WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?
Every week Hannibal Tabu (journalist/blogger/novelist/poet/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, and here's some common definitions used in the column) about all of that...which goes something like this...
THE BUY PILE FOR AUGUST 4TH, 2010
First of all, don't panic. Chances are that this is...well, okay, it's hard to tell what it is. This issue is set in the old west...no real idea why. The team members don't know one another, not the way you'd expect. Scandal's the sheriff, Bane's the deputy, Liana's there as a sharpshooter, Jeanette's a bar owner and pleasure woman...Deadshot rolls into town as a bounty hunter, Catman's a murderous local trapper and Ragdoll's a creepy kid's entertainer (yeah). Got all that? Hang on to it. For some reason, Aaron and Tig are alive again, as is their boss, and that means murder and bloodshed and screaming all around. All in the 19th century. Does this make any sense, based on the Ostrander inventory issue last month or Catman's brutal hunt the month before? Not at all. Is it entertaining? Sure - take favorite characters, keep those core characterizations intact, switch the setting. Fun for the whole family...for whatever reason. Disconcerting in its sudden shift of chronological locale, but still pretty good.
Jump from the Read Pile. First of all, the chemistry between Bobbi Morse and Clint Barton, especially when exacerbated by Dominic Fortune, is stellar. Write that down. Every panel where they're together practically levitates with snappy dialogue and relatable emotions. Second, the crisp and detailed artwork of David Lopez, Alvaro Lopez and Nathan Fairbairn is great at showcasing both intimacy and high octane action (the "Enough" panel is gripping). The weaving of old continuity is done in a way that makes it relevant in the present day. The last two pages seem a little too facile, but this is better than a good episode of "Burn Notice," and that's not bad, making this cut far enough past "TV good" to be worth buying. Yes, we McCann, thanks to former Marvel marketer Jim McCann's script.
This index covers a somewhat wacky 1970s period for the Avengers, brings Cap out of the '40s and into the '70s himself while the Thunder God traverses from Mardi Gras to the depths of space. That's a lot to cover, huh? Well, this tome also lets you in on some pretty interesting facts: the plain Jane morality tales of the 1940s made Cap's comics pretty predictable, despite the fact that it seems like he was dating Betty Ross. Go on, roll that one around in your brain for a second. Second, there was (and may still be) a Marvel country called (this is not a joke) Rudyarda, a white supremacist country. Yes, Marvel has an entire country of white supremacists. How this hasn't been tied to the Watchdogs or the recurrent Nazis that pop up is a mystery despite the fact that it's apparently the homeland of Serpent Society member Rock Python. Wacky. Also, especially in light of "The Rage of Thor," the cyclical nature of life for an average Aesir, from conflict to combat with some boozing and debauchery in between seems positively dreadful when you look at it continuing over several thousands of years. Thought provoking storytelling in a fraction of the time it would take otherwise.
Speaking of Fraction, the "Invincible Iron Man" writer has super-charged this issue with sexual tension and "almost too creepy" weirdness that'll have you squirming with delight. "I love her tiny hands and all three mouths and her delicately depraved little input valve." That's an actual quote from this issue. Another from the same character? "Don't you forget my bride down there when you're balls-deep in robot whore!!!" The title character's summation of part of his work is another gem: "Have sex with robot: infect with virus, check. Steal different robot: do not have sex with. Check. Recover E.M.P.I.R.E. agent gone batsh** from inside his turbo-creepazoid f***hut. Check. That it?" Add to that the charged atmosphere between Casanova Quinn and his "not-exactly-related" extradimensional would-be sister Zephyr, some tossed in musical commentary used as a characterizing tool and a fight scene completely performed by two naked men (no dangly bits apparent). End the issue with a discussion of responsibility and espionage between Fraction and Michael Chabon and you have a comic book you can keep coming back to, enjoying more each time, all drawn with loving care by Gabriel Ba.
NOTE: The cover shown here is not what was available at retail.
