The Buy Pile

Thu, May 19th, 2011 at 11:58am PDT

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 MAY 18TH, 2011

The Invincible Iron Man #502
(Marvel Comics)

Last issue, Tony Stark spent most of the comic being laughed at by Doctor Octopus. This issue, he spends most of the comic book getting pounded by a ginormous freaking hammer. Admittedly, he's still a pretty smarmy guy, but when he jets off to Paris alone, part of an overextended Avengers response, what he finds in the streets of the City of Lights is quite a surprise, and one he's not able to get his hands around easily. Some old names are brought back into play after disappearing from Jim Rhodes' team on his previous solo series. Is this crossover-minded issue one of the triumphs of this series? No. There are elements here -- the spicy conversation between Stark and Pepper Potts, the intensity of the fight scene -- that make it worth while, but it is not without caveats.

Fables #105
(Vertigo/DC Comics)

Speaking of conversations that really matter, Bigby Wolf -- a central character since this series' beginning -- and his father the North Wind have a conversation that will alter the lives of virtually everyone in this series. It's big. Best of all? It's wonderfully understated, a simple culmination of elements building up for dozens of issues. Toss in a display of the depraved tastes of Mister Dark and you've got big issues writ against the lives of smaller personalities. How Bill Willingham has maintained this degree of quality over more than a hundred issues, well, it's just plain remarkable, as is the consistency of his Eisner-winning compatriots, art team Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha, this time with Andrew Pepoy and Lee Loughridge on board as well.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Great, great comics.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

The curtain is finally pulled back in "Ultimate Comics Avengers vs. New Ultimates" #4 as heroes struggle with the bullet that went through Peter Parker, and the last page is a big shocker. Why not buy it? Every big plot element stands alone, with none of them going together as a story. Shock, chatter chatter chatter, shock, chatter chatter chatter and so on. There're worse comics, sure, but there's better, too.

"Justice League of America" #57 tells you the first names of Eclipso and his successor The Spectre (Aztar and Galid ... what, you didn't know Eclipso was once the wrath of the Presence? Well, eventually ...)

Qui-Gon Jinn takes center stage in "Star Wars Jedi: The Dark Side" #1 as a delegation of Jedi are asked to broker peace on a distant, prosperous world, decades before "The Phantom Menace." The annoying bureaucracy and stifling overbearingness of the old Republic plays through, but there's also solid tension with a Talosian padawan who's troubled by the assignment. If the artwork was a little sharper it might have had a better shot, but the blandness overwhelmed the "just okay" storyline.

For largely inexplicable reasons, "Avengers" #13 borrowed a formatting page from "The Office," using the "interview" format (also seen in "Guardians of The Galaxy" and other places) as a framing device to showcase the weirdness with Asgard lately. Better done on NBC than with Spider-Woman and Tony Stark, but there were some interesting panels here and there.

Remember in "Watchmen" when they sent Rorshach to jail and he was so cheery about it? How about those Punisher issues where he went to jail? "Batman and Robin" #23 follows familiar ground, taking Jason Todd from Arkham Asylum's quiet environs to general population in prison, where he can practice his ginger-flavored lethal artistry just like he did as the Red Hood. Of course the Grayson Bat doesn't like this and of course things don't go well. Not a bad comic, but things were pretty predictable.

"Super Dinosaur Origin Special" #1 was fun in a Silver Age style of entertainment, introducing all the key elements of the series and doing quite a bit of exposition, using a conversation as a means of telling the tale. An artful reframing of things similar to what you could get from a Wikipedia entry, but if the story already grabbed you, this would be a must have.

The kids are definitely not all right in "Avengers Academy" #14 as a certain villain still has something to prove, and when the team goes after Electro, they get a number of unpleasant surprises. The issue doesn't exactly inspire, but it's realistic enough and carries the character arcs through in a convincing manner.

Somebody wants to soil the history of the city in "Batman: Gates of Gotham" #1, which is oddly Bruce Wayne-free as it looks at legacies from some of Gotham's most prominent families. The mystery story plays out well, with the revelations appearing with easy familiarity. Despite some interesting plot twists, it plays out in a fairly facile fashion that's less than remarkable.

"Hawkeye: Blindspot" #4 had a great fight scene showcasing why the Avenger's resident archer should be taken seriously, but the quickie ending sucked the momentum from the story, and the similarly microwaved antagonist didn't have much of a burndown either.

If you like crime stories and would enjoy a nice early Shyamalan-styled twist, "The Last Mortal" #1 would be right up your alley. It spends the entire issue establishing the lead character and the crappy series of decisions that lead him to make one last bad one, and that's where things get interesting. A slow start, but if you're patient, it'd be fine for you.

"DMZ" #65 was tricky, an improvement from previous meandering issues, giving Matty Roth some real decisions to make and compounding relentless action in the streets of Manhattan. This will be remembered as the issue where things started to change, and the wisdom of Matty's ex-girlfriend is the axis upon which everything else rotated. It's a very, very slow turn, though, and that ruminative pace doesn't exactly serve the entertainment value.

Despite the fact the lead character is getting the T'Challa Treatment, "Herc" #3 had some cute elements, bringing Olympus to Brooklyn and dealing with the mundane concerns of citizens while a group of super villains escapes the Raft (which, honestly, doesn't seem so secure). "Cute" was as good as it got in this issue, which had smirk worthy humor but not really enough to sell this issue.

Speaking of "cute," "Dr. Who: A Fairytale Life" #2 would have made Douglas Adams smile with medieval stories about knights and secret machines that could be happening at any point in actual time. Things got wacky and Dr. Who fans would certainly love this, and if regular readers have the money to spare, they might pick it up as well.

