The Buy Pile: Destination Unknown

Thu, September 29th, 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 28, 2011

Secret Avengers #17
(Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
There are two times when Steve Rogers is most effective. One instance is when he's a laser-like tactical operative, and the other is when he's filled with righteous indignation over some egregious injustice against the weak and the innocent. This issue gives him a chance to be both, as a mysterious tractor trailer is driving around Serbia, yanking people from their homes for reasons unknown, never to be seen again. Taking a small team -- War Machine, Valkyrie, Agent 13 and himself -- he heads to eastern Europe to distribute some beat down and things get ugly. Fast. There's a number of great moments ("What means 'combat separation?'" "That we're probably going to die in a fireball." "Magnificent." "The worst thing is that I know you're not being sarcastic" and "Can we please get our act together?"), hyper-kinetic artwork from Kev Walker and Frank Martin and a simply relentless script from Warren Ellis, using chops he honed on books like "Red" (the original) and "Global Frequency." Fun and gritty.

Venom #7
(Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
Rick Remender has a grasp of Eugene "Flash" Thompson as a character that's spandex-tight. On one hand, he's a shape shifting intelligence operative wielding a lethal extraterrestrial weapon. On the other hand, he's "a jumbled, masochistic, self-doubting mess," struggling to hold on to his relationship while accepting the slow demise of his abusive, alcoholic father. Add to the mix a crisis of the entire island of Manhattan getting Spider-Man's powers, Eddie Brock holing up in a church and using his Anti-Venom powers to cure people of the second stages of the aforementioned spider-mutation and Reed Richards barking out orders left and right. Even mired in the depths of a crossover, this issue hit some fantastic plot twists while developing character effectively (the symbiote worn by Thompson even has its own emotional arc here). Savvy storytelling from Remender with art handled by Tom Fowler and John Rauch.

Journey Into Mystery #628
(Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
"I'm smarter than all of them," Loki says to start the recap for this very, very fun issue as he uses a kind of natural manipulative skill to move dangerous people around like chess pieces, all in a kind of twisted attempt to love his brother and his father. The Disir are intense and bloodthirsty in a wholly charming way ("One day, we will raid Hel again, and you will be there ... our kisses will be sweet and bloody") while the dead war god Tyr shows more smarts than your average combat-ready divinity and Loki ... Loki is simply a delight. The last page reveal of his cleverness is outstanding, his casual manner is hilarious ("Everyone! Cease your flirtations! Children are present!") and he makes a magnetic protagonist. However, unlike some books with a charismatic lead, his time off panel is fine because the supporting characters are so effective as well. Toss in the seasoned hand of Whilce Portacio, helped out by Allen Martinez, Arif Prianto and Jessica Kholinne ... this is solidly entertaining.

Dungeons and Dragons #11
(IDW Publishing)
Jump from the Read Pile.
The group of adventurers in question have journeyed to an elven dimension to steal something, but their history is in danger of betraying them. There's twists and turns to this plot that hinge on the charm of each character ("Drink first. Treason trial in a bit") as well as some fun moments from the antagonists ("You can always seal the gates and burn the town to the bedrock with all inside. That's what I would do") and a wonderful rejoinder with a supporting character near the end (that has a spoiler). John Rogers' script is clever and perfectly balanced, managing all elements with grace and skill, while there's spot-on art from Andrea Di Vito, Nacho Arranz, Vicente Alcazar, Aburtov and Graphicslava. Fine work.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Fours jumps to start? That's quite a good sign for a week that began with no planned purchases.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

Brace yourself: "Aquaman" #1 is actually not bad. With virtually unflappable calm, Aquaman fights everyday crime (why? Why not?) and tries to get some lunch, all while clearing up the nature of his powers and enduring every possible joke that you could expect somebody to say about him yet never wavering, never giving in to the clear frustration at the mockery. How many of us can throw an armored car on its back without breaking a sweat? Johns' script answered every criticism of the character and made him believable as a protagonist. What went wrong? The villains of the piece are visually uninteresting and the "struggle" he goes through is, frankly, a little meta. Very well depicted, great art, but just middling along as Arthur Curry lacked any real challenge that would define him.

