The Buy Pile: Magic & Science & Snow White's Swordplay

Thu, May 16th, 2013 at 10:28am 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 MAY 15, 2013

Vescell #8
(Image Comics)
Wow. There's a relentlessly entertaining adventure here that, in just the pages of this issue, spells out everything you need to know about more than half a dozen characters, an impossible situation that's been going on for issues and a world where magic and technology work hand in hand. Literally every page is wonderfully depicted, taking the story to three wholly realized locations that spring from the mind of writer Enrique Carrion and artists John "Roc" Upchurch, Lorenzo Nuti, Dave Acosta and Chris Pyrate. A virtually flawless balance of spectacle, plot development (colors on the flashback were perfect, as was the shopping sequence), characterization and witty, sexy dialogue. This work is amazing. The ending leaves you breathless. It's great stuff.

Fables #129
(Vertigo/DC Comics)
Also? Wow. There's a number of things that happen here that are developments that could clearly suck the air from longtime fans. The cultural cache of the characters involved still makes it matter for most students of western culture (and a few not-so-western cultures that have wolves). Snow White goes sword to sword with her unwanted former fiancé Prince Brandish, while magic is woven and one liners are tossed about. One of Snow White's children delivers one of the most effective lines in the series lengthy, very impressive run. This is a huge issue that does pretty much everything right. Okay, Brandish could have gotten a few more good lines, but still! This issue can be used as conclusive proof that Fables remains the best comic on the stands, month in and month out.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Sweet spirit singing. Wow. Great stuff. Wow.

Also? Apparently, the writer sent the issue a week early, but the also brilliant "Dream Thief" #1 is actually on stands this week. That's a guaranteed "buy."

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

A fairly big plot development lies at the climax of "Think Tank" #7, and with the mix of really current technologies and in-depth research (check the bibliography of links at the end), if this series isn't the smartest comic on the stands, it's surely in the running. However, the climax held itself for quite a while, with silent panels that didn't do much storytelling, so the pacing in the transition from the second third towards the finale didn't gel properly. Still, great opening, great ending, lots of great ideas in a comic that'd easily make the jump in more financially strong times.

"Cable And X-Force" #8 had a rather clever bit of misdirection as Abigail Brand of S.W.O.R.D. gets angry about Cable and his crew rifling through her elaborate box of secrets. Toss in a genocidal galaxy class super villain and Domino borrowing some shtick from the Scarlet Johansson School of Interrogation and you have an issue that hits some good notes but just can't string together the whole melody.

In "Star Wars: Darth Vader And The Ninth Assassin" #2 we get a lot more from the artist formerly known as Anakin Skywalker as the Empire's power is challenged at home and abroad. There's a fantastic scene in Palpatine's throne room and a couple of other moments, but the plot plods, the titular assassin stays quietly off panel and the idea of a power from before the Sith (yet not yet tied into existing comics) doesn't quite create the sense of urgency it should due to this happening before "A New Hope," therefore limiting the stakes.

At the heart of "Voltron" #12 is a gripping character drama about people in positions of power, military men and women who've devoted their lives to the force of arms, even while calling themselves "explorers." The problem with that is that this is not a drama from Aaron Sorkin, it's a comic book that arguably should be about a giant robot, one who makes such infrequent appearances as he's virtually a guest sta. If you're looking for pop science fiction, on the good side of the divide between Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" and the largely laughable movie, this might do it for you. If you're looking for a comic about Voltron or robeasts or anything resembling the spectacle of large scale space conflict, you're barking up the wrong piece of mecha.

Buried deep in the lore of Judaeo-Christian ideology, "Anti" #4 has its less than inspiring protagonist Zachary subjected to a classic, "we're not so different/we can rule together" monologue before one really entertainingly rendered fight scene (fans of "Injustice: Gods Among Us" will like some of the panels here). Everything relies not on the characters here, however, but your meta-textual grasp of the book of Revelations, so anyone outside of the framework is left with an emptier story. A pity. Not bad if angels and demons populate your paradigm.

