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 APRIL 29TH, 2009
Ms. Marvel #38 (Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. Karla Sofen is now a world-famous super-hero, savvy enough to mix with the hoi polloi in public (unlike some of the more clearly deranged murderers on her team) and all-too cognizant of how many people are looking at her butt. The ease with which she dispatches a trio of robbers belies the true challenges she faces this issue, delving into the truth of herself as a person. This wonderful character study doesn't hold back, as many Dark Reign books have, and shows Karla Sofen exactly as horrible as you'd expect. Kudos to Brian Reed's script and the art of Rebekah Isaacs and Christopher Sotomayor.
Phonogram: The Singles Club #3 (Image Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. The most subtly brilliant comic of the week, hands down -- with the ever-so-deftly handled throughline of a "curse song" (explained in the text portion as something that "will, in a real way, open old wounds, tearing through the stitches you're trying to make hold. A curse song should be avoided at all costs") flashes back on the character Marc having a dance floor experience akin to a George Michael chorus ("... and I'm never gonna dance again/ guilty feet have got no rhythm ..." and yes, the characters in this issue would find such a musical reference repulsive in the extreme), referring to music as a lush backdrop upon which the story is shown. Jamie McKelvie's art is a thing of sheer minimalist glory, perfect in every way. Meanwhile, Kieron Gillen's script actually sneaks this story in between seconds of the previous -- wonderful once you realize it, but wholly enjoyable if you never saw it. Gillen wrote, "I have no idea if 'Phonogram's' any good but I know it's clever.". The self-contained "Rashomon"-styled issues of "Singles Club" are already way, way better than the perfectly fine "Rue Britannia" miniseries that preceded it, and one more issue this deft and crafty could make this title a Buy Pile regular -- the Sherlock Holmes of indie comics (which will make even more sense in a bit).
Dark Avengers #3 (Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. Norman Osborn and Victor Von Doom facing off with Morgana le Fey in 690 AD. The witch's magic making the nascent Spider-Man turn his symbiotic fury against his teammates. On one hand, Norman Osborn's matter-of-fact straight man routine is hilarious, leading to some fantastic dialogue (Osborn: "Time travel gives me a headache." Doom: "Only because you're ignorant." Osborn: "Right ..."). Likewise, powerless or not, Bull ... er, Hawkeye shows with just a few lines of dialogue why he's one of Marvel's hardest hard cases (and also great with one-liners too -- "Hey ... what's with your hair anyhow?"), and the Sentry scares the heck out of everybody like he was Billy Batson checking out an arrow with Lex Luthor looking on approvingly (look it up if you don't know the reference). Also, Noh-Varr checks out Ms. Marvel's butt. As he should. Things don't exactly go well for Norman, and that's damned entertaining.
The Literals #1 (Vertigo/DC Comics)
Surprisingly, the only book that was guaranteed a berth home was the least satisfying. A perfectly okay issue, super-powerful magical power Kevin Thorn wants to unwrite all of existence and remake it into something he'd find more interesting. The weirdest part is the drooling guy in the straightjacket, and the manifestation of a certain genre's creepy also, while Snow White proves she's a terrible driver, Raven gets the order right, Jack Frost finds his father's doppleganger and Kevin gets some less-than-inspired ideas. Everything here is cute, dripping with the conventions of the series' internal logic, but as a story goes, it shows up on time and stays all day, but doesn't exactly get anything done you'd be impressed with.
Dark Reign: The Cabal One-Shot (Marvel Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile. Five short stories about five of Marvel's most dangerous characters (and the fact that Parker Robbins numbers among that count is a tribute to the writing skill involved, because the Hood was a loo-hoo-ser before he got all demonic) in abbreviated anthology style that's simply a wicked pleasure. Doom figures heavily in two of the stories, and the credits read like an all-star game of comics creators: Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction, Rick Remender, the aforementioned Kieron Gillen and Peter Milligan making a surprising turn for Loki. Add to that some evocative Adi Granov art and some amazing moments (Doom has a few, Emma Frost has a statement of self-determination that's like an anthem for the independent woman, Namor showcases his regal side quippily, The Hood has a noir moment and Loki does what he does best). Fun stuff and ready to be re-read.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Even with the relatively gimpy leg of "The Literals" (like an Olympic athlete running a race against Quicksilver and a team of Flashes), it was an amazing week.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
If you believe in the inspirational example of Steve Rogers, "Captain America: Theater of War: Brothers in Arms" will be a must-have for you. If you like WW2 comics, you'll probably also enjoy this a lot -- well drawn, well plotted, well executed. If you're writing this column, you don't have a feeling for either thing, and probably left it at the store because of that while recognizing the major accomplishments in craft that happened here.
