The Buy Pile: Uh Oh, It's Magic

Thu, October 20th, 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 OCTOBER 19, 2011

Journey Into Mystery #629
(Marvel Comics)
Oh, that adorable Loki is such a scamp! Literally rewriting the rules of divinity as he goes along, he lets the Disir, the dead war god Tyr and the animated spirit of the Destroyer smash their way through the Dark Asgard of Odin's elder brother in a way that makes events of the "Fear Itself" crossover make a little more sense while providing a perfect character arc for the god of mischief himself. The artwork from a large team (Whilce Portacio, Doug Braithwaite, Allen Martinez, Arif Prianto, John Rauch and Ulises Arreola) worked well to put a crisp coda on the crossover and Kieron Gillen's script is like a game of chess between grand masters (or something like that). Fun, fun stuff and the denouement with Loki at the end ("... that would be awfully self-centered, wouldn't it? Let's save worrying about tomorrow for our newly purchased dawn") was simply enthralling.

Fables #110
(Vertigo/DC Comics)
On one hand, Bufkin the no-longer-flying monkey is fomenting revolution in the land formerly known as Oz. That's a little on the ridiculous side. Don't worry about that. On the other hand, Bigby Wolf has some family challenges when everybody seems to wanna check out the new Kanye and Jay-Z album, anxious about the reign of the now-departed North Wind and leading to homicidal discussions of decorum that would make Gary Oldman in "The Professional" feel right at home. The fact that this is the best monthly comic on the stands is a position this colum has taken for ... oh, a hundred and ten issues in a row now, and that didn't change here, with the delicate details like the borders on the page helping set the scene or the subtle hints of characterization -- even for the dead -- in seemingly throwaway comments from players on panel. Wonderful work, here's hoping this kind of brilliance lasts as long as the legends that inspire it.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Toss in the Wolverine/Punisher/Ghost Rider Marvel Index and this is a pretty solid chunk of entertainment to start out the week for just over ten bucks.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

Once you got away from the senseless pugilism and juvenile patter of The Flash, Superman, Batman and a way too Ryan Reynolds-esque Green Lantern, "Justice League" #2 had some interesting moments between Vic Stone and his father, which had a little actual poignancy and some elements we don't see very often. The hints of the Fourth World around the "main characters" however was just de rigueur, and really, what happened to Barry's face on the first page? Did Jim Lee forget to finish that? Sheesh.

The King of Wakanda -- the isolationist, super technologically advanced and notoriously self-reliant African nation -- has been kidnapped and the country wants Nick Fury and his team of murderers and mercenaries to help. Sound ridiculous? Well, "Avengers 1959" #2 tried to pull it off anyway, and while the interplay between the team members is good (especially Namora's eye-rolling boredom with the flirting), this comic is the first of many that simply put zero effort into developing a compelling antagonist. Gotta love that Chaykin art, though!

Bruce Wayne and his leather-clad alter ego worked well in "Batman" #2, navigating the low class alleys and high society aisles of Gotham City with ease and aplomb (as each carries a danger in and of itself) until -- again -- a half formed threat appears and does something sudden and largely unexplained.

Divine infidelity drives the plot of "Herc" #9, which also borrows an element from an earlier storyline in "Fables" (and old stories farther back than that) as Hercules once again teams up with his father (who's been re-aged and following old familiar shticks) before teaming up with another Greek-themed Marvel mainstay. This story was cute enough, but it had lots of elements you've seen before, and not even played in a way that's terribly different.

Keeping things Pan-Hellenic for a moment, "Wonder Woman" #2 wasn't bad, continuing the great sense of atmosphere developed in the debut issue and taking a look at the mysterious and magical Paradise Island. However, the gods are much closer to earth as (in some ways) the same problem and plot elements from the issue above as Diana debates protecting an innocent woman caught in the petty jealousies of the gods. This issue was a little more cursory in looking at the plot, falling just shy of the mark made by the issue before it, but it was worth noting nonetheless.

If you remember who Darklon is, you'll surely enjoy "G.I. Joe A Real American Hero" #171, a wonderfully nostalgic "Special Missions" style story that combines elements of the kind of spy story you'd see on "The Unit" or maybe even "Burn Notice" with the kind of goofy, toy-inspired hilarity that built the property. Nothing wrong here, per se, but not an issue that'll have you running back to read it again.

