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WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?

Every week Hannibal Tabu (journalist/blogger/novelist/poet/karaoke host/jackass) goes to a comic book store called Comics Ink in Culver City, CA (Overland and Braddock — hey Steve and Jason) and grabs a whole lotta comics. These periodicals are quickly sorted 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). Thursdays (Diamond monopolistic practices willing), you’ll be able to get his thoughts (and they’re just the opinions of one guy, so calm down) about all of that … which goes something like this …

THE BUY PILE FOR JANUARY 30TH, 2008

Trials of Shazam #11 (DC Comics)

Guest appearances abound and the stakes get plain crazy as Freddy Freeman’s competitor Sabina is working on a tie score in Shazam pantheon gods signed on for her quest to be the next champion to wield the power. This time everybody’s looking for the manifestation of Mercury, and things move fast … almost too fast, actually. The divinity in question is here and gone almost as fast as the huge guest cast (you’ll see Shadowpact and the JLA, but not for long) while Freddy shows some signs of gravitas and planning. Not a bad issue, but it didn’t seem to have much meat on its bones.

Ultimate Secrets (Marvel Comics)

Speaking of moving too fast, this handbook tries to cram everything that’s happened of late in the Ultimate Universe into one handbook, and has middling results. Remember the Liberators, who took over the entire US? One page, whereas Colonel Al-Rahman could have warranted one all by himself (what of his power levels? Specs on his gear?). How about Magician, who almost tore apart the Ultimate X-Men? Ultimate Thanos, who’s shaping up to be a really major big bad? One page each. Same as Ultimate Morbius (who deserved half a page at best) or the one trick ponies the zombie-fied Frightful Four. Admittedly, there’s not another book on the stands that’ll give you the time travel-bending Ultimate Six Pack, but while the story data’s solid, the actual details seem left behind.

Jack of Fables #19 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Again with the quickness — in this issue, Jack and his merry band share romance in an all-singing analogue of New York, take over bootlegging on the shores of a Fabled Lake Michigan, discover the myths of Canada (we know, we know — there’s no such thing as Canada) and the antebellum south, not to mention breezing past the entire Fable architecture of the indigenous peoples of this continent. Now, admittedly, recent news coverage has co-writer Bill Willingham under the weather (and our most sincerest wishes for a speedy and complete recovery — the comics industry needs Bill Willingham) and it has all of his classic story beats with little of the nuance and focus (the holding hands panels were done well, admittedly).

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

A ten dollar quickie? Hmph!

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

You absolutely should not call it a comeback in “Captain America” #34 (which even Quesada and Stephen Colbert had to discuss) because this sure as heck isn’t your father’s Sentinel of Liberty. The actual stuff with the new (and largely predictable) Cap isn’t even interesting. The work of the Red Skull in attacking the US where it really hurts has the energies of the White Wolf — he’s acting much more like a politician than a super-villain, and that’s almost inspiring to see an old dog learn some new tricks. The bit with the missing SHIELD agents is truly inspired (and again makes Stark seem not so smart). Had this been the Skull’s book, it’d have been a purchase, but the new Captain is more Anti-Cap than anything Steve Rogers would have wanted.

The finale that was the extra-sized “Y: The Last Man” #60 was solidly okay, with Yorick essentially talking to himself in a super-epilogue-styled capstone that tied up a lot of storylines (one in a very unexpected way) and took a very poetic approach to the last pages. Was it worth five bucks? Nah. But it wasn’t bad.

The biggest surprise was how close “House of M: Avengers” #4 is to being good. The political interplay, the character struggles, the internecine combat, all bracketed by the Kingpin’s chessmanship and Thunderbird’s ruthlessness. It was almost enough to make you remember that, oh, right, this is from a self-destroying crossover that was over two years ago and all the conclusions are pretty much foregone. Had this come out in 2006, it’d be brilliant, though.

“Black Summer” #3 didn’t have much to say (or much in the way of characterization for its new antagonists) but it kept up the pace on eye-popping mayhem and violence. Which has its appeal, of course, but it’s not much of a story. Great spectacle, though.

At reader request, the column checked out “The Spirit” #13, and it was as it has always been — solidly okay old school fun in short, self-contained bursts. Nothing “wow” (that blue issue was the only one close to that) but surely not bad, probably two fingers into “decent” territory without ever doing much to try for more.

“JSA Classified” was another neat done-in-one with the Hourman tracking down a mysterious assailant who swiped his wife. The best part of this was the characterization on a supporting character named Curly, a past-his-prime former Soviet strongman turned barkeep (that sounds familiar) and more temporal physics gone kooky.

