The Buy Pile: Fifth-Dimensional Magic, Science & Time Travel

Thu, March 21st, 2013 at 12:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

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 MARCH 20, 2013

Fables #127
(Vertigo/DC Comics)
Now this is what we're talking about. Writer Bill Willingham seamlessly mixes a main and sub plot to display the challenges the Fabletown community has with a new member, the churlish, chauvinistic and magically protected Prince Brandish, who's "claimed" series regular Snow White as his own. Of course her actual, chosen husband, the father of her kids, might have a problem with that as he traverses different magical worlds looking for two of their missing children (and how rough is it that regular readers already know what a horrible conclusion that quest will have)? Plus, on top of that, there's a sneaky bit of statecraft in the expatriate kingdom of Haven that both plays with conventions and brings in a beloved character from western literature in a wholly new role. If you've never read these words, read them now: "Fables" is the best monthly comic on the stands, and a whole herd of Eisners indicates that others agree.

Saga #11
(Image Comics)
First of all, mature readers tag. Literally the first page goes all the way to ... well, let's just say it's not a family-friendly title. Whoo ... not that it's a bad thing, and it is wholly done in service of the story itself. On top of that, there's some pretty thrilling spaceborne action (action lead The Will literally defies every convention in order to pull off a rescue), and you learn a lot more about the "horns" (apparently they speak something like ... Italian? Spanish?) as there's a simply touching close to this issue that could soften even hearts made of stone. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, basically, have never been better. A perfect balance of character, plot and emotion. It's amazing.

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #15
(IDW Publishing)
Wow. There's so much riveting science fiction jammed into this issue that it's hard to eve get a grasp on it. After months building up the science of the Decepticon war machine, how it forged Stage Six Decepticons capable of ending worlds and multiple acts of genocide, one of the most dangerous mechanoids ever to fly free from the planet Cybertron is amok on a small, fragile ship with a set of beings who cannot hope to deal with him. Brace yourself: things will irrevocably change in this issue, lines get crossed that are, even for giant transforming robots, almost impossible to dial back. Along the way, wow, the ideas (look for what the button does), the over arching meta-narrative moves farther along, and (as the kids say) s*** gets extraordinarily real when big, big guns open up. The plot? It's remarkable, weaving in elements from so many previous elements. The characters? Whether they have faces partially covered or the smirk of certainty on their metallic visages, they almost levitate off the page, whether designed for flight or not. The creative team of James Roberts, Alex Milne, Marc Deering, Brian Shearer, Phyllis Novin, Josh Burcham, Josh Perez and Joana Lafuente? They're a gang of monsters, that's how talented they are. Sweet spirit singing. This is an unmitigated triumph.

Action Comics #15
(DC Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
Just when you thought it couldn't get more real, Grant Morrison reminds us all why he's such a force to be reckoned with. Alongside Rags Morales, Brad Walker, Cam Smith, Andrew Hennessy and Brad Anderson, this comic somehow manages to take a conflict so grandiose that it spans multiple dimensions and planets and makes it deeply, intimately personal, so effectively that when it swings around at the end of the book, it's literally breathtaking. Almost every page is a spoiler, so there's not much detail that can be discussed, but Superman is pushed to every possible limit -- physically, mentally and emotionally -- in a struggle so vital that it really cements his place as the premier hero in DC's pantheon, even as a sometimes jerk, even in the New 50 or 52 or however many titles remain. Also on hand? Oh, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Lex Luthor (fighting to save Superman), a lost super team in a beautiful new incarnation, and a team up with almost everybody on earth. To further shore up how inspirational a figure the Man of Tomorrow can be, a back up from Sholly Frisch, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story and Jordie Bellaire reinforces not only Kal-El's lessons, but the viability of the Legion's example as well.

Chew #32
(Image Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
The lead character hurls himself into his work after the horrible family related spoiler in the previous issue. Bizarre food-related crimes, gripping action scenes and a revelation that ties in an older plot element pretty smartly. The focused intensity of Tony Chu working through his grief really worked well in this issue.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Sweet spirit singing, that's an amazing set of freaking comic books! Yeah!

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

Otto's masquerade starts to fray at the edges in "Superior Spider-Man" #6 as he takes on the mayor's request to take down two online pranksters, using technology to commit high powered cyber larceny. Again, the lack of commitment to the new direction is a detriment as the ghost of Spidey past lingers annoyingly, but -- savagery aside -- Otto remains a considerably better hero than Peter ever was.

"Dark Horse Presents" #22 felt a little more like Image's late lamented "Creator Owned Comics" with an engaging interview with "Shaolin Cowboy" creator Geoff Darrow. "Journeymen" by Thorne and Harris was at the high end of "TV good," and surely could catch your attention if you were flipping through. Chaykin's alternative history take on George Custer was strangely engaging in a slightly racist steampunk kind of way. "Arcade Boy" would make for a good animated series, but as the issue wore on, it started to drag a bit with "Villainman" and the rest. Still interesting work.

"Voltron" #11 was haunted by the fact that it's a compelling character-driven mystery that snuck into the clothes of an action movie. The men (and woman) behind the machines are most of the focus, leaving the actual action pieces (none in this issue) an afterthought. That's good storytelling, but it ain't Voltron, and that's a detriment to the work. However, when compiled, this will likely read more effectively.