May as well cover these together, as they had very similar elements. "Catwoman" #2 and "Red Hood and the Outlaws" #2 both toned down the prurience and blatant objectification of females (Starfire appeared mostly clothed, even while Selina and Bats enjoyed some afterglow) while playing up the elements that did work. In the case of "Catwoman," that meant looking at the action movie elements, reminding you of the run-and-gun styles of J.J. Abrams' "Alias." In "Red Hood and the Outlaws," the awkward tension between these three clearly flawed people made for good theater. Now, sure, you won't remember who any of these protagonists struggled against fifteen minutes after reading the comic, but whenever they could focus on themselves, the characters made it work.

"Snake Eyes" #6 continued the "Cobra Civil War" story, jet setting to try and stop the terrorists' latest bioweapon and save the life of a teammate. This ended up bringing in the involvement of a name old, old G.I. Joe fans would remember immediately while Scarlett fretted at home like a damsel in distress from days of old. At least the bad guys had some character development here, but it still wasn't quite good enough to make it home.

Ultimate Blue Beetle, er, "Blue Beetle" #2 continued to take the slow, scenic route to get to places that some fans have already seen, with Jaime learning about his newfound powers, struggling with controlling the lethal impulses of his symbiotic partner while still trying to maintain a semblance of a normal life. The pacing may not be zippy, but the story content's as good as it was the first time it was done.

With better art, "Transformers" #28 could have been epic. Megatron and Optimus Prime shared some more very interesting moments and Galvatron's manic quest gets really intense, raising the stakes to grandiose proportions. However, the scale of the challenge may be part of the problem, as the artwork could not support the weight required by the script, being hard to read at several points and taking away the impact of the fantastic dialogue.

If the show "The Equalizer" were focused on an active, amoral, mercenary sociopath, it might play out more like "Near Death" #2. Murderous intent and old grudges take center stage with a taciturn, disinterested lead character whose romantic life was more interesting than the action scenes. The problem with comics is that without really remarkable artwork, this could easily become just average, as the action sequences would be required to make it really stand up. Here? It may raise slightly, but it didn't exactly leap to its feet.

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" #509, "Farscape" #24, "Uncanny X-Men" #544, "Legion of Super-Heroes" #2, "Fear Itself" #7, "Key of Z" #1, "Vengeance" #4, "Star Wars Knight Errant: Deluge" #3, "Avengers" #18, "Birds of Prey" #2, "Wolverine" #17, "Cold War" #1, "Captain America Corps" #5, "Xenoholics" #1, "Green Lantern Corps" #2, "Fear Itself: Youth in Revolt" #6, "Nightwing" #2, "Fear Itself: The Fearless" #1, "Supergirl" #2, "Teen Wolf: Bite Me" #2, "X-Factor" #226, "Doctor Who" #10, "Fear Itself: The Home Front" #7, "Godzilla: Gangsters and Goliaths" #5, "Ultimate Comics Hawkeye" #3, "Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes" #1, "The All-Nighter" #5

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

"Captain Atom" #2 takes a page from another DC hero, as Nathaniel Adam can't seem to settle on what set of powers he wants to have. Toss in some angst over control worries and weird altruism that makes his usage of power seem a little capricious and you have a book that didn't work.

"Superior" #6 had a kind of Sophie's choice situation for its lead character, who finds out the real source of his super powers while the female lead makes a number of choices that simply don't add up. Sappy and saccharine without any resonance to the characters to justify it.

"Monocyte" #1 was just plain hard to read. Dark coloring, dark artwork, dark lettering ... it was a challenge to get into it.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Despite a lot of meh, it wasn't so bad after all.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Inexpensive and entertaining purchases, a set of contenders that didn't do so badly even as many of them had the same narrative flaw ... that's good enough to win.

Oh, there was no order for "Black River" from 215 Ink and "Mass Effect: Invasion" was sold out before getting to the store. Sorry.

THE BUSINESS

This week on Komplicated, we took a look at Jamal Igle's cover for "The Ray" #2, checking out Dinobots in the "Transformers: Fall of Cybertron" game, a story about Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson meeting Carl Sagan, "Finding Forrester" actor Rob Brown getting cast in "The Dark Knight Rises," our Geek Beauty of the Month and that sweet new Sith instructional manual from Lucasfilm. . As well, there were all the fun weekly features like #whodwin Wednesday, #musicmonday (and the attendant commentary track for that by Rox Fontaine), DJs recommending their favorites in Spin City (courtesy of Brutha Gimel and DJ Jedi), the weekly guide to finding Black people in popular media called Blackwatch, music archaeology in The Perfect Chord from A. Darryl Moton (this time looking at the Bus Boys) and of course the commentary track for the Buy Pile, which (this week) should theoretically be online by 6:30 PM PST, discussing (in part) the development of antagonists in comics. Whew! Updated at least three times a day, every single freaking day.

Back to this site, have you 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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