The Buy Pile: Lightsabers, Legends and Arrows in the Fifth Dimension

Fri, December 7th, 2012 at 11:15am 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 DECEMBER 5, 2012

Hawkeye #5 (Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. Everything you know is ... well, pretty doggoned interesting, truth be told. Tied to a chair in the crime-laden nation of Madripoor, Clint Barton is the target of more criminals than you could find in an article about the Fortune 500 while his partner/protege/pal Kate Bishop makes a noteworthy appearance as well. The mod-styled artwork, the non-stop action, the snappy quips and smartly managed plot, all with a bare foot full of broken glass and a twist at the end that could give you whiplash. In a word: brilliant. With this issue, "Hawkeye" is now a "buy on sight" title -- well done, Matt Fraction, Javier Pulido and Matt Hollingsworth.

Star Wars Purge: The Tyrant's Fist #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. If you have a comic book set between "Revenge of the Sith" and "A New Hope," and you've got the Empire involved, what do you really need to get the job done? To paraphrase "The West Wing," "Let Vader be Vader." That can mean only one thing: hunting down Jedi and murdering them in cold blood. You could almost call this "Darth Vader: Year One" as a newly-minted right hand of the Emperor is trying to solidify Imperial power with the swing of a crimson lightsaber and a few hundred of his closest (wholly disposable) clone friends. Toss in a winsome female Imperial Intelligence officer tasked with helping Vader learn to "think as a ruler instead of a soldier" and you've got an engaging tale that shows some of how the Empire was set to rise to power -- wading knee deep in a river of blood. A pleasant surprise that's heading in the right direction.

Action Comics #15 (DC Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. This could be, really, the first true five dimensional comic book story. Brilliantly using the fractured nature of the New 52, this issue posits a threat to Superman coming from everywhere and everywhen, brushing against previous issues and past events to weave a tapestry so delicate and so sneaky and so ... wonderful that it takes Grant Morrison's penchant for huge ideas and grounds them in relatable emotions (jealousy, brilliance, fear, hope) spanning years (you can literally find strings of this in early and even recent issues of "Action") and fascinations ("... he pulled a universe from his hat. A rolled up, 3-dimensional universe") showing the siege of whole planets as being merely a thrust of a spear ... holy crap. This is amazing -- mainstream comics written with "Memento"-levels of complexity, only made more mind-boggling by its back up feature, which fleshes out the "greatest trick of all." Go on, read it again -- it won't be the first time you do, thanks to the aforementioned Morrison, Sholly Fisch, Brad Walker, Rags Morales, Andrew Hennessy, Mark Propst, Brad Anderson, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, and Jordan Bellaire.

Fairest #10 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Rapunzel is in it deep, on the run in Japan and trying to balance her quest for her lost children with a friendship in danger. With eye-popping imagery from Inaki Miranda and Eva De La Cruz, Lauren Belkes' tense script manifests the magical realism here with an almost off-handed ease. Rapunzel's a curvy Sean Connery as Bond when she's not recounting fascinating tales of drug fueled medical procedures and child abduction. The twist end wasn't as strong as the middle elements or the strong visuals that started the issue, but surely entertaining nonetheless.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

In two words? "Hell yeah!"

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

"Shadowman" #2 was extremely close, with clever twists of dialogue, a well designed antagonist (nice suit) and some remarkable artwork. However, the clueless cipher of a protagonist has yet to do much aside from inspire exposition, the characters are too close to prototypes (Giles, anyone? How about Jakita Wagner?) and the plot didn't get enough done. That suit-wearing guy, though, he made an impression!

"Detective Comics" #15 was very close to making it home with an intricate character-driven story featuring Clayface and Poison Ivy. Submarined by its subplot, the main narrative was supported by continuity nods, not hamstrung by them, and the gorgeous artwork was matched by no fewer than four moments of real emotional connection with the reader. That last page was ill-advised, but this series is really improving these days.

"Avengers" #1 was a decent wind up, establishing antagonists by Worf Effecting the movie's crew of Avengers and forcing Cap to break out his own take on Cerebro's X-Men. Not bad, but kind of predictable.

Drugs, politics and a version of the techno-organic virus all played a part in "Voltron Year One" #6, a status quo establishing issue that closes down all the storylines this mini developed while clarifying that any big organization is probably wicked corrupt. Not bad, but not remarkable, and if you're not dyed-in-the-wool on the property, probably easy to pass by.

Horror fans will likely enjoy the graphic mature of "Ferals" #11, which posits a bloody internecine struggle that includes lots of sex (Skinemax-level imagery) and gritted teeth. Maybe not for everybody, but some will sink their teeth into this rough matter.

"Deadpool" #3 was closer to the debut issue's level of amusement as the Merc with a Mouth breaks the fourth wall, lets Dr. Strange make some great jokes at the expense of Siegfried and Roy. As a matter of fact, the jokes (a riff on Gerald Ford's clumsiness, a shtick with the Kool Aid Man, et cetera) was almost enough to distract you from the plot doing next to nothing not done in the last issue.

"Adventures Of Augusta Wind" #2 is a whimsical, bittersweet look at a girl becoming unmoored from our tedious reality and diving into a more fantastic existence, borrowing elements of Lewis Carroll along the way. The lettering makes this less-than-easy to read, but the product itself isn't bad.

"Blackacre" #1 was a predictable tale about the corruption of the rich, framed in a post apocalyptic scenario and then reframed from the position of history sneering down an evolved snout at it all. Solid craft work, in terms of plot and artwork, but no real "wow" factor, as a recent series (set in a post apocalyptic San Diego, got invaded by Texans ... what was that called?) did many if the same bits with slightly better character development.

