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 DECEMBER 2ND, 2010
Jump from the Read Pile. Take a dash of "Global Frequency," mix it with some "Birds of Prey," send it into the Marvel Universe and toss in one incredibly wicked twist at the end and you'll have this wonderful first issue, a crafty mix of narrative elements that had a delicious sense of tension and a cast that worked together like fine Swiss clockworks. Misty Knight is taking on the role of Marvel's new street-level Oracle, "Maximizing the potential of my address book" with a catchprase ("Hello, Hero. This is Control. Are you for hire tonight?") and a seemingly endless supply of personalized envelopes filled with Bluetooth headsets. Falcon, Black Widow, Moon Knight and Elektra get brought in on a case involving a superbly dangerous and ridiculously addictive new drug, trading their skills for information or just the favors of friendship. The material is messy, the story is fascinating and the script from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning is just about perfect. The artwork from Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy and Jay David Ramos really shines as well, making the seamy underside of Marvel's underworld look beautiful, but that ending is a big surprise.
Black Alice's narration serves as the framing device for the finish of factors in Skartaris with two teams' worth of Secret Sixes going to swords and blows when a major demon pops up. Wait, what? Yeah, they find a way to work together over the bodies of their adherents and finish the adventure in Skartaris in just half the issue, spending the rest of it trying to settle their roster issues while closing down some old story lines that have lingered unfinished. Add in the hilarious dialogue tidbits ("Arthur Curry's fishsack," "I'm just going to put a little duct tape, right here, over your mouth," "To be fair, most of my friends try to kill me at some point") and you've got another fantastically entertaining issue from Gail Simone, Jim Calafiore and Jason Wright.
Covering some mid-1980s issues of these three series, the most interesting (and disturbing) regards the adventures of the Thunder God. How interesting? Try facing down some of his most powerful enemies (Kurse, Malekith, Celtic and Heliopolitan gods and even the Celestials) while going through some rather ridiculous circumstances (being turned into a frog and growing a beard to cover up facial scarring) while continuing his overarching arguments with his father and generally just kind of stumbling around in a charming way, letting you remember a period where Tom DeFalco wrote something other than Spider-Girl. Reading along as quick synopsis makes the good parts shine and the bad parts fade to the background. Meanwhile the 80s adventures of Cap showcased him losing his job to the future USAgent and tangling with the hilarity of the deluded Flag Smasher, the goofy Madcap (how has he never teamed up with Deadpool?) and the corpulence of the Slug. The Avengers, of course, wrestled with cosmic entities, Olympian gods, leadership crises, Atlanteans and trans-chronal warlords. In a word -- cool, like watching SportsCenter for superheroes. Sure, the Nazi-baiting 1940s Captain America issues were less than compelling, but every other section of this book showed what made the 1980s great and awful in a wonderful way.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
There are some very interesting ideas in "Adventure Comics" #521, which takes a look at the Green Lantern legacy one thousand years down the line and takes a look at the team's dynamics, but does so in a means that shortcuts the story about disaster relief and gives every character too little room in which to operate. Given that there's at least 40 pages of Legion content per month, it's odd that almost everything still feels rushed and cut off before it can really start.
"The Darkness" #87 was a big surprise with a done-in-one reveal on Jackie's accountant, tying together the mythos of the Top Cow universe in a very neat way while doing some fun reveals with Jackie's power. Why wasn't that enough? Well, it intrigued but it didn't have a hook that said, "You need to own this." If you know the characters, this is a huge surprise but if you're not regular at this party, it doesn't quite carry you across the finish line. If the series continues at this level of quality for a while, it could step it up and really accomplish something, though, as this was a very solid issue.
The bickering between the titular characters in "Ant-Man and the Wasp" #2 was the best part, maybe bringing them closer to getting over their mutual antagonism, and the twist ending was cute, but there wasn't much plot to really latch on to nor was the character work revelatory, funny nor engaging enough to bring home.
