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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).  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 …

THE BUY PILE FOR APRIL 9TH, 2008

Number of the Beast #1

Number of the Beast #1 (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  The latest Wildstorm crossover sidesteps many of the storytelling problems of previous events by sticking to the fundamentals.  This issue does a really good job of introducing The Paladins, the premiere super team of the Wildstorm Universe … that you’ve never heard of before.  Apparently, these heroes have been alongside the WildCATs, Gen13 and the rest from the start … oh wait, the “start” (now) was that recent Captain Atom-powered reboot that sent him back to DC looking for the Monarch armor that was denied to him seven years ago.  Urf.  

Anyhoo, forget about all that.  What’s interesting here is that the Paladins are introduced with skill and deftness due to Scott Beatty’s script and the always visually arresting artwork of Chris Sprouse and Karl Story.  Some of the characters are kind of monochromatic — Johnny Ray-Gun is all bluster and chauvinism, Wallflower’s virtually invisible (no pun intended) — but when you see Engine Joe make his appearance (and his breakfast conversation afterwards) or you enjoy Neandra’s accent or enjoy Black Anvil’s presence, you’ll see where this comic shows up for the job, drawing you in by making you care about the characters.  Then, just when you thought it was safe, whammo, classic twist at the end, tying back in to the title and giving it some great symbolic resonance.  Well played, well presented and — for the first time — making the “big events” of Wildstorm’s recent history interesting.  

Doktor Sleepless #6 (Avatar Press)

Jump from the Read Pile.  Speaking of comics that use a similar image (the 666 with the round parts all close together in a wheel), this issue wasn’t actually all that interesting.  It was kind of similar to the pacing of some of the more pensive issues of “Planetary,” but without Cassaday’s epic look and feel, Ivan Rodriguez’ artwork almost gets too close to the subject matter, allowing it few chances at grandeur (the single page splash with the big map doesn’t work).  After walking around in Spider Jerusalem country for a while, the issue takes a very unexpected turn which makes a transition for the lead character.  Other characters — Nurse Igor, Sing — have nice moments, and this issue is chock full of fantastic email-signature-worthy quotes.  Like what?  Like this: “While people like you were hanging around in bars and crying over your first loves, I was learning how to kill people with office supplies.”  Or how about this: “Love is a gateway emotion. Without it, you cannot fully comprehend and experience things like … vengeance, for instance.  Or terror.  Loss.  Hate.  Hate is all you need.  Hate means never having to say you’re sorry.  You can’t hate properly without ever having been in love.  Because nothing will teach you hate as well as being in love.”  That’s just good crazy.  True, the issue’s not so solid if you bullet point it out, but it’s so mean and so unflinching and so self-appreciating that it wins on the kind of charm that, say shows like “Profit” or “Action” had.  Gleeful nihilism.  Fantastic.  If you’re into that sort of thing.

The Megas #2 (Virgin Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  Stepping the game up from the debut issue, conflicted law enforcement agent Jack Madison reveals a problematic love interest, continues his digging into a suspicious high profile crime and generally chews up scenery like a veteran character actor.  True, Sunil Nair’s artwork is more style than substance (with some Patrick Nagel-esque elements, especially in the way he draws the Megas’ hair) but it’s dynamic and solid in its visual storytelling.  Jonathan Mostow and John Harrison’s script has a great balance of talking heads and exposition with motion and excitement.  A love scene, a chase scene and a steady escalation of things into almost Tom Clancy-esque levels.  True, the story does a bit of Kirkman-esque meandering, but it’s still satisfying.  Another pleasant surprise from the upstart imprint with a mountain of cash. 

