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 MARCH 26TH, 2008
The second installment in the map of Universe 616's Earth is something of a mixed bag. Authoritative guidebooks are considered an essential purchase for the Buy Pile, because few things are as joyous as being absolutely right on a fact (aside from having someone friendly and attractively naked on top of you and/or having a mountain of cash, which always dominate the top two). The Latin American countries are haunted by less-than-inspiring stories (nothing involving Silverclaw is interesting, and Terra Verde's never been anything but a base for people from more interesting locales) and a strange commonality with drug trafficking and caucasian-looking "divinities" making their homes there (Celestials notwithstanding). The US entry is surprisingly boring given the overwhelming number of posthumans who live there (listing state capitals? Seriously? At least the New York City map was useful). The African entries are ... well weird (why make a fictional country named Burunda and have it so close, latitude wise, to Burundi? Couldn't Burundi have worked?), especially given the clump of 616-specific countries lumped together between Ethiopia, the Sudan, Kenya and Uganda (which looks like it lost the most square miles to the creations). Odd little fictional countries have been carved out of larger actual countries all over the world for idiosyncratic reasons (could the story in Medisuela really not have just happened in Paraguay?). Some interesting tidbits came out of it -- did you know Moses Magnum still runs an entire country? Derek Khanata was a Hatut Zeraze? -- but when storylines like the Ghaduza uprisings get short sheeted and the entire Thin Man "Invaders" storyline gets retold, it just seems ... well, odd. It's a useful reference, but not quite as entertaining as the first installment.
This issue ... well, it's not what you might expect. First of all, Wicked John is the arguable "star," and Jack's nowhere to be seen. This could go better than it does. The scene is set for the Pathetic Fallacy to put on a production of "Hamlet" for the prisoners at the retirement community (obviously set before Jack showed up and all hell broke loose) including using his powers to animate numerous everyday items as dramatis personae in the play ... which works only as long as he's paying attention. The bigger problem is that Wicked John has been cast as Laertes, and he's hell bent on doing three things that doom the production to failure: having sex with Alice (as in "of Wonderland" fame), escaping (his nineteenth attempt) and not in any remote way paying attention to the script. This leads to kibbutzing audience members, streaking, mayhem and threats. The switch in narrative voices leads to a somewhat disjointed reading experience -- you'll be as mixed up as the Fallacy by the end of this -- and Wicked John's far less compelling of a lead and as a scoundrel. Not bad, but not as great as you might have expected from this series.
Better as the sum of its parts than as a whole, this shows some fun moments with Lightning Lad being less of a douchebag than people are used to (for a moment), all the teams making their way home (including an interesting philosophical debate), a lawsuit and lots of throwing up. Taken in context with previous issues, it's fairly clear that writer Jim Shooter is taking a longer view of the storytelling, but at a three-dollar-a-month clip it's not exactly keeping you passionately turning the pages, despite delightful art and coloring from Francis Manapul, Livesay and JD Smith.
The week's first real standout, and a "buy on sight" based on the strength of the last issue. This one doesn't disappoint, as writer John Rogers hits all the right notes, as Jaime's master plan is revealed, a lot of old friends show up and rock the party Giffen/DeMatteis style (seriously, this is as close to the classic "bwa-ha-ha" era as you're likely to get at DC these days) with great entrances ("That's right, baby girl. I'm the crazy one") great moments ("Our boy can't. But our young man? He's almost as tough as his mother" and "I'm Paco. And I am going to hit you with this stick until you get the #&%$ off my planet"), brilliantly organized plotting, a romantic moment and so much punching and blasting you'll need Harold Lederman to keep up with it. The ending is just saccharine enough to work, and overall this is one fantastically entertaining ending to one shockingly good storyline. Rafael Albequerque's artwork took some getting used to, but here it's perfect at portraying the story. Fantastic work all around.
Why don't people talk about how late this comic is the way they joke about "The Ultimates?" It's hard to say, but after a long, long time, we get the last will and testament of Kal-El, all while doing the normal stuff -- visiting hospitals, quietly inspiring hope, creating a replica earth inside of a baby universe (aww ... or is that Earth Prime?), figuring out the Kandor problem (finally) and generally living a life of wonder with the zeal of a man who's running out of time. A Super man, even. So very good, managing to be emotional and action packed and funny and defiant all at the same time. Really worth the wait.
