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 JANUARY 23, 2012
There's a number of kooky surprises in the industry's most consistent monthly title, which is being narrated this month as a flashback by one of the "cubs" of Snow White and Bigby Wolf. Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty to "mundies" like us) is filthy rich and has a magical car that can go anywhere (as long as you don't use it more than 900 or so times), which she lends to the Wolf in order to help him track his missing children (which the reader, sadly, already knows about from the "Babes in Toyland" arc). There are wonderful asides, high quality art (a staple of this Eisner-winning title) and just the right air of whimsy and possibility. Fans of the ABC series "Once Upon A Time" will enjoy the similar (and, honestly, earlier) lore-steeped storytelling here as Fabletown is reclaimed and a new antagonist pops up. Really great storytelling.
Jump from the Read Pile.
There are some industry-specific in jokes ("Cousin Charlie?" Hash tag dead) that are so wrong and so hilarious and so only for maybe a few thousand people, and that doesn't even matter in this greatly entertaining issue. The series' protagonist is back in action (literally) with the FDA, stamping out food-related crime and getting out his aggression over the tragic events of last issues. Sure, he didn't exactly stay on target with that very personal case, but he made up for it in applications of fisticism as a much larger case looms involving murder, a religious cult, corporate malfeasance and science. Great stuff, funny and wonderfully done by the team of Layman and Guillory.
Jump from the Read Pile.
There's a lot to like about this issue, from its brutal, "Bourne Supremacy"-styled low budget action to the wonderful monologuing of Major Bludd, hearkening back to his "Hearts & Minds" profile piece. However, it's a "friendly" conversation (its origins are a spoiler, but wow is it worth it) at the end that perfectly encapsulates the "everything's gray in intelligence work" feel of this series and provides a piece of dramatic tension so delicious that it'd have the casts of "Burn Notice" and "Covert Affairs" standing up to do a slow clap. The fact that Mike Costa's writing accomplishes this despite the rough hewn yet serviceable artwork of Werther Dell'edera and Arianna Florean (okay visual storytelling, very short on detail and nuance) is truly a testament to Costa's command of the subject material. Nice work on the licensed property.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Two jumps are a good start.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Young Avengers" #1 was way, way, way too short. A good start that stated its core problem in its issue's title. On the good side, the Marvel Boy/Kate Bishop segment was great (if left disturbingly unresolved) and Loki with Miss America had some fun elements to it, but Wiccan and Hulkling really went in a direction that isn't good.
In a week with fewer quality books (like, say, the first week of this year), "Answer" #1 would have made the jump despite its very cursory relationship with its lead. The suspense was played well (the action was reminiscent of Eccleston first "Doctor Who") episode in 2005), the artwork and coloring was solid, and the Tony-Robbins-meets-TED-Talks threat was kind of intriguing like The Circle was in the 5YL Legion. Not bad.
"Homecoming" #3 was going pretty "meh" (despite being one good looking book) until a whiplash twist ending that throws literally every element of the series into question and changes the stakes for almost every character. That ain't easy. More stuff like that might bring this series to the table.
First of all, woops. This book -- erroneously reviewed last week with the wrong issue number -- actually hit stands this week. This is part of why we suggest review copies not be sent more than three days before books hit retail. Second, TODD Harris was alongside Geoffrey Thorne in the debuting "Journeymen" (still interesting, still served poorly by the anthology format) and not "Tony" as we noted. As the future Electro might say, blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-al-co-hol. Even if only the digital version were less than the brutal eight dollar sticker price, this could be recommended, but as packaged ... in this economy? That's just not kosher.
A little bit of editing and some captions would have helped "Wonder Woman" #16, which didn't really spotlight who was doing what -- as the cast has grown, picking out Ares should be easier -- as also scenes seemed written via shorthand, with quips intended as characterization but not quite connecting. This felt less about connecting -- characters with each other, plot with readers -- and more about being clever in specific moments.
"Bedlam" #3 posits that law enforcement professionals might be a little skeptical if someone shows up trying to present Adrian Monk-styled deductive abilities, which is all the riskier if one happens to be a retired and partially lobotomized Joker analogue. Too cursory, too slow, but having a good dose of charm.
