The Buy Pile: Thankful for Transformers, Hawkeye, Star Wars, The Darkness & Fables

Fri, November 23rd, 2012 at 10:58am PST

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 NOVEMBER 21, 2012

The Darkness #108
(Top Cow/Image Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile
Jackie Estacado is in big, big trouble and it's getting worse with every page, all fallout from his choice during the big "Artifacts" crossover. He's separated himself from the Darkness and its taken on ambitions of its own as The Doppleganger (when thinking of Jackie, The Doppleganger said, "His ambitions are so pitifully small. His 'empire' is no more than a gang of thugs feeding on human weakness. Like fleas on dogs"). His daughter is developing some kind of illness. Worst of all, the "reboot" that Jackie's actions caused have unleashed something old, something unhappy ... something powerful. This issue continues a wonderful, wonderful run of installments from writer David Hine with art from Jeremy Haun and John Rauch (the latter of whom does masterful work separating the dark shades and making disparate elements clear in lighting situations that end up muddy in so many other comics), wrapping a crime story in supernatural superheroic clothes, a gripping character thriller that's worth your time.

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #11
(IDW Publishing)
The robot that would become Optimus Prime is at the center of a heist scheme that -- believe it or not -- will save the lives of hundreds if not thousands of Decepticons. This is the story a crowd of post-war Cybertronians are telling to try to stimulate the mental pathways of ship psychiatrist Rung, who's trying to recover from having his head blown off. Along the way the reader gets some wonderful moments watching a friendship decay, bring in rarely seen characters (Windcharger literally steals the show) while deftly analyzing the well-developed structure of Cybertronian society and even introducing robot booze. James Roberts is writing the hell out of this book, with artwork from Alex Milne, Juan Castro, John Wycough and Josh Burcham that makes every character distinctive and interesting while giving even small panel action scenes some real credibility. Fantastic freaking work.

Star Wars Agent of the Empire: Hard Targets #2
(Dark Horse Comics)

Making a big fuss about the politics around the newest Count Dooku could easily have been presented as drily as a late night session on C-SPAN. However, when Jahan Cross steps on the scene, know that somebody's getting shot and somebody's gonna be the Empire's beezy. Cross is stuck deep in some messy political stuff, as his job requires him to support the candidacy of a pompous, overbearing stuffed shirt who inaugurated his career in blood while staring down Darth Vader's lightsaber. There's a daring raid, cannon fire and deaths on every other page. Great twists and turns in the plot, solid artwork from David Fabbri, Christian Dalla and Wes Dzioba all working from a brilliant script from John Ostrander.

Fables #123
(Vertigo/DC Comics)
There's a green woman -- not someone Kirk would likely be able to bed, but still -- and she has the job of handing out destinies. Which would be all well and good if she weren't wholly corrupt, saving up better destinies to be traded for profit, handing out horrible ones capriciously. This becomes a bad idea when she hands down a death sentence to the Big Bad Wolf at a point long, long before amnesty and his decision to be an arguable "good guy." "I am the unrepentant lord of monsters, after all," he says to a messenger with good news who gets a temporary reprieve from death, and the menace is palpable. The twist on the green woman's destiny is very entertaining, guest art team Gene Ha and Art Lyon threw down in a major way and once again the simple brilliance of Bill Willingham is remarkable in his work. Great stuff.

Transformers: Robots In Disguise #11
(IDW Publishing)
The last page is what most people will be talking about, but between an assassination attempt on the gigantic Omega Supreme (really), Starscream on the campaign trail, Prowl and Arcee acting as a shadow law behind the law, betrayal, secrets and a team up that could be beyond belief for many fans. This title has become a tense political thriller starring giant robots, an episode of the taken-too-soon "Boss" with explosions and murder and shining electric eyes everywhere. There's so much good stuff here, balanced just perfectly, as John Barber trades on the newly common history (the Zeta Prime reference really works if you've been reading along) in his script with art from Guido Guidi, John Wycough and Priscilla Tramontano.