A group of relentlessly powerful heroes are trying to shut down the world-shattering ambitions of a splinter from the Universal Church of Truth in "Annihilators: Earthfall" #1 as the planet has been invaded right under the nose of S.W.O.R.D. (again). There's great interplay and action with the star-spanning lead characters, but the predictable misunderstanding at the end was a needless cliche in an era where you can fit a cell phone into your jacket, so let's hope things get a little more inventive.

"That Man Flint" #0 had wall-to-wall 1960s-styled action with tight pants and jingoistic banter (as a villain even tries to insult the lead with a sideways insult using an ethnic slur). If you don't know who any of the characters are, or you don't know why all this shooting and punching is going on ... well, that'd be why it's not a purchase. Fun, but not exactly a complete experience.

"Superman" #1 had some problems in terms of putting together sentences (look for "a Tower of Babel of indecipherability") and really pushed the "diverse casting" button with a new Morgan Edge and a new publisher for the Daily Planet, which, honestly, felt a little forced. However, all the core basics worked here, albeit in an old school fashion. Everybody got their clear introduction, there was a decent balance between expository moments (including one cute joke about Lois' romantic choices) and really well depicted action. Worth watching to see if it can get over its stumbling blocks.

The kids are alright in "Avengers Academy" #19, which still inexplicably had Titania and the Absorbing Man speaking clearly (unlike the rest of The Worthy -- is it because they want to be villains?), but the loyalty the kids showed to each other was very effective and their attempts at saving millions of lives hit lots of solid notes. The plot drifted here and there, which kept it out of contention, but it shared many elements with the issues that did work in the past.

"Doctor Who" #9 was the best issue of the run so far, and not just for Kevin the armored dinosaur. Maybe. The cult-like promise of everlasting life has some suspicious elements which leads to lots of running and yelling and one very large bomb. Finally, some of the latest Doctor's charm comes through ("Hmm. Do we say mega now? Really? I don't think we do. Ignore that. Insert a happy phrase of your own instead") but the fact that there's the equivalent of an old Justice League enemy here and cardboard depictions of supporting characters overrule even the inclusion of a hilarious dinosaur talking about someone else's mother. Just barely, though.

"All-Star Western" #1 was a fairly effective period procedural set in antebellum Gotham City and featuring the original Dr. Arkham (of the Asylum variety) and bounty hunter Jonah Hex, infuriating many and brutalizing many more. Somebody's killing hookers, those poor overworked bastards, and these two mismatched wackadoos are trying to find out just what's happened. If you like westerns, this is great stuff, but if you're not a fan of the milieu, this is just "okay."

"Spider-Island: Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu" #2 taught us that Shang-Chi is, apparently, a huge Fleetwood Mac fan. Which is kind of cool -- imagining him humming "Little Lies" or "Tusk" while sipping green tea and reading "The Atlantic?" That's kind of interesting, doncha think? Anyhoo, the fight scenes were great, but in this case, the Spider-Island crossover took a lot from the story, infecting the Immortal Weapons and making story elements that simply will not matter in six months. Still, if this made you start singing "Go Your Own Way" a little, that's kind of cool. Yes, that's the most Fleetwood Mac songs ever referenced in a comic book review. You're welcome. "Rhiannon."

"Blackhawks" #1 owes a great debt to "G.I. Joe" (all incarnations, even the movie) from its "nicknames" to its diverse cast. The rush of action scenes and even politics brought interesting ideas in terms of tech and tactics. Characterization? Not so much. That's a shame, because the original team had a real sense of consistency between the characters and for none of that to shine through here just leaves you with knock off G.I. Joes, like those no-name figures you used to find in Kaybee Toys.

