The Buy Pile: Everything Old is New Again

Thu, September 22nd, 2011 at 11:28am PDT

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?

Every week Hannibal Tabu (two-time Eisner-winning journalist/blogger/novelist/poet/jackass on Twitter/head honcho of Komplicated.com) 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 SEPTEMBER 21, 2011

Fables #109
(Vertigo/DC Comics)
Bigby Wolf and Snow White have an octet of children, and one of them must inherit their grandfather's role as the North Wind. How this will happen is through a series of tests for the children, revealing their characters as it goes along. Darien is the confident alpha-male, Winter's like Olivia on "The Cosby Show," Therese is a primadonna, Ambrose is like Wilbur on "Charlotte's Web" and so on and so forth. There's not room for a lot of development, but the points that get hit are very well executed. Meanwhile, Bufkin's fomenting revolution in what used to be Oz, the Fables return to their Farm, the former wife of Jack Spratt prepares for bloodshed, and there's a fantastic balance of a lot of disparate elements here, as always seamlessly managed by the Eisner-winning team of Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha and Lee Loughridge.

Batman #1
(DC Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
"There's no place like home..." Batman wistfully whispers these words as he faces off against virtually the entire populace of Arkham Asylum, feeling so comfortable in his work that he almost makes it look easy. The extended Bat family is introduced very smartly and this, quite honestly, is an almost perfect comic book. New readers? Covered. Long time fans? Tons of in jokes, just for you. Art? Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion and FCO Plascencia are on freaking fire. Scott Snyder's script purrs like an Italian performance sportscar -- when you toss in the wonderful back and forth between "the boys" and Bruce Wayne's inspirational speech (combined with his underhanded plan to expand the reach of the Bat), reading this is a delight. In a word: wow. This is the Batman you want to read. Just... wow.

Wonder Woman #1
(DC Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. This... this is not what you might have expected. Diana's less a star-spangled super heroine and more a force for brutal justice in a surprising and relentless world, humming along right under the surface of our own. Brian Azzarello's take on the world of divine powers existing alongside mortals is -- in a word -- riveting. The gods themselves are otherworldly and odd -- Hermes is a lithe, alien presence and "the sun of a king" is cold and ruthless, their agents horrifying and visceral, their ways ineffable and distant. Wonder Woman herself is a steely, taciturn presence pummeling her way through things that'd make your garden variety hero blanche with terror. While borrowing classical themes from Greek myth, the story makes things immediate and modern, but in a nastier way than, say, Neil Gaiman's "American Gods." There is a menace to these deities, an other-ness that is less than concerned with the well being of man, and it is fascinating. The intimate, deft visuals from Cliff Chiang and Matthew Wilson perfectly set these interesting scenes and wow, this is one heck of a surprise. More, please.

Heroes for Hire #12
(Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
"Hello, hero. Are you for hire?" That phrase once again draws the reader in as Misty Knight has a plan to stop the flow of an Atlantean drug called "hook," and it requires just a little coordination (on two coasts, mind you), a lot of gun play ("step into them, baby!") and shaming a very powerful man into doing something, all while dusting off a very fourth-tier character and making him look like somebody and delivering some fantastic character moments for Misty Knight, Paladin and Silver Sable. Another example of great balance between elements of character and plot. The coloring from Jay David Ramos makes the art from Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessy really pop, and the script from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning seems so effortless that it's like magic.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Outstanding!

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

"Blue Beetle" #1 certainly had a lot of Spanish sprinkled through, and retold the origin of Jaime Reyes as a hero (while laying seeds for some familiar elements of his previous incarnation). Nothing went wrong here, but this issue felt a little rote, only establishing the Reach's rivalry with the Green Lanterns a bit beter (which seemed logical).

The actual moments between Scott and Logan were among the best parts of "X-Men: Schism" #4, as Dr. Nemesis continued to spread his effervescent charm. Unfortunately, the actual plot here, especially the core of the argument between Scott and Logan, is actually just plain stupid, especially under the circumstances presented in this issue. Moreover, those last bits about Jean? That's just mean, man. In a good way!