If you liked her last appearance, struggling with her desires versus the realities of her culture, "Astonishing X-Men" #58 will likely be a favorite for Warbird fans. The Shi'ar taskmistress finds some lost business from a former conquest, taunting her with the simple joy of creation she's so long denied herself. A clever if perhaps unsatisfying ending and an issue that wasn't bad.
"Steed And Mrs Peel" #4 was charming and British in its nostalgic way as the titular characters tried to enjoy a nice night off that of course ended up with science villainy even Alan Moore might appreciate. Managing to link itself to previous stories (not in an over-burdened way) and using sly, dry wit throughout ("Eccentricity of that magnitude can only survive paired with genuine genius") and a slick, mod style of visual design (the antagonist will stay with you), this might have made it home in a thinner week.
After its impressive debut, Chris Roberson's "Masks" #3 sadly slides towards cliche with heavy handed monologuing, new characters tossed in too fast (was that the Black Terror? A little like pounding a nail with an aircraft carrier, isn't it?) and only the Shadow stepping in to make a real impact in this talky team book.
"FF" #3 might have had some weird elements -- was that a Negative Zone Madman costume? -- with a super villain team up you might not believe, but it was some pretty good Allred-flavored superhero flavor (Ant Man was a little more emo than he needed to be) if that's your cup of tea.
Like Kim Bauer becoming a cracker-jack computer whiz, the off-time has been productive for the title character in "Hell Yeah" #6, which posited interesting ideas about him being the super-powered legbreaker sent in to clean up after crises and secret wars. The execution? Meh.
Using a more vulnerable, less bombastic James Tiberius Kirk, "Star Trek Countdown To Darkness" #1 seeks to set the stage for the Cumberbatch-fueled sequel by putting Spock and Uhura's relationship on the rocks and dragging out a bit of Roddenberry lore for a supposedly surprising ending (that, sadly, didn't have much oomph). Nothing much to see here unless you just can't wait for the movie in May.
"Massive" #8 was all about the turn -- characters changing their minds, situations changing circumstance, all with threats and bombs and murder as a backdrop. Intent is clearer than plot, which struggled in particular in the middle, but it's still a smart, interesting experience, even when it's a little muddled.
"Chew" isn't the only place corporate malfeasance rears its ugly and Supreme Court-protected head, as "The Spider" #8 shows both the billionaire and the vigilante seeking justice against a villain who could teach Moloch a thing or two about manipulation (despite a fairly big technical quibble about the hypnotism itself). Writer David Liss really seems to have found his sweet spot in a series that seems to get better with each turned page.
Magic's answer to Gregory House is caught between some pretty big rocks and a lot of hard places in "Witch Doctor: Mal Practice" #3, involving extortion, "identical" twins, lots of violence and an ending that surprised even most of the characters on panel, even the ones who planned for it. If this were on FX, or better yet Hulu, it'd be a smash hit.
It may not be where you expect to see meme-based gallows humor, but "Judge Dredd" #3 has a very funny riff in the middle of an opening story about ransom demands (which got cut just as it was getting interesting) and a backup about a naked, running man that had the right sense of urgency but not the right elements to gel perfectly. Not bad, per se, but not "drop everything and buy this" material either.
"Number 13" #2 felt like it could have benefitted from ten more pages, with all of its character moments feeling rushed, action occurring without a sense of significance and so on. Ambitious, intriguing, but not quite ready for prime time.
"Witchblade" #163 showed off its procedural core by allowing its supernatural elements to serve as flourishes as the "mana trade" brings in all kinds, from a streetwise new jack learning the game to a guy who looks like the love child of a bear and a Klingon. Sara Pezzini plays all sides, even pushing hard on a tail magical mobster Jackie Estacado left sniffing at her heels (not the smartest move, truth be told, for a number of reasons). A plot that was just a little slower than it needed to be, an ending that seemed a little shmaltzy and some very solid character work.
Cute lines in "Birds of Prey" #16 ("... join an all-female team and people are going to assume you're ..." "Awesome?") showcased some very solid team dynamics but didn't have a plot that leapt off the page.
There are some funny moments between the cliches of "Mars Attacks The Transformers," like a throwaway bit of front line commiseration ("It's a thing"). Megatron chews scenery like Alan Rickman racing Gary Oldman in a Shatner contest, Optimus Prime spouts his normal deluge of heroic platitudes and the Martians provide their normal mix of menace and generic villainy. If you love "Mars Attacks" or just need to get some giant robot banter (the Prowl/Astrotrain moment is priceless), this might light up your day.