Hawkeye #4
(Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile
Get the big concept out of the way: on a secret mission for S.H.I.E.L.D., sanctioned by the president, Hawkeye assassinated a foreign dignitary. Oh, and somebody videotaped it, but S.H.I.E.L.D. had that tape on lockdown. Until they didn't, and then an international auction for the tape, which could destroy a presidency and make life very hard for many, many Avengers, was set to be held in Madripoor (with the likes of Agence Byzantine, the Maggia, Kingpin, the Mandarin, the Crimson Cowl, Madame Hydra and more wanting in on the action. This issue glares at the underbelly of Marvel's world, showcasing Clint Barton's skills as a tactical force of nature (he even steals taxi at one point after beating three thieves unconscious) before falling into some Sean Connery-styled shenanigans and leading to a surprise that's simply wonderful. Matt Fraction is firing on all cylinders with this tightly plotted issue, with Javier Pulido (assisted on wonderful colors by Matt Hollingsworth) using many of the tricks that made "Human Target" so effective. This is simply wonderful, and one more issue this good will make this series a Buy On Sight selection.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

This is indeed a week of comics to be thankful for.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

"Sword of Sorcery" #2 was the closest to making it home, and in a less crowded week might have made the cut. The royal houses of Gemworld get better developed, including Houses Citrine, Onyx and Diamond (some of the big bads this time, but with redeeming elements). Following some of the things that made "Game of Thrones" successful, the magical elements of birthrights and power add an interesting spice, even as the arguable protagonist is virtually a supporting character. Just a case of too many good elements fighting for attention in too short a space, but when collected this will likely be a more even read.

"George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones" #11 did a better job of differentiating characters in adapting the book, as the weird interlude at the Eyrie began and more nudity popped up (female frontal). In better showcasing the drama around the Dothraki and in the Lady Stark's homecoming, this issue improved on previous ones as the HBO series improved as it went along. Not quite right for the price-to-entertainment ratio just yet, but not bad.

"Number 13" #0 was very close to making it home, collecting the anthology pieces from "Dark Horse Presents" by David Walker and Robert Love. An amnesiac cyborg searches for his father across a post-apocalyptic landscape, dealing with humanity mutated beyond belief. The pieces fit together well enough, and the art and writing are solid, but the work falls just short of piquing interest. Not a bad start, but it'll need to sharpen the pacing and deepen characterization in coming issues to fully engage the reader.

"Voltron" #9 was a tense procedural mystery with people who hate each other forced to interact amidst complex political realities. The Lion pilots are looking for answers to why a samurai-styled Voltron attacked them on the moon when the mysterious robot strikes again (sadly off panel). This one was much more like "Law & Order" than what people might expect from a "Voltron" book, but it wasn't bad.

"Fathom: Kiani Volume 2" #4 was -- of course -- beautiful. Lush colors, great line work and all that. However, given how seriously the characters involved tale everything here, it's frustrating that the reasons behind the struggle remain opaque to the reader. Why a group is rebelling against a power structure, why one rebel returned to the fold of said power structure, why it matters to any of the characters ... all these motivations are unsaid, and it leaves things less interesting than they might have been.

"Deadpool" #2 almost recaptured the hilarity of the first issue, with more of the title character tracking down undead presidents, this time with the assistance of electrical ghost Ben Franklin. A lengthy and tedious dream sequence slowed down the issue's momentum, but what was on target had some effectiveness, with a zombie Teddy Roosevelt on safari at a local zoo.

Another bastard child of Zeus comes to blows with Diana in "Wonder Woman" #14 as comparative challenges are interspersed with pugilism. Apollo and members of the classical Hellenic pantheon pass the time chilling poolside like an episode of "90210." There were a few fun moments, but the narrative didn't hold them together well enough.

Tony Stark engages in a new kind of Armor Wars in "Iron Man" #2 as a team of mercenaries with a penchant for Arthurian legend challenge the billionaire technocrat to a tournament, with a spreading of the cybernetic bonding Extremis tech on the line. Focused on better skills for pilots instead of better suits of armor, a disgraced scientist bets it all on finally being able to avenge a slight from Tony's drunken warmongering period. Not bad, but kind of predictable.