Jump from the Read Pile. If you thought you needed to take your time with "Marvel Atlas," you should make yourself a couple of sandwiches, grab a magnifying glass and block out a nice chunk of time to really absorb Jonathan Hickman's latest treatise. This time examining the methods and moralities of hacking the human animal and trying to make something more impressive, this takes the "Behind the Music" approach in a documentary carefully laying out the personalities and characters of the people who drag the species forward into the next step of evolution. There's a level of mystery as you see the facts slowly get revealed. Borrowing from the technological stories of our time (if you think iPharm isn't the Xerox PARC center and that Jobs and Wozniak aren't influences here, you're nuts) and even getting a cute shot at the X-Men (best quote from the "monkey page" is this: "When released from cage, the monkey tried to rape me ... Monkey f***ed cage for 30 minutes after being forced back in" ... and was Wolvermonkey a nod to that penultimate issue of "Nextwave?"). This is not bubblegum fare, this is vastly challenging and intellectually stimulating work -- you know, the kind of stuff you used to expect from Vertigo -- and you'll get every cent of your $3.50 out of this on repeat readings. Who is this Jonathan Hickman guy, coming out of nowhere with three brilliant comics in a row? However, one note: "geneses?" You sure? Nice otherwise.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Came on strong at the end, and even the weaker stuff wasn't actually bad.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
This week had a few books that were very close to making a jump. First up was "Black Panther" #35, in a way a return to form for the series. The good and the bad is that Erik Killmonger's back (he could have a "return from the grave" competition with Jean Grey and give her a run for her unstable molecules) not only working for the US Government (he's on a US warship which sits off the Wakandan coast line ... hang on a second ... that "Marvel Atlas" shows both Niganda and Wakanda as being hopelessly landlocked -- WTH?) but also rallying the populace of Niganda as a potential strongman leader (which means, what, he's abandoned his leadership position in the Wakandan N'Djadaka village?). The bigger problem is that the Panther's as effective as every other Wakandan is seemingly incompetent. How these guys could have staved off western aggression for centuries is a mystery, and his sister's a west African Kim Bauer. That ain't good. Still, every panel with Panther on it worked, and Killmonger's as effective as a charismatic rebel leader as he was as a crafty corporate raider in the last volume of this series.
Also in the "close" category was "Secret History of the Authority: Jack Hawksmoor" #1, which was a surprisingly textured mystery/romance angle on the King of Cities as Jack makes shows of power in San Francisco and becomes entranced with a girl who's not just a girl. Just a hair too thin on actual story, but so good on characterization.
"World War Hulk Aftersmash: Damage Control" #3 was close just because of the sheer lunacy of it. Starting with the "Marvel Recap Template" (which should be posted somewhere, it's genius), the issue went for the weird. How weird? The Chrysler Building came to life and wanted to make something of itself. Sort of. Most of this issue was spent with conversations between the Damage Control staffers and the aforementioned skyscraper, and the neat tricks of narration that tied the book together while developing subplots was deft. So why leave it at the store? It was cute but not even something you'd refer back to (unless the wildly improbable but entertaining solution is ever referred to again -- unlikely) and in an economy where 63,000 people lost their jobs last month and the gas used to get to Comics Ink was more than $3.60 a gallon ... we all gotta do what we gotta do. Surely a purchase in more forgiving economic times. Oh, also gotta mention great art and coloring by Salva Espin and Guru EFX.
The last "close call" was "Ultimate Fantastic Four" #52, which showed Ultimate Thanos wielding power the way power should be wielded ... much like you've seen Darkseid do, or even some shades of Warren Ellis' run on "The Authority." Johnny and Sue are "turned" (and FF fans from the 80s will recognize some shades of leather-clad Malice in Sue's new tactics) with their powers amped up (Johnny's most interestingly) while Ulti-Thanos hands out beatdown as if he got it from Overstock.com at a discount (things really don't go well for Ultimate Thor, who claims to have fought Thanos in the distant past -- there's a story worth thinking about). Ben gets teleported away by Ulti-Thanos' daughter (shades of the Ares of myth there, with this one as Thanos' Harmonia) for a "date" (which is as funny as it's tedious, although it does offer some insights into Ulti-Thanos' origins and modus operandi). The heroes of earth fall a little too quickly (beatdown of this level is almost a crossover, but then again the Liberators did it in "Ultimates Volume 2" so perhaps this Marvel U is just easier to beat up) and again in richer times this would have made it home.
"Countdown Presents: Lord Havok and the Extremists" #6 was a pleasant surprise, not dropping the ball on the mini and revealing the secret origin of Lord Havok (not the same as the pre-52 origin, so goodbye Mitch Wacky) with a final gambit by the armored villain that shocks everyone who's never managed to study the work of Hannibal Barca (seriously, the tactic used here is literally centuries old ... yet it still works). The artwork was a bit too busy and the relationships between people trying to kill one another is not exactly clear. Plus, the ending was more of a "crap, we're almost done, fast forward" than Vader and Palpatine at the end of "Revenge of the Sith."
