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, Jason, Vince and Sally) 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 (Diamond monopolistic practices willing, and yes, it used to be mornings, but management asked for it to slide back some), 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 MAY 20TH, 2009
Punisher #5 (Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. Using a stash of stolen super-weapons, Frank Castle's tired of playing around and sets himself on a collision course with the current kingpin of crime, The Hood. This means shooting, blowing stuff up, misdirection, yelling ... and pizza? Yes, it all comes together as one of the Hood's biggest operations has a bad day. When Frank says, "It's good. It's a good gun," that's normally pretty messy for somebody. With a fateful conversation, a squad of dangerous men and the Punisher's icy calm and resolve, this issue's like an inexorable narrative machine, allowing for both the competitiveness between young and old, the sheer impact of many instances of extreme violence and even a little character development. Toss in a fairly interesting secret being revealed (although, to be fair, a Strucker used the same shtick a year or two ago) and you've got a winning comic book on your hands.
Gigantic #4 (Dark Horse Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. The twist at the end of this issue is BIG -- no pun intended. With global annihilation looming, the lead character struggles against a world determined to scrap him, his brother struggles to save him and he struggles to contain the fire within. Yes, you're reading right -- that's two Rick Remender-written books to jump in a row, which is all good, and despite somewhat muddy coloring by Matthew Wilson, Eric Nguyen and John Cottrell's visual storytelling sell it all the way.
Jack of Fables #34 (Vertigo/DC Comics)
Looking for the title character? Forget it -- he's jumped back to the old homestead. Here, Bigby ... er, well he's not a wolf any more, but whatever. Anyway, Bigby, Snow, Mister Revise (who, honestly, seems like the easiest guy to go to and fix everything) and Gary the Pathetic Fallacy grapple with the intent of world-creating Kevin Thorn to stop them. This leads to a revelation, girls in tight clothes being aggressive and wielding guns and some shapeshifting for Bigby that he's not in favor of. Hilarious, mean-spirited and fun.
Transformers: All Hail Megatron #11 (IDW Publishing)
"When are you going to realize, Starscream ... nothing comes as a surprise to me." Megatron's boastful words may speak well of his chances (and his delicious Darth Sidious-esque monologue to his second-in-command) but there are surprises here that are great for the reader. Page two and three have a splash image that -- scale be damned -- you'll remember for some time. That big image gets blown away with a spread later on that dwarfs even Astrotrain, following the Michael Bay school of "giant robots f*** s*** up!" As much as you'll love the high grade destruction, you'll enjoy Megatron's devious dialogue even more. His musing all along is made clear, his plans shown and his ... well, his genius revealed. Fantastic.
Agents of Atlas #5 (Marvel Comics)
The Winter Captain, er, Captain America leads the Hippie Avengers, er, New Avengers in combat against the Agents of Atlas, exactly as Jimmy Woo planned ... until an unexpected party calls the whole thing into question before another runs amok (not Wolverine, as many might expect). The wild card elements make this one a page-turner, the whip-smart dialogue from Jeff Parker zips along, the art of Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz and Jana Schrimer deliver a lot of great moments ("Well, I'm glad we got that cleared up"). A great issue that delivers.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Yep, that's all good.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
The most interesting thing about "Dark Reign: Fantastic Four" #3 is how often Reed Richards discovers alternate versions of himself found killing lots of people to be the right solution for the chaos of these times. Truthfully, more of Reed would have made this comic all right, but doing "Exiles"/"Sliders" with alternate versions of Johnny, Sue and Ben was a yawn, and despite some cute energy, the Valeria/Franklin stuff didn't hold up either.
The claustrophobic determination of "Air" #9 mixed a smidgen of the tension from the season finale of "24" (shut up, it's on Hulu if you wanna watch it) and the heartwarming energy Tom Hanks in "The Terminal" for a story that's okay by the standards of this series, but not stellar. True, every single syllable and line of this issue is better than, say, ninety percent of the run on "Superman/Batman" or any issue of "Hulk" (sorry, Ed McGuinness, even your talents can't save that train wreck), but held up to its own previous issues -- especially the ones with the country that doesn't exist -- it's not cutting the mustard.