When a classical figure from world literature pops up in "The Shadow" #8, it's less of an impact than perhaps it should have been, like hearing that a special guest star from "Star Wars" will be appearing, only to find it's Ahmed Best ... okay, well, maybe Anthony Daniels, that may have been too harsh. Still, fans of pulp will enjoy this genre-friendly issue that offers sex, violence and extremely cursory characterization around a fairly basic plot. Not bad.

Kids will likely enjoy "Bravest Warriors" #2, an intentionally goofy tale of friendship and adventure that featured the week's best quote: "he slapped my boogers all over me!" Perfect for juvenile audiences and those who still enjoy tales for them.

"Captain Marvel" #7 was an improvement as Monica Rambeau teams up for a Captain Marvel-off featuring energetic banter and a team up with a rakish scoundrel. Part "Danger Girl" and part superhero book, the artwork is mature (the muted colors may be too indie-spirited for their own good) and the story is cute, but the actual plot could be ignored as the personal interaction is the best element.

Similar concerns for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike" #4 as a curvy demon has the title character hunting for a Hellmouth as his insectile crew (who may have been taking notes from Julian Lytle) work to protect their own interests against the lure of the untrustworthy. A number of cute moments but the plot drags on pretty slowly.

Break out the Van Dykes and sashes, because "Star Trek" #15 looks into the mirror universe where the Federation makes no attempt to hide its corruption and racist expansionism, here taking down the Klingon Empire. This takes place in the reboot universe, so Kirk pays a vengeful visit to Nero and that drives the plot along. Not bad, but feels a little short on story meat.

Instead of a honeymoon, Jamie Madrox and the "I'm an adult thanks to time travel" Layla Miller investigate the death of Abraham Lincoln impersonators in Vegas for this issue, "X-Factor" #247. The killer's raison d'etre is a bit of an in-joke for comics fans, and the plot overall kind of fizzled despite some humorous moments.

"Amazing Spider-Man" #698 had a wonderful, brutal twist at the end, which makes you look back at previous pages like they were borrowed from the script of "Spider-Man 3" (in a good way). Despite great execution, the core ideas are so derivative that it's hard to laud. If you don't mind revisiting old ideas, or love the property, you might be on board anyway.

"The Spider" #6 is a noirish superhero tale embroiled in civic politics and forbidden desires. With less muddy coloring (and here, notes could really be taken from John Rauch's previously mentioned work) and less vague characterization for the protagonist (almost any pulp hero could spout many of the same lines and you'd barely know the difference), this could have been more like a memorable story and less like a solid exercise in craft.

"Steed and Mrs. Peel" #3 had all the British whimsy and mod stylings that you might like or remember from these two overseas Avengers, but its meandering plot made this comic more sizzle than steak.

Fans of Mark Waid will recognize the riff from one of his greatest hits, "Empire," in "Daredevil" #20 where The Coyote, using powers formerly known as the Spot, gets talky and involved in all brands of really messy crime, from drugs to human trafficking, all while holding Daredevil hostage. What he doesn't know about the powers of the Man Without Consequences ends up being a surprise, and there's a breezy plot around the dire circumstances but it doesn't really connect on a visceral level.

Everybody's out to kill everybody in "Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow" #19 as Serpentor's cult launches its military arm in an attempt to wipe out Storm Shadow's ninja clan while the new Cobra Commander wants to express his displeasure with the Baroness losing billions of ill-gotten euros in the middle of the ocean with discarding sabot rounds and air-to-surface missiles. Meanwhile, the hapless Joe team just tries to catch up with somebody, anybody, as their taciturn genetically enhanced soldier Helix finds the secret ninja temple at the worst possible time. Got all that? That was without revealing any spoilers. Tons of great elements all jammed in and vying for attention, like two bull dogs jammed into a laundry bag.

Great minds surely do not think alike in "Harbinger" #6, which made a major improvement by shifting its narrative perspective to the wronged girl freed from mind control. Her urgency translated into a faster paced issue, setting up a new status quo while fleshing out (no pun intended) a new supporting character. A good direction that hopefully makes future issues even stronger.

Runaway Soviet sasquatches take center stage in "Bionic Man" #14, which plays as over the top as that concept would imply. Nothing groundbreaking here, and played straight despite being very, very ridiculous, this barely managed to walk the tight rope between parody and plot. A guilty pleasure at best.

