The Buy Pile

Thu, July 15th, 2010 at 11:58am PDT

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

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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 14TH, 2010

"Invincible Iron Man" #28
The Invincible Iron Man #28
(Marvel Comics)

The crossovers and craziness are, for the most part, over. Tony Stark is his own man again, and the activities in this well-written title are settling back to normal. Tony Stark ties together something from way back in the opening notes of this series while coming face to face with his legacy. There's a great bit of character work from Maria Hill, who's still struggling with some Dark Reign business, as well as Bambi Arbogast upending some expectations and an international PR nightmare. There's not any punching or explosions, but the intricate dance of character moments here ties together fairly well with just the teensiest bit of Robert Kirkman-ism, selling vignettes as a story. The Detroit Steel and Maria Hill through-lines are good enough to carry the rest of the work. Good and getting back to greatness.

"Astro City Special: Silver Agent" #1
Astro City Special: Silver Agent #1
(Wildstorm/DC Comics)

This comic book made it home, whereas "Superman" #701 just missed the mark because Alan Jay Craig had to overcome way, way more in his road towards heroism. This issue takes a look at the long legacy of heroism in this series, spreading back from the first North Americans all the way to the depths of space in the forty-third century. There's shades of Barry Allen's sacrifices here even while writer Kurt Busiek pokes fun at some of our modern foibles ("We'd been fighting the iGod for five years"). Combining the concepts at the foundation of Steve Rogers and Buck Rogers, Busiek reveals the period before the Silver Agent made his fateful trip through time, taking a look at how he became "Astro City's greatest, most steadfast defender." In an inverse of Kal-El's thirtieth century perspective, the Agent is haunted by who legends claim he will become, a fate that ends in his own death. A fascinating study in heroism that uses big themes and big narrative tools to get the job done, as always with the sure hands of Busiek and artist Brent Anderson in control.

"Avengers Academy" #2
Avengers Academy #2
(Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. The character Finesse is fascinating. Combining the photographic mimicry of Taskmaster and the moral flexibility of early Amadeus Cho (with an intellect he'd at least respect), she a teenaged polymath who's dancing on the razor's edge of "what will I be?" Her social awkwardness is equally balanced by her determination and skill. As interesting as she is, and as wonderful as her narration makes this issue, she's not even the first two reasons why this issue stands out. First of all, Pietro Maximoff gets a bright idea, which leads to Hank Pym getting publicly dissed by his robotic ex-girlfriend ("I am always available for professional discussions, Dr. Pym. However, until you accept that our romantic relationship is over, I think it's best we maintain a respectful distance") before learning some disturbing things about superhero dating ("'Single mom who sheds' is not a profile that gets a lot of hits on Match.com") while quoting Beyonce Knowles. That's all great stuff that ties together as a coherent story and is very entertaining, but it's the revisiting of Pietro Maximoff's particular pathosis, as well as dealing with events from "Silent War" and "Reign of Kings" while tying him to Finesse in a very interesting way. The first issue was a surprise and this one is a revelation. Very, very impressive work.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Eleven bucks worth of really great, very re-readable comic books.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy

"Superman" #701 was extremely, extremely close to making it home. Apropos of nothing, Superman starts walking from Metropolis and ends up in South Philadelphia. This is a minor media phenomenon, which allows him to have some fun at the expense of a prickly reporter, enjoy a nice meal and poke his head into some local affairs. Writer J. Michael Straczynski doesn't run from some of the weaknesses exposed in "Superman: Peace on Earth," but instead runs towards them. Superman addresses a set of drug dealers in a way that's immediately effective but is called out by a nearby bystander. "All we can do is look at where we are, at where we're standing," Supes said, "and say we will not allow this, here. Over there has to stand for itself, has to speak for itself. Because it's only when over there becomes here that we can stop this once and for all." If the background characters (Lois notwithstanding) weren't such unidimensional set pieces (even the jumper) this could have done it. It may cheesily follow in the footsteps of "Hard Traveling Heroes," but it's well worth watching nonetheless.

"Daredevil" #508 seems to offer a back door for "Shadowland" to "redeem" Matt Murdock, which feels disingenuous. The cold, functional lord of "Shadowland" felt right, while other elements (the babble of Foggy and Dakota North, the pointless ninja combat) fell flat. If this is what they'll eventually use as Daredevil's way home, it'll be "One More Day" all over again. Bah.

In "G.I. Joe Origins" #17, Zartan is dead...but Cobra Commander doesn't think that should matter. Showcasing the newfound largesse of this shadowy incarnation of the terrorist army, Cobra spends billions creating a monster they cannot control. The scientific elements are interesting but the storytelling's a little too slow for its own good.