"Doom Patrol" #17 was a shock, in that it was almost good (very different from other recent issues). Ditching Niles Caulder seemed to do the trick, as Veronica Cale stepped in like she was Ilsa Pucci and proceeded to change the team's entire dynamic, using them as props in a political play. There was a lot of stuff happening with an immortal family, but as far as it was improved the plot still stays too scattered to have made it work.
Normally this column can't focus long enough to review a TPB, but when it comes from the writers of "Highwaymen," well, it helps on a slow week. "Hero Complex" is a simple but well-crafted tale that's also a case study for the law of conservation of detail, looking at a wholesome hero with zero business sense, still trying to overcome the damage high school did to his psyche. Throw in a ten year reunion, a "girl who got away" and some inside jokes and this is good enough for a mid-budget movie, maybe something like "Super Ex-Girlfriend," but it's not quite enough to make the trip home.
"Irredeemable" #20 takes the Plutonian away from the world he shattered and gives his former friends a chance to prance and preen as bashful victors. The title character engages in a weird euphoric state the whole issue, which is just kind of psycho, and in an "Ally McBeal" or "Grey's Anatomy" fashion, every supporting character is more interesting. It'll be interesting to see what Modeus has in mind, but the rest is pretty paint-by-numbers.
Also in the "interesting ideas with challenged execution" category, "Bring the Thunder" #1 had a legitimately new concept -- a military specialist who's well characterized and placed in an impossible situation -- that was hampered by weak artwork and scattered delivery.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"What If? Iron Man: Demon in an Armor" #1, "The Darkness" #87, "Brightest Day" #15, "The Killer: Modus Vivendi" #6, "Freedom Fighters" #4, "Supergod" #5, "JSA All-Stars" #13, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" #39, "Generation Hope" #2, "Marineman" #1, "Iron Man/Thor" #2, "Action Comics Annual" #13, "She-Hulks" #2
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
Oy. "Shadowland" #5 and "Daredevil" #512 may as well be reviewed at the same time because they send Matt Murdock out of his mind and out of his possession with a climax that embarrasses in its hamfistedness and overwhelms in its inability to craft narrative elements that induce anything other than confused head scratching. What went wrong? Well, let's start with Ghost Rider, brought in to deal with the (less than ironclad) demonic possession issue, itself giving Matt Murdock an automatic "get out of jail free" card. Abysmal. Then there's the matter of Foggy Nelson, who had most of the developments in his character rendered irrelevant. Tedious. Then there's Wilson Fisk's chessmanship, which is super predictable, T'Challa's goofy declaration which, seriously, makes no sense -- you're having wife troubles, your entire country teeters on economic ruin, everything you were raised to know is in jeopardy ... so you bugger off to Hell's Kitchen to kick criminals in the face and forget about the whole damned thing? Everything here is bad, yo. Seriously. These comics combine to form a true tragedy, like a school bus full of blind kids going off a cliff and crashing into a parade float full of war heroes.
Following up on the "Marvel hates Wakanda" thread, "Chaos War: God Squad" #1 was a muddled mess with artwork that didn't make divinity anything special, failed to make anything actually happen for or against the Chaos King. Also ... well, we'll cover the spoiler here when the commentary track comes out later today, but suffice it to say that divinities must never have seen a Black person in a horror movie. Terrible, terrible stuff.
Finally, "Taskmaster" #4 decided that everything you know about the Taskmaster is a lie, in the stupidest possible way. Borrowing a "this secret organization is actually this other secret organization" page from Jonathan Hickman, which isn't good, and ends up trying to be a super-powered "Memento." Bad retcon, bad policy, bad idea.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Light week, just three actual stinkers and those can be written off as Crossover Fluff ... let's say it was "good enough."
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Solid jump, some actual contenders, let's say this is a week that made it work.
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, Wednesdays have two sneak peeks at what's going to be in the column (one Wednesday afternoon, the second hopefully by midnight) from the Operative Network Mobile Edition. Enjoy, you bastards.