"Cobra" #5 was extraordinarily close to making the jump with a straightforward military mission gone sideways. It was virtually all plot and no character as the dialogue was largely expository, only Baroness and Roadblock had a half second to shine (well, maybe a smidge of Zartan) and the art was too claustrophobic to showcase the action scenes in an epic way. Not bad at all, but unless you like the characters and the property already, this isn't a must-have.

"George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones" #1 was densely packed with nuance and character development, an immersive experience that had great moments of interaction between characters. However, the plot moved at a glacial pace, doing little to establish the stakes for all those characters. Perhaps readers with a better sense of the property and the players would find this more engaging.

"Executive Assistant Lotus" #3 had rock solid action scenes (even though the work of the actual villains did seem less-than-savvy) and a plot that hit its marks with great precision... but had the exact opposite problem from the previous comic, spending precious little time developing these characters (especially the one who came in with a "Han Solo in the trench" save). Still interesting, but not quite making it all the way.

The Ameridroid is apparently an eighteen foot tall version of the title character and in "Captain America" #3 he does lots of fighting. Good looking fighting -- great depictions from Steve McNiven, Mark Morales, Justin Ponsor and Jay Leisten. However, the idea of another ghost of the Third Reich tearing up New York streets is -- at best -- retrograde and dragging Nick Fury into it doesn't help. Pretty, but not worth taking home.

"Birds of Prey" #1 was a cute start, developing a team of female operatives who happen to be on the wrong side of the law. That means that they're willing to bend a few rules in order to fight the good fight and -- even with the tacit consent of the newly re-cowled Barbara Gordon -- there will be some challenges that your everyday superhero wouldn't face. The problem? A set of antagonists so non-descript they're never named and their reasons for being involved are never established. Cute start, though.

"X-Factor" #225 wasn't bad as Rahne struggles with her actions last issue, Layla faces the team's mistrust as she continues her mysterious agenda and a muder investigation in Kansas goes all kinds of sideways. It's a big cast and Peter David's script keeps pretty much everybody on panel the right amount of time. The actual plot developments however dragged through the second and third acts.

"Dark Horse Presents" #4 had some very good elements, including an excerpt from "Finder" by Carla Speed McNeil, a wonderful piece about school children in Iran, the wonderful work of Walker and Love on "Number 13" and an interesting bit with an alien hiding in plain sight. Despite the tepid opening story about animals and goblins and an equally lackluster bit about a classical movie monster, this was good... but not eight bucks worth of good. Four? Maybe. Three fifty, probably. Eight? Nuh uh.

"Fear Itself: The Home Front" #6 had some decent elements, like a moment of clarity in Stamford, manipulation from Amadeus Cho and the threat of Asbestos Man. Again, there were some good anthology elements, but this might be two bucks worth of good, not full cover price. It's TV good, let's put it that way.

"Legion of Super-Heroes" #1 was the recipient of a very soft reboot, continuing the work from the previous miniseries and all of its plot threads with just "the Flashpoint wall" as a new element to consider. This issue is like comfort food for long time fans, thinning the ranks a little but otherwise taking nothing away from the latest new LSH. In terms of being open to new readers, it didn't work as well, especially leaving its antagonists as unidentified as they were in "Birds of Prey," so it wasn't quite good enough to buy.

Matt Murdock's found a way around his litigational challenges in "Daredevil" #4, coaching everyday people to better administer their own brand of justice, which led to discovering a case about a blind interpreter fighting a former employer. There's an eastern European connection and great and intriguing art but it stops shy of being complete. Some interesting work that's edging back towards its creative heights.

"Samurai's Blood" #4 was more well-developed historical fiction and had a marked improvement from previous issues, in that the stakes are raised for central characters and the introduction of a new antagonist was done deftly and in a relatively small amount of space. Still, the drab color palette and kind of fatalistic air of the narrative didn't engage effectively enough.

Guy Gardner and John Stewart struggle with everyday life in "Green Lantern Corps" #1 with a constant sense that they were looking for something more interesting to happen than whatever they were doing. Again you find a shortcut bad guy that's almost an afterthought, but this wasn't bad.

