The Buy Pile: Gratitude

Mon, November 28th, 2011 at 8:28am PST

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

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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 NOVEMBER 23, 2011

Secret Avengers #19
(Marvel Comics)

In a beautifully crafted tale of weaponized super powers and clandestine operations, Steve Rogers (in his sometimes brusque, direct fashion) leads Moon Knight (in one of his best appearances), the Black Widow and his sometimes girlfriend Sharon Carter into Symkaria's murder-filled eastern European night life, an environment caught between the hope of a futuristic world and the anchor of past legacies, dragging graft, indifference and centuries-old grudges along with them. The tight interaction of the characters, working effectively as a team even when faced with inter-team missteps or surprises in the field. The threat they face, wonderfully built as a slow reveal with the perfect balance of hints and misdirections, worked well and the issue had the same balance as Ellis’ "Global Frequency." Add in the brilliant work of Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Brian Thies and Jose Villarrubia and this becomes a work of pop art, a comic book that thrums and soars and delights. Simply wonderful.

Dungeons & Dragons #13
(IDW Publishing)
Jump from the Read Pile.
The team dynamic of Fell's Five, a team of disparate adventurers constantly bickering and getting into more and more ridiculous situations, doesn't always click properly in this series. One hogs the panel space, another might slow down the pacing -- this time, however, with "running" being the main idea of the day, the interaction is balanced as perfectly as the wheels on a brand new Aston Martin Vanquish. The dialogue from John Rogers' script sparkled ("Hello. I want to lick the inside of your rib cage" and "Read your guts for prophecy!"), the art from Andrea Di Vito, Aburtov and Graphikslava made almost every panel a thrill (not the black ones -- those are gimmes) and this is a wonderfully balanced adventure story. Not so deep, not delving into the nuances of character, but certainly showing up for a good time.

The Invincible Iron Man #510
(Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
Welcome back, Tony Stark, figuratively and literally. Bringing along one of the few good parts of the abysmal "Fear Itself" crossover, Tony Stark returns to the world of flashbulbs and police sirens only to have two of his most lethal enemies finding common cause in global terrorism, international commerce and the destruction of Anthony Edward Stark. There are great, honest moments ("... and I feel sick all the time. I feel angry and sick. And I hate everyone and everything. And I drink until I want to die and -- and I don't want to want to die anymore") and high powered action ("Bring 'em down, Tony") as one of the world's smartest men doesn't even have a clue about what's about to happen, with threats closing in on every possible front. Wonderful work that brings Fraction's trademark brilliance and (more importantly) pacing back with a meaty, smart issue made all the more remarkable with the delightful synchronicity of Salvador Larroca and Frank D'Armata on art.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

In a word: wow. That's three really entertaining, deeply re-readable comic books.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

The big cliffhanger at the end of the last issue gets bungee jumped back from the precipice in "Executive Assistant Iris" #5, which has some girl-power team up stuff that was okay, but the "underlying" plot simmers at such a low boil that it's almost background noise as the actual activity plays with all of the nuance of a "Marvel vs. Capcom" game. Pretty, has some fun elements, but needs a few more passes before it can make it work.

"Shade" #2 pulled a similar shtick on is cliffhanger, but at least did it with some style and panache. However, after the stratospheric heights of the last issue, this one drops back down to just being "good," and that's less enthralling. The lead character makes for a lovable rogue protagonist (sort of like this), but there's not enough going on around him to make it work this issue.

"Annihilators: Earthfall" #3 was weighed down by Steve Rogers' agonized hand wringing and tedious moralizing, but when it wasn't having the life sucked out of it by that like Heather Graham trying to act in a movie (she worked on "Scrubs," for some reason), it introduced a cool new idea for an old bad guy who just won't stay down. The Universal Church may look pretty nondescript but the sheer mass of their lunatic scheme, fueled by the purple puss of a guy who's shaken the galaxy, is kind of intriguing.

Ironically "Superman" #3 is best when it's about Clark Kent. The machinations of the news business far outshine another elemental enemy that drifts off without much realistic story impact. Clark's relationship to his friends, to his co-workers and to his deceased parents -- that's interesting. Ah, well...

"Caligula" #5 is intense. The mad Roman emperor is driving his domain into ruin and seems unstoppable until his Apple of Idunn analogue is revealed (hinted at an issue or two ago) but unless you're already on board, this is rough trade and hard to catch this runaway train.

"Teen Titans" #3 was solidly "okay," with new character Bunker doing nothing to live up to the press about him and gross new character Skitter staying blessedly off panel most of the issue. It's odd to see similar story elements as the much different "Severed" playing out here, but whatever it takes -- however, either the plot needs to be less glacial (N.O.W.H.E.R.E. is nowhere to be seen) or the character moments have to seem less stilted.

"Incorruptible" #24 had a nice twist at the end, but it was underplayed in an issue that just kind of tread water most of the time. Still worth looking in on, just to stay up on what's happening, but not quite consistent enough.

"Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye" #4 had its final third as both its strength and its deficit, as the titular character has some moral ambiguity that either mean he's a really bad guy playing a hero or that he's playing some long game that's not fully revealed here. Dull supporting characters didn't help, but the art was pretty.

