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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 MAY 21ST, 2008

Avengers: The Initiative #13

Avengers: The Initiative #13 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  Remember Peter Dawson?  Some years ago, there was a little comic book series called “Rising Stars,” and in it there was a guy named Peter Dawson.  Well, this may not be his son, but Emery Schaub bears a great deal of similarities to the aforementioned character.  Emery Schaub is completely invulnerable — he can’t be “shot, stabbed, poisoned, drowned, suffocated, or harmed in any other conventional way we can figure.  Can’t even be hurt by mental attacks,” according to the Taskmaster.  He also, however, can’t feel anything and can just barely taste food.  He’s also “a fat wimp,” again from the Taskmaster — not strong, not fast and clumsy to boot.  One of a new class of Initiative recruits, he’s mocked and disliked and says inappropriate things and is generally a well-meaning screw up.  However, while fellow recruits Prodigy and Annex complain and former jailbirds like Gorilla Girl and Sunstreak shoot him dirty looks, he keeps up his cheery fanboy demeanor and manages to make some progress as a character through the course of the issue.  Christos Gage’s script is an excellent balance, showing each character in turn and working in some smart action and plotting, while Steve Uy’s almost “Macross” minded artwork is clear and open in telling the tale.  A pleasant surprise.  

G0dland #23

G0dland #23 (Image Comics)

An Elseworlds story?  Did Wanda Maximoff share scripting credits here?  In a very different world than even this series presents, Leela Archer is the world’s cosmic-powered guardian — complete with “a planetary early warning system rising twenty miles up from the equator” — and Adam is a paper pusher in the lower echelon’s of NASA.  Neela’s a much more pro-active and decisive than Adam has been, which leads to some surprises when an old friend comes calling, but this whole issue feels like “… aaaand we’re waiting …” because these things cannot stand (a world without Basil Cronus and Friedrich Nickelhead? Preposterous!) and it doesn’t seem like this series is ready to change horses in mid-stride.  Not a high point for the series that’ll have fans quoting lines and going “wow.”

X-Factor #31

X-Factor #31 (Marvel Comics)

Arcade’s the best thing in this issue, which has Valerie Cooper yelling into a cell phone for most of the issue, most of the team doing search and rescue and with voice over dominating the issue while spending more time developing a failed former mutant comedian named Paula and a group of former mutants raging impotently against the machine.  Again, an “okay” issue, but not one that will go down in the annals as one worth remembering.

Grendel: Behold The Devil #7

Grendel: Behold the Devil #7 (Dark Horse Comics)

Have you ever tuned in to one of your favorite TV shows and found that it’s just an episode constructed around some contrived framing device just to show clips of the show instead of telling new material?  This issue’s like that — Hunter Rose has trapped the shadow that’s been chasing him, and it’s a walking DVD player.  If you’re a long-time Grendel fan, the scenes that Hunter Rose sees will be familiar to him (and it kind of makes him a moron for not seeing more things coming, if he got this warning).  There’s very little here that’s news to anybody, and people not well-versed in Grendel lore will not be able to contextualize the images they’ll see here.  

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Not that great, honestly.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

The first comic that should have been purchased but wasn’t was “Band of Brothers” #1.  A really well-done war story, it sat near the Buy Pile as a “maybe” for some time, but ultimately its $4 price point seemed too steep.  In retrospect, seeing what did come home, that was a mistake, but oh well.  The plot was better than the characterization (which wasn’t bad, just limited by the size of the cast) which had solid art and writing.  “Next time, baby …”

The second comic that should have been purchased but wasn’t was “Black Panther” #36, which was also a “maybe” for a while.  Erik Killmonger has carpetbagged his way into a leadership position in neighboring Niganda (which is funny, since with Ghudaza and Niganda so close and so precarious, you’d think the Panther regime would have done something to create more regional stability) while wielding above-state-of-the-art tech (Monica Rambeau stays trapped in a force bubble the whole time, plus he’s got some other nasty surprises) and promising flat screens in every home and the power to run them.  A lot of great stuff happened here, from the call with Tony Stark to the inability to call the queen, but Killmonger’s so much of a cipher — he keeps coming back and yet really doesn’t have much of a character to mention — that he just seems like the Panther should be able to take this guy.  Killmonger’s motivations are less cogent than even Lex Luthor’s … and probably for the same reason: they amount to megalomania cloaked in altruism.

“Justice League of America” #21 wasn’t bad, with Libra making an offer to The Human Flame as he holds court with most of the big and little bads of the DC universe.  The problem is, the whole issue hangs on The Human Flame, and he’s duller than a John Kerry lecture.  Outside of him, this issue was pretty good.

“Iron Man: Director of SHIELD” #29 isn’t bad, showing Tony Stark using that brain of his in a really effective manner while saving lives while having two lives touched by Stark reach out for revenge.  The tech and ideas here are interesting, working on the edge of nanotechnology and tomorrow’s terrorism, but it didn’t really hold together as a coherent whole — a common problem with many comics these days.

