The Buy Pile

Thu, April 7th, 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 APRIL 6TH, 2011

Who Is Jake Ellis? #3
(Image Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. Once again, runaway CIA analyst Jon Moore is hiding in plain sight, dodging the US intelligence community. In his head (or something) is Jake Ellis, the shadowy sentient consciousness that knows where doors are, how to escape rough situations and even phrases in languages Jon nor Jake recognize. Together this unlikely duo is at odds -- Jon wants to stay on the run, performing odd jobs as a spy and hired gun, while Jake wants answers on what the heck he is and what's up with the people that installed him in Jon Moore. This conflict is hard to reconcile as Jon relies on Jake to help him evade capture, and sometimes Jake does that in ways that don't really serve Jon's goals at all. Great character interplay, solid noirish espionage, beautifully stylistic artwork -- creative team Nathan Edmondson and Tonci Zonjic are really on to something here.

Secret Six #32
(DC Comics)

The team takes a trip to hell -- literally -- to try and negotiate with their errant team member Ragdoll, who's found himself uniquely qualified for a new job in the court of Lady Blaze (Shazam's evil daughter who literally took over the joint). Now, in some cases, this would end to a few drinks, some honest conversation and everybody settling things peacefully. Here, of course, we're back with the shooting and the punching and the sharp weapons. This doesn't mean sacrificing the trademark wit that's made this title such a joy ("I also lied about my commitment to recycling," "... that's okay. I got the gist") with a twist at the end that's such a reward for long-time readers that it's like writer Gail Simone intended to give each one a hug. Wonderful, mean-spirited work that does a great job of moving the characters forward through the increasingly complex situations of their lives.

Heroes for Hire #5
(Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. The cat's out of the bag on who was really pulling Misty Knight's strings, and that means lots of bullets flying around plus serious spandex-clad fisticuffs. There's a lot of combat, but it's all in pursuit of the story, which is not the most complex piece of prose, but it's solidly entertaining.

Nonplayer #1
(Image Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. NOTE: Diamond screwed up the order for these at retail, and if Image didn't have the wherewithal to send review copies, this issue would never have been seen. Just FYI. The first thing you'll note is that the art here is really beautiful. Nate Simpson is the real thing. Then, when you add to that the very delicate storytelling, where Dana Stevens isn't so good at dealing with the real world but is highly regarded with bladed and her fists in the game "Warriors of Jarvath" (imagine "World of Warcraft" on steroids). Things only get real when a piece of code behaves in a way that's decidedly un-computer-esque, which shakes Dana's ability to cope. The setting is lush, the visuals are striking, the story is just the right balance of characterization and plot development. This is such an interesting, engaging work, and it's refreshing to see it succeed amazingly where, say, "The Guild" stalled.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Just a bit over ten bucks and some seriously entertaining comics. Good start!

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

Surprisingly, "Love and Capes: Ever After" #3, a cute character piece about the lives behind superheroics, was the closest to making it home this week. The overall product was a little too cutesy for its own good, kind of plodding through domestic tedium, but it had its enjoyable moments with supporting characters specifically.

"Amazing Spider-Man Annual" #38 is very deeply enmeshed in a "be careful what you wish for" mode, giving Peter Parker an fairly compelling character arc in visiting another universe, a bit of introspection and understanding while working on the larger problem of being stuck, a long way from home, with Bruce Banner and Wade Wilson. If creators stick with the developments laid down by writer John Layman, it could be a new degree of growth for the character. As it is, this is a solid story that drifts a little bit while looking at the other two "lead" characters.

Speaking of John Layman, "Chew" #18 is likely to be a hot property since the series got picked up by Showtime and all that. This month's epis ... er, issue has most of what you might expect, including scantily clad female commandos from the USDA, another appearance from a voresoph (some would argue this happens to Amadeus Cho), weird situations and byzantine, weird government organizations. New fans will be fine, jumping in to this issue, but if you've been here a while, it's nothing new.

"Charismagic" #1 was quite close to making it home, introducing a backdrop of magical realism as a stage performer has actual magical chops, and his estranged mentor warns him of a magical crisis coming his way. The supporting characters were very, very briefly brushed past, the introduction of the antagonist was shorted and this issue skimmed across the elements instead of diving in. The charisma of the lead was strong, though and there was enough of a skeleton for this plot that the overall series could develop into something interesting.

"Fear Itself" #1 was interesting in that it had both the story it was telling and the story it meant, which are not the same thing. The former is merely just "okay," while the latter is actually kind of subtle and crafty. Watching Odin is key to getting that second message, as the "All-Father" reveals more with what he doesn't say than with what he does.

