WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?
Every week Hannibal Tabu (journalist/blogger/novelist/poet/jackass on Twitter) 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 DECEMBER 22ND, 2010
Invincible Iron Man #32
Remember the big chase scene with the garbage truck in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Returns?" Matt Fraction, Salvador Larocca and Frank D'armata deliver similar thrills as Tony Stark leads Detroit Steel and a swarm of unmanned attack drones on a chase through the streets of what looks like downtown Seattle (or maybe closer to Federal Way). Maria Hill has to get involved as politics and high explosive ammunition combine for an ending that's a big surprise and darned entertaining as well. All the big names step up for this issue, building up to the next issue with gusto. If you see the names involved with this...well, to say that Matt Fraction is upping the stakes and debating super-villain team ups, that's just scratching the surface. To say more would spoil things, but this is enormously entertaining.
Jump from the Read Pile. There's this thing, right? It's called a Xanatos Gambit, defined as follows: "At its most basic, the Xanatos Gambit is about secretly manipulating someone into trying to foil your own plans. It assumes two possible outcomes by the one manipulated -- success or failure, and the plan is designed in such a way that either outcome will ultimately further your goals." What does that have to do with the world's greatest super villain, a take on Batman going bad? If you knew, you'd have this issue in hand, and your wig would be about ten feet behind you after being blown all the freaking way off of your head. With delightful mirth and relentless stakes-raising, this could be the best thing Mark Millar has ever done, a masterpiece of meanness with twists and turns that bring you giddily along at every step. Please don't believe this diminishes the contributions of Steve McNiven and Dave McCaig, who depict this madness with such intimacy and deftness, such nuance and brutality that it can't help but to almost leap off the page at you. This issue is, in a word, amazing. Wow. Well done, and such a treat this holiday season.
Incognito: Bad Influences #2
Jump from the Read Pile. Speaking of wonderful presents, Zack Overkill is trying to work his way back into the life of extrahuman criminals, and after ending many promising bad guy careers, he's not being welcomed back with open arms. Well, sort of. There are some open arms, but the rest of the bodies are pretty scantily clad. Anyway, this issue adds sex appeal to punching and shooting, all shot in low light and dipped in gritty noirish icing. Another fun visit to Brubaker and Phillips' super-powered underworld.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Great stuff, and I also picked up the paperback for "Peter & Max: A Fables Novel" (that hardcover was a touch too pricey), but since that's been out for some time (and there's no chance of getting it read before press time), we'll just call it a plus and move on.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
"Deadpool" #30 fell from its lofty "buy on sight" perch due to, as the title character calls them, "draculas," dragging the X-Men's trendy cross over into a title that could only suffer from it. Still, the Merc with a Mouth got some bon mots worth noticing and that kept this from being a stinker, but the toothy guest stars took more off the table than they left.
"Legion of Super-Heroes" #8 finished the Legion elections (meh) and had lots of scenes with Legionnaires fighting Durlan assassins in an issue that moved way too fast to focus on any key moments (the bit with Chief Zendak, for example, should have been a way bigger scene). The pieces are there, but this series rarely seems to be confident enough to slow down and let them work.
"Cape" was a surprisingly ominous one-shot featuring a down-on-his luck slacker who never fully recovered from a childhood injury suddenly gaining an element of magic and wonder in his life. What happens there is a shock, to be certain, but the build up was so slow and the art so unremarkable that it's hard to recommend, despite some bright points in the writing. Supposedly this is the start of something, so maybe it'll be more "Profit" and less a grim take on "The Greatest American Hero."
Steve Rogers is a great soldier but a less-than-inspired spy, which is shown clearly in "Secret Avengers" #8, an issue that also proves Harvey Dent's cinematic proclamation, "you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain" with Max Fury and John Steele (which makes you wonder why anybody would keep making super soldiers after so many of them go rogue/crazy) playing him like a cheap ukulele. Nothing wrong with a case of costumed terrorism nor the fight scenes that provoked, but nothing here screamed "this is the issue you must own" in a largely interstitial set of pages.
The only problem with "Chew" #16 is that it felt like it was over far too soon, introducing a new kind of food-based super power and then rushing past it with one comical plot point. Too much good stuff didn't get room to operate, like Tony's sister who works for NASA or the reintroduction of the "Pulp Fiction"-esque agent from the previous story arc.
