The Buy Pile: Friendly Fire and Optimus Prime

Fri, July 5th, 2013 at 1:58pm PDT | Updated: July 5th, 2013 at 2:11pm

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?

Every week Hannibal Tabu (two-time Eisner-winning journalist/winner of the 2012 Top Cow Talent Hunt/blogger/novelist/poet/jackass on Twitter/head honcho of Komplicated) 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 JULY 3, 2013

Transformers Robots in Disguise #19
(IDW Publishing)
Optimus Prime is running away from his name if not his nature in a book that suffers a little from his cult of personality. A city sized titan-class robot is the focal point as a splinter group of Decepticons young and old seek the key to more of the same chaos and murder that lost the war for them. Prime's supporting cast could be made up of Luke Walton, Adam Morrison and Mark Madsen for all they had to do, and the weirdest Decepticon made the biggest impact on the other side of the aisle, but this was a solid issue ... just not as interesting as what's happening back on Cybertron. Luckily, the story is heading back that way, so we'll see how super science and city-sized robots mesh with the banana republic political drama on Iacon.

Five Weapons #5
(Image Comics)
Wow. Admittedly, the action scenes don't get much room to play (but what you can see of them really works) as this playful, rough-and-tumble newly-ongoing series concludes its opening storyline with every kind of sound a weapon can make. Every secret and question answered, every plot line tied up deftly, and the lead character's arc resolved in a way that's satisfying and allows growth. Jimmie Robinson drew, colored and wrote this masterpiece, and has not hit a single bad note in all five issues. In a word? Wow. Highest possible recommendation.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Solid start.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

"Princeless Volume 2" #4 was pretty good, with a very clever plot and some real character development from a player one would never expect to develop. However, a lot of the issue was taken up with recapping, which was an interesting switch in perspective but ate far too much panel time in terms of storytelling space. Still good, but not quite where it needs to be.

"47 Ronin" #5 was a sweeping historical bloodbath served poorly by Sakai's cartoonish artwork, taking away the epic glory of service to the bushido code. 47 loyal retainers of a disgraced samurai finally claim vengeance upon the corrupt warlord who wronged them after years of careful planning and misdirection -- sounds like the plot of a movie you'd watch along side Hero or House of the Flying Daggers, but the laborious pacing and whimsical looking artwork sapped it of its gravitas when it most needed it. Perhaps better collected.

"Ten Grand" #3 wasn't bad but exposition developed character while submarining plot. The criminal version of Mitch Salley recounts how he fell in love while wrestling with the challenges of his current case. This feels like treading water while the stylistic, idiosyncratic art just gets less legible. Not a good direction.

"Stormwatch" #22 was tedious, with the tyro team failing on its first mission in such a gigantic way that it spun all the way back around to doing something almost helpful. Lobo is wasted again, a prop more than a player, and Midnighter and Apollo have a new, borrowed origin that has less resonance. Given its ambitions, its achievements are embarrassingly disappointing.

"Transformers Monstrosity" #2 is an interesting Cybertronian history lesson with less-than-compelling artwork as the "secret origin of the Dinobots" comes to light and two Decepticon commanders struggle with the various challenges of their work. The issue's not one single story but a fragment of a larger narrative early in the war, likely a boon for completists but far from compelling for anyone else.

"Catalyst Comix" #1 has the legacy of "Gødland" imprinted in huge space hieroglyphs all over it, from its heavy handed third person narration. right from the depths and excesses of the Silver Age, down to its astronaut heroine's silhouette. Bringing back Dark Horse's 1990s superheroes in a symphony of destruction and drama doesn't leave much time for piddling things like characterization, but the atmosphere created leaves some room for possibly interesting spin offs. This issue is just movie trailers, so maybe worth waiting a little.

In "Detective Comics" #22, Bruce Wayne is introduced to his opposite number, a weapons-making billionaire intent to buy the Wayne holdings and "return" to Gotham as its de facto king. Coincidentally, a well armed super villain shows up with a penchant for sidekicks and a lethal vendetta against law enforcement professionals. Bizarro Batman? Not quite -- Alfred and the clear headed Jim Gordon are the most effective characters here as the Bat is a little too slow (he really should have better satellite surveillance on Gotham by now, shouldn't he?) and the antagonists are a little too predictable.

"Thunderbolts" #12 was a pretty good "Punisher" issue with a wonderful new catchphrase for Frank -- "I only have to kill him once" -- spotlighting a cat-and-mouse game with Elektra's terrorist brother. Not bad, and interesting in its implications for Frank's relationship with the undead ninja assassin, but even with Steve Dillon's deadpan, spot-on artwork, not quite making the mark.

Super heroes gone wild! Murder in the streets! Speed dating! "Absolution: Rubicon" #1 posits a world where super powers go hand in hand with the kind of morality we face on our 24 hour news cycles. There are only shades of gray in this issue that doesn't quite finish any of the interesting thoughts it starts, and only two supporting female characters get any real depth or nuance shown. Not bad, but not the total package.