"Indestructible Hulk" #5 wasn't bad, but it didn't light the world on fire either. A cute quip or two ("... fold like Hank Pym on poker night ...") and a Lemurian warrior woman cut in the cloth of Big Barda, but given Attuma's stellar success record, there's not much tension in this story.

"All Crime" #1 was a very well-crafted, self-contained noir yarn in the vein of "Criminal." The nostalgic artwork flashback was very clever, the plot was whip smart, but characterization wasn't part of the plan in this facile, slick story. If you have a yearning for crime fiction, this will likely get you going.

"Sword of Sorcery" #6 did a great job of bringing Eclipso into Gemworld (where, admittedly, he makes a lot of sense) but had too many competing plots (the history of House Onyx, training as a magician, the internecine struggles between royal houses, et cetera) going at once. The deathly dull backup didn't help.

If you liked Alexander Simmons' "Blackjack," you'll likely get on board for "Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray" #1, a pulp story with a supernatural twist. Again, it didn't have much room for characterization but its action was superb and the premise remains intriguing.

"Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness" #3 was a step up for IDW's books in this franchise as Kirk and Spock have a lot of great moments and the Klingons are cast in a similar role as the erstwhile Soviet empire. However, it didn't quite get things done in terms of making this potentially offhanded plot direction matter in the big scale of things, especially in the direction of the upcoming movie.

Poseidon dragged down "Wonder Woman" #18 which had cute dialogue (a specialty for Azzarello) and an intriguing monologue from Ares about the challenges of his unique position. Another piece that feels like it'll fit better in a collection than as a single issue.

"Deadpool" #6 finally finishes with the whole zombie presidents shtick and adds a new crazy element near the end. Fun artwork, a surprising moment of emotional honesty in the middle of it, but this would have been better as the second or third issue in the story, not the sixth.

"Star Wars Legacy Volume 2: Prisoner of the Floating World" #1 takes place almost a hundred and fifty years after a whiny Tattooine farm boy blew up a space station, with three factions of lightsaber-wielding agitators vying for a piece of ruling a newly peaceful galaxy. The idea of some familiar names popping up has an appeal, and there's a bit with an Imperial Knight that's quite clever, but there wasn't that "gotcha" moment to really bring you on board, especially with some of the dry debate going on about the nature of the fragile peace.

Hybrids ... in ... spaaaaaace! "Elephantmen" #47 put its best known characters on the moon, in some grandiose set pieces and battling China's answer to their own technological advances. Great art, interesting ideas, meh plot, no character development.

"G.I. Joe Special Missions" #1 had several plot elements that could have worked independently but working together turned into cacophony instead of symphony. The "public team" led by Duke is not attached to the more covert operatives Scarlett fields, and that makes some sense, but this was an episode of "The Unit" on steroids with only glances of The Baroness to provide dramatic tension.

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

"All-New X-Men" #9, "Batman Beyond Unlimited" #14, "Invincible" #101, "Supergirl" #18, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Secret History of the Foot Clan" #4, "Justice League" #18, "Savage Wolverine" #3, "Harbinger" #10, "My Little Pony Micro-Series" #2, "X-Factor" #253, "Legion of Super-Heroes" #18, "Captain Marvel" #11, "Wild Rover featuring The Sacrifice," "Vibe" #2, "Judge Dredd Year One" #1, "Green Lantern New Guardians" #18, "Adventure Time" #14, "Batwoman" #18, "Memorial: Imaginary Friends" #1, "Nightwing" #18, "It Girl and the Atomics" #8, "Justice League of America" #2, "Hollows" #4, "Mind MGMT" #9, "Mystery Society Special 2013," "Transformers: Fall of Cybertron" #1, "Revival" #8, "X-Termination" #1, "Captain America" #5, "Executive Assisant: Assassins" #9, "Clive Barker's Hellraiser: Dark Watch" #2, "Storm Dogs" #4, "Conan the Barbarian" #14, "Soulfire Volume 4" #4, "G.I. Joe" #2, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" #20, "Comeback" #5, "Red Hood and the Outlaws" #18, "Nova" #2, "Drew Hayes' Poison Elves" #1, "Constantine" #1, "Cable and X-Force" #6

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

"Catwoman" #18 followed up on Batman's new misogynist direction as he punches her, lashing out as a bad means of coping with his grief. It's not breaking the nose of a teenaged girl, but it's still not cool.

"New Avengers" #4 was alarmingly stupid. Scarily, worryingly stupid. First of all, the so-called "heroes" act a lot like villains, dreaming up ways to kill an entire planet. Then, for some reason Black Panther either forgets there's no Wakandan vibranium left or has somehow altered the properties of antarctic vibranium for ... that part's too stupid to even discuss. Finally, when Terrax ("the Truly Enlightened") is the smartest guy around (and wonderfully oblivious too -- "... you're just men. I can tell that you recognize me. Clearly, you know my master. But beyond the Eye of Agamotto ... I have no idea who you are"), that's a sign that things have gone horribly, horribly awry. This title is abysmal.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

It was aight.

Also, there was no order for "Shadow Falls" #1 and "Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Madness of Wonderland" #2.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

So many fantastic purchases make this a week that wins!

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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