Speaking of skillful work, "Unknown Soldier" #7 had a lot of great moments but seemed a bit muddled in its plot, mixing the newcomers with the titular character. To be fair, the art from Alberto Ponticelli a little muddy and obscure, which doesn't help, and would be better suited to a series requiring less detail in the work.
Let's keep it military -- "G.I. Joe: Origins" #3 was an okay look at the early days of the team, giving some nice character moments (and apparently forever reformatting Roadblock into Heavy Duty, although why Heavy Duty and the similarly themed Rock 'n Roll would both be needed at the same time for a "covert" team is unusual), with art reminiscent of "Infinite Horizons." However, honestly, this series needs the new, revamped Cobra, as these kids are a bit too "strac" for their own good.
The Luke Cage story by Wyatt Cenac in "Marvel Assistant-Sized Spectacular" #2 was actually really, really good. Positing the hero as a candidate for borough president, it had a ton of great characterization, great plot and even room for some action. However, the "daughter of Galactus" story right behind it was so abysmal that it induced nausea, forcing every other story hidden within to be missed. Shame, that -- apparently Jason Aaron and Chris Yost had some stuff in there.
"Dr. Doom and the Masters of Evil" #4 was close to the mark, with a crisp plot showing Doom at his manipulative best. The problem was that it showed none of his trademark faux-honor nor pomposity, which would have made the dialogue work much better. Ditto for Magneto -- when some girl with a snake outshines you, you didn't really show up for work, dawg.
The on-the ground narrative of "Nova" #24, using a crafty framing device of two characters communicating during a battle, was kind of effective, as was relegating the arguable protagonist to a subplot. Also effective was depicting the Imperial Guard (and Gladiator in particular) as serious players with big-league power, instead of the standaround enemies of X-Men past. The stakes didn't seem very high, though, and the characters too green to really matter that much. Plus, one is just a talking floating helmet. What's up with that?
Deadpool finished his crossover in "Thunderbolts" #131, which had a lot of funny lines and great action hampered by a weak ending. Norman Osborn's wetworks team was less than effective against Taskmaster and Wade, but it was at least a kooky ride getting there (admittedly less kooky than the last Deadpool issue).
Jim Rhodes didn't hold anything back in "War Machine" #5, which had a devil's bargain with Norman Osborn, finding common ground with Ares and using his brains as much as his brawn. If only the plot was a little more cohesive, this could have come home.
The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title
"Batman: Battle for The Cowl: The Underground" #1, "Sherlock Holmes" #1 (nothing wrong, but nothing really to snag your interest either, odd since the name is considered such a superlative), "Justice Society of America" #26, "Mr. Universe" (Wasn't this a lot like "I Kill Giants" in conception?), "Superman" #687, "Runaways Volume 3" #9 and "Wonder Woman" #31.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
"Uncanny X-Men" #509 was an ambitious failure, buoyed by Greg Land's art and the media sensation of Northstar in the bay area, but Madelyn Pryor's idea and raison d'etre is even stupider than her resurrection. Creatively bankrupt at conception.
"Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds" #4 was ... what's the word? Oh, right: stupid. The identity of the Time Trapper? The reason for the return of Bart Allen (Ben Reilly called and said even he didn't like it). There was so much wrong here that it's sad, given the good feeling that several Legionnaire appearances (including one who was thought out of the game) provided.
Speaking of comics where lots of things were just not right, "Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk" #5 shows some things about Ultimate Logan's powers that defy all kinds of suspension of disbelief. Moreover, the fight/sex allusion -- ew. Logan's spirit animal is ... well, just not right. Also, isn't Ultimate Nick Fury stuck in the JMS Squadron Supreme continuity? A cascading failure.
When both Hal Jordan and the Guardians have a problem in "Green Lantern" #40, it makes you think they're not so smart after all. A huge hole in the Guardians common sense is shown here, which makes a lot of their efforts, in this issue and outside of it, pretty lame. Kind of embarrassing for them, and that's not entertaining.
"Avengers/Invaders" #10 -- really? This is still happening? What are you, "Trinity?"
The whole point of "Teen Titans" #70 was a limp conversation, using a very haphazard means of getting one character into place and has Jericho still being a weirdo. Make it stop, please!
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Interesting and ambitious attempts in the reads, despite six really dumb comics.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Four jumps and good attempts all work out over six crap comics, so let's call it a win.
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.