Three Braniacs in one issue? You'd think that "R.E.B.E.L.S." #18 would be wall to wall chessmanship, with brilliant feints and counterfeints...but instead you get some sappy stuff with Captain Comet ending up getting laid. The Dox-related stuff was very good, but there wasn't enough of the interesting cast members (the Khund, the Durlan) and doing nothing to make the ones who do appear seem anything less than whiny or vapid. More Braniac, less "friends with benefits" and this would have done far better.

"Thanos Imperative" #2 shows that there's only one sentient in the 616 universe who can stand against the undying legions of the Cancerverse, and he's less than happy to be involved at all. Meanwhile, the battle scenes went from the cool stuff you saw in "Nova" to a Heroclix-level free for all with Celestials going to war and a Galactus-powered surprise you probably couldn't see coming...unless you remember an FF issue maybe a year and a half ago. Not bad but not quite the spectacle it could become.

"Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom" #1 has gotten a lot of publicity, and the development of the titular character indeed was pretty solid in a Doctor Manhattan sort of way. The colorful antagonists and their apparent origin "story" seemed too cheesy and metatextual in a "Dark Tower" sort of way. Good elements, less-than-complete execution.

"Adventure Comics" #516 was a very sweet wiki entry with a posthumous R.J. Brande telling the tale of the Legion's origins and reading his last will and testament in the process. Nothing wrong, but even for the most die-hard fans, it didn't offer much more than Braniac 5's surly charm. Ray Palmer's crafty backup feature wasn't bad, showcasing the smart side of the scientist and bending some rules of science in the process. Less filling, tastes good, but not something you'd need.

"Mystery Society" #2 wasn't bad, building a team, even with one clearly ridiculous element, as a government conspiracy starts to spiral out and the elements go farther from "Hart to Hart" and closer to, oh, "Pushing Daisies," but not in such a charismatic way. There's some interesting parts here, but they're not exactly working together as well as they should.

"Booster Gold" #34 had an old school feel, taking a time travel "joyride" back into Booster's bounty hunting days with Ted Kord in the honored "bwa-ha-ha" era. Much like "Adventure Comics" and "Mystery Society," this was a very cute story that didn't scream "take me home," even with the added wrinkle of parenthood coming to the Carters.

"Gorilla-Man" #1 felt far too abbreviated to work, but Ken Hale's a charming character, and even in his juvenile era managed to make an impression. However, his quickie adventures cut off too abruptly and didn't give the narrative time to develop.

The premise of "Widow Warriors" #1 was interesting, a family of wives and female relatives who went to weapons after the men of their warrior clan fell to the blades of enemies. With a dash of "Mulan"-flavored female empowerment, there wasn't a lot in terms if character work, but the groundwork for a decently told story is here.

Why would Onslaught and his Combaticons be working with North Korea? "Transformers" #9 asks the question and turns the Autobot/Decepticon conflict into a political battle as old as an episode of "M.A.S.H." Maybe older. Whatever. Anyway, the questions ended incompletely, but the action scenes were okay.

"Chew" #12 was very cleverly done, playing with the medium's conventions in its storytelling in a way often used by the show "The Good Guys." Explosive action with not-terribly-predictable plotting. However, the stereotypical role for Amelia Mintz is a waste and the two page rooster spreads seemed a bit excessive, slowing down the narrative a bit.

The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title

"Batman" #701, "Frenemy of the State" #2, "Batgirl" #12, "Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers" #4, "Birds of Prey" #3, "X-Force: Sex and Violence" #1, "Justice League: Generation Lost" #5, "Magog" #11, "DMZ" #55 and "Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age" #1.

No, just...no... These comics? Not so much...

"X-Men: Second Coming" #2 was an anti-climax. Really, that's all you can say about it. It talked too much and did too little, discussing another "death" and generally whining and what not. However, as bad books go, it wasn't that bad.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

The worst book of the week could be a "meh" in thicker times, tons of compelling concepts (even when execution falls down)...that's a week you can't really complain about.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A great week of comics with real turns of inspiration from two paragons of justice.

THE BUSINESS

First up? Oh, it's true -- this column's oft maligned writer has launched a website for mobile devices that includes special, mobile-exclusive material about the Buy Pile in the form of an "Early Forecast" -- by 9PM Wednesday night (or whenever comics ship) you'll get a "hint" of what you'll see in the column, plus more of the "local flavor" that is comics day at Comics Ink (this week: pole dancing and inconsistent signal). Can't beat that for the price!

Do you have 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.

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