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 FEBRUARY 27, 2013
Star Wars Agent of the Empire: Hard Targets #5
(Dark Horse Comics)
Wow. Just ... wow. The Empire's answer to James Bond started off this issue on the outs with his masters, a failure at his mission and staring down the blaster rifle of Boba Fett. It shouldn't be a spoiler to say that he doesn't die horribly and end up losing everything, but how his fortunes turn away from a cold slab is simply masterful, a plotting masterpiece that writer John Ostrander delivers with such deftness and grace that it's a wonder to behold. Romance, gunfire, politics, punching and the Fett's Hemingway-styled terse commentary. Again, this issue perfectly weaves in the lore of the trilogies with looks at parts of the galaxy previously unexamined, all with style, panache and the fantastic visual storytelling of Davide Fabbri, Christian Dalla and Wes Dzioba. Great stuff.
Transformers: Robots In Disguise #14
Also? Whoa. Megatron's plan for recapturing the planet Cybertron are revealed, and they are ... wow. Using nothing more than the tools readily at his command, he's orchestrated a symphony of subterfuge that will make you look at this series' 13 previous issues very differently. "Infiltrate -- hide in plain sight -- and conquer," Megatron boasts, "that's the Decepticon way. Your petty politics ... did no more than provide a distraction for us to gain a foothold in high command." John Barber's script is so good it's scary, reimagining the concepts of a decades old toy into science fiction excellence. The artwork of Andrew Griffith, Brian Shearer and Josh Perez showed both riveting detail and evocative emotion. Another fantastic issue.
Five Weapons #1
Jump from the Read Pile.
Wow. Jimmie Robinson threw down on this amazing debut issue, doing writing art and virtually everything else in a story which has plot twists, fun characterization, vibrant artwork and crafty, crafty dialogue. From the possibly prescient school nurse to the stab-happy president of the knife club, a new student enrolling in a school for assassins sends everybody into a tizzy and gives the reader a complete, fully developed experience within its bright, colorful covers. To say much more would spoil a great deal, but this? This is a delight.
Jump from the Read Pile.
In a plot that, if played for more laughs, could have fit in on an episode of "Archer," this issue does some fantastic stylistic tricks by mocking a variety of comics covers from romance to mystery to crime and more, all furthering the story itself. Along the way, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth turn in an art performance that is virtually gasp inducing (please let the crime boss table scene become a poster). Femmes fatale, old grudges, all in a way that's more "heist-y, caper-y" than the titular archer would prefer. Stunning work and another great issue.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Sweet spirit singing, that's one fantastic way to start!
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Uncanny Skullkickers" #1 had a very, very funny running gag that, unfortunately, took some of its impetus as the new headlining character is, sadly, a little on the dull side. The art remained solid, the plotting lagged a little, but there was some entertainment value here and this series has the reputation of its preceding one to let you know the forecast is still favorable. Let's see how it all plays out.
"Punisher War Zone" #5 was kind of intense, with Frank making some hard decisions about the mission and ending up in what used to be the Norman Osborn Suite (which worked out so well). Along the way, he (brace yourself) hacks Tony Stark's armor (really) and has an amazing moment of clarity with three words: "Sir. Yes, sir." While it was fun in an action movie kind of way, the idea that Tony Stark (who was most of the struggle for Frank) could be so monumentally stupid after easily fending off the likes of Norman Osborn himself and the underlying conclusion is, frankly, a little hard to believe.
An engaging cast of Captain Ersatzes tears at each other in "Deathmatch" #3, which was far too slow for its own good but still managed to make some of the characters (including Rorschach analogue The Rat) start to figure out some things that can't stop the rising body count. While this does the job better than, say "Avengers Arena," it's still not quite as determined as it needs to be.
A similar set of heroes is caught in a murder mystery for "Red Ten" #2, where the Captain Ersatzes distrust and bicker at each other in cliche and tedious ways. The tension is right, the emotion is right, but the plot needs pacing and detail adjustments while the derivative nature of the characters (done better on "Deathmatch") is a detriment.
Otto gets stuck babysitting the Future Foundation in "Avenging Spider-Man" #17, which guest stars Death's Head ("Why am I dead?") and the Time Variance Authority, who know everything (not good for Otto) and all worked towards a fiendish plot. This was close, but was too scattered to really connect. However, picking a team on the whole Spider thing and not having any sign of Hologram Tupac, er, spectral Obi-Wan, uh, Jiminy Parker ... that all was an improvement.
"Freelancers" #4 offered up a storyline that was like the Redemption of Rick Ross as a corrections officer turned gangsta rapper has his life threatened by the people whose life he really portrays. The banter was repetitive, the action claustrophobic and the antagonist unidimensional, but the lead characters were charming and the artwork is at least fun.
The current Time Lord has to make some challenging choices in "Doctor Who" #6, which features a thief named Christina de Souza who manipulates, lies, wheedles and steals with such panache that Remy Labeau would stand up and give her a slow clap. She steals the show as the Ponds just act as catspaws and the Doctor almost fades into the background. Not bad, and would be fine as an episode on Netflix, but was just short of being worth the money.
"Comeback" #4 was a gritty procedural steeped in time travel that had a twist at the end so sharp that you should check yourself for whiplash after reading it. However, getting there was so dry and so effectively lulled the reader into a false sense of security that it made most of the issue seem kind of dull. Better on the second read, though.
"Steed and Mrs. Peel" #5 cut out just as it started to get really good, following up last issue's stylish fun with something a little drier (but just as flirty) with a mystery based in science leading the titular leads down an investigative rabbit hole. If they ever do a new TV series, this writer would likely be well suited for it, but for a monthly price, this isn't quite enough bang for the bucks.