Speaking of "G.I. Joe," "Snake-Eyes" #5 had the virtually unstoppable killing machine engaging in kidnapping, breaking international laws left and right and -- of course -- being a badass. He also took a shower, because that's really some kind of entertaining. The previous sentence was sarcasm, if you missed that. Anyway, Cobra also committed genocide in Zimbabwe just to make a better Keynote presentation while Duke played Bubble Boy with an automatic weapon. There's some good stuff there, but there's some elements where you'd say, "what the heck was that?"

"Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man" #2 talked a lot. There was a long, speechy core to this issue which was, well, it had some value in characterization, sure, but it was a bit heavy handed and moralistic. Miles Morales discovered more about his powers and gets a wacky friend/sidekick introduced. That's cool. Just -- slow. Well depicted, but a bit laborious.

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

"Flash" #1, "Brilliant" #1, "Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men" #1, "Iron Man 2.0" #9, "Justice League Dark" #1, "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" #2, "Savage Hawkman" #1, "Incorruptible" #22, "Teen Titans" #1, "Duke Nukem: Glorious Bastard" #3.

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

"Batman: The Dark Knight" #1 had a terrible, terrible ending. It also featured yet another Arkham security breach (in the New 52, Arkham has gone wild twice already -- doesn't bode well) and had a weird bit with an Internal Affairs detective who, seemingly, had no authority to act as he did. Oddly enough, Bruce Wayne's billionaire playboy shtick was much more effective. Much weirder than one would have expected in terms of the plot.

"Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive" #523.1 brought in a character introduced in the Christopher Priest run, and had the effect of when Prometheus had those impostors running around in his costume. On the other hand, Panther used his own subordinate as bait and abused the process of law enforcement because he was cranky. If you've ever read any "Black Panther" books, this is wildly out of character and non-sensical.

Do you like boobs? "Voodoo" #1 is about boobs. Well, sort of. It takes place almost completely in a strip club, with titillating shots and racy angles. However, at the end, it's quite possible that this comic stripped away the icky Daemonite, Wildstorm elements and replaced with something more DC-esque that, frankly, kneecaps another character in the process. Also, apparently, she's Black. Sort of. There's too many spoilers to go into here, but the whole package felt exploitative, ill-conceived and tepid.

Months of build up led to a scattering number of panels in "FF" #9 as the newly polygamous Inhumans are back and ready to treat a collection of multidimensional Reed Richards like they were named Ray Ray or Cletus. Imagine waiting for months to go out with somebody everybody swears knows how to do that thing with the tongue ring, and you get there and they've turned into fundamentalist Christians. Like, last week. Embarrassing stuff here.

"Green Lantern: New Guardians" #1 retells the Kyle Rayner origin, making it a little less haphazard and random (and hopefully won't lead to a girl in a refrigerator) while also doing some random thing with all the other Corps that's never actually explained ... nor is there any explanation of who the other Corps really are (new reader friendly, are you?) and the whole first third of this is just dreadfully plodding.

"Kick-Ass 2" #4 went for shock value as the Red Mist returns with a much more "shocking" moniker and a willingness to commit random acts of rape and murder just to annoy the title character. This sad and predictable comic book actually was conceived to be entertaining. Complete failure there.

Speaking of predictable, "Crawl To Me" #3 had tons of horror cliches slapped together with a married couple torn apart by the supernatural as they desperately seek to save their child. Whatever you imagine this is, it's probably that, but done with boring artwork.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

It was an interesting week, let's just say that.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Four jumps. Can't be mad about that. That made the week work even in the face of some really wretched comics.

THE BUSINESS

This week on Komplicated, a look at Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet, birthday props for Don Cornelius, criticism of the treatment of Starfire, a new music column from world-famous turntablist DJ Jedi as well digging in the crates with newcomer A. Darryl Moton and installments of geeky humor. All that plus the regular weekly features like free MP3 downloads, recommendations for which downloads are best to grab, a commentary track for these reviews, a guide to where Black people can be found in media, fan-decided battles between popular characters (all gods and cosmic entities this week), a webcast that looked at the controversy about women not being hired in comics and some of the best in syndicated web comics. Cool, huh?

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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