"G.I. Joe" #5 had too much going on. Instead of focusing on the race to stop Destro's spy machine, or zeroing in on the pre-relationship interplay between him and the Baroness, or even following the clandestine missions around the world to try and track Cobra in the first place -- any of which could have made a solid issue on their own -- this one tried to do all of them at once, and everybody got shorted in the process.
"Ex Machina" #42 had the quote of the week -- "Thought I'd be trapped down there forever with a guy who smells like ball sweat and racketeering" -- but the rest of the issue was just adequate, tossing off snippets of plot but no really amazing instances that'd made you demand to own this installment. Without the quote, it'd have been "meh" material.
Doctor Doom's master is finally revealed in "Fantastic Four" #566, and ... well, he doesn't seem so special. Sure, a big splash page early on might make you gasp at the scale of what it means, but it's the only really impressive element here, despite some monologuing from the aforementioned master (who must have studied at Sith School for the shtick he runs -- ironic since Doom's design helped inspire Vader's).
"Thunderbolts" #132 has a mission to Madripoor to deal with the lamentable character Mister X, who debuted in "Wolverine" and has developed very little more characterization since then, borrowing some of his fighting style from the current Clock King. There's an attempt at a misdirect here, but it's both clumsy and uninteresting, and one of the characters herein sums up the problem with this wetworks team with a spoilery quote we won't share here. However, the conversation between the Ghost and the Headsman was interesting, and the Ghost's character is showing some kooky signs of being worth watching.
A problematic couples counseling session sets off "Green Arrow/Black Canary" #20 but it ends with silence and violence. The kiss the couple shared was a wonderful turning point for the issue, but overall it was nothing you haven't seen before.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Wolverine Noir" #2, "Outsiders" #18, "Skrull Kill Crew" #2 "Supergirl" #41, "Invincible" #62, "Captain America" #50 (sappy),
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
Given Matt Fraction's long line of successes -- "Invincible Iron Man," "Casanova," his "Punisher War Journal" -- "Uncanny X-Men" #510 is a shocker in how retrograde and just plain uninteresting it is. Greg Land's artwork is even dimly lit and without any really inspired visuals. What's with this title? Isn't this where Grant Morrison started to go wrong? Sheesh. All that for a plot point that could have been accomplished a zillion other ways? Fail.
It's the return of the Super Young Team in "Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance" #1 ... and honestly, it's limp. The limited appeal of this team was the whimsy and lunacy that Morrison injected into them, but even with the issue getting live tweeted by Most Excellent Superbat (odds are that this is not an authorized Twitter feed, despite mirroring some of the content ... and being even less interesting without the issue as context), it was just a snarky mash up of the current "Youngblood" and "Runaways." You're better than that, Shiny Happy Aquazon. You know you are. Maybe.
Oy. "Hulk" #12 ... apparently a creature from the depths of fan fiction and comic shop arguments, Red Hulk can apparently beat up anybody. He absorbs energy, a la Bishop or Strong Guy, and gets stronger with it. But he's smart, see, and cunning and ... look, whatever. Punching can't get anybody to some of the places this issue tried to go, and even with the brilliance of Ed McGuinness on board, this is a train wreck. As have been, oh, the previous eleven issues.
The big Jericho-fueled crossover ends with "Vigilante" #6, as the fate of the Titans is revealed and lots of talking and talking and more talking takes place. Does Jericho resolve his lame daddy issues? Does he kill his old friends and their successors? Does Vigilante have anything to do aside from stand off to the periphery and show up near the end? If you read this issue, chances are your answer will be, "I don't care."
"Timestorm 2009-2099" #2 was just a bit too lame to be "meh"-ed. But it deserves about that much mention.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
There's more "all right" than bad, and the week led off with two Rick Remender-written jumps, so ...
WINNERS AND LOSERS
... let's say it was a good week, as every purchased issue is worth re-reading now and even with elements like Mister X, marriage counseling and overloaded terrorists, there was stuff to check out that was mostly worth knowing.
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.
Furthermore, as if this reviewer here wasn't obnoxious enough with his opinions, he's part of an effort to teach writers about how to do the work at The Hundred and Four. For now.