The Buy Pile

Thu, February 10th, 2011 at 11:58am PST

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

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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 9TH, 2011

"Incognito: Bad Influences" #3
Incognito: Bad Influences #3
(Marvel Comics)

Bad guy turned good guy turned pretending to be bad guy Zack Overkill is working his way back into the criminal underworld -- literally. While he's trying to bring an undercover agent back in from going native, his handlers are tracking down a new costumed vigilante bringing lethal justice to the streets. This issue examines the possibility of personal transformation and redemption. Simply put, this is solid and reliable entertainment, lovingly depicted by Sean Phillips and penned by the talented Ed Brubaker.

"Cinderella: Fables Are Forever" #1
Cinderella: Fables Are Forever #1
(Marvel Comics)

Oh, now this is a treasure indeed. The best intelligence operative in Fabletown has some old business from the Reagan era that's come back to haunt the modern day community of storybook characters. The reveal on who the primary antagonist is has wonderful symmetry, giving such depth to what's going on that it gives much more breadth to the Fables' theatre of operations, with members of their kind operating far outside of the struggle with the Adversary. Tightly told storytelling from novelist Chris Roberson and talented visual storytelling from art team Shawn McManus, Lee Loughridge and Todd Klein.

"Heroes for Hire" #3
Heroes for Hire #3
(Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. The secret behind Misty Knight's new business venture is starting to unravel due to a surprising instance of altruism from Paladin. Along the road, we find out that "sometimes Moon Knight watches 'The Flintstones'" and that the borders of a certain protected area in Marvel could use more vigilance. The art's really great, giving you a sense of kineticism while never sacrificing the detail happening in a sideways smirk or the gleam off of a monster's teeth. The ending had a nice turn of phrase, providing an effective emotional hook, and this series continues to surprise and delight thanks to scripts from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning with art from Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy, Jay David Ramos and Guru eFX.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Out the door for just over ten bucks, one jump, entertaining stuff all around -- a very good start.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

"X-Factor" #215 was on the "this might go home" pile until literally the last moment. A very carefully prepared done-in-one story has Jamie and Layla doing more with each other than dealing with a murder case that has a decidedly unexpected twist. Why didn't it work? Despite an interesting new twist on a very tired dramatic element, the actual plot took a back seat to the tension between Jamie and Layla, which was a microcosm of what's been going on ever since she came back from the future (long story) but didn't really advance their overarching story very far. Still, interesting work.

You might be surprised or just troubled by what Bruce Wayne has planned in "Batman and Robin" #20 (and people have already talked about how Alfred gets down) but what actually happened was hard to grasp with art that didn't really carry the storytelling and a weird bit with the Bat-universe's lest favorite mad scientist. No, not that one, the ugly one. No, not that one...oh, never mind. A script that had good character moments but execution that stumbled mightily.

Seriously, "Osborn" #3 is kind of predictable if you have any thinking skills. Norman Osborn, using little more than determination and his own relentless charm, amasses an entire army of super villains to take over the country before attacking Asgard itself. Capturing him, where do you send him? A secret prison full of even more dangerous super villains! How could that possibly go wrong? The predictability of the briar patch and the less-than-inspiring art (the "fight scene" was a mess) weren't the only problems with this issue, since the bit with the senator was a pointless distraction that divided the focus as well.

"Red Robin" #20 is heading back into the right direction after that disturbing Unternet interlude, opening with a feint involving Catman that turned into a kind of ticking clock adventure with the Calculator striking out with violence in a very systematic way (he's organized). It was actually two stories trying to fit into one comic book, and that's why it didn't make it home, but it was close for all of that.

Mikel Fury's team got a speedy introduction in "Secret Warriors" #24, but they were like a really well made box of tissue. Sure, the craft was there, but there's no sense in getting attached, which is kind of what characters need if they're to resonate with the reader. The tone of the issue was very cinematic and presented strongly, but it didn't connect on a personal level at all.

Actress Rashida Jones has developed a passable spy story with "Frenemy of the State" #4, as a socialite heiress uses her access and fortune as a cover for intelligence missions. With more striking artwork, this could have stood up, but it had flat colors and bland imagery as well as pacing that could've used some pep.

"Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" #153 introduced the Miracle Machine. Wait, no, wrong universe ... but it's the same basic idea, an in-story MacGuffin that has the same basic shtick. However, instead of being in the far future, the Ultimate Kingpin kept it in his basement, Ultimate Black Cat stole it and Ultimate Mysterio wants it. Got all that? It's cute stuff, but it's not really anything that matters since something that dangerous can't stay in story for long.

"Charismagic" #0 was better when it was called "Zatanna," but it's a decent book introducing magic into Las Vegas, but only two of the characters even started to shine and the grand "danger to the world" plot was nothing more than an early season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Not bad, but not great either.