Criminal Volume 2 #2

Criminal Volume 2 #2 (Icon/Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  Self contained crime fiction at its best.  The father of the previous (and aptly named) Lawless brothers gets his moment in the arguable sun, showing an earlier point in the cycle of poverty and alienation that forms killers, thieves and hustlers.  Sean Phillips’ rough hewn artwork makes this cruel land of betrayal and live and breathe, and as you follow the noirish plot along, you’ll feel the claustrophobic confines of the smoky bars and seedy motel rooms too.  Most effective is the usage of black panels to illustrate the elder Lawless’ alcohol-induced blackouts.  Great work here, and pulling no punches.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Given that there were zero guaranteed purchases when the day started, this is a fantastic beginning.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

“Foundation” #4 was very close to making it home this week, with a twisted tale of byzantine espionage, betrayals and red herrings and of course the regular mythical underpinnings of the Nostradamus-fueled title with a dash of Jack Bauer thrown in for fun.  If you loved “Millenium” (the show with Lance Henrikson, not that Glorious Godfrey DC event from the 90s) and “The X-Files,” this series should make your conspiracy senses tingle.  In a good way.  

Again “Prince of Heroes” #3 suffered from a wealth in one area and a dearth in another.  If you appreciate the symbolic importance of a boy saying goodbye forever to childhood friends, or the wrenching realities of some people being able to be saved and some being left to die based on who has the proper credentials, well, that’s all good.  However, if you find that sort of thing pompous and overblown, well, you could get a whiff of that here as well.  There’s a thimble full of story in this issue which — again — leads style to triumph over substance.  With some plotting help or editing, this could tighten up and be somebody.

The same could be said of “Green Arrow Black Canary” #7, which is a masterpiece of mood (the mirror bit in the bar was really clever, art and script wise) as the characters disguise themselves and then depict the new characters believably (not easy to do).  As great as it is in moments (the Green Lantern opening was funny, especially given the broadcast — why not YouTube?) it falls down as a whole, with one point stretched out to fill the whole issue and lead to a familiar DCU road (which, in a way, makes little sense given the connections and experience the road has — renting, how gauche!).  Another great show of artwork from Cliff Chiang.

“Last Defenders” #2 has a similar issue, with Jim Muniz and Cam Smith doing a compelling job on the art (not to sleep on Antonio Fabela’s coloring) but Joe Casey’s script just kind of moseying along.  Suffice it to say New Jersey’s super team had some problems (the framing device of the Tony Stark meeting was kind of cleverly done) but the She-Hulk/Nighthawk bickering seems pointless even for two characters as sometimes goofy as these two.  Not bad, but not worth three bucks. UPDATED: An email came in from reader Brian Knippenberg, who noted that the bickering had a plausible in-story reason which was more clear to him on second read. Which makes sense in retrospect. The issue itself, as a whole, still wasn’t “ooh, buy me, buy me” good, but that does clear up one concern.

Bickering characters worked better in “Booster Gold” #8, which could also be called “Giffen and DeMatteis’ Revenge.”  Booster and Blue Beetle are in an alternate (Hyperflies!) reality where Max Lord’s Checkmate took over, and a paltry resistance is led by Hawkman and Green Arrow, who cavil at one another in fine form.  Knowing that these are events of little consequence (let’s just say a mind-controlled Superman never lasts) doesn’t make it less fun in a goofy kind of way (Despero, Degaton and the rest of the “villains” are more laughable than threatening — Despero’s got a fan sideways on his head, for the love of pie, a long way from the destructive force of nature wearing the UN flag for a cape in “Justice League Europe”), as you can note in the ridiculous appearance of Wild Dog (wow, that’s a great one to dig up and parody … okay, now there are too many parentheticals in this sentence, let’s stop this one … here) but that’s a far cry from squeezing the price of most of a gallon of gas out of your hands.  

The final issue of “Suburban Glamour” (#4 by any counts) was better and more informative than any of its predecessors, bringing out all the big guns and throwing down.  The lead was particularly well depicted, an independent minded female protagonist determined to make her own way.  Her “family” were less well depicted (maybe they were counting on classical depictions of faerie to be lingua franca, as Oberon and Titania are in “Midsummer Night’s Dream”) and a little more of this issue’s focus could have gone a long way in earlier issues to balance out the series as a whole.  Another case where editing could help.  Que sera sera — still not bad, and the art is working harder than a one-legged man winning a butt kicking competition.