Retailer Steve LeClaire’s favorite comic of the week was “Scalped” #17, a deeply emotional issue which centers around a number of dead bodies, frustrated rage and deep sorrow.  It was good … but it was also not really “going anywhere,” as they say, stalling the uber-storyline and wallowing a great deal.  On a good note, the art’s much clearer, which is a good thing.  

The ranting and attitude of “Doktor Sleepless Manual” #1 was fine, echoing the energies of “Transmetropolitan” once again, but that similarity — again — is the biggest weakness as the prose backup material told more of a story than the entirety of the sequential art pages.  

One thing you can say for “Captain America” #38 and all of the Brubaker issues since a certain Winter Soldier took up the mantle is that it’s thrilling — the pacing and the action are top notch.  However, with another character rescued from the grasp of death (argh) and Arnim Zola taking a page from Caprica Six and Boomer, it had some problems that didn’t quite satisfy.

“Omega One” #3 had lots of fighting, but most of the newly-introduced (in this comic anyway) costumed antagonists had about as much depth as a sheet of typing paper.  Which is bad, because their fisticuffs took away from the interactions of the fine characters that have already been introduced.  Surprisingly, due to visual design and his fighting style, the character with Nazi origins was the most interesting … whatever his name was.

There’s not exactly anything wrong with “DC Wildstorm Dreamwar” #2, which shows a surgical invasion of the Wildstorm universe by the DCU’s favorites (all inspired by somebody named “Chimera,” which certain message boards imply will be very stupid, but there’s no direct evidence of that here).  But, in a word, “so?”

“Incredible Hercules” #117 makes a fairly convincing case for the terrestrial divinities to take their conflict to the celestial otherworldly heights of the Skrull gods, sending the titular muscleman to lead Snowbird, Ajak Tecumotzin (best not to ask), the Japanese Loki (Amatsu-Mikaboshi) and Atum the God-Eater in an Egyptian guise.  Which could be cool, especially given the surprise at the end and Amadeus Cho calling it the “God Squad,” but something didn’t feel right.  

“Brave and the Bold” #13 was a pretty solid and respectful Silver Age-minded done-in-one, with Jay Garrick helping out the Bat.  The central conceit of a biologically-transmitted artificial intelligence had some holes in it, especially with T.O. Morrow and the Penguin involved, but it was a fun romp nonetheless.  Samuroids.  That’s crazy.  

It seemed like turning Ultimate Agatha Harkness into a hottie could have been interesting for “Ultimate Fantastic Four” #54, which leaned on the Len Samson issue of “X-Factor” from back in the day (or maybe the more modern version), but with a weird transition in the issue’s last third and Ultimate Salem Seven looking sadly like the Ultimate Defenders, it didn’t end up getting anywhere.  

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

In “Robin” #174, the identity of the new Spoiler is revealed.  The answer, sadly, is overwhelmingly stupid.  Robin’s remote controlled ride was cute, the action scenes were well depicted, but that reveal was what this issue hung its hat on, and that element was like the legendary “blue screen of death” — it’s not working.  

The incredibly stupid plot points that led to “Fantastic Four” #557 get even stupider as Reed unveils an anti-Galactus suit of powered armor (that he’s suspiciously never even hinted at before) and the CAP robot — which, somehow, is getting more powerful after handing the Sentry his own butt in combat (yeah, ridiculous, just move on).  The best part of the issue was Reed and Sue having a romantic moment, but literally everything else was complete crap.

While we’re here, we can hit “Birds of Prey” #118 and “Flash” #240, which shared a similar thematic problem.  Allegedly, through all the 52 worlds, there’s only one Fourth World, one Apokolips and New Genesis.  Also, apparently, everyone of those New Gods was killed in a mini-series called, appropriately enough, “Death of the New Gods.”  So with Granny Goodness and Steppenwolf wandering around like everything’s hunky dory … that’s just dumb.  Even by the new, modern, hyperflies-inspired rules, this can’t work.  Does anybody in DC editorial talk to anybody else?  Bah.

Imagine if you had “Kick-Ass,” but instead of making it tragically funny, just made it pathetic and dull.  You’d have a book a lot like “Pilot Season: Twilight Guardian,” which follows a young woman working for justice in her neighborhood in the most boring possible fashion.  Really?  No. 

“Tanget: Superman’s Reign” #3 should be more interesting than this.  

“Casey Blue: Beyond Tomorrow” #1 was more entertaining when it was called “Gemini” … or was that “The Dollhouse?”  Wildly boring.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

The good was okay — those first two really should have come home in place of “G0dland” and “X-Factor” — but the stuff that was bad really worked hard at it.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A mild loss, given the mistakes of believing in some series that didn’t show up for the job and the sheer dumbness going on with some of the comics this week.

PREVIOUSLY, IN THE BUY PILE …

Last week, the Buy Pile claimed that nothing really stank.  A number of fans — including NYCJonny and Claudio Pozas — wrote in to say that they believed “Titans” #2 was awful enough to merit derision.  After a second look this week at Comics Ink, the original decision stands: it’s not horrible enough to insult or good enough to praise.  It remains wholly mediocre.  We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, as your mileage may vary.

BEFORE WE GO …

First of all, we wish to issue condolences to the family and friends of Rory Root.  

Second?  What is The Hundred and Four?

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