"Teen Titans: Cold Case" #1 wasn't bad as a Tim Drake led team (so step back a bit in the timeline) goes up against Central City's Rogues (of Flash fame) over a trade with long-time Titans nemesis Slade Wilson. It probably had a little too much going on, trying to balance love triangles with teleporting and melee combat, super villain commerce and old scores to settle.
"Kill Shakespeare" #8 introduced a big surprise on its last page after building up the romance of two literary protagonists and turning allies into enemies. Very interesting stuff here, and if you're well versed in the characters, this is wonderful and vital material. Those less immersed in the Bard's intrigues might find this less compelling.
"Thor: Wolves of the North" #1 was a decent done-in-one tale of a younger Thunder God descending to Midgard to assist a Norse village under siege by demons, which will coincidentally help fend off an invasion of Asgard. Aside from the female lead, there's not a character worth mentioning and the antagonist was surprisingly wooden given the last time you saw this persona in recent "X-Factor" issues.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Artifacts" #4, "Namor: The First Mutant" #5, "Kull: The Hate Witch" #2, "Thunderstrike" #2, Azreal" #15, "Ultimate Comics Doom" #1, "Invincible" #76, "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" #151, "Batman Annual" #28 (although there's one great line: "Which one? The wimp or the old guy?"), "What If? Dark Reign," "Morning Glories" #5, "Uncanny X-Men" #531, "Green Lantern Corps" #55 (although hog tying John Stewart with white power energy...not cool), "Chaos War: Dead Avengers" #2, "Justice League Generation Lost" #16, "Fantastic Four" #586, "Justice League of America" #52 (what's with the "Dark" Supergirl fetish?), "Incredible Hulks" #619, "Power Girl" #19, "Iron Man: Rapture" #3, "Wonder Woman" #605, "Superior" #3, "Angel: Illyria" #2, "X-Men" #6, "Top Cow Holiday 2010 Special," "Zatanna" #8.
No, just...no... These comics? Not so much...
Wakanda's apparently broke due to the end of vibranium as they knew it...but "Klaws of the Panther" #4 shows that they still have a vibrant and fully functional aerospace launch facility in the Atlantic called the Sea Lion and a "latest generation space shuttle" designated S'yan that's fueled up and ready for the Queen Regent to do some extranational adventurism alongside the Black Widow...who has a surprisingly long and sappy chat with the sister no one knew T'Challa had just five years ago. Add to that an ending that would elicit a "Why didn't you do that pages ago?" reaction and you have an abominable stinker of a comic book.
"Green Lantern: Larfleeze Christmas Special" #1 was, frankly, depressing, as the title character somehow got the idea that he could be eligible for the largess of Santa Claus only to get a saddening holiday message from Hal Jordan after terrorizing suburban shoppers. A lump of coal in comic form for your holiday spirit.
"Punisher: In The Blood" #2 takes the foundation of who Frank Castle is as a character and screws with it for no real reason while giving Jigsaw a chance to talk and talk and talk and talk and talk...hunting Micro is terribly tedious and nothing happens here that's more than a notch above yawn-inducing.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Mostly meh, as you can note, but there were some ambitious attempts at things that kept the week from being too much of a gauntlet.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Great purchases beat mediocrity, so the week wins and send you into the year-ending holidays with a warm feeling of being entertained.
While this column normally swings in more of a Kwanzaa direction, if one were so inclined you might wanna check out the cool stuff Stranger Comics did for their "Ruining Christmas" project, including a smoky version of comics artist Afua Richardson performing "Winter Wonderland." Even Warren Ellis liked it. Consider that your holiday gift, so you're welcome!
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, and there's blogging too: I'm back with a newly unified blogging platform thanks to (yes, I'm eating crow for even saying this) WordPress and the theme-adapting styles of Suuru Designs at the Soapbox. That's where you'll find Commentary Track blogs on these reviews, normally within a day or two of their publication. Also, Wednesdays have two sneak peeks at what's going to be in the column (one Wednesday afternoon, the second hopefully by midnight) from the Operative Network Mobile Edition. Enjoy, you bastards.