"Ultimate Comics Hawkeye" #2 encapsulated a military operation with an extrahuman element spray painted on top of it. It was fast -- like "Bourne Supremacy" fast -- in terms of zipping through plot points and there's not a single supporting character worth remembering, but the action worked, the overarching concept was interesting (even if it just meandered on the nitty gritty execution points) and the art looked good, so it's not like you can write this comic book off.

Jonathan Hickman is almost back with "The Red Wing" #3, a transtemporal pastiche of the latest "Battlestar Galactica" with Heinlein's original "Starship Troopers." The time travel stuff turns in on itself a little too neatly, but this is intriguing and almost a return to form for the writer.

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

"Invincible Iron Man" #508, "Stan Lee's Soldier Zero" #12, "Supergirl" #1, "Broken Pieces" #1, "Thunderbolts" #163.1, "Mysterious Ways" #3, "DMZ" #69, "Star Wars Jedi: The Dark Side" #5, "Near Death" #1, "Nightwing" #1, "Kevin Smith's The Bionic Man" #2, "Teen Wolf" #1, "Fear Itself: Youth In Revolt" #5, "Transformers" #26, "Spider-Island: Cloak and Dagger" #2, "Avengers" #17, "All-Nighter" #4, "Planet of the Apes" #6.

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

"Red Hood and the Outlaws" #1 did something horrible, horrible, horrible to the character of Starfire. Gone is the stately alien princess, forget about the brave warrior from beond the stars. Now, she's a vapid super powered sex toy for two fractured man-boys. Had this just been a title for Arsenal and the Red Hood, it could have been a great buddy book. However, with the blatant and misogynistic treatment of a character that's been around for decades, and has become a regular factor for children via the "Teen Titans" series, this is just wrong.

Speaking of needless sexualization, "Catwoman" #1 had an ending fit for fetish fans (expanded upon in disturbing detail by Savage Critics), and sapped a lot of the momentum from the "guilty pleasure" category it was falling into, giving Selina a parenthetical supporting character while showing her doing all kinds of fun things in the pursuit of grand larceny. The ending, though... eww.

"Captain Atom" #1 was better when its lead character was Firestorm. Really. They remixed his powers to be very much like Firestorm. But he's from the military now. Also, there's a riff from "Spawn" here. That's not a good thing.

Cyttorak is the jealous kind in "Uncanny X-Men" #543 and he revokes his gifts from Cain Marko to pass them on to the newly unstoppable Juggulus! That name may still be in workshop... anyway, Piotr Rasputin stepped up to protect his sister and makes no apologies about it, regardless who has a question about it. A little more navel gazing than was necessary, honestly, and the idea of a transforming Juggulus is simply ridiculous.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Despite a position that seems pretty... icky towards the fairer sex, there were some interesting ideas presented here.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Three jumps and more worth noting than denigrating? That's a good sign, so let's call the week a win.

THE BUSINESS

This week on Komplicated, we continued with weekly free music downloads and recommendations about those downloads, our weekly guide of where to find Black people in media, light voting for an all-ladies edition of #whodwin Wednesday likely affected by the national concerns about Troy Davis, a fantastic interview with "Eureka" and "Mister Terrific" writer Eric Wallace, the geek beauty of the month, a look at NASA's next big idea, a great webcast featuring the updated Black Hero Origin Algorithm and of course the commentary track for last week's Buy Pile reviews. This week's webcast on the Geekweek network Sunday at 9PM PST will feature a discussion of the industry's current furor about more women in creative roles with comic companies and why the same argument about creators of color gets a decidedly different response. Lotsa great stuff going on from a site that -- frankly -- owes a lot of its existence to the largesse of Comic Book Resources, who created an opportunity for this writer to expand in an industry that didn't give a damn what an opinionated Black guy thought about anything.

Moving on -- 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, you should use the contact form as the CBR email address hasn't been regularly checked since George W. Bush was in office. Sorry!

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