"Blackhawks" #3 was a cut above "meh," as some of the character moments shined but most fell flat (the girl in quarantine is one of the most compelling elements, and she's practically shelved) as an antagonist with a hint of "oh, that's interesting" struggles to escape the shadow of Alice Krige. There's a core problem that's not specific to this issue, so that'll get covered in this week's Commentary Track over on Komplicated.com, but this series needs to step up in terms of coloring, pacing and most particularly characterization to be a contender.

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

"Captain America And Bucky" #624, "Aquaman" #3, "Kick-Ass 2" #5, "Godzilla: Kingdom Of Monsters" #11, "Vengeance" #5, "DMZ" #71, "Jack Avarice Is The Courier" #4, "Flash" #3, "Invincible" #85, "Green Lantern: New Guardians" #3, "Iron Man 2.0" #10, "Teen Wolf: Bite Me" #3, "All-Star Western" #3.

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

"Fantastic Four" #600 -- let's count the ways it screwed things up. Negated the value of a huge development in recent issues? Check. Came up with a crappy visual design for a classic character. Done. Added a ridiculous retcon to a concept that's been around for more than forty years which is so wildly contradicted by a mountain of comic books that it's exhausting to even complete this sentence? Yep.

BRRRRRING! BRRRRRING! "Hello? Yes? 'Voodoo' #3? Yes, it's right here -- what's that? No, I had no idea -- well, yes, I can see how that'd be a probl -- look, it wasn't my idea -- hang on, look, I'll convey the message. Hey, 'Voodoo' #3 -- the recently-cancelled ABC show 'V' is on the line and it's pretty mad, something about stealing its storylines. What do you mean you're not here? Hey, come back here..."

"27: Second Set" #3 was just a cut below "meh," in that it was boring more than anything else -- a series about fame that has no glamour nor fascination, a story about music that has no rhythm. If it tried harder, it might make it to being "okay."

Don't freak out about that cover of "Astonishing X-Men" #44 -- the hair should let you know there's some Ackbar stuff going on up in here (Up in here? Up in here...), and Cyke's role in it is a far cry from what actually happened. What this issue is actually about is fifty times less interesting than what it pretended to be about, so when you get to the end of the book, it leaves one with a feeling of being robbed. If you're short about four bucks, well, that'd be about right. Nothing that happened in this issue will be worth remembering six months from now, which means there certainly isn't anything "astonishing" going on here.

It's most disappointing to see that the bright promise of Gail Simone's take on this character has fallen so far in "The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men" #3, which leans so heavily on so many now cliched concepts -- from transnational super soldier programs to looking like an out of control Voltron to tropes of nuclear politics -- that it's almost at a 40 degree angle. Making multiple iterations of the franchise character was a bad move for Ghost Rider and it's a bad move here. So much wrong here...

...but not as much wrong as there is in "The Mighty Thor" #8, which revealed a huge secret about thunder god Tanarus -- and it could be the stupidest thing out of the Mouse House of Ideas since "Fear Itself" #7.1. The sheer magnitude of how badly conceived this is boggles the mind, makes fools of powers so grandiose as to be measured on planetary scales and not even the effervescent charm of Young Loki can save it. Every time you see the word "Tanarus," it should make your brain try to escape out of your ear. He's an awful idea.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Nine okay comics, six bad ones and thirteen that were neither fish nor flesh. That's good enough.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Two jumps, three amazing purchases and not enough horrible stuff to tank the week (although it seemed close). Thin wins still count.

THE BUSINESS

These reviews may seem a little short this week. The notes got corrupted when a wrong button may or may not have gotten pushed while a certain columnist may or may not have been working on two computers and a smartphone at the same time. The work will be there, kids, best to take it easy.

Nobody took it easy at Komplicated, which said thanks for all the things and people who make this life such a wonder, even when we're cussing it out.

The future is coming, just like James Cameron envisioned as we move closer to

interfacing humans and machines. We're finding new ways to get around the limitations of "Skyrim" or appreciate when one of our own has a major accomplishment. We featured an interview with tech blogger @brothabinary, saw a giant robot snake come to real, terrifying life, and saw the #whodwin Wednesday playoffs got superbly crazy with the following battles (and yes, you can still vote): Dr. Doom vs. Batman, Incredible Hulk vs. Val Armorr, Karate Kid, Wonder Woman vs. Dick Grayson, Deadpool vs. Adam the Blue Marvel, Juggernaut vs. Krona, Thor vs. Dormammu (has that ever happened? Votes were tied at press time ...), Neil Gaiman's Death vs. Lex Luthor and Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme vs. Iron Man. Wow. As well, there was lots of great stuff from the weekly favorites like

our weekly free MP3 downloads (and the commentary track by music writer Rox Fontaine), A. Darryl Moton lauding Terence Trent D'Arby, our Spin City DJ spotlights with Brutha Gimel and DJ Jedi and the big season finale of our webcast with

"Thundercats" writer Brandon Easton who closed out the season with a bang. Updated at least three times a day, every day, all through the holidays and introducing new fantasy fiction from Stranger Comics on Monday. Whew!

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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