More cute? You'd be surprised to find it in "Namor: The First Mutant Annual" #1, which had Steve Rogers and Scott Summers enjoying some great male bonding moments while Doctor Nemesis continues to spread his angry charm through yet another dimension. Namor himself did a bad Hulk impersonation through most of the issue and Hope bled all over the place, so everybody didn't carry their share of the weight.

If you saw the original movie, "Transformers" #19 remixes some elements of that Judd Nelson-fueled animated opus, showing Rodimus making some of his trademark dumb decisions. The experience of a lost Cybertronian had several interesting elements, but a story they certainly did not make.

With shades of Kanye West in mind, "Outsiders" #39 could have as its theme "no one man should have all that power!" Geo-Force has a lot of outside forces putting the squeeze to Markovia and what he does to stop them is not exactly unthinkable, but it's pretty intense nonetheless. Why doesn't this matter? Everybody else -- from Freight Train to Black Lightning, are kind of standing around like their name was Luke Walton.

"The Darkness: Four Horsemen" #4 was a nicely done closing chapter to the mini, playing with perceptions and overturning preconceptions about "good" guys and "bad" guys. There's no use spoiling the plot twists, but this issue was pretty close to making the mark.

Bruce Wayne pitches in with Karen Starr's altruistic corporate intervention in "Power Girl" #24, where he seeks to validate her secret (less booby) identity. That part was good. A storyline involving a pacifist Arab metahuman not so much, straining for sensitivity and reaching cliche.

"G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" #166 hearkened back to the old days of the Marvel series with an issue that focused on a specific combat scenario. It's an aquatic battle between a hovercraft, a submarine and a series of speedboats. Sounds cool? It was fairly typical of the madness involving Cobra Commander, who makes Phyllis Hyman look even tempered, but as fun as the fighting was, it didn't really mean anything storywise.

Dubbilex would have gotten away with it if not for those pesky kids, as "Supergirl" #64 turns its "Titans gone bad" shtick on its ear and ... wait, seriously? Dubbilex? Dude who used to play Jarvis for Jim Harper? What the what? This ended quickly, but it wasn't all the way bad.

"Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" #158 kind of has to find its way towards a coffin, as Peter Parker's leaking blood and the Ultimate Sinister Six knows his address. Cue up some Bon Jovi as Peter finds the hero's path. If you're collecting the whole story, this is a no-brainer, but since it just fills a hole in the story otherwise, you could skip it and be okay.

"The Devil's Six Gun" was an interesting supernatural western focused on greed and ambition, spanning two continents and including suspicious deaths as part of its stock in trade. If you'd like a more 1800s feel for the stuff in "Last Mortal," this would probably do the trick for you.

"Malignant Man" #2 answered questions with a barrage of exposition, bringing in some cultural tropes as crutches for a lead who shares narrative DNA with Arthur Dent. Wow, two Douglas Adams references in one week. Anyhoo, it was a little talkier than it needed to be, but it wasn't an annoyance.

"T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" #7 was like a TV show, introducing a villainess who hid in plain sight with a hero for years. Introduce a vengeful scion and that's pretty much the solicitation text and ... well, all the plot that's on tap. That's not bad, but again, not great.

"X-Factor" #219 was a bloody final installment to the storyline that showcases how dangerous Monet really is while settling a murder mystery involving (tangentially) the Black Cat. Really brutal storytelling that lost a little of its focus while trying to deal with Monet's suddenly emotional response.

"Snake Eyes" #1 feels like an issue of the old "Special Missions" storyline as Snake Eyes leads a specially selected team into the frozen heights of Mt. Everest to track down a Cobra installation.

"Li'l Depressed Boy" #4 plays out like a painful examination of dating stereotypes for "nice" guys, and can likely be related to by a large percentage of the comics audience, getting stuck in a zone almost as bad as the phantom one. Kind of painfully like real life, unless you like watching really uncomfortable experiences.

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

"Thunderbolts" #157, "Transformers Dark Side of the Moon: Foundation" #4, "Sigil" #3, "Batman" #710, "Alpha Flight" #0.1, "Booster Gold" #44, "Amazing Spider-Man" #661, "Zatanna" #13, "Uncanny X-Force" #10, "Legion of Super Heroes" #13, "Generation Hope" #7, "Superman/Batman" #84, "Hulk" #33, "Stan Lee's Soldier Zero" #8, "Silver Surfer" #4, "Heroes for Hire" #7, "Rocketeer Adventures" #1, "X-Men Giant Size" #1

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

"Teen Titans" #95 was dull as it involved one of the worst super villain designs ever and a power motif that Samuel Sullivan would be proud of. A boring plot, less-than-convincing stakes and again, one awful image that you can't un-see.

If Laura's supposed to be a killer, "X-23" #10 was surprisingly emo. Another MArvel title set in Paris, attempts at characterization resulted in melodrama instead, an episode of Dawson's Mutants.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Two stinkers surely can't weight down so many better books.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Calling the week a win is easy with less than $10 in spending, only two comics were a problem (and they were mild annoyances at best).

THE BUSINESS

Recently, Komplicated.com has covered some interesting stuff, including the independent film stylings of Ava DuVernay, why Facebook is gonna suck down more of your time, a huge list of free music downloads, a fully functional computer for $25 and why Will Smith has pissed off the city of New York. This week there's gonna be an interview with "Total Recall" writer Vince Moore on the live webcast Sunday at noon, and if Time Warner Cable acts right, all should be well.

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, blogs: thanks to Suuru Designs you'll find blogs at the Soapbox. That's where you'll see 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!

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