"Amazing Spider-Man" #699 continues its spoiler-laden switcheroo by looking at the brilliant mind of Peter Parker using the tools he has on hand to try and outwit a brain as smart as his own. To say much more would spoil the surprise, but relying on the plot of old Disney movies to drive forth the narrative may be good synergy, but it's just okay comics.

To the credit of "Creator Owned Heroes" #7, it had the seeds of some great stuff with the noirish twists of "Meatbag" and the tense psychodrama of the assassin tale "KillSwitch," but again seeing how little story matter there was and how the prose sections kind of just ran in place, it wasn't enough for the cost. Perhaps this could morph into a purely narrative anthology, because what makes it in has been a cut above much of the industry.

You might think Batman reading his mail might not be so engaging, but "Legend of the Dark Knight" #3 used it to invigorate the Caped Crusader as he struggles against the Joker and some very effective imagery. Maybe shmaltzy, maybe old fashioned, but the right kind of inspirational text that many "traditional," Phil Coulson-minded fans would go for.

"Cyber Force" #2 is a tragic tale of broken super soldiers, strung out on science and trying to make their way in a world that doesn't run on murder and bionic implants. Gritty storytelling but stock characters and (common these days) not enough plot for the price.

"Punisher: War Zone" #2 was cute as the Black Widow tracks Frank Castle across multiple continents ... and it wasn't bad but a little like the last time the Avengers (Osborn's version) decided it was time to stop Frank (how'd that work? Oh ...) with the Sentry and other big hitters. Oh, or the time Spidey decided Frank had to be stopped and recruited Daredevil and Wolverine, the time Punisher blew off Logan's crotch. Oh, or there was the time ... well, you get the point. This iteration doesn't distinguish itself.

"Great Pacific" #2 had big ideas but way, way too little plot as its oil scion outwits his corporate masters to try and found a nation, literally, on garbage. The stuff stateside overshadowed the oceanic adventure, both interesting and both cut short when they needed time to shine.

"Guarding The Globe" #4 had a simply fantastic quote from a character named Best Tiger, and had Todd Nauck's always solid artwork, but otherwise was just kind of "okay," not excelling in execution or concept.

Dinosaurus steps up his Ra's Al Ghul game in a major way in "Invincible" #98, an issue that (in a cursory way at least) addresses the question of what value heroism has (also looked at in the aforementioned Batman issue) while sticking to full throttle action. One of the better issues, staying focused and thrilling, but still just "good," which isn't exactly good enough.

Red Hulk has a mandate, and he goes looking for some bad people to do good deeds in "Thunderbolts" #1. A proactive team, taking down threats before they get too big .. has anybody ever done that before? What's that? The Avengers did it twice? X-Force? The Wildstorm book which must never be named, the worst comic book evar even had that as its mission statement before going wildly off the rails? Oh. Well ... it wasn't a bad way of playing the old standard.

Because YOU DEMANDED IT, "Human Bomb" #1 ... hang on, really? This is just to keep the trademarks current, right? Anyhoo, following the pre-meltdown Mel Gibson movie "Conspiracy Theory," mix one broken super soldier with Sgt. Nick Brody and toss in Kaizen Gamorra's "Authority" shtick, all in a crowded urban environment. Not bad as a pastiche, but nothing you'll remember in a few months.

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

"Batwing" #15, "Iron Man" #3, "Womanthology: Space" #3, "Before Watchmen: Comedian" #4, "Red She-Hulk" #60, "Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris" #19, "Dial H" #7, "Swamp Thing" #15, "Storm Dogs" #2, "Soulfire Volume 4" #3, "World's Finest" #7, "Garfield" #8, "G.I. Combat" #7, "Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time" #32, "All-New X-Men" #3, "Hypernaturals" #6, "Green Arrow" #15, "Avenging Spider-Man" #15, "Alpha Girl" #5, "Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm" #4, "I Love Trouble" #1, "Chasing The Dead" #2, "Dark Shadows/Vampirella" #5, "Fashion Beast" #4, "Phantom Stranger" #3, "Lone Ranger" #11, "Colder" #2, "Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates" #18.1, "Doctor Who" #3, "Lone Ranger: Snake of Iron" #4, "X-Men" #39, "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" #185, "Lord of the Jungle" #10, "Magic the Gathering: Path of Vengeance" #1, "Red Sonja" #72, "Perhapsnauts: Danger Down Under" #2, "Transformers Regeneration One" #86, "X-Factor" #248, "Epic Kill" #7, "Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Willow Wonderland" #2, "Animal Man" #15, "Daredevil: End of Days" #3, "Wake The F*** Up" #1.

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

In "Stormwatch" #15, the whole team attacks the Midnighter. Okay. Sure. We've rebooted. This may not be the "six million ways to beat you before the fight begins" guy ... but shouldn't it be? Anyway, yeah, failing at virtually everything superheroes should get right, falling for gags so transparent they look like Howard Hewett's hair (every joke ain't for everybody), this issue looked like a lesson on how not to entertainingly portray extrahumans.

"Black Kiss 2" #5 could just barely be considered a narrative, being far closer in content to the cheap pornographic comics sold in Tijuana decades ago, just with much higher production values. Gratuitous and repetitive, tedious and melodramatic. When the retailer hides half the cover with a sign that customers should ask for it at the counter, there should be no question about what this really is.

Following so many other issues, "Before Watchmen Minutemen" #5 was hugely disappointing, introducing a very gratuitous and pointless element to one of the characters that overshadowed the main plot, a terror threat from elements angry over Japanese internment. Had the latter portion been the solitary focus, this issue could have been good, but the messy outcome was a grand failure.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Maybe more retrograde than it needed to be, but it's not always wrong to hear a familiar song.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Three jumps beats three stinkers, let's call this week a winner.

THE BUSINESS

Book news coming next week. Watch this space.

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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