The Cheetah's smarter (and more Greek, if you take the hint) than expected in "Justice League" #14 as she embarrasses characters who should easily be able to take her down. Then, Supes takes Diana on a date in Smallville, because nothing says romance like corn fields and homespun Americana. Not bad, but manic in its swings from this plot direction to that.

Bruce Banner has a few great ideas in "Indestructible Hulk" #1, which plays partially like a spy thriller and partially like a disaster movie. The end establishes a new status quo, promises a new set of wonders for earth-616 and beats the hell out of a set of ruthless automatic defenses. Not bad, but watch out for a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. with a new job (according to Marvel's Tom Brevoort).

"Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt" #3 brought the crazy as another new dimension to the title character's skewed relationship with the world gets revealed. Unfortunately, some rather talky monologues about secret conspiracies and what not bogged this down in exposition and process.

Nondescript men in a nondescript agency travel back in time to swap the doomed for random corpses, all for a fee in "Comeback" #1. The characters are flat and empty but the high concept sings. Worth checking back, perhaps.

Miles Morales is just trying to stay alive in "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" #17, which puts the tyro teen hero in a war zone, shoulder to shoulder with President Captain America (Ultimate Pres? President America? Cap-Pres?) and the surviving capes and masks capable of being called Earth's mightiest heroes. Harrowing like a segment from "Blood and Chrome" but focused on developing character to the detriment of plot, unless there remains the chance for a fractured United States to stay that way.

"Frankenstein Alive, Alive" #2 was a thoughtful examination of the monster borne of Frankenstein, emerging not as a sword swinging brute but an erudite contemplator of the human condition. Slower than many readers might want but well done in creating a fresh perspective on the character.

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

"Avengers" #34, "Grace Randolph's Supurbia" #1, "Captain America" #1, "Batwoman" #14, "Dark Shadows" #10, "Birds of Prey" #14, "Adventures of Augusta Wind" #1, "Blue Beetle" #14, "Dungeons and Dragons: Forgotten Realms" #5, "Catwoman" #14, "Judge Dredd" #1, "Green Lantern: New Guardians" #14, "KISS" #6, "Nightwing" #14, "Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom" #4, "Journey Into Mystery" #646, "Glory" #30, "Ultimate Comics X-Men" #18.1, "It Girl and the Atomics" #4, "Uncanny X-Force" #34, "Mind The Gap" #6, "Wolverine" #316, "Revival" #5, "X-Factor" #247, "X-O Manowar" #7, "Dark Avengers" #183

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

Whatever coloring problems that issue of "The Spider" had, "Clive Barker's Hellraiser" #20 tripled them and tossed in a conclusion to months of build up that even anticlimaxes would find disappointing. The only horror here is the dead feeling inside after reading this.

Dear "Spawn" #225, please see previous notes for "The Spider" and "Hellraiser." The dim lighting gag was tired by the third season of "The X-Files," and trying to tie current events in to some decades old Spawn-involved conspiracy seems less entertaining than desperate

Ignoring the cliche and tiresome tussle with the much jerkier Man of Steel (the New 52 made him kind of a tool), "Red Hood and the Outlaws" #14 made a decision sure to anger any Friends of Lulu for so little narrative value that even Zap Brannigan would say, "That was uncalled for!"

"Supergirl" #14 showed that, "soft" relaunch of not, nobody knows just what to do with Kara Zor-El, including herself. Shunning the trappings of heroism, she pines for her lost world like Norrin Radd whining about Shalla-Bal, flitting from overreaction to manipulation without a hint of self-awareness or self-determination. Woman up already.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Happier than unhappy, so that's a good thing.

Also the shop didn't order copies of Zenescope's "Grimm Fairy Tales" beyond the ones for pull service, so no chance to read that.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

With the jumps and some serious contenders and the bad parts being mostly production errors, this week wins handily.

THE BUSINESS

Hey! Listen up! Reading this column! Go buy my novel! It's only five bucks, has 110,000 words and features a guy who gets super powers because a girl fell in love with him. Yeah, it's like that. Kindle, Nook, et cetera, et cetera.

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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