The Buy Pile

Thu, March 17th, 2011 at 11:58am PDT

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

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 MARCH 16TH, 2011

Xombi #1
(DC Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
Opening with a catalogue of oddities, this issue gives you everything you need to understand its extremely strange high concept. For people who've been reading comics for a few years, they'll find writer John Rozum has lost none of his natural feel for the character that he created back with Milestone Comics. Here's the basics: scientist David Kim was dying, so his female friend injected him with the experimental nanomachines they'd been working on. The tiny technology worked, not just repairing the damage to Kim but making his "body super efficient ... the nanomachines won't allow anything to alter what they deem to be my peak physical condition either, so I can't get drunk, or sick, or fat, or old." Sounds cool, huh? Well, except for the fact that the nanomachines need raw materials -- anything, really, as long as it has mass -- and they literally devoured said female friend to fix him. That guilt hangs over him as he has fallen into the weirdest instances in the world, including a miniaturized prison with houses "condensed molecularly so that they contain the same mass as a full sized house." There's no room for intellectual slacking in this comic as it creates an almost "Twin Peaks" style puzzle and Kim plays the role of a nonplussed normal man boggling at the impossibilities around him. Compelling work and a great tribute with a nod to recently departed Milestone co-founder Dwayne McDuffie at the end.

Ruse #1
(CrossGen/Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
Speaking of comics from long gone eras, one of the last wave of CrossGen books is back now that Marvel made friends with Disney, and original writer Mark Waid just happened to be available to bring his creation back to life. Some of the details have changed -- this is no longer a distant world and the "assistant" (or "partner") is no longer hiding secret super powers (maybe) -- but the core of her exasperation and his arrogance remain, making a compelling character dynamic for a period procedural. Reporters and royal families, bloodshed and barbaric conditions, this issue's like a USA series set on paper as its lead succeeds by paying more attention to the world around him than anyone else and the story moves on smartly. Interesting stuff here that doesn't rely at all on any previous knowledge.

The Invincible Iron Man #502
(Marvel Comics)
While Tony Stark does his scientific shtick and berates Otto Octavius, Pepper Potts ends up facing off against both the Sandman and Electro ("You must have me mistaken for Tony Stark's secretary ..."), in an issue that kind of implies that Spider-Man is something of a loser for having such a hard time with these people. As you might have guessed, Tony's considerably smarter than Dr. Octopus. This is illustrated very quickly and there's a cute surprise, making this a pretty entertaining issue all around.

5 Ronin #3
(Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
The failure of the previous attempts in this miniseries was that each character had too much baggage, too many expectations built into their names. The simplicity of Frank Castle -- here called Akagi -- is the reason why this is so effective. The Punisher kills criminals. Here, a character called The Daimyo has driven people from their lands and had his men put whole families to the sword. For a former soldier, er, samurai like Frank, er, Akagi, that means it's time for a campaign of slaughter and bloodshed that'd make Kublai Khan blush. Relentless and unforgiving, this perfectly captures what makes the character work in virtually any era, and helps tie together the whole mini as the Daimyo should get ready for a visit.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Very solid start.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

"Mindfield" #5 was better but still had kind of a scattered plot mixing psi-powers facing up against the new face of terrorism. However, like "Push" before it, the plot sagged in the middle and the action scenes didn't compel.

"So many o' you jerks have lost the art of the diatribe," Wolverine says to Lady Deathstrike in "Uncanny X-Force" #5.1, "Nice to see you're still rocking the pontification groove, Yuriko." Logan seemed to have a sense of boredom with facing off against the Reavers for maybe the grillionth time, and watching that had some entertainment value, but the rest of the issue was pretty "meh," honestly.

"Soldier Zero" #6 was very, very close to making the mark with plot elements mixed in the action and a very solid cliffhanger ending. Nothing's technically wrong here, but like many of the new Stan Lee-minded books, the good ideas have good execution while staying just at the level of being "TV good."

Speaking of people resigned to accept what's happening, "Loki" #4 had a tiny bit of the spark that made his "Civil War" one-shot so compelling, but ultimately stuck to telling old style Norse legends in a tense, modern manner. Not bad, but not great either.

"Adventure Comics" #524 plays like DC's futuristic Avengers Academy, as the would-be Legionnaires get yelled at by their teacher and ignore the rules to play things their own way. This is all okay in a teen-melodrama kind of way that actually managed to bring a fairly blank slate super villain a bit of characterization, but it wasn't exactly "must-have" material.

"R.E.B.E.L.S." #26 had very little of the compelling characters that make this series such a joy -- no psychotic Durlan child, no arrogant deposed Dominator, no grunting Khund, not even Vril Dox for more than a few panels -- and lots of Lobo. Not the best possible outcome here, as Starro faces some personnel problems and there's both a lag in the middle pages and a bit with Deathfire that's kind of jammed in here.

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

"Thunderbolts" #155, "Spike" #6, "Superman" #709, "Amazing Spider-Man" #656, "DMZ" #63, "Ultimate Comics Avengers vs. New Ultimates" #2, "The Grim Ghost" #1, "Uncanny X-Men Annual" #3, "Batman" #708, "Thunderstrike" #4, "Wolfskin: The Hundredth Dream" #5, "Iron Man 2.0" #2, "Brightest Day" #22, "Avengers Academy" #11, "Knight & Squire" #6, "G.I. Joe Infestation" #2, "Avengers: The Children's Crusade Young Avengers" #1, "Red Robin" #21, "Captain America and Crossbones" #1, "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" #5, "Hulk" #30.1, "Artifacts" #6.

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

"Fear Itself: Book of the Skull" #1 proved a number of things. First of all, the Red Skull's daughter has no original ideas. Second, there are plot elements here borrowed from the "Hellboy" movie and about three other sources. It wasn't awful, but it was a slice below "meh."

"Morning Glories" #8 introduced a weird new element about one of the lead characters but didn't make it make sense at all, just adding a new layer of "WTH?" to the already lengthy list of unanswered mysteries floating around this series at almost four bucks a pop. Not enough bang for the buck despite the acceptable character work.

The worst book of the week easily goes to "Twilight Guardian" #3, which tries three different comic book presentations of her character by a comic company in her universe while continuing her boring low-rent Rorschach narration. There's nothing interesting or compelling about the character or the plot, despite the artwork being -- frankly -- too good for the subject material.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

It could have gone worse.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Three jumps win big, so that's worth overshadowing even "Twilight Guardian" and more "meh" than you can shake a stick at.

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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