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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 and Jason) 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). Â Thursdays (Diamond monopolistic practices willing), 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 ...

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THE BUY PILE FOR APRIL 16TH, 2008

Rex Mundi #11

Rex Mundi #11 (Dark Horse Comics)

The word here is "dedication," as three men drag themselves relentlessly towards their goals, regardless of the consequences. Â On one hand you have the pill-popping Duke of Lorraine, hell bent on creating a "true holy Roman empire" with a fascist France at its head. Â On another, you find the series arguable protagonist Dr. Julian Sauniere, inexorably drawing himself towards a McGuffin of literally biblical proportions. Â Finally, the relentless Inquisitor, Brother Mordicant who's literally falling apart. Â All three are broken in many ways, all three are blind to what's happening to their lives or the world around them, all three compelling in their own way. Â This issue does an adequate job of depicting their struggles, but Sauniere gets the short straw here, while Mordicant has been reduced to a screaming, violent shamble of a man. Â Lorraine's meteoric rise to power has never been as intimate as it is here, with a two-fisted grab at forever. Â Not bad, but there's so many moving parts that it's hard to give all of them theb appropriate amount of attention.

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Noble Causes #32

Noble Causes #32 (Image Comics)

Image's soap opera superheroes are back, and things have ... changed. Â There are familiar faces, but no fewer than four family members are completely absent, while the name "Noble Family" now encompasses three entirely new faces and one fairly big surprise. Â The family dynamics have changed considerably in what seems to be five years later -- Frost's look is a lot less "edgy" and more "eh," a former wild child has settled down, and oh yeah, Doc's remarried with two new stepkids -- but some familiar elements remain. Â Doc and Rusty are still having a hard time with one another. Â Frost is still mixed up in shady dealings. Â The youngest Noble is dating a "normal" person. Â There's a twist at the end that's cute, but even though Yildiray Cinar does a solid job on art (as always), there's not enough clarity in art nor script to make some things clear. Â Do we know who that was, meeting with Frost? Â Why exactly is Celeste still here, when a hired administrator might be less weird to have around? Â Interesting, but still something's missing ...

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DMZ #30

DMZ #30 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Matty Roth is drinking the Parco Delgado Kool-Aid something fierce, as the "organized powers" work hard to dismiss the populist, who could be said to echo Spider Jerusalem's ideas about "the journalism of attachment." Â Delgado's monologuing dominates the issue, which has a very sudden moment of honest danger fueled by Liberty News' continued moral flexibility, and a great deal of character work done here. Â Sure, plot wise that's maybe a point or two, but it's an interesting road to take. Â

X-Factor #30

X-Factor #30 (Marvel Comics)

The week's first honest delight -- oh, sure, Arcade's been around doing a familiar shtick since the Carter administration (and yes, despite the cleaned up image you see on the cover, he's back in the white suit and bow tie on interior pages ... are those Space Invaders socks?) but when he hits his marks, it can still entertain. Â Take Strong Guy -- slammed into a huge rolling boulder a la "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Â That's a great sequence. Â Or look at the fun we have with Monet after she takes on "enough wattage to kill twenty grown men" and then walks around for the rest of the issue calling people by the names of former teammates and having heir hair stand straight out from her head. Â Peter David's script is tight (almost in every panel, but what's up with "good on you," shouldn't that be "good for you?") and has a simply wonderful ending. Â Taking old tropes and making them fresh and new? Â That's fantastic. Â

Grendel: Behold The Devil #6

Grendel: Behold the Devil #6 (Dark Horse Comics)

If you have a problem with Matt Wagner's depictions of naked strippers, the first pages of this issue might make more prudish readers blush. Â But this issue succeeds in giving each disparate element the appropriate amount of panel time. Â The lead character engages in a virtual ballet of violence that's simply enthralling to watch. Â There's a turn towards the supernatural and just enough focus put on the journalist/cop relationship, even though the issue flies by and the coloring is a bit inconsistent (the red on Kwon Hyun-Ki's shirt changes to gray from the beginning to the end of the issue). Â Fun read, though.