"Ultimate Comics Avengers vs. New Ultimates" #1 had some kooky set pieces -- the team's headquarters teleported to Iran, for example -- and a slow pace but shared the regular great artwork and solid character interaction you've come to expect. The last page twist was either amazing or a red herring, but the lethargic pace of the issue didn't serve the product.

"R.E.B.E.L.S." #25 had all the hallmarks of less-than-inspired storytelling -- monologuing, clones and Lobo being horny -- but managed to be okay nonetheless with some quick action scenes and a sense of tension. Still, Vril Dox needs more panel time as he's the most compelling character on the team (a drunken Captain Comet, not so much).

Lady Blackhawk is the best thing in "Birds of Prey" #9, another case of the Calculator moving chess pieces in the pursuit of injustice. The Bat delivered a message of hope to one beleaguered heroine and Hank Hall continued to be a largely pointless jerk. Basically? More of Lady Blackhawk's sass would have helped, as she even made the neophyte villains more interesting.

"T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" #4 had a nice twist at the end, but it was a long time getting there and could have used a little more suspense. The art was good, the character development for the new hero was decent, but the plot was kind of plodding, which was sadly common this week.

"Power Man and Iron Fist" #1 had some standard "48 Hours" style elements of humor (they're really almost cliche now) and plotting with a surprising turn of emotional commitment for one of the characters (too soon, dude, given what's up in "Heroes for Hire"), but the bookends introducing an antagonist didn't carry much dramatic weight.

"Ultimate Comics Captain America" #2 gets another unpleasant surprise as he hunts down his psychotic cyborg successor without proper intel, without backup and without a plan. So, essentially, he's engaging an unknown enemy on hostile ground without knowing how he's gonna get out or even win ... disturbing parallel to real life there. Let's move on.

"Starborn" #3 continued borrowing from cinematic tropes and shortcuts (even as much as noting the similarities between this and another fictional work) in doing work that'd be fine if you were finding it, flipping through channels on a Saturday. Paying money for it? A little too facile for all that.

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

"Transformers" #16, "Fathom: Blue Descent" #2, "Adventure Comics" #523, "Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Sun" #2, "Amazing Spider-Man" #654, "Green Hornet" #13, "Carnage" #3, "Batgirl" #18, "Incredible Hulks" #622, "G.I. Joe A Real American Hero" #163, "Knight & Squire" #5, "New Avengers" #9, "Titans" #32, "Wolverine" #1000, "Farscape" #16, "Star Trek: Infestations" #1

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

Here's the problem with "Black Panther: Man Without Fear" #515. T'challa is a multi-disciplinary genius, y'all. He was considered one of the eight smartest men in the world by a whole cadre of super villains. He designed quinjets. He's mastered technology and innovation in a myriad of fields, designing and helping to engineer so many "marvels" of the technological world that Reed Richards and Tony Stark consider him a contemporary. He's planned military campaigns, been considered a master tactician and strategist. Got all that? Now, here, he's having a hard time matching wits with a mildly super powered criminal immigrant with no special training and no remarkable signs of intellect. He's trying to MacGuyver stuff from Radio Shack and Fry's. He's getting surprised by tactical realities that could have been foreseen by, oh, even some half decent recon. This comic book is embarrassing.

"Superman" #708 brought The Pantsening known as Wonder Woman in, and Superman had no idea who she was. Seriously. Walk by that and you'll gag on the recycled Alan Moore bit that Jonathan Hickman used not even a year ago. Did this "homage" develop some great emotional scene, convey some powerful plot point? No. It was just limp. Mix two sucky elements together and you have a big old stinkshake of wackness.

Tired of things stinking in a modern sense? Well, the ghosts of crossovers past "Onslaught Unleashed" #1 did so many things wrong. The art? Unattractive. The villain? Like Haliburton, Roxxon just keeps peeing in the world's corn flakes with seemingly no consequence. Toss in heroes heading into the fray using a flying Datsun, having Earth's Mightiest Heroes sidelined for an alternate universe Bucky. Really, only one word sums it up: why? Why is this happening? Make it stop.

"Justice League: Generation Lost" #19 concludes DC's initiative towards diverse heroes via another armed white guy. At least it seemed that way, despite multi-media successes for this character in question. Max Lord, of course, gets his old school super villain on with -- well, it'd ruin the surprise to say, but it's super silver agey in a not-so-good fashion moving pieces from Checkmate in a much less "spy" way and a much more "Michael Bay" methodology.

"Deadpool Team-Up" #885 brought in Hell-Cow. Seriously, WTH?

"Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors" #7 really has a kind of weird fetish about things going into people's mouths. It's gross, really. Dry antagonist, heroes turning against one another. Bah.

"Thunderstrike" #3 had a lightning-bolt shaped mohawk. Game over, man. Your argument is invalid. Make it stop.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

It was a little bit ugly out there.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

The jump and the budget considerations pretty much tied with the problematic and tedious reads.

THE BUSINESS

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.

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