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 19TH, 2008
Jump from the Read Pile. The only thing you can say against this very big surprise is that the artwork on the arguable antagonist lacks focus and clarity. Which could be said to be in character, but visually it lacks pop. Maybe if Jorge Molina's colors were a little more vibrant ... anyhow, other than that, this issue is a revelation. It's no secret that this column has not been a fan of the series itself -- on more than one instance in past years, it's been called the worst ongoing on the stands (that honor has passed on since then). But this? This is something else entirely. Fully embracing the John Byrne-inspired legacy of "The Man of Steel," writer Joe Kelly grabs you by the throat, with each character describing themselves in their own words, crystallizing their iconic stature. Clark Kent's arrival at Wayne Manor for the first time is simply entertaining (with Alfred's "Most resort to awestruck silence" and Bruce's "Sorry to be so blunt, but I've been up for sixteen hours and your cornpone drawl was giving me a headache") and the tense interplay between the two is pitch perfect in virtually every panel. Bruce the impatient lunatic genius, Clark the "aw shucks" farm boy with alien powers. So many lines hit well -- "Flying coach really stinks, Pa" and "It's called a dictionary. I'll buy you one" and "You aren't going to hug me, are you? You seem like a "hugger" -- and despite the rough edges on Scott Kolins' artwork, the visual storytelling and page composition is flawless. This is how you do a comic book with two of the biggest icons in the industry. Fine work.
Jump from the Read Pile. The biggest shocker is not how entertaining this issue is -- when focused, this Brubaker/Fraction scripting combo can make a comic book practically levitate. No, the surprise here is how little Fat Cobra is in this issue, and yet it deftly ratchets up the tension with confrontations and quips and not a single punch thrown on panel ... and none of that matters. This issue gathers up all the energy from this fascinating storyline ("The 7 Capital Cities of Heaven" -- just saying that sounds cool) and rockets you along at just the right pace, leaving you hungry to see what happens next.
The espionage agent for the Fables community is a name you know as well as Dana Dane does (too obscure?), and she waltzes through this issue like her name was Jack Bristow. Confidently, smartly and with consummate preparation. She's in South America on a secret mission for the magical maestra Frau Totenkinder, and down to the wonderfully well-placed logo adorning her clothes (a slipper, get it), she's magically spytastic. Add to that the last page reveal, making a lot of storyline happen in a really fun way, and you've got one good comic book on your hands, pal. Once again, Willingham, Buckingham and Leialoha have shown you how it's done.
Normally, if one would introduce an ... unusual element into a very straightforward story, it takes away the credibility of the work. However, when Hunter Rose boredly wanders his way into a room full of (*shudder*) zombies, he still makes it work. Meanwhile, journalist Lucas Ottoman continues his very, very suicidal quest for knowledge that it's probably not safe to have. The issue moves a bit too quickly for its own good, but it's still enjoyable and has all of the "indomitable will" that makes Hunter Rose such a compelling character to read.
Now this is what "Checkmate" is all about -- the forces of Kali Yuga have their master plan revealed, which requires the royals to coordinate endless legions of extrahumans ... even though it was all a Kansas City shuffle in the end. The big reveal at the end has a nice air of menace to it, and although the artwork could have easily become busy and crowded, Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson keep everything crisp and clear while not sacrificing the passion on Sasha Bordeaux's face, the calmness on Kal-El's well-known visage or the strain on the Castellan. All with punching and shooting and flying and what not. In the same way that this week's "Fables" did, this issue pays off the storyline thus far and catapults the reader towards a big confrontation next issue. Solid comics work all round here.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Two jumps and a lot of good stuff besides. Great start!
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
The comic that was closest to making it home was "Red Sonja" #31, a tale of valor and lost love with intriguing artwork and a strong sense of characterization as the title character recounts events of her life to Charon as she's ferried into the afterlife. It hit all the marks on craftsmanship but didn't really do anything special.
"Thor" #7 spoke of myths and cycles as Don Blake discusses Erwin Schrodinger while the Thunder God has a very enlightening nap. The Blake subplot was less than coherent, while all of the mythical elements worked well. Tales of Asgard get the job done more effectively when Stracyznski is at the wheel, so why even bother with all that tedious mortality?
"Batman and the Outsiders" #5 was okay, a fast and hard issue that had a similar kinetic feel to Warren Ellis' "Red." However, fast and hard doesn't leave time for, say, characterization or explanations. Fine if you were already keeping up, but it doesn't do much for new readers except leave them in the dust.
"The Sword" #6 answered a lot of questions, diving into Greek myth and overlaid history in telling the story of where the weapon came from and why some dangerous people are after it with such enthusiasm. With a touch more drive towards something, this could have really been something.
If you took the effective protagonist from the aforementioned "Superman/Batman Annual" and tweaked his powers just a little bit, you'd end up with the less-effective guy in "Flash" #238, which was very well drawn and Wally West was back to his working-class roots (remember how he worried about money back when he could only run 700 miles per hour? Now he's got a family to feed), but with a straw man to face (what's with the guy in the chair?) and a less-than-spellbinding personality at the core, it takes away from the impact a bit.
"New World Order" #2 was an ambitious failure, as it did nothing to remind readers what happened last time (which this columnist forgot until going to read the last review) and while the cryptic warnings of aboriginal peoples had some charm and interest, it was just very fuzzy in meaning and clarity.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
Sleep deprivation takes away the ability to really go into a lot of detail this week, but the "dumb" included "Captain Marvel" #4 (mmm, Skrully and Gruenwald-influenced), "Iron Man" #27 (really, for two multidisciplinary genius-level intellects to get played by an old guy? Come on ...) and the limp ending on "Incredible Hercules" #115. Sorry, Marvel. If it helps, "Countdown" #6 was dull, the ending on "Robin" #172 ruined a perfectly good story and that shark crap in "Birds of Prey" #116 was completely inappropriate (they shoulda stuck with Babs).
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Not so bad, in retrospect.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Two jumps, good purchases, okay reads ... the word is "yay!"
On March 9th, 2006, the Buy Pile came to Comic Book Resources. It was the third home for the Buy Pile -- first at my own Operative Network website and then a big ticket New York-based website. But that's not where it all began ...
The rest of this story is a bit lengthy for this space -- for a rare departure from the third person perspective, let's take it over to MySpace, shall we? See you there ...