In a means that might have worked on SoapNet, "Wolverine and the X-Men" #24 showed T'Challa's jealousy towards Logan (really?) on a soapy date night issue that has everybody trying to hook up including Iceman with Shadowcat ("I was on the Champions. Trust me, I know when something isn't working"), Idie with Broo's post-coma consciousness and so on. Cute but not really changing much for anybody, even with the pointlessly rabble rousing cover.
The lovable losers of "Harbinger" #8 are hunted relentlessly by the clean cut, well paid forces of the super powered Man (in this case, a philanthropic Japanese financier with mental powers) in an issue that felt very much like it wanted to be an episode of a TV show. Not a bad thing, that, but not exactly justifying the cover price of a comic book.
"Before Watchmen: Minutemen" #6 had a segment that horribly imitated the writing style of the source material (in the worst possible attempt of "homage") and makes the original Nite Owl much more gullible than he probably needed to be. A painful, needless exercise in commerce, not art.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Avengers" #3, "JSA The Liberty Files: The Whistling Skull" #2, "Clive Barker's Hellraiser: The Road Below" #4, "Deadpool" #4, "Revival" #6, "Peanuts Volume 2" #5, "X-O Manowar" #9, "Gambit" #8, "Army of Darkness" #9, "Green Lantern Corps" #16, "Dan the Unharmable" #9, "Punisher: Nightmare" #4, "Nightwing" #16, "Bionic Woman" #7, "Legion of Super-Heroes" #16, "Lady Death" #25, "Lone Ranger" #12, "Supergirl" #16, "Mind MGMT" #7, "Lord of the Jungle" #12, "Prophecy" #6, "Red Hood and the Outlaws" #16, "Borderlands Origins" #3, "Number 13" #2, "Superboy Annual" #1, "Godzilla" #9, "Uncanny Avengers" #3, "Batwoman" #16, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secret History of the Foot Clan" #2, "Winter Soldier" #14, "Prophet" #33, "Green Lantern" #16, "A+X" #4, "Grimm Fairy Tales Animated Series."
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
Oy. In "Justice League" #16, it posits the idea that the guy who did this suddenly has a problem with Aquaman's brother and "dark water." Food coloring notwithstanding, Namor wishes he could keep a group like this on the ropes, which -- of course -- seems ridiculous ... but seems to be the way of the New 52. Then Cyborg's weird distress signal (which seemed way too haphazard an approach, even for the new "I didn't see whole extra floors in buildings I owned" Batman) to a cast of characters sure to send fans running towards Google, make Godiva or Vibe seem like beloved heavy hitters. We get it. Atlantis is badass now, shown by Worf Effecting Big Blue. Doesn't make it entertaining.
"Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates" #20 has a Hasselhoff-esque look for Nick Fury (a "bio disguise") "seamlessly" implying that this had been a routine thing (which doesn't really make sense given the basketball-jersey wearing spymaster of the last few years) who's working an angle nobody has really figured out inside of Ultimate Hydra (which looks like the Free States of "DMZ") and it feels like more editing resources could have solved this. YMMV.
Given what's come before, the Windy City digressions of "Sword of Sorcery" #4 were a huge letdown, a tepid and needlessly cloying bit of bringing John Constantine into the day-glow world of the DCU while stalling the story lines and characters being developed in Gemworld. The "Stalker" back up was less deep than a Mack Bolan novel. Who fell asleep at the wheel on this one?
In any contentious divorce, each party has their own version of events. Apparently, "Uncanny X-Force" #1 posits Ororo's like this: "... the king ended the queen's marriage out of the blue. She's still working out her anger over the situation." Sure, this ignores her not getting her Tammy Wynette on, this ignores her ending up on the side of the spandex-clad psychopath who flooded the country full of people she was sworn to protect, but hey, whatever, right? Anyhoo, aside from that, Fantomex engages in some disturbing masturbation, Spiral runs a dance club circuit ... there's a lot of sloppy, bad ideas here, all sweaty and rubbing up against each other, including Storm's haircut.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
There was bad stuff ... but not that much bad stuff, especially by comparison.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
The jumps trump the junk, so let's say the week wins.
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!