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 FEBRUARY 2ND, 2011
"Hi. My name's Tony and I'm an alcoholic." Through the normally secretive veil of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, Tony Stark deals with his demons -- sort of -- and covers the breadth of his history (in certain terms) while getting readers caught up on what's happening. For long time fans, this little trip down memory lane offers some interesting insights into the character that may not have been readily apparent ("The circuit was -- anxiety, booze, women. Forever. I'd get overwhelmed by my own powerlessness and the unmanageability of my life and...I'd reach for one or the other or both"). For neophytes -- and that's who this "point one" issue is aimed at -- this breaks down everything anybody would ever want to know about Tony Stark in an issue that encapsulates action and smart plotting in a framing device of a narrative, done very well. Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca work together like a well-oiled machine, and Frank D'armata's colors are vivid and solid as well. This is not only a great jumping on point for new readers but a consistent work that fits in with existing narrative structures and moves the adventures of Anthony Edward Stark along meaningfully.
Just so we don't bury the lead, how about this: Bane goes on his first date. With a stripper. If that's not enough to tell you what kind of hilarity and mayhem are going to occur. With her standard set of amazing lines of dialogue ("I wish to mate. Here are bargaining tokens they told me to purchase. Shall we begin negotiations?"), writer Gail Simone delivers another hilarious, intriguing story while adding a bit of a challenge to the mercenaries' lives. The action leads all the way to Oolong Island and that means a guest spot from the Doom Patrol, wonderfully rendered by the loving hands of Jim Calafiore, Jason Wright and John Kalisz. Toss in a criminal threat from the past with some wacky new (or old) ideas, and you have a comic book jam packed with entertainment.
Jump from the Read Pile. It's settled -- Spider-Man works best in concert with people he can bounce banter off of, and his "Big Time" storyline makes him fun to read again. Repeat wack-job Alistair Smythe wants revenge -- but this time not on Peter Parker but on J. Jonah Jameson, pumping up a literal horde of similarly motivated parties to indulge in mayhem, murder and blowing up space ships. Peter Parker's internal monologue is as entertaining as Deadpool's (if less fragmentary) and, if not for the challenges of needing to work with other people, Smythe might do a lot better. Working with others, however, brings Peter Parker new capabilities ("Have I mentioned how much I 'love' being...part of this tee-ee-eam?!!") while another super villain hides in the shadows. The balance of elements here is just about perfect, and the artwork from Stefano Caselli and Edgard Delgaro nicely frames the Dan Slott/Fred Van Lente story with intimate angles capturing heroism, introspection and deception as well as perspective shots showing action and danger. Great work.
Jump from the Read Pile. To be honest about it, the story here was solid but unremarkable. The Emerald Eye has fallen into the hands of a new Empress, powerful enough to literally pluck a Legion cruiser from the stars and passionate enough to make her predecessor look like an alpha release of software. Wielding power alongside the memories of everyone who held the power before, she struggles against more and more surprisingly tactical Legionnaires arriving as time passes. However, what's simply delightful here is a "Legion History Board Game," which is not only playable (and kind of fun) but follows through everything from the origins of the team through modern day, carrying one thread of Legion history (and not sliding down, say, the "Legionnaires" continuity or any of the other strands) to make it a coherent whole. Yes, that's kind of like a handbook, especially with the "alphabet of the 31st century" in back, but whatever. Still pretty good.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Two jumps, solid reading all the way around, that's a good start...oh, and of course there was a purchase of "Captain America, Thor and The Avengers" #10, but we don't cover that sort of thing anymore.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Superboy" #4 shows an interesting bit of a surprise at the end as Connor brings home a stray but has a weird Arkansas moment with Lori Luthor, all while quite probably laying the seeds of a future archenemy. Not bad but a little awkward in the execution, despite very solid artwork.
"Daken Dark Wolverine" #5 was very, very close as the ambiguous protagonist visits Tyger Tiger, trying to clean up the streets of Madripoor and playing every angle against himself at the center. As always, he makes for a compelling lead, but his manipulations get less panel time than they needed and Tyger Tiger seemed more of the harried administrator than the threatening crime boss. Cute when it worked, but not letting those parts have more room was a deficit.
