The Buy Pile: Time for Magic, Stories, Robots, an Avenger and the Empire

Mon, December 24th, 2012 at 9:28am 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 DECEMBER 19, 2012

Star Wars Agent Of The Empire Hard Target #3
(Dark Horse Comics)
Once again (even if his days could be numbered) Imperial envoy Jahan Cross leaps into the line of fire to do what he feels is right, this time hell bent on rescuing the prepubescent heir to the title Count Dooku from the ne'er-do-well clutches of a flirtatious mercenary. He's in quite a moral pickle, because Cross' job essentially supports him backing a self-aggrandizing blowhard instead of following his own instincts. Quick moving, fun stuff that has real charm and distinction, courtesy of John Ostrander, Davide Fabbri, Christian Dalla Vecchia and Wes Dzioba.

Fables #124
(Vertigo/DC Comics)
The toppling of an emperor is almost an anticlimactic afterthought as Bufkin forges a legend so grandiose that even Jack of Fables would have to stand up and slow clap for it. This issue playfully deals with the aftermath of revolution and the long road to glory Bufkin chooses instead of staying around for all that boring nation building and infrastructural haggling. This ties up a long running back-up storyline that's provided comic relief from the horrifying "Babes in Toyland" arc and Bigby Wolf's bloody history, doing so with a cartoony edge and an in-jokey sensibility the gang at Pixar would likely appreciate. Multiple Eisner-winner Bill Willingham has Shawn McManus at his side for this playful romp.

Transformers More Than Meets The Eye #12
(IDW Publishing)
The tone turns martial as the Lost Light's crew of mishaps and misfits gears up to take on a challenge fans would find more familiar. A Decepticon remnant lead by little-known Seacon psychopath Snap Trap has invaded Sensensica, the capital of the planet Temptoria (in the Argon Nebulae, if you must know), subjecting the organic populace there to the kinds of atrocities one would normally attribute to Decepticons or any other type of war criminal. This causes some interesting interpersonal conflicts (Cyclonus gears up to fight against robots wearing the same badge) and fallout (the historian Rewind, a perspective character in many issues, has a crucial plot line here, while Whirl steps up in all his psychotic glory). More tidbits about Cybertronian physiology and medicine are revealed, one Decepticon apparently sounds just like Megatron and some emotional bonds are explored that span several periods. Jumping around in time may not have been the best idea, jumbling the plot a bit, but James Roberts' script is still plenty entertaining and complete, while two art teams (Alex Milne and Atilio Rojo for "before" with Brendan Cahill and Brian Shearer for "after," all with Josh Burcham's coloring) share the load of making this ambitious issue work. Solid stuff from one of the most reliable titles on the stands.

Saga #8
(Image Comics)
Reading this issue is a little bit like falling in love, as it much more deftly visits different chronological incidents, exploring the first meetings of the series' star crossed lovers while tossing off world-shaking concepts in a matter-of-fact manner. Marko (horns, sword, magic) and Alana (wings, guns, science) are physically separated in the main part of this, talking to Marko's mother and father respectively (while doing all manner of crazy stuff at the same time) with a last page twist made intriguing by Fiona Staples' sure handed artwork. Writer Brian K. Vaughan is on fire, delivering another engrossing, moving comic book and building a whole new universe to play in at the same time. Fantastic.

Hawkeye #6
(Marvel Comics)
Non-linear storytelling was all the rage this week, and in "Hawkeye" #6 the Avengers' resident archer was on board, spending six nights doing things like trying to hook up his home AV system (with Tony Stark's "help" since AV expert Dr. Druid wasn't available), getting beaten up by phalanxes of eastern European hoodlums, befriending the neighbors in the apartment building he bought and -- again -- pissing off his heiress pal and fellow arrow-slinger Kate Bishop. This dips in quality slightly from last issue's masterpiece, and with the crime standoff closing down inconclusively here, this was still fairly enjoyable in its elements if not its totality. Maybe a purely linear re-edit would help ...

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Despite "Hawkeye's" mis-step, pretty doggone good.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

The lethal ladies are back in "Executive Assistant Assassins" #6, a gorgeously rendered story with a kind of emptiness inside ... not like the dead emptiness of Josh Romney's eyes, but events loosely interconnected without touchpoints of character (please see this week's "Witchblade" for a discussion of that) that can engage the reader. From the action scenes to great perspective shots, the issue is practically full of posters, even though one black haired guy looks pretty much like another. The underlying ideas of schools full of brilliant, talented, somehow indentured assassins has merit, but the execution fell short.

The aforementioned "Witchblade" #162 looks good with enhanced supporting characters and establishing the city of Chicago itself (or some parts of it at least, we haven't seen the likes of Cicero or the Wild Hundreds yet) as a character. The title character, however, seems adrift in her own life (possibly because her ex's universal reboot made things pretty screwy) and, while the character work here is spot on, the inconclusive events don't really hook the reader.

"Sword Of Sorcery" #3 was a mixed bag as a link to Eclipso (and therefore the DCU in general) was established for Gemworld, a development that has elements of "cool" and elements of "oh, not that." The internecine squabbling and posturing of the elder sisters of House Amethyst was not impressive, a scene that should have been gasp inducing visually (and would have been a full page spread in a CrossGen book) was scrunched and muted, and even the Beowulf backup (which pulled back its curtains to be far more "Mad Max" than medieval) ended weakly.

"Where Is Jake Ellis" #2 has a firm grasp on thrill-ride pacing and simple, evocative art that rushes you along with the chase. However, almost all that happens here is chase, and the scant revelatory elements don't carry nearly enough weight.

