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 18TH, 2010
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z Update #3
Several confusing points get cleared up this month. For example, "Aakon" isn't a typo regarding the Konvict Music superstar but an advanced race of yellow-skinned aliens who are focused on military excellence and running around in barefoot in speedos. Wait, what? No, that's correct...somehow. Inexplicably, the Red Hulk entry makes no attempt to explain the "Rulkstache" (nor does it deny, however, the battle cry of "mustache into muscle!"), makes some sense out of the complicated motivations of Valentina de Fontaine, doesn't make as much sense for Big Ben Donovan (can he be re-barred, now that Matt Murdock's former practice will likely have some overflow?) and definitively proves that Johnny Guitar was lame, lame, lame. Not sure why it doesn't answer any questions about Counter-Earth in the Nomad entry, nor does it explain how The Orb could ride a motorcycle in a big ol' eyeball helmet that doesn't seem to provide much by way of peripheral vision (unless part of it being "technologically advanced" means that it somehow had visual sensors all over the place). Another collection of informative and insane information from the Mouse House of Ideas.
Sometimes you can take something for granted, you know? Sure, this remains the consistently best monthly title on the stands, but it's 97 issues in. That could easily be taken for granted by readers and the creative team. Sure, long time readers would connect the Gepetto campaign signs with the cranky man in the woods, but who else would? The religion around Boy Blue is almost Whedonesque in its insularity. Rose Red's challenging path towards being a "bad girl," however, that's solid entertainment as it not only shows Rose Red's brattish behavior but also shows how her brother-in-law and sister failed to do anything but enable it. Complex stuff here in the "happily ever after" camp, and well worth the investment of research if you're new to all this.
A bit of dialogue between the two main characters sums up the solitary problem with this issue. "What did you see?" one asks. "Nothin' I haven't seen before." If you know Deadpool's origin (with one minor addition to his teenage years, skipping over the fact that he may or may not have usurped the identity of T-Ray), or even if you read it on the web, you've got the gist of most of what happens here. Ghost Rider's in town, and he's really kind of only got one good shtick, which plays out in a less than interesting way. The best part is Deadpool's workplace play, which is over all too soon. Despite the normally wonderful artwork from Carlo Barberi, Joan Vlasco and Marte Gracia, this issue's just "okay." Maybe things will pick up next month.
Jump from the Read Pile.
John Layman has done it again with a textured, involved story about friendship and dedication to duty, tying together elements from previous stories into a wonderfully complex work of art. There's quiet moments of characterization ("These are the thoughts that keep me happy") and great action scenes ("Get down, boss") that work well together in an issue that's balanced almost perfectly. Great work from the Eisner Award-winning team of Layman and Rob Guillory.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
One jump, one kind of blah bad surprise, two decent ones. No significant beef there.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Avengers Academy" #3 was close to making the mark as some of the students ignored a "Scared Straight" message to try to take care of some old business. However, that meant more worried whining from extrahuman adolescents and less of the steely determination and tension that made the previous issues more successful. The art's still great, but the script lost a step.
"Pale Horse" #3 was another hard boiled western in the Man With No Name tradition, subbing in an African-American protagonist and Denzel Washington "Man On Fire" stylings. Great stuff if you're a fan of westerns.
"Phoenix Without Ashes" #1 was a slow set up for a Sharon Shinn/"The Village" kind of story (in a good way) that posits yesterday's religious intemperance on tomorrow's extraplanetary environments. It's an interesting approach that had some real emotional pathos, but it didn't quite close the deal.
Speaking of solid emotional pathos, "Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher" #2 reveals "patient zero" and gives Frank Castle a believable encounter with a very hungry Dr. Banner. Really! As a throwaway "Elseworlds" tale goes, it's okay but it's not compelling you to bring it home with you.