There was a smart caper planned in "Talon" #5 as the Court of Owls now owns the equivalent of Blackwater as the monster the Court called in to bring down their wayward son has a bored kick the dog moment. Interesting plotting and a dash of characterization, but not quite enough.
Remember the Bar With No Name, where super villains used to hang out safely? Remember how it got blown up? Well, in "Gambit" #9 the concept gets upgraded to the Club With No Name, an upscale dance party with 75% "civilians." Gambit chases the brunette he met issues ago to stop a deal from going down. The setting and characters were cute but the plot felt somewhat predictable.
If you liked "Last Resort," the tension and politics of "Massive" #9 will do it for you as the characters try to extract themselves from a sticky kind of trap threatening to take everything from them. The artwork on this series has always felt a little drab (coloring, maybe?) even for a post apocalyptic world but there's a gun noted early on that never gets fired and it leaves the issue feeling unresolved.
Period-appropriate adventure and hijinks are the order of the day in "Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror" #1, which takes the airborne hero to Tinseltown ... and then pretty much does his normal thing. Which is fine, if you like that, and are willing to pay for it again.
The secret origin of Peter Quill gets explained in "Guardians of the Galaxy" #0.1, bringing a conflict between the Badoon and Spartax (who?) people to earth and give him a big chip on his shoulder ... that kind of seems weird for him not to have addressed previously. Not bad, but kind of like an expanded OHOTMU entry, save the footnote with Iron Man.
"Injustice: Gods Among Us" #2 had some good dialogue bits (Harley and Green Arrow were funny, and Superman got real with "Yes. I can"), and good artwork, but this same scenario played out more believably in 1991's Armageddon 2001 "Superman Annual" (no, no in "Superman 4," we never, ever speak of "Superman 4"). It does set up the idea of combat in the game well enough (save one character already being dead).
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt" #6, "Thunderbolts" #5, "Astonishing X-Men" #59, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secret History of the Foot Clan" #3, "Teen Titans" #17, "The Legend of Luther Strode" #3, "Peanuts" #6, "MacGyver: The Fugitive Gauntlet" #5, "Justice League Dark" #17, "Amala's Blade" #0, "Masks" #4, "Savage Hawkman" #17, "Angel and Faith" #19, "Witch Doctor Mal Practice" #4, "X-Men Legacy" #6, "Army of Darkness" #11, "Artifacts" #25, "Answer" #2, "Criminal Macabre: Final Night—The 30 Days of Night Crossover" #3, "Carbon Grey Volume 2" #3, "Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Man" #17, "Star Wars Dawn of the Jedi: The Prisoner of Bogan" #3, "Lone Ranger" #13, "Vampirella: Nublood," "Prophet" #34, "Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time" #2, "The Flash" #17, "Warlord of Mars" #23, "Hack/Slash" #24, "Batman: The Dark Knight" #17, "Ultimate Comics X-Men" #23, "Courtney Crumrin" #10, "FF" #4.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
"X-Treme X-Men" #11 was bad, but it's cancelled, so no need to belabor the point.
"Batman Incorporated" #8 was much hyped for no real reason, as the actual "money shot" was done almost offhandedly, with indistinctly shaded artwork that had none of the shock value and impact of, oh, this, and worst of all, took the most interesting thing in Gotham City off the table (for now at least) at the hands of an antagonist literally nobody knew about last year. Sad more than troubling.
Quoth the Bishop, "GROAAWR!" "Uncanny X-Force" #2 puts the man from the future (who should really know better) back in the villain role, he's now some kind of energy bear or something and honestly, a lot of things could get settled with a simple conversation. Tragic and tedious.
In "Red Lanterns" #17, the emotion-detecting robots of the Guardians call Atrocitus out as a weepy teenage girl using too much eyeshadow while moping and listening to the Smiths. Admittedly, that was fairly easy to tell, but seeing Rankorr try to be normal was tiresome. A slice below "meh."
If you haven't seen the spoiler from "Uncanny Avengers" #4, trust, it's got some of the stupidest, most embarrassing elements of our collective comic book past and somehow manages to make them stupider. Which, in a way, is a kind of feat. Also, apparently, gods are far weaker and more malleable than one might believe and the Red Skull tries (after all these years) to break out a not so different speech on Cap (*yawn*). Given the amazing artwork and high production values, for this book to be so bad is embarrassing.
"Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan" #4 was a tedious "Roshomon" take on stuff you've already read in "Watchmen" that adds nothing to the story. When will this stuff stop?
"Avengers Arena" #5 has a problem, in that it acts like "Morning Glories" but dresses like "The Intimates" and when even the central antagonist Arcade notes how bored he is, that's not a good sign.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
It could have been worse.
Oh, according to the retailer, Diamond shorted the entire order on "Aquaman" #17, "Journey Into Mystery" #649 and "Steed and Mrs. Peel" #5 ... but the kids at BOOM! were kind enough to send over a review copy of the latter, but sorry about the others.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
The books that came home were so damned good they can easily make anybody forget almost every horrible thing except that "Batman Incorporated" silliness.
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!
Oh, and just for fun? The writer of this column has a story in the "Steamfunk" anthology alongside the likes of "Leverage"/"Journeymen" writer Geoffrey Thorne and multi-genre virtuoso Balogun Ojetade. It's only five bucks for Nook or Kindle, which is a better deal than most comic books. Hash tag eye jay ess.
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!