The ending of Jonathan Maberry's big story about politics and punching is...a huge disappointment. Really. Things were going well - even Deadpool made sense, Jim Rhodes got in a good joke, as did Ben Grimm, but with a hand wave that'd choke a Heisenberg compensator, "shadow physics" comes into play and the whole thing goes wrong, quickly, badly and possibly irrevocably. The limp denouement only made it worse, some moralistic pap that ignores the attempted assassination of a head of state. Add to that the disturbing, paternalistic, colonialist thought patterns that are heralded by the finale and this is the biggest letdown since Baltar and Six walked through the streets of New York. Given that five issues in a row satisfied, this was purchased without looking...and that was a fatal mistake.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Four out of five ain't bad. Right?
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
With three times the normal dose of Braniac, one would assume "R.E.B.E.L.S." #19 would have hit it out of the park. Sadly, even while taking place on a planet full of geniuses (geniusi? Ah crap), the action was fairly dumb, with blasting and blowing up and punching and running and what not. Vril Dox went with the flow, getting as low brow as one can get in the DCU, while his father and son flounder around, not really seeing what's happening. Not bad, but it could surely be smarter.
Matt Murdock's telling people to choose sides in "Shadowland" #2 while Wilson Fisk imagines himself a magician as he summons a poster-teased supernatural power to slice through the hordes of Hand ninjas that even Daredevil considers "cannon fodder." All this with Moon Knight undercover underground - not a bad issue, but it did seem to tread water a bit.
"Kill Shakespeare" #4 was another improvement, getting closer and closer to workable. The cast seemed smaller despite the introduction of the Leia/Chewbacca styled partnership of Juliet Capulet and Othello, and that allowed Iago, Richard the Third and even the ridiculous Falstaff to shine. Hamlet himself's still something of a cipher, possessed of neither the manic madness nor the steely determination that some performances have shown from him. Hamlet indeed seems stuck with Ally McBeal Disease, as everyone around him is more interesting than he is.
"Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher" #1 was a gritty, surprisingly well-told story of how a world like the 616 fell into savagery and how possibly the most lethal man there managed to not succumb. The matter-of-fact style of Frank Castle's narration combined with the "Twelve Monkeys"-esque urban wasteland depicted in artwork from Goran Parlov and Lee Loughridge was effective, but this story wasn't so great it'd make you regret not owning it - it was basically "Marvel Zombies" plus the last time the Punisher killed, well, everybody.
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" #157 played very quickly, reintroducing a clearly Cobra-loyal Storm Shadow and showcasing a digital ghost of the late Dr. Venom, hiding in the code of the almost trope-worthy Brain Wave Scanner like he was Max Headroom. Good action, good dialogue, maybe dial back the pacing by a quarter.
"Thor: The Rage of Thor" was an emotional one shot that tells a familiar tale. Thor, tired of the endless cycle of Asgard (Odin's mad, people are drunk, oh, let's fight something, lather, rinse, repeat) finds a measure of joy and understanding in a mortal community. He resists the siren call of violence, but it always comes knocking on his door. Peter Milligan's script joined with art from Michael Suayan and M & E Milla, Inc. to create an enjoyable Thor story that you can look back on fondly but one that doesn't compel you to reach for it. Let's say it's "TV Good" (and yes, definitions are included above).
"Supergod" #4 showed how ersatz divinities go to war, creating some big scale destruction that'd make Michael Bay's jaw drop, settling the question of whether science can beat magic. This was better, less of a lecture and more of a story, but it's not quite there yet.