If you believe in the power of a man to inspire, then “Captain America: The Chosen” #6 might be enough to move you to tears, an issue that less tugs and more yanks at heartstrings as Steve Rogers lays it on with a shovel. Which is all the funnier given how far this is from what’s happening in Cap’s own title, but irony may be more than we can handle these days.

After Alan Moore takes a swipe at something, it may seem goofy to take it on, but the Black Terror appears in the Alex Ross-fueled “Project Superpowers” #0, which has a little more pep when you read it as “The Twelve” (i.e. they’re largely similar stories in many ways). It’s — of course — gorgeously rendered, but it’s not very long on the “why” as betrayal is front and center as the issue to deal with.

Getting back to the sappiness quotient, “Fantastic Four” #553 cranks up the hokeyness alongside some fairly complicated temporal science. There’s also lots of punching, an older version of the FF and Doom getting no less whiny coming from the future. Not bad, and again if you loved that “The Chosen” book, this will really do it for you. But that’s not enough to make the Buy Pile.

Metron takes a meeting that could only be described as “weird” in “Death of the New Gods” #5, as the true power behind the murder spree is revealed, Superman plays Doubting Thomas, Scott Free runs wild and Orion looks fishy, all while Darkseid monologues in the dark like your drunk uncle. Eh.

“Narcopolis” #1 was interesting. You should take some time with it, because the idiosyncratic syntax and vocabulary are not what you expect, while the pseudo-Orwellian overtones (or maybe they’re “Future Imperfect,” hard to know) will feel familiar to anyone who’s had the chance to read much futurist work, but somehow hasn’t gotten anywhere new yet. Worth watching, though.

Getting back to a certain eastern European country, Republican Avengers, er, “Mighty Avengers” #8 features the team fighting a plague of symbiotes amok in Manhattan, while Tony Stark borrows some stuff from Reed Richards while everybody else kind of stands around. Seriously. The characters in the issue even complain about it. This could have been an “Iron Man” story. Eh. Great banter, though, and their Luke Cage-led former teammates make a wholly pointless guest appearance.

While we’re here, may as well address what went down in Liberal Avengers, er, “New Avengers Annual” #2. Doctor Strange, apparently, has yet to recover from that World War Hulk smackdown and that failing makes things complicated as the Hood leads his army of goons in to the sanctum sanctorum, interrupting Logan, who just wants a snack. The ending isn’t what any of the characters could call “happy,” and what entertainment that’s here is surely of the gallows humor variety. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Bucking the “too little, too fast” trend of the week, “Suburban Glamour” #3 took a languid, leisurely pace in setting aside pretenses and illusions and a young woman making a decision. It has one of the most thoughtful and quiet moments of the week (shown in the linked image here) as well as some surprisingly clever bits. Still a bit hard to grok the whole theory, unless you’re well acquainted with faerie (and even if you are, there’s some slow patches).

“Action Comics” #861 continues its “not bad” future storyline, looking at the Legion of Super-Heroes from the 80s in dire straits as Earth (led by a guy much like Duplicate Boy, but dangerous instead of doofy) stands against the entire galaxy. Even depowered, Kal-El wields the kind of Steve Rogers inspirational effect mentioned earlier and even uses many of the characters in smart ways, but the issue itself was all over the place plot wise and never really brought it together.

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

Oh, “Black Adam: The Dark Age” #6 … the new word is discovered but apparently the title character shares the same sort of myopia that plagued Namor in last week’s “The Order” #7. Seriously. Adam does something so dazzlingly stupid, so outrageously inattentive that it just saddens, while putting him in the right place at the right time to make Mary Batson the fetish-clad bore she had to be for “Countdown.” Super disappointing.

Re: “Countdown to Final Crisis” #13 — okay, that Monarch/Superman Prime fight? No. It doesn’t add up. If the guy in the Monarch suit was this tough all these years, then a lot of “Justice League Europe” makes no sense (especially the original introduction of The Extremists, but let’s not get into that continuity boondoggle right now) … but this is the post hyperflies era, so nothing has to make that kind of sense anymore and let’s all get very drunk right now. Okay, then.

Re: “Green Lantern” #27 — come on, we couldn’t have gotten the Scarecrow as a Sinestro Corps member? That woulda been cool! Oh, and the Alpha Lanterns? Yeah, how about no. That’s just creepy — the Guardians are off their rocker on this one.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Pretty dull overall, with a few books (“Ultimate X-Men” #90, “Batman” #673, “Avengers: Initiative” #9, et cetera) that didn’t do enough to be bad nor good.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Flatline the whole week at “mediocre,” since nothing really shone and there wasn’t enough really dumb to overburden the scant joys.

By the way, Comics Ink employee Jason said that the Buy Pile was lacking only one thing, so we’re happy to present Awesome Dre and the Hardcore Committee in all their 1989 pre-Eminem and Kid Rock glory. Enjoy.

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