If you like near-naked and scantily clad depictions of curvy female characters, you’ll like “Titans” #1, which features almost full frontal Starfire and turns Raven into a kind of hot goth Daria (a far cry from what you’ll see in “her own emo title” — no, that bit is not going to die anytime soon).  The plot — dead former Titans all over the place — brings back another DC staple (see: same sort of big bad intro from “Green Arrow Black Canary”) for what’s gotta be the grillionth time.  How’s anybody supposed to be seen as threatening after they get beaten so many times and can go years without anybody seeing them?  Anyhoo …  

Finally, the brief preview of “All Hail Megatron” in “Transformers Focus on Decepticons” (Deceptifocus, is that title a nod to you?) was just what the series needed in terms of a little thing called “shock and awe” but was awfully short.  Plus, the Dreamwave art used in the barely informative “roll call” (you could do better on Wikipedia) has been seen before (was that stuff work product that came over with the license?) and the interviews would be better on, say, a site like Comic Book Resources where news belongs.  

Adequate but not worth much more commentary?  “Wolverine” #64 (more nakedness, though, but most of it’s just the same sort of stuff from last issue), “Green Lantern Corps” #23 (what’s with those Oans these days? Adequate space policing though), “Nova” #12 (call Pharrell, because no one really dies with more wrestling-worthy changes in allegiance) and “Gamekeeper Series 2” #2 (which didn’t do much to make The Soccer Team live up to the hype).  

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

Sadly, the stupidest comic of the week is “Fantastic Four” #556, in which a vaguely explained robot (the previous issue said it was “as ruthless as it needs to be” or something … even Nemesis Kid had limitations) takes on The Sentry, Iron Man, Hercules, most of the Avengers, some X-Men … almost forty heroes in all.  It isn’t obliterated in the first five seconds.  Seriously.  The Sentry.  Mister “Throw That Problem Into The Sun.”  A man with the “power of one million exploding suns.”  Facing off with a robot built by Reed’s college crush on her off weekends.  So let’s get this right, for the record.  This idiot thing can take on the Sentry (with the likes of Herc and Iron Man’s 80-ton-lifting armor as backup) and Batman’s weekend project can eat a planet full of gods.  Is that what we’re to believe, now?  Off the planet, all of you — you’re screwing it up for the rest of the bipeds!

Also bursting at the seams with stupitron particles, “Countdown to Final Crisis” #3 has a character act in so uncharacteristic a fashion (and don’t you dare say the material in this series provides sufficient foundation for a heel turn that’d make Hollywood Hogan blanch with shock) that it makes most of the issue — what little there is of it (it’s dominated by a fight scene, and not that great of one) just not work at all.  Plus, what’s with Darkseid borrowing a page from the “Darth Maul over the reactor pit” school of combat?  Seriously?  You wanna pick that time to start monologuing?  The Source is right — you deserve to die.  Oh, and the ending is so preposterous that merely describing it aloud can reduce grown men to giggling. Another customer actually said, “I used to have so much respect for Paul Dini …”  

Unfortunately, DC books dominated the worst of the week, including the tedious “Justice Society of America” #14, with more Kingdom Coming and a “guess who’s coming to the brownstone” moment that made the old guard mad.  According to research done by retailer Steve LeClaire, there’s also a printing error on one page which makes the lettering blurry and hard to read (in no fewer than sixteen copies examined).  A few weeks ago, DC ran a piece showing one of their production honchos — overworked a bit, keeping the trains running on time?  

Diana’s Khundish Adventure in “Wonder Woman” #19 was only useful in showing how a sufficiently powerful foe can deal with an adequate Green Lantern (not an Honor Lantern or somebody better prepared) as the final confrontation was just stupid and much of what Diana actually did made zero difference.  The phrase “blood relatives of the gods of a hundred different worlds” was interesting, though.  

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Not great …

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Three great jumps and one mean enough to entertain make up for the relative mediocrity of everything else in a week that could have easily tanked.  

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