allies" #2 wasn't bad as the new team splits in two Scooby Doo-style to do some none-too-shabby investigating with modern methods as a secret puppetmaster for the less-than-logical Bastards of Evil (worst super villain team name ever) moves behind the scenes. Too little was revealed and too much was left to chance, but the banter and tension between characters was good enough to keep an eye on.
A powerful man funds political instability in "Iron Man: Legacy" #4, and Tony Stark's on yet another quest to take back what he's created. In many ways, there are some parallels to "Doomwar" here, as a hero's technology is warped and twisted into weapons of evil. The difference is that here, Tony Stark takes things on alone and has less than conclusive results as forces from the Russian Federation and China align against him. Given how connected Tony Stark is, it doesn't make so much sense, even with his ongoing Armor Wars and the truth of a statement levied against him.
"The Authority" #24 has a very abrupt ending as John Cumberland has one very inspirational performance but Jack Hawksmoor pulls a crafty move that neither the script nor the artwork conveys very well. Good pieces that don't hold together for a cohesive whole.
"Rawhide Kid" #2 was funny despite being a "gathering of forces" issue, featuring a much more lenient view of alternative lifestyles than one might have expected from the late 1800s and some pretty amusing depictions of figures from the history of Marvel and the wild west. There's not much that actually happened, and that's not worth buying just to see people (mostly) chatter.
Brace yourself - "Vengeance of the Moon Knight" #10 was almost good. All it took was a berth in the Secret Avengers, a change in costume and a chance to kick some people in the face. Juan Jose Ryp shows a surprising facility for covert operations, but still gets a chance to showcase some of the widescreen "holy crap" skills he developed at Avatar. The "Snake-Eyes in G.I. Joe #155" voiceover style bristled after a while, but the overall effect wasn't offensive.
"Gødland" #32 was, finally, the last straw. This series has been coasting on its crazy laurels for some time, but it finally slowed down far enough that it's easier to jump off the train. Friedrich Nickelhead's origin bordered on being de rigeur as the stakes are the same as always - the fate of all mankind, all existence - without any of the character work that made that matter. Neela and Adam Archer barely even had any panel time, and aside from some less-than-inspired fight scenes everything is essentially the same at the end of the issue as it was when things began. There's been a number of times before when this series sagged or seemed like it was just treading water, and even this close to the end, it's hard to believe anymore. Still worth watching, still some of the weirdest stuff on the stands, but just not living up to its own hype anymore, and therefore losing its long-standing berth on the Buy Pile.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Doom Patrol" #12, "Critical Millennium" #1, "Batman: Odyssey" #1, "Star Wars: The Old Republic" #1, "Brightest Day" #5, "Amazing Spider-Man" #636, "JSA All-Stars" #8, "Hercules: Twilight of a God" #2, "Sparta USA" #5, "X-Force" #28, "Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom" #2
No, just...no... These comics? Not so much...
"Fantastic Four Annual" #32 introduced a new legacy villain into the FF's canon, and this villain is not only based on something lame and ineffectual (that has as its crowning accomplishment introducing the world to Sue Richards in fetish gear), but has at the core a plan involving getting somebody knocked up. If you're a super villain and a huge element of your plan is getting somebody drunk and pregnant, you're essentially Lil Wayne. That's not good. Let's move on.
Imagine, if you will, that you'd hired Pablo Picasso to paint your den. Or maybe you have Mariah Carey humming lullabies through a baby monitor for your kids. That's what "Hit-Monkey" #1 is like, as Daniel Way's considerable talents are deeply wasted on a haunted simian and political maneuvering in an Asian republic. A really terrible story done really well.
Imagine, if you will, the "storytelling" style of "Supergod" done at street level, and instead of taking on subjects massive and momentous, "Scarlet" #1 ignores the fourth wall and is far too self-conscious to be good. Blah blah blah murder blah blah blah sexual innuendo blah blah blah mountain of cliches. Tedious.
Neil Gaiman said enough is enough but that didn't stop "X-Men" #1 from diving head first into the glut of vampire stories on the market. Admittedly, the opening scene with Pixie and Jubilee did offer one new idea that the vampire motif hasn't seen yet, but otherwise this was very rote and just didn't seem like a plot that meant anything.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Troubling that all the stinkers came from Marvel, but the good stuff far outweighed the bad.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Despite the lackings of "G0dland," the advancements for Steve Rogers (who's been a milksop for years, crying into the flag and all) and Matt Murdock led a host of comics that compel interest even if they don't demand purchase. That makes this week a big 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.
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.