"Batman, Incorporated" #12 was a whole lot of sturm und drang in the form of Snyder-esque violence porn all to lead up to a boss fight straight out of a video game. There were some fun pieces of dialogue (mostly amongst former "interns") and the art was solid enough, but with what felt like 80 percent fight scene involving a "character" so two dimensional that he belongs confined to paper, this issue didn't connect.

"Avengers" #15 had a story told more by implication than actual narrative, with its lengthy fight just a place to park several characters while others pontificated, a piece with Thor that should have been a poster was minimized by art and the whole "story," such as it was, was inconclusive. Nice try making several panels look like the Avengers movie, though.

If the passing of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" left you crestfallen and you always wished they could have missed it with "The Dick Van Dyke Show," you'll likely enjoy "Satellite Sam" #1, a black and white period romp as envisioned by the mercurial Matt Fraction and the prurient yet precise skills of Howard Chaykin. Yelling! Casual sexism! Workplace drama! A hint of kinky sex and death! All that and ... well, pretty much exactly that. Not bad, but something of an acquired taste.

The ambition of "The Movement" #3 far outstrips its ability to make its sprawling cast of characters have any nuance or distinction. With far too many pieces clamoring for attention, the rhetoric overpowers the plot, and again, like "Occupy Comics," this could take a lesson from the subtlety of "Lazarus" in getting the same points across.

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

"Massively Effective" #2, "Deadpool Kills Deadpool" #1, "Charismagic Volume 2" #3, "Green Arrow" #22, "Dark Skullkickers Dark" #1, "Bionic Woman" #10, "Aliens Vs Parker" #3, "Venom" #37, "Mark Waid's The Green Hornet" #3, "Fathom The Elite Saga" #3, "Owl" #1, "Uber" #3, "Deathmatch" #7, "Green Lantern" #22, "What If AvX" #1, "Thief Of Thieves" #15, "Shadow" #15, "Red She-Hulk" #67, "Legend Of The Shadow Clan" #5, "G.I. JOE Special Missions" #4, "Polarity" #4, "Mister X: Eviction" #3, "Swamp Thing" #22, "Blackacre" #8, "Shadowman" #8, "Invincible Universe" #4, "Earth 2" #14, "Guardians Of The Galaxy: Tomorrow's Avengers" #1, "Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Oz" #1.

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

Were you looking for more "Seinfeld" influence in your comics? The inaccurately-named "Superior Foes of Spider-Man" #1 featured Hammerhead pooping (really), Shocker being the butt of lots of jokes, a stereotypical "girl in a comics shop" scene, a kick the dog moment subverted by theft and insults and just a general lack of anything "superior" happening at all. Terrible, terrible work.

"Spawn" #233 posits a new, terribly ill-considered "secret origin" for the symbiotic suit and through ham fisted monologuing and static, dimly colored panels, explains it in laborious detail. If you're wondering, no, that's not entertaining. Blech. Dull in execution, insipid in conception.

"Avengers A.I." #1 again showed how incapable modern mainstream comics are of making new adversaries as Hank Pym borrows a page from Brainiac 5 where only a rogue Doombot provides any amusement value. The first of a wave of audience specific teams (Ethnic Avengers! Robot Avengers! Pie-Throwing Avengers!), this tepid pastiche tried to show a community policing itself but really showed that its existence is part of the problem.

Also checking in as plodding and limp, "Trinity Of Sin: The Phantom Stranger" #10 borrowed its central struggle from Deadpool and T-Ray, brought in the quote-tastic New 52 version of Zauriel (worse visual design, better dialogue, such as "Poetry is the native language of angels" and "Heaven is a world with many countries," probably the most elegant solution for that concern), the titular character mopes and wails and generally gets more emo than a supporting cast member on "glee"or "Smash." Let's get Zauriel in his own book ... but enough with the Terrier Jehovah.

Continuing the worst possible Tony Stark story ever, "Iron Man" #12 spends most of its time in flashback mode with Two Fisted Howard Stark doing a placeholder invasion in place of the heist set up from the previous issue all building up to a Celestial-ready riff on "Pacific Rim." Make this stop, please.

Bu-bu-bu-but wait, it gets worse! Pandora's apparently a de-intellectualized Rule 63 version of Pariah in "Trinity Of Sin: Pandora" #1, getting the legacy of Lilith strapped to her (thanks heavy handed Vandal Savage monologuing!) while following her "children" (the seven deadly sins) around and moping before deciding firearms were the solution. Storytelling by montage and voiceover, this made "tedious" look good by comparison.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Gah, that was a lot of terrible books this week, sheesh ...

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Let's call it a wash, with that overwhelming number of terrible comics.

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 will do our best to make sure 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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