"Bravest Warriors" #3 was weird, quippy, funny and cute, all lamp shaded with enough genre awareness to make you smile but not enough to subvert the charm into irony. Perfect for fans of all-ages books with cut-and-dried morality.

"Super Dinosaur" #16 is another dose if all-ages whimsy, where the titular creature and his pint-sized human friend go to the moon (really) and battle with ... well, that'd be telling, but they do fun, gaudy stuff. Not high literature, no, but cute and good for the pre-teen set.

Tony Stark and an immortal librarian show up with some cute dialogue in "Thor God Of Thunder" #3 (look for "Viking strip club") and another plot that dances through time but doesn't close the deal with evocative elements. More fighting. More Thor not knowing what's happening, in any era, even as the horrible realization of the God Butcher's power settles in on him. Again, linearity might have helped.

"Masks" #2 wasn't as good as its door-busting first issue (and not just for sidelining Zorro), but this beautifully depicted comic book had to jam in a lot of exposition and get characters all on the same page. One would think with the lesson of the "Avengers" success that this kind of pre-work could be handled elsewhere -- taking off masks alone could have been one panel instead of the protracted affair it is here.

If you were flipping through channels late at night and saw something like "Witch Doctor Mal Practice" #2, you'd probably let it play. Featuring a snarkier Mulder (or a supernatural Dr. House, depending on your generation and preference), this issue featured lots of talking but a little bit of plot, introducing elements of a quest so desperate and implausible that even the wholly self-important title character is reluctant. Not bad, but not good enough to pay the price of admission.

Perhaps because of its "Freaky Friday" filling, "Locke And Key Omega" #2 played very much like something you might have seen on the WB's Big Sunday. Complete with a wistful prom date and a learning disabled kid with a heart of gold, this issue pulled at every heartstring. If you could get past the fact that nothing really happened, from a plot perspective, then you might find this is what you're looking for.

Red Hulk doesn't make much of an inspiring hero figure (isn't he on house arrest with the Avengers?), even with Steve Dillon's always pitch-perfect artwork. The fight's in a Pacific Ocean nation with Deadpool staying mostly under control and the rest of the team largely playing along. No character has really showed themselves to be impressive (despite what one might know of their other works) and the ending seemed a little abrupt.

Do you like "Star Trek?" Did you ever wonder what further adventures Captain John Harriman, played by the same actor who was Cameron in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," entailed? If so, then the "Star Trek 100-Page Spectacular Winter 2012" will likely have you ready to beam on up. The stories here are fantastic fodder for Federation freaks, sticking with TOS interpretations and even bringing a Deforrest-version Bones back for a cranky appearance. However, for the price tag, this is surely for the die-hard who can recite this corner of the future word for word.

"Nowhere Men" #2 was an improvement over the debut issue but still tells far more than it shows while giving infuriatingly few details about the actual crisis that has people locked in a space lab and could split up a decades-old business partnership. The periodical format is cutting the story short, it seems.

"Indestructible Hulk" #2 was like a Twinkie of brilliant ideas wrapped around a cream filling of sheer tedium. Tony Stark & Bruce Banner together should be a cascade of brilliance, not macho posturing and admitted jealousy, let alone the predictable, pointless pugilism. Disappointing but not wholly discouraging.

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

"Ultimate Comics The Ultimates" #19, "Supreme" #67, "Green Lantern: New Guardians" #15, "Broken Pieces" #5, "All-New X-Men" #4, "Dark Horse Presents" #19, "Idolized" #4, "Secret Avengers" #35, "Clive Barker's Hellraiser: The Road Below" #3, "Scarlet Spider" #12.1, "Star Trek The Next Generation: Hive" #3, "Ultimate Comics Spider-No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...

"Before Watchmen Moloch" #2? Terrible, terrible and manipulative fan fiction, casting Adrian Veidt even more firmly in the role of a villain (which was elegant and now is ham fisted) and Moloch as a supporting character in his own life, constantly reacting and never daring to live.

Two things made "A+X" #3 an embarrassment. First, the lame post-marital discussion between T'Challa and Ororo, which was artifice without art, managed to showcase some cute ideas about Wakanda but not actually tell a story worth reading. Meanwhile, Gambit took a page from SNL in calling Hawkeye "Katniss" in a friendly rival story that might have been better if it was Peter Parker & Johnny Storm. Those two characters together don't pique interest.

Break out the Excalibur cliche in "He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe" #5 as you've finally gotten to both the famous, shouting oath and He-Man himself. To spend what amounts to fifteen bucks just to get through the opening credits of the show seems excessive and unfair.

Re: "Journey Into Mystery" #647. In an issue that might not make many Friends of Lulu, Sif's moody, violent, out of control and summarily dismissed by her alleged friends and family. Such a depiction isn't exactly ... what's the word? Entertaining. Sif deserves better, and so do the readers.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

That was a lot of "meh," but (aside from the last four) everybody seemed to be trying hard.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

It's almost Kwanzaa. Let's say it was a week that won.

THE BUSINESS

As of right now, you can spend ten bucks and get about 175,000 of fiction from the writer of this column. The links that follow tell you where you can get The Crown: Ascension and Faraway, five bucks a piece. Love these reviews? It'd be great if you picked up a copy. Hate these reviews? Find out what this guy thinks is so freakin' great. There's free sample chapters too, and all proceeds to towards the care and maintenance of his kids ... oh, and to buy comic books, of course. What are you waiting for? Go buy a freakin' book already!

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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