"G.I. Joe: Cobra 2" #7 and "G.I. Joe Origins" #18 both shared a lot, in explaining the origins of Croc Master (way crazier than you expect, involving the twins, the Coil and cultism) and Zartan (which shared a great deal with Destro's "negotiations" with Cobra Commander), but both were just kind of weird interludes and not really strong enough to win on their own (which is weird, since Max Brooks shoved enough about Firefly, Spirit, Major Bludd and Tripwire into two issues to outdo what happens here hands down). In a very, very thin week the Croc Master stuff might have been good enough, but it couldn't compete with the Eisner-winners.
"Secret Avengers" #4 closed down that business on Mars, putting the Nova Force into the sure hands of Steve Rogers while the rest of his team essentially acted like Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic waiting for Kobe to do something spectacular. The action was okay where it needed to amaze, the team dynamics staggered where they needed to run. Still a conceptually strong idea, but still not ready for prime time.
"Star Trek: Burden of Knowledge" #3 felt like it was happening mid-episode, with Kirk pulling off a bit of "aggressive negotiation" that only he had the moxie to pull off and questions of culture and politics got brushed past. Surely devotees of the brand will be on board, but a passing interest for casual fans at best.
"CBGB" #2 had a solid first story, a short but sweet slap in the face for a journalist who got to see the glory days of the New York music legend, but the very strange backup sucked a lot of the momentum out of it. Unclear in writing, art and even purpose, that did the exact opposite.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Power Girl" #15, "New Avengers" #16, "1 For $1 Hellboy Seed of Destruction," "Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow" #1, "The Authority: The Last Year" #12, "Image United" #3, "1 For $1 Usagi Yojimbo," "Angel" #36, "Azreal" #11, "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Riley," "Batman Beyond" #3, "Star Wars Legacy" #50, "Brightest Day" #8, "Hulk" #24, "Green Lantern Corps" #51, "Shadowland: Power Man" #1, "Air" #24, "Witchblade: Due Process," "Deadpool Corps" #5, "Farscape" #10, and "Uncanny X-Men" #527.
No, just...no... These comics? Not so much...
"Age of Heroes" #4 continued Jonathan Maberry's assault on Wakanda, a bit of fallout from the disastrous "Doomwar" and the most devastating thing to happen to the African nation in its entire history. Also, apparently, there's an Eskimo tribe that has people worshipping Captain America. All this issue needed was Dr. Laura and a Tea Party rally to make it complete. Failure on a grand scale.
Speaking of failure, Kyle Rayner brings his emotional hand wringing to "Justice Society of America" #42 as some kind of weird romantic tension between him, Jade and Donna Troy unfortunately dominates the issue, leaving Dick Grayson to remember, "oh, right, I'm Batman, I should take charge here." Tedious and busy without ever accomplishing anything, just a slice below "meh," but that still counts as crappy.
If you want to see Peter Parker be unfunny and down right navel gazing, look no farther than "Amazing Spider-Man" #640, which goes back to "key" moments in his "relationship" with Mary Jane Watson and tosses a fresh coat of "Grey's Anatomy" on it -- the later, weird seasons, not the good early seasons with Isaiah Washington (for all of his faults). A best bet for fans of whining.
"Supergirl" #55 pulls out some silver age shenanigans to resolve last issue's cliffhanger (making zero sense in the process) while continuing to mangle Bizarro syntax. Please make it stop.
This week's greatest disappointment is found in "Atlas" #4, which has come a long way from it's "buy on sight" days and following in the footsteps of "Exiles" in a way, dealing with alternate dimensions (no, not the Cancerverse thing from "Thanos Imperative") and trying desperately to give Triathalon (or whatever he wants to be called this week -- who is he, Monica Rambeau?) a reason to stand around. Not working.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Mostly meh, but still more good than really bad.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Some good times, some okay reads...the preponderance of evidence is a good indicator, it was just a challenge to get through it.
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), you can get an "Early Forecast" of what's going into the column on the Operative Network Mobile Edition. Enjoy, you bastards.