More like the old than the new, "Battlestar Galactica" #1 steps back into the Glen Larsen continuity of the Carter/Reagan years with the basics --rag tag fleet, implacable mechanical enemies chasing them -- and spices it up with some clumsy new designs (Vipers with temporal weapons and some weird tiger stripes, heavily armored Cylons with tank treads and guns for arms). Despite the craft in plotting, writers Abnett and Lanning have no room for character or context, and the art is not memorable enough to bowl you over either. Surely manna for the Dirk Benedict crowd, but nothing for anybody else.

There's a "kick the dog" moment in "G.I. JOE A Real American Hero" #190 that is part of the tradition of the Comedian with a flamethrower, as Chuckles leads a task force to "deal with" a third world "generalissimo" working alongside Major Bludd. The official word is caught in red tape, as expensive suits bicker about the lives of boots on the ground. A little cursory, but not bad.

"Legion Of Super-Heroes" #20 was a big issue, with the Fatal Five working on different sides of the galaxy to wreak so much chaos it's almost a game changer. Tharok's running around with a planet sized humaniform simulacra playing Unicron. The omega class magician Mordru's about to bust loose from a world of magic and murder everybody. The plot never lets up but, as it barrels along, its titular heroes seem dumbfounded (especially galling from Braniac 5) and overwhelmed, which is not as engaging as when they at least are in the fight. Familiar for fans, but not much value outside of that.

If you're okay with derivative works, "Nova" #4 pastes in an Ultimate Nullifier with the existing "Last Starfighter" tropes. Cute but empty, especially with the always anonymous Chitauri on board, working with a bootleg Thundercat.

"Sword Of Sorcery" #8 was stunningly ambitious even as it essentially missed its mark. Eclipso, commanding two of the royal houses of Gemworld, goes to war with the ruling house Amethyst for the fate of two worlds. Generations-old rivals band together to stand against him, brother goes to blade against brother ... but with weak action sequences and an inconclusive climax, all the sturm und drang fall flat. Hell of an attempt, though.

"X-Factor" #256 had quite a twist ending, leaving Marvel's infernal realms in a very awkward, but interesting place. However, some very big developments got left on the editing room floor (scenes worth seeing) and there were way too many characters to let anybody really shine. Ambitious, but not exactly right.

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

"Age Of Ultron" #8, "Justice League Of America's Vibe" #4, "Doomsday.1" #1, "Batgirl" #20, "Bloodshot" #11, "Soulfire Volume 4" #5, "Red Hood And The Outlaws" #20, "Dream Merchant" #1, "Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Vampires The Eternal" #2, "Wonder Woman" #20, "Pathfinder" #7, "Batwoman" #20, "Fatale" #14, "Lord Of The Jungle" #15, "Birds Of Prey" #20, "Conan The Barbarian" #16, "Catwoman" #20, "My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic" #7, "X-O Manowar" #13, "Fanboys Vs. Zombies" #14, "Edgar Allen Poe's Fall of the House of Usher" #1, "It Girl And The Atomics" #10, "Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Madness Of Wonderland" #4, "Regular Show" #1, "Legend Of Luther Strode" #5, "B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth" #107, "Thunderbolts" #9, "G.I. JOE Special Missions" #3, "Non-Humans" #4, "Supergirl" #20, "Bionic Man" #20, "To Hell You Ride" #4, "Bionic Man Vs The Bionic Woman" #5, "Shadow" #13, "Transformers Regeneration One" #91, "Wolverine And The X-Men" #29, "Nightwing" #20, "FF" #7, "Helheim" #3.

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

"Iron Man" #10 is terrible. Shoehorning in a retcon about Tony Starks literal origins, tying it in to a rogue Rigellian recorder and getting a cliched heist set up (George Clooney must be facepalming pretty hard) going that does nothing to hide the fact that this issue takes so much of Tony Stark's individuality and accomplishments away from him. It's sad in many ways, especially because it batters continuity in at least two other ways. Terrible.

The lead character in "Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt" #9 is really, scarily crazy, especially because he's Captain America with the powers of Mastermind. Unfortunately, his fight scene predominantly in the dark with imaginary enemies failed to thrill, his Talia al Ghul-styled enemy was monochromatic and the plot didn't go very far. What's happening with this title?

"Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" #23 was deathly dull. Miles Morales spent most of the issue staring into space and whining, so, nothing fun there. Great art, but really nothing else to recommend it.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Not so bad. Lots of real ambition and effort.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Two top flight comics beat even three problem cases.

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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