The Infinite Horizon #3

The Infinite Horizon #3 (Image Comics)

The combat of the future manifests itself in the form of an armored adversary on a desert island. Â Again, the home front and the journey home both get an appropriate amount of time, as the tense jungle struggle is absolutely riveting and the struggle to reclaim a stolen son means opening up the scope of this story in a new and possibly disturbing direction. Â Phil Noto's visual storytelling is superb, conveying the emotion and the movement of Gerry Duggan's script is intense and effective. Â Worth a read or two.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Not a bad set of books, but it didn't set the world on fire either.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Before we get started, store owner Steve LeClaire noted that his shipment from Diamond had a record (for his shop) of 125 line item shortages. Â What does that mean? Â It means that a full twenty eight percent of the things on his invoice that he paid for did not arrive. Â Ten boxes of his reorders are, as of this writing, in a store in Orange County, forty miles away. Â Steve has two boxes of their reorders, which he just doesn't think is fair. Â This has been your Monolopy Watch (tm) section for this week. Â We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress ...

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

"Salvation Run" #6 was "not bad," but the promised Joker vs. Luthor throwdown was not compelling in terms of visuals nor dialogue. Â Heat Wave's character moments showed some interesting sides, but after last issue's "invasion," is it now one big happy villain summer camp again? Â How did that happen? Â Bill Willingham, your sass and mischievous wickedness is sorely missed.

"Captain America" #37 was also "not bad," with a number of people calling the tyro Sentinel of Liberty on the carpet about carrying the shield and the almost Ozymandias-styled string pulling of the Red Skull manipulating a single candidate (without doing much to affect the machinery of American politics, which confounds even the uber-rich at some levels). Â Interesting, but it can't decide if it wants to work at the thousand yard view of market fluctuations and multiple playing fields or the coming of age story for a prodigal son. Â

"The Sword" #7 was okay, involving a road trip and phone calls and an impossible quest followed by reluctant friends. Â However, all things will get weird when incest comes up. Â That's just creepy. Â Sure, it made sense (in a way) for the characters in question to have that talk ... but it just creates more questions than you want in your brain, like ... well, you'll see something similarly disturbing in our "No, just ... no ..." section below. Â Let's just move on ...

Again, good character work can't trump limp plotting for "Batman and the Outsiders" #6, which has one plan going awry while trying to fix another plan that went awry. Â It was good to see Metamorpho's cleverness (very nicely played) and the Bat makes a wonderfully gritty coordinator (sort of like what ops look like in "Checkmate") and Geo Force had some nice moments, but overall everything that's happening is kind of stupid when you look at it objectively. Â Sure, Bats is trying to run all of this off the radar, but pony up some funds for some real solutions, you skinflint!

The history lessons of "Incredible Hercules" #116 continue to be effective means of exposition, but the essential Eternal digression was not interesting enough to serve as a focal point for the whole issue (what did happen to Gilgamesh?) and Athena's ultimate meeting plans seemed surprising in terms of the powers she brought to bear (do those figures really care that much? Then why not show up for Maximum Security or Infinity Gauntlet or any of the other big to-dos?) and the timing -- can somebody say "crossover?" Â The idea of Herc, Amadeus and Athena on the road sounds fun, but it could have been more fun than this.

"Perhapanauts" #1 was okay, a quick little story that focused nothing at all on character and delivered a plot that was just "meh." Â Relying heavily on cultural touchstones (instead of, say, developing the scenes and concerns herein) the issue aims at confection and mostly hits the mark. Â But it's just not addictive confection like, say, "Noble Causes."Â

"Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag" #8 struggles mightily against its central concern -- the General himself (who even remembers, hey, almost taking down the whole JLA by himself before Bronze Tiger essentially calls them a gang of pansies) but brings all the pieces back to play (great moves by Deadshot) in a game of political and corporate brinkmanship that's fairly satisfying ... if you get past how powerful the General is supposed to be. Â Maybe that's another "Superboy Punch" thing where continuity just works this way now. Â At least Rick Flag showed up for the job, having two great character moments. Â Let's just move on ...

It appears that one of Diamond's errors this week was not shipping a comic twenty years late, as apparently, "Iron Man: Legacy of Doom" #1 is a new comic book with Michelinie, Lim and Layton. Â Really! Â It's also not bad, a clearly nostalgic tale of time travel and trickery, magic and metal, done in classical styles that evoke halcyon days. Â All that said, it's not great and it again brings up a very common question these days: "Isn't Tony Stark supposed to be smart?"

The best part of "Hero by Night" #3 was that, knowing how horrible he was at banter, the title character bought Spider-Man comics and memorized the quips. Â Probably older issues, but still. Â That was cute -- acknowledging existing in a world with a popular culture of its own. Â

Oh, "Tangent: Superman's Reign" #2? Â There's a call here from the estate of a Mark Gruenwald. Â Apparently some of the ideas in your pages, and almost whole scenes, are not new. Â Cute, but not new. Â It doesn't sound like a happy call ...

