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 30, 2013
Star Wars Agent of the Empire: Hard Targets #4
(Dark Horse Comics)
Oh, Jahan Cross, you scoundrel! He manages to anger and then befriend the former bodyguard of Serreno's count, just in time for the galaxy's most dangerous bounty hunter (who speaks almost exclusively in Hemingway sentences) to subcontract the kidnapping of a young boy caught in the middle of galactic politics. The locales are exotic and well depicted (there's a great two page splash), the pacing and action are gripping and there's decent character work as well. Like an athlete in a contract year, John Ostrander's script performs at an all-star level, and the artwork from Davide Fabbri, Christian Dalla Vecchia and Wes Dzioba makes every moment work. With the wonderful backdrop of an Empire solidifying its power (and when you really look at that, it paints this story in a much more interesting light than the light fare one might presume), this is the "Star Wars" comic we've been waiting for.
Batman and Robin Annual #1
Jump from the Read Pile.
With a refreshing balance of action scenes and emotional connections between characters, this issue went a long way to cement the relationship between Bruce Wayne and his often bloodthirsty son. We also get a very rare glimpse into the life and romance of Thomas and Martha Wayne, discovering elements that might not even contradict things that have gone before. Taking a moment to see a smiling Batman, having Bruce Wayne play soccer with kids in Barcelona ... this comic book charms you with almost every panel. Peter Tomasi's script, the artwork from Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes and John Kalisz ... this is a comic book you'll cherish, one that characterizes this teaming of Batman and Robin wonderfully, with a cross-continental plot that rocks. A sheer treasure.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Wonderful, wonderful stuff here.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Hawkeye" #7 looked at how the Archer Avenger and his "ward" dealt with Hurricane Sandy. Realistic, gritty ... and a little dry. Not a bad issue, by any stretch of the imagination, but nowhere near as engrossing as previous issues.
If you want to talk about engrossing plots, "The Activity" #11 posited the idea of terrorists with high explosives in a major metropolitan US city. Add a ticking clock and this procedural never slowed down to let you catch your breath. Mixing solid detective work with a delightful dash of surprising scientific futurism, this would have Carrie Mathison atingle with anticipation. If this issue even had a quarter inch of characterization, it would be amazing. It didn't, though.
"The Darkness" #110 is more expository than narrative, but it does get to the bottom of a number of things about Jackie's deteriorating marriage, his relationship to the Angelus and the Witchblade and just how bad things can get. It helps the overall story along, but this issue didn't stand well on its own.
In "Batman Incorporated" #7, the only person who didn't spend most of the issue getting beaten down like he stole something was Damian Wayne. This issue was all right, but a slight dip in quality from previous ones as Leviathan's threat became more personal and the status quo stayed fairly static from the first page to the last.
If you love this property, you'll run to grab "Adventure Time" #12, a quip-laden all-ages romp that has fun while entertaining, It never really goes anywhere, but that's kind of its point, just kind of meandering and being whimsical. If that's your thing, you'll simply love this.
"RIPD: City of the Damned" #3 is a well drawn and colored horror/western pastiche that has two supernatural lawmen finding unholy common ground with a former enemy, all to try and clean up a mess before anybody really serious discovers what happening. Fans of "Preacher" and "Hellblazer" might find some of these story elements familiar, even with the stock characterization, and for those kinds of fans this is likely a very rewarding issue, one not plagued with the indistinct visuals of some other essays into the supernatural.
"Hack/Slash" #23 was also fairly procedural as the two leads take on a plot to poison thousands of people with crappy soda. The stakes seem kind of plain Jane and again there's not much room for characterization, but the art has a gritty intensity to it and the plot is relentless in a good way. This issue is at least TV good, as it'd be hard to change channels away from it.
"Superior Spider-Man" #2 is, in fact, smarter than the Spider-Man we've seen before, with a better way of handling things than anything Peter ever dreamed up. However, his approach to dating is spectacularly incompetent, and watching it fail was both sad and creepy. Working with a kind of weird ethereal Jiminy Cricket over his shoulder was, however, super-annoying and that cut out the enjoyment that could have been had.