For an interesting picture of grief in action, look no further than "Daredevil" #106, which could be called "navel gazing" if not for the drunken brawling and people getting beaten up. This is a more effective way to have a character wallow in his sorrow while everyone around him tries to find a way to bring him back to life. Look, if Batman can swing around in panties for decades, beating up goons in alleys instead of processing the loss of his parents, Hell's Kitchen can tolerate some minor criminals catching a billy club upside their head for a few months. Why not buy? It's not the first time you've heard this song in the key of Murdock.
If "Gravel" #2 was a video game, this would be a really engaging and well written level. As a comic, it's okay, with the "combat magician" confronting with another "boss" of the Minor Seven, this time a lithe female with a thing for equestrianism. Talky until it casts words away, not bad overall.
Liberal Avengers, er, "New Avengers' #39 was going well until its ill-advised coda with Hawkeye, a trust-deficient adventure for Maya Lopez with some of Wolvie's gruffness thrown in (loved the "hit on me" discussion) for fun and -- woo hah -- some hints of the future crossover (is it just a week away now? Has it started? Did it start already? Aaah, Skrulls!) tossed in as well. "We're trained to die" is the quote worth noting from this issue, and the intriguing catalog of powers the new breed of Skrull exhibit is intriguing.
Speaking of bad-ass girls handling business, Ravager was a really impressive component in "Teen Titans" #57, taking on Copperhead (who?) a teenaged Persuader (an early incarnation of the Atomic Axe, nice) and a last minute addition, all fairly admirably, despite an inadvertent act of sabotage that made her job harder. Fun fact: DC editors are overworked, or a simple spell check would have caught that "orgainc tissue" shouldn't have made it to print. Robin and Wonder Girl's conversation is intended as a framing device but ends up taking focus away from what's really working in the issue.
Back to Marvel, Republican Avengers, er, "Mighty Avengers" #11 featured some really strong showings by Doctor Doom (including a stream of invective that actually hurt Carol Danvers' feelings, which was hilarious ... oh, here it is, photo included ...) and a seed of crossover-inspired mistrust, while Ares does some characteristic yelling (this "hero" thing doesn't seem like a good fit for him) and a continuation of the redemption of thought bubbles. The story itself was kind of rote, but the asides were interesting enough.
The noirish touches in "JSA Classified" #36, showing Ted Grant getting his Slam Bradley on in Gotham, was okay but it did seem to be more ambiance and vanity than actually going anywhere.
The tension in "New Warriors" was all right, but it was the same stuff as last issue.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
Let's get this out of the way early: this retcon of Abin Sur in "Green Lantern" #29 is not acceptable. We know about Hal and Carol and the crashes. We know Hal's wild streak. That's all old news. The bit with his mom was not really interesting outside of, say, a "Who's Who" entry (and after Kyle, what's up with GL moms really?)
The flashbacks in "Ms. Marvel" #25 went on a bit too long -- we get it already -- and until the last third, the issue was just kind of wandering on. But Carol Danvers proved why she's a puncher and not a thinker, outmaneuvered when she thought she knew what she was doing.
In "Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters" #7, the big threat of last issue was almost dispatched before the first advertisement (lame) only to just kind of limp along ... major pacing problems here, and the coloring and art's not helping at all.
You could have gotten confused while reading "Ultimate Human" #3 and thought you were actually reading "Queen and Country" for all the talk of D. Ops and what have you ... but in the "oh, this is a dull talky issue" way, not a "this is about to erupt into cool shooting" way. The Ultimate version of Pete Wisdom had some of Bruce Banner's ego in taking on an indifferent political structure (but very different reasons). It tells you the "why," but it doesn't do much to make you care.
For the sort of stuff that happened in the arguable "background" for "Countdown to Final Crisis" #5 could be "big ticket holy crap" stuff in other comics, but here they're left out as things go badly really quickly. "Abandon planet" badly. Not a lot of answers, and Una the girl from the future gets attacked by rats. Ew. Let's just move on.
Finally, the ghost of issues past that just will not leave "Authority Prime" #6 didn't manage to entertain, as the illogical "appeal to the good side" conclusion was limp.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
It wasn't bad to read, things progressed well and while there were the "that was stupid" moments, there was little actual overwhelming rage.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
A winning week over all.