Jason Todd learns all the things the Bat wouldn't teach in "Red Hood: Lost Days" #3, but his morality gets the better of him and that both worries and intrigues Talia Al Ghul, who's keeping the little continuity anomaly alive and hidden from her father and the Bat. Given that this fits before his dimension hopping adventure with Donna Troy and Kyle Rayner, it's not exactly required reading, but it was done with a decent degree of craft and would excite deeply devoted fans of the Bat properties
John Layman's got a cute story to tell in "Shadowland: Bullseye" #1, where criminals come to idolize the titular character in a similar fashion to The Plutonian's Diamond Gang (with, if delusions are to be believed, about as much interest). The story's about this popular character while, in fact, he doesn't appear anywhere outside of a coffin. A wisecracking ethereal presence may be all that remains of Bullseye, but it could just as well be misfiring synapses in the mind of a lunatic. That poor man's "Inception" concern made this a little too disposable to buy.
Tim Drake, er, Wayne...whatever. In "Red Robin" #15, the titular character has a little help from his friends when he needs to come up with a cover story for his extracurricular activities while stringing along the press (Vicki Vale, who does some detective work of her own) and Commissioner Gordon (who always looks bored and/or constipated). Given how easy it was for him to give up his obsession with Time Lost Batman, his devil-may-care determination to clean up the streets is almost cute by comparison. "Cute" isn't cute enough, especially in a five-book week.
With another (admittedly lighter) dose of cultural imperialism, "Gorilla Man" #2 has Ken Hale tracking his villainous quarry through the greenest parts of sub-Saharan Africa while regaling his local guide (and the reader) with stories of How He Became The Gorilla Man He Is Today, developing character while trying to keep a fairly pedestrian plot moving along. The villain set up is so obvious that David Patterson can see it, but this was definitely not a bad issue, just not one that clicks on enough of the right levels.
"Murderland" #1 was a solid "Nikita" styled assassin tale that took a very weird and unexplained turn ("I am not a human shield!") in its final third that rendered the book a question mark (in a "this could be bad or this could be good" way). Not bad, again, but too jarring to grasp and therefore not buy material.
"Deadpool" #1000 was only almost funny when it entered the fictional land of Canada. The rest of the issue was just bland filler.
"Darkstar and the Winter Guard" #3 mirrored the level of characterization quality from "Hawkeye & Mockingbird," but didn't share as tight a plot with a throwaway antagonist and a finale that kind of made sense but kind of just felt like a less good version of the aforementioned hand wave.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Transformers: Ironhide" #4, "Secret Warriors" #18, "Irredeemable" #16, "Young Allies" #3, "Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom" #3, "Spider-Man/Fantastic Four" #2, "S.H.I.E.L.D." #3 (regardless of all the vocal praise, this just isn't that good), "Superman: The Last Family of Krypton" #1 (despite some good Lex), "Captain America" #608, "Magog" #12, "Amazing Spider-Man" #639, "JSA All-Stars" #9, "Mganus, Robot Fighter" #1 and "Nancy in Hell" #1.
No, just...no... These comics? Not so much...
More Trailer Park Theory in "Brightest Day" #7 (check the definitions above) as this issue should have been the first in the series, finally providing some answers for the resurrected characters while mimicking the stylings of Swordquest (remember that one?) in scavenger hunting and what not. To what end? Find the crown and the sword and maybe you'll have a better idea, as it's surely not presented here.
Bullseye walks down the aisle in a wedding wearing a tuxedo and his mask. If that doesn't clue you in to how bad "Hit-Monkey" #2 was, well...wow. It's a morality tale gone horribly wrong, and it was, simply put, terrible (despite having really good artwork from Dalibor Talajic and Jose Villarubia).
"Sparta USA" #6 tried to evoke the Frank Miller movie-inspiring finale and failed as all the characters kind of fell down, the lead antagonist gave a forgettable performance and what exactly happened at the end is not really clear. A huge failure, especially given the fairly solid start.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Not that much suck-i-tude. Let's say that's a good thing.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Despite the failings of everybody's favorite Latverian, things went well enough to call it a marginal victory, and that's better than getting punched in the face.
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. Also, if you're so impatient that you can't wait on Wednesday nights (hopefully by 9PM, it was crazy late this week), you can get an "Early Forecast" of what's going into the column on the Operative Network Mobile Edition. Enjoy, you bastards.