"Dungeons and Dragons" #5 was another enjoyable adventure romp with a diverse team of sword-and-sorcery types, struggling against an inter-dimensional threat and almost certain death. The strength of the characters never wanes -- the dwarf is still grumpy, the elf is still slightly arrogant, the thief still self-serving -- but the video-game styled conflict (very much like "leveling up") is fast paced but a little breezy, given the nature of the threat that should be recognized here.

"Annihilators" #2 had similar concerns, as its team plows through anonymous looking dire wraiths and gives the sextet a little bit of improvement from the previous issue. However, watching Quasar get uncomfortable around his spaceknight team-mate and seeing Silver Surfer and Ronan the Accuser learn a little teamwork is pretty good to see as well.

Again served badly by its artwork, "Bring the Thunder" #4 smartly brought home the issues raised in this mini, but again the antagonists are cardboard cutouts and the interaction with his family is cursory. The power set and the characterization for the lead character had a lot of promise, though.

"Herc" #1 takes the "Black Panther: Man Without Cash" motif to Brooklyn and lets him keep a lot of his really powerful items. Heading for Brooklyn, this one seems to work better, borrowing from Image Comics' "God Complex" to give Herc a quick romantic interest and a base of operations ... instead of just, you know, calling the Avengers.

"Ultimate Comics Captain America" #4 featured another case of someone criticizing Captain America for being the standard bearer for corruption and murder. However, in the Ultimate universe, Steve Rogers is unapologetic about being an instrument of policy, knowing every murder and every "broken egg" that served to make an omelet of freedom. His steel-jawed pragmatism is refreshing but has surely been done before.

"Fallen Angel: Return of the Son" #3 introduced a hidden and wrathful, Old Testament styled god who has a plan for Bete Noire that's ... well, kind of petty, honestly. There's trickery and repressed memories and pissing all over the idea of fate. Nothing bad here, but despite some really ambitious themes, it was merely just "okay."

Magneto has some PR concerns in "Uncanny X-Men" #534.1, whereas Namor tells would-be earthquake making terrorists, "Only Namor has the ability to make the earth move. And he reserves that privilege for one woman at a time. Unless they have experimental friends." Okay. Not bad but it was a little cynical even as it gives a good "jumping on" point for new readers.

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

"Orc Stain" #6, "Wolverine/Hercules: Myths Monsters and Mutants" #2, "Firebreather: Holmang" #2, "Doom Patrol" #21, "Green Wake" #1, "Green Hornet Aftermath" #1 "Daomu" #3, "Freedom Fighters" #8, "Memoir" #3, "Deadpool Family" #1, "Weird World of Jack Staff" #6, "JSA All-Stars" #17, "Intrepids" #2, "Fear Itself: The Home Front" #1, "Irredeemable" #24, "Iron Siege" #3, "Blue Estate" #1 and "Batman Beyond" #4.

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

The cover to "Brightest Day" #23 tells its tedious core, but when you see who this weird quintet of JLA members was resurrected to "dig up," it's just, well, it's sad, in a way. "The green has become the black" -- did Aspen Comics get a royalty on that line? You get some vague answers about Star City and some of the returnees, but Digger Harkness is left standing around looking goofy, as is Dawn Granger. It's much ado about nothing, as the conclusion seems foregone.

"Avengers: The Children's Crusade" #5 spends a whole issue saying it's gonna do one thing and then does the exact opposite. What is it, Mitt Romney? The last page flip flop was tedious, the faux-protest from a certain doctor was needlessly sappy, Magneto was wasted here ... it was just a mess.

Remember everything that happened in every zombie-related crossover issue? "Infestation" #2 basically ignored a lot of that. The alleged resolution was not only unclear but sadly open ended. The combination of zombies and vampires is exhaustive in its pandering. The coloring and art was drab. The threat was never that important to the reader because only two or so of the "heroes" have any discernible personality traits. This is a dull, tepid comic book.

Hey, do you remember those fifty-leven comics where Kara Zor-El whined and was all emo? "Superman Batman Annual" #5 is another one. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson spends the whole issue pretty much jumping and dodging bullets and almost dying. When you toss in two of the 90s most ill-conceived marketing shticks and mix 'em up like you were some demented DJ, that's all bad.

Did you know Ka-Zar spends lots of time wearing a suit, even when he's in the Savage Land? "Skaar: King of the Savage Land" #1 showcases him in his well-tailored style, walking the halls of a Savage Land legislative organization and negotiation with, wait, what the what? Why is the only guys in the Savage Land's "leadership" looking like escapees of "National Geographic?" In the background, how is Skaar gonna be all emo while trying to punch dinosaurs? The hell?

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Everybody played hard, no harm in that.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Great, innovative purchases, ambitious tries in the reads -- let's say things went well.

THE BUSINESS

If you're on Twitter, today might be a good day to follow this Twitter account ... and keeping an eye on it around April 30th might be a good move as well. Just saying ...

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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