Cobra got quite a surprise in "G.I. Joe" #26 as Snake Eyes and Helix invade the terrorist organization's arctic teleportation base with muzzle fire and slashing blades. This leads to lots of dead bodies and lots of panic as everyone tries to figure out what happened. A little scattered in its narrative arc, but not bad.
"Azrael" #17 gets into some complicated waters when we learn that Batman Incorporated has limits and, therefore, no administration in Afghanistan. Sounds like nobody can find bad guys there, but Azrael doesn't believe in that kind of guff and marches in, cross on his chest, riding a horse like the Crusades called an encore. Why? Extremist forces there have a metahuman of their own, and he likes to make things go boom. The central idea has some promise but it's executed in a somewhat plodding fashion and Azrael...well, he's quite probably completely crazy. Not that there's anything wrong with that! But it could use some help making this issue work.
"Kato Annual" #1 was surprisingly not bad as the female descendant of the original trades quips and blows in training before facing down some of the hokier parts of her cultural heritage. The pacing lagged in two or three places, but the core elements were okay.
Remember when Deadpool and Cable had their own series? "Deadpool and Cable" #26 is the continuation of that experience as Deadpool gets an idea in his fractured little head to celebrate the life of his fallen comrade in the eastern European country once ruled by the mutant, and this plan of course cannot possibly go well. There was a smirk or two, especially when Deadpool's most lucid personality speaks up, but there was a lot of lag time between them. Good ideas again executed in a less than compelling fashion.
"Superman 80-Page Giant 2011" #1 had a lot of ups and downs. On the good side, there was a Perry White story that was great, a Jimmy Olsen story that was solidly good and a cute Lois Lane story, which shows that the Daily Planet at least was well represented. However, the Jor-El story was "meh," Supergirl was characteristically whiny and the syntax on the Bizarros was hit and miss.
"Ultimate Comics Thor" #4 didn't exactly retcon events in Earth-1610, but it surely cast them in a different light and made Thor seem a lot more sage than one would have assumed. Donald Blake is...well, he's a friend, but he's surely not an alter ego for the Ultimate Thunder God. A nice surprise that played out way too slowly for its own good -- is that a theme this week? -- but had some elements that'd make you think.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Thor: For Asgard" #6, "Batman Beyond" #2, "Daomu" #1 "Brightest Day" #19, "Iron Man Legacy" #11, "DC Universe Online Legends" #1, "She-Hulks" #4, "JSA All-Stars" #15, "Irredeemable" #22 and "Driver for the Dead" #3.
No, just...no... These comics? Not so much...
"Time Masters Vanishing Point" #6 answered the question of where Batman has been. What's that? The "Return of Bruce Wayne" series answered that? Also, he's been back for months, so who cares? Well, yes, that's all true. Say again? The Supernova revelation falls flat, apparently Darkseid would be powerless in a place like Palm Springs or against Hugh Hefner and apparently the princess of Gemworld may be back soon. If you care. Which many don't. This wasn't needed.
Well, Rick Jones finally brought up the Rulkstache in "Hulk" #29, but M.O.D.O.K.'s exit strategy was awful. The monster fighting -- which had room to be huge and impressive but stayed in close like it was the "Blair Witch Project." Nothing good to see here. Also, how much cooler would it be if Red Hulk transformed by yelling "Mustache into muscle!" Just a thought...
"Invincible" #77 was lame, from its horrific dream sequences (shock value for no reason) to its anemic ending. For all the build up, the "war" brought on a White Martian solution (sorry for the spoiler if you recognize the reference) with a worse end game.
"Ultimate Comics New Ultimates" #5...where to begin? Ultimate Panther getting sidekicked to Ultimate Ka-Zar and Shanna? Ultimate Thor being the threat most of the issue before getting talked down like his name was Bob Reynolds? The feeling of inconclusiveness developed by the entire issue? Terrible. Just...just terrible.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Those were some solid stinkers, but a lot of people tried hard this week.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Two jumps beat out four stinkers due to the weight of some comics that really tried and didn't execute properly. Still, the week wins based on those elements.
Oh, and the column also picked up Eric Powell's TPB "The Goon In Rough Stuff" based on Powell's new video on supporting indies and creator-owned material (wanna see it? Check the Pipeline column for that). More for that in the next Commentary Track blog, which should (in theory) be online by 9PM PST Thursday night. We hope.
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.