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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, Jason, Vince and Sally) 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).  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 NOVEMBER 19TH, 2008

Pax Romana #4

Pax Romana #4 (Image Comics)

This is a tough trick to pull off — the army from the future has some major ideological conflicts going on, they’re hip deep in worries over the royal line the intend to support, and emotions are getting in the way of business.  All of this, and it’s not even the fourth century AD.  There doesn’t seem like enough room to pull this all off, and admittedly, the issue’s last line does seem a bit facile given the character who utters it, but it works.  Admittedly, the artwork falls down on the job, in that one very climactic period is depicted in a way that’s just adequate.  This might have worked better as an exercise in pure prose, but it’s a fascinating set of ideas presented in a solid format that continues to reveal nuance on rereads.

Deadpool #4

Deadpool #4 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  The madcap adventures of a deranged mercenary?  Fantastic.  Bored with the ongoing dramas of the not-so-Secret Invasion (“Every. Freakin.’ Channel?!”), Deadpool takes a job from a heretofore unknown associate in the same line of work, who’s doing much better in the financial side of the business than Wade Wilson ever did.  Wade’s still experiencing his hallucinations, still seems to be carrying on an inner dialogue with a disparate part of his own personality and has wildly entertaining interactions with supporting characters that are weird enough or funny enough to leave in one dimension.  The ending veers into the truly weird (almost as much as the classic Joe Kelly series) and it’s safe to say that this creative team of Daniel Way (who knew he was this funny?), Carlos Barberi, Paco Medina and Juan Vlasco have made this title a must have.

Air #4

Air #4 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

“I’m not sure I believe in gods,” said the lead character Blythe to a “bird snake” only she could see.  “That is because you have passed from belief into certainty.”  With this kind of brain-bending fantasy happening on every other page, tossed in alongside elements of international corporate espionage and a magical disappearing boyfriend and you’ve got yourself a winner.  This could have easily gone the other way — a large number of disparate elements, a numerous cast of characters (and admittedly, some did get short shrift) — and even the big dance number (there’s an actual dance number here) could be silly or fall all over itself.  But G. Willow Wilson’s sure hand on the plot keeps just the perfect balance between the ridiculous and the sublime, the thrilling and the wondrous.  Quite a thrill ride.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #58

Ultimate Fantastic Four #58 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  This issue could have easily been called “Ultimate Ben Grimm Shows Up,” as the stony-skinned youth goes above and beyond any call of duty to fulfill a promise to a friend, and along the road we see how that friendship was formed and forever sealed.  With grim, sardonic humor, the behemoth plows his way through challenges of every stripe, administrative and physical, all while working the metaphor of his character.  Joe Pokaski’s script is challenging but brilliant, and the visual storytelling from a Top Cows Productions art team including Tyler Kirkham, Ryan Winn, Rick Basuldua and Jason Gorder handles moments of modern action as well as they do nostaligic montages.  Fantastic character work and plotting which lead to a wonderful story.  

Firebreather #3

Firebreather #3 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  Speaking of serious emotion, Duncan Rosenblatt has some moments with his father (or at least his father in absentia) that are truly touching, not while taking away from the kooky humor that happens so well in this title (“I don’t want to walk to Arby’s” or “The dragon boy finds extraterrestrial life farfetched”) or the well depicted teen angst (peer counseling, asking a girl on a date) in another perfectly balanced issue that hits every note flawlessly.  Kudos to Phil Hester, Andy Kuhn and Bill Crabtree on such a well crafted work.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Three jumps, magic and brilliance … fantastic start.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

“Thunderbolts” #126 was extraordinarily close to making the jump, with Norman Osborn executing the start of what looks like a very fun and very bloody plan, even as it cut off an interesting conversation between Radioactive Man (the Chinese one, not the Russian) and Songbird.  The issue played its cards a little too close to the vest — just a little — and wallowed in the decadence of some of its leads a bit too long (looking at you, Dr. Sofen).  

“Scalped” #23 was good and mean and hopeless as another young man struggles to escape his apparently doomed life on the reservation, getting jammed up into a world of handguns and helplessness.  But it’s not a new trick for this series, you’ve surely seen it here before.

Writer Matt Fraction apparently took a Warren Ellis pill when he was writing the character Doctor Nemesis in “Uncanny X-Men” #504, but it was damned entertaining.  Sadly, every other character moment paled by comparison, even Scott Summers’ freaky psychic bordello.  

“Supergirl” #35 was a surprise in that this issue implied that every stupid and inconsistent thing the character did — going from moony-eyed naif in “Legion” to whiny teen brat in her own title (and so on, and what have you) are not actually the fault of bad editing — a “no-prize” entry in comics form.  Wait, what, this was produced professionally, to sell to people?  That can’t go well …

The fights and building of new characters in “Dynamo 5” #18 was pretty good, but the reveal at the end … who is that, exactly?  What just happened?  More focus on the team — either incarnation — and their fighting instead of the “I just came out of a coma” shtick.  

The similarity between the title character and Nightwing’s relentlessness really worked for “Robin” #180, with his quips being outstanding (calling Jason Todd the “Jan Brady Robin?  A classic jab) and revealing a couple of identities, but it’s just kicking and brooding, and not an actual story, just dancing around being one.  

“JSA: Kingdom Come Magog” #1 wasn’t bad, with the words “military,” “memories” and “murderous” summing up the core elements expressed here.  The Starman origin tale — tying into the tale of three Legions — was okay as an explanatory background.

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

“Terra” #2, “Fantastic Four” #561, “Batgirl” #5, “Punisher War Journal” #25, “X-FIles” #1, “X-Factor” #37, “Ex Machina” #39, “Squadron Supreme” Volume 2 #5, “Stormwatch PHD” #16, “Iron Man: Director of SHIELD” #35, “Flash” #246 and “Invincible” #55 (but at least somebody got laid).

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

“Age of the Sentry” #3 was working hard at trying to be the worst issue of the week, with “super hillbillies” in what looks like the past (yet they knew of a “satty-light dish”), hit a little too soon with Harrison Oogar (the “Caveman of Wall Street,” who may have worked for AIG, and the vapid and useless Millie the Model) and just generally works as “kitsch gone wrong.”  Really, a man with the power of “a thousand exploding suns” taking that much time on a hopped up super hick?  That stinks.  

Another set of capes had to try for the title, as “Supergirl: Maelstrom” #2 cast Clark in some Ozzie Nelson role as Kara played the petulant, scantily clad teenaged fop, all to the backdrop of camping under a red sun.  Tedious and saccharine.  

Don’t count out “Ghost Rider” #29, which (in essence) introduced a kind of Ghost Rider Corps (seriously) and had a lot of Anakin/Obi Wan style barking at each other (and Penance Staring too) with little actual effect.  Yawn inducing.

The winner of the dubious honor of being the week’s worst goes to “Avengers/Invaders” #6, which clarified that the conjured heroes from the past appeared in a method so stupid and so contrived as to be insulting.  It also showcases SHIELD again looking like less competent Keystone cops and has the Sentry get beaten by an freakin’ android in less time than it took to type this section of this sentence (saying, in fact, that both SHIELD and The Sentry essentially suck).  Abominable.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Mostly mediocre, even though the bad stuff really stunk up the joint.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Three jumps beats a full house of bare adequacy and even two pairs of craptaculosity.  Yay, go comics, calling that a win.  

THE BUSINESS

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.  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, where this week Hannibal Tabu drops another short story on you.  New content is posted every Wednesday.

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