"Iron Man" #28 got (finally) a little smarter -- and messy along the way -- as Tony uses his brain effectively to get down to what really matters. Â Along the way he makes out with a girl, beats the hell out of people, blows stuff up, creates major international incidents on two continents and breaks out an old suit of armor. Â An improvement by baby steps. Â

"DC/Wildstorm Dream War" #1 was just the DCU heroes saying "knock knock" to the Wildstorm ones. Â Check back next issue, maybe something important will have happened. Â Maybe.

No, just ... no ... Â These comics? Â Not so much ...

Still too soon? Â Yep ...

Let's talk for a moment about "Brave and the Bold" #12. Â The image you see here is taken from that, widely swiping at a joke that's ... well, the true story was unsettling, but the idea that one of the Challengers of the Unknown wakes up every day and slides into protective adult undergarments just in case ... you can't unlearn something like that. Â That fact's gonna stick with you, no matter how much you drink or how desperately you try to forget. Â Which is not what you signed on for, honestly, nor what you deserve. Â So that's bad, first and foremost. Â

Then you get to the little matter of Jason Rusch, Power Source. Â It doesn't seem like this kind of humiliation happened to Ronnie Raymond, plus it leads you to wonder how long was the other party in the matrix stuck there (it can be fatal, remember?) and one customer at the store brought up the "oh, they gotta grab the Black guy against his will and make him work" card. Â It's just ... well, it doesn't seem like a good idea. Â

Adding insult to injury, if the final pronouncement of Megistus is right and this entire exercise has been a sign for Grant Morrison's new work, well, that's just goofy. Â Normally we can at least recommend the corny dialogue moments for Silver Age styled-fans, but this? Â Not this time. Â No.

"Captain Marvel" #5 asks a familiar question ("Conspiracy Theory," any of the "Bourne" films, et cetera) of what to do about a broken super soldier, and not only is the sequence of events in this issue stupid, the thought process indicated here that led to the planning of these events is stupid. Â All that work ... for this? Â Then to have it not work because somebody on the project is ... well, essentially stupid? Â It was like this issue had a magnetic field that attracted stupitron particles. Â

A lot of people had a lot of bad things to say about "Countdown to Final Crisis," but in its penultimate #2 issue, it was merely kind of goofy. Â The whole issue's climax -- the ultimate in deus ex machina, almost intentionally -- can be summed up in three spoilery words (you won't find 'em here) ripped from the pages of "Death of the New Gods" (you didn't miss much there) and three of the series catchphrases make themselves crystal clear ("Darkseid Rules," "Jimmy Olsen Must Die" and "Find Ray Palmer," whereas the "Mary Marvel" one got worked out -- sort of -- last issue). Â Not that it's, what's the word ... interesting? Â Yeah, that'll do. Â Not as bad as many would claim, but not really good either. Â Just waiting for it to all be over, honestly.

"Annihilation: Conquest" #6 tried really hard and still couldn't make it work, giving the Phalanx's new overlord way more influence (they can't survive without him? That's crappy programming) than was probably a good idea, even as he body jumps like that angel in "Fallen" and scares the crap out of dozens of races. Â Oh, and it all sets up a new "Guardians of the Galaxy" series, which should elate the six or seven people who might possibly care. Â

Almost every character in "Superman" #675 was -- wait for it -- stupid, as Daxamite luddites (really?) tussle with Paragon (who's ridiculously powerful while being a graduate of the Dr. Evil school of Super Villainy) and the Man of Tomorrow, who really should have found a quicker way to settle all of this. Â Like, "Oh, the guy you want? Â Come on, I'll show you where he is, it's a funny story actually. Â Lemme just finish beating up this guy, could you stand off a ways? Thanks!" Â Which, honestly, might have been more interesting. Â

The ending of "Hulk Aftersmash: Warbound" #5 seemed like "Okay, let's just stop writing ... now, how's now for everybody?" Â The death and legacy of one character had very little resonance ... it's sad because the character interplay here is always so strong, just everything they do seems like "yeah, whatever."

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Numerically, it seems better than worse, but down in the trenches it felt like shlepping across the Serengeti without any water.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

The week as a whole gets a "blah" because nothing really was "wow"-worthy, and it seemed like it was an uphill climb just to read it all.

Tags: x-factor, dmz comic, noble causes comic, rex mundi comic, grendel comic

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