"Green Hornet" #33 showed a new man behind the mask, an armored guy who is willing to get all Curtis Metcalf on the bad guys. Britt Reid and Kato are both MIA and this issue is a thematic shift from the guns-and-fists pulp vibes you may expect from the Hornet. Not bad, with some actual super villains, but kind of rolling over very well worn, familiar roads.
It's hard to hide a secret when the eyes of the world are literally on you, and "Mara" #2 shows that as a globally-marketed athlete starts cracking under the pressure. Super speed? Super strength? Abilities far beyond mortal man have the normals up in arms instead of cowed and fearful. Too short and not really showing its cards about what its protagonist actually knows, but having a good "The Island"/"Logan's Run" kind of energy to it.
"Injustice: Gods Among Us" #1 reads like a very intense fan fiction, positing a situation where the Joker can push Superman too, too far. If you like that sort of thing, or are amped for the new game and need to know the background, well, here ya go.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Aquaman" #16, "Avengers" #4, "Invincible" #100, "Mars Attacks: Zombies vs. Robots," "Glory" #32, "Dark Avengers" #186, "Batman Beyond Unlimited" #12, "Dark Shadows" #13, "Executive Assistant Iris, Volume 3" #2, "Punisher: Nightmare" #5, "Angel and Faith" #18, "Green Lantern Corps Annual" #1, "Criminal Macabre: Final Night -- The 30 Days of Night Crossover" #2, "Punisher: War Zone" #4, "The Shadow" #9, "Emily and the Strangers" #1, "Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men" #16, "Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World" #32, "Talon" #4, "Orchid" #12, "Damsels" #5, "Superman" #16, "Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time" #1, "Flash" #16, "Journey Into Mystery" #648
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
"Red Lanterns" #16 was, in fact, a symphony of stupidity. Atrocitus manages to, using "blood magic," convert the entire Manhunter organization to something resembling space Catholicism so they can team up to go kill the Guardians, as if either of them could ever accomplish such a feat. Atrocitus, the space pope. Sure, why not? Also, the Red Lanterns apparently have a security guard named after an Autobot medic, for some reason. Really, scarily bad.
Ooh, ooh, ooh, wait, it gets worse. "X-Treme X-Men" #9 is like somebody sat in a comic book store and tried to come up with every possible bad mutant-minded idea at the same time, then jam 'em into one comic book. Taking the old "Exiles" "Sliders" shtick and popping in Elseworlds versions of mutants (there are two Dazzlers, for the love of pie) including: a Cyclops who's Black and fought in the Union Army, the severed head of Chuck Xavier (because, apparently, Futurama is fair game), Steampunk Gay Wolverine, Gay Hercules (in love with Steampunk Gay Wolverine) all fighting against (not making this up) Lord Xavier, Witch King of Gha-No-Sha. Did we mention this is just a part of their struggle against a series of parallel universe evil Chuck Xaviers? Let's stop talking about this.
"Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill" #1, by comparison, was a lesser shade of terrible, racked with cliches (including Dewey, Cheatham and Howe from the old Johnny Carson days), tedious and dull adventurism, flat characterization, an ending that somehow makes something stupid even stupider, all while Alan Moore slowly seethes and tries to buy scrapings of Dan Didio's skin off of eBay to complete his voodoo torture doll. Like waking up, over and over, and realizing that you are underneath Meat Loaf. Abominable.
"He-Man and the Masters of The Universe" #6 reveals some odd things on its way to a cliche battle with Skeletor being really, really stupid (like he wanted to lose, almost). However, that comic book was like reading a Pulitzer nominee compared to "Masters of The Universe: The Origin of He-Man" #1, which had no actual elements of an origin, few actual instances of character and virtually no plot. This comic book strove mightily, reaching for the levels of awfulness achieved by the first six issues of "Superman/Batman" or "Spider-Man: House of M." Not good.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
... there really were a lot of bad comics this week, weren't there?
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Numerically, it was still mostly "meh," and there was a jump, so even after the really, really bad books ... eeeehhhh, that's kind of like a wash.
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!