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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 FEBRUARY 20TH, 2008

Grendel: Behold The Devil #4 (Dark Horse Comics)

Ever have the feeling somebody was watching you? As challenging as that is for normal people, imagine you’re a murderous crime lord leading a double life and dancing around the rooftops of Manhattan in pajamas with an electrical pitchfork! Matt Wagner’s crisp, detailed style of layout, writing and art is on full display in this issue as Hunter Rose goes about his nasty criminal business while getting paranoid, which starts to throw him off of his uncanny perfectionism (tearing out a page in his journal because he spelled something wrong, and missing while throwing darts at a board). It’s all a bit quick as business takes some turns for the challenging, but the restless wit and forceful persona of the lead character manage to carry the issue, along with its aforementioned gorgeousness.

G0dland #21 (Image Comics)

First up, if you like cosmic style battling that you can just barely comprehend (what’s a “collapsing star burst attack?”) then you’re in luck, because both Adam Archer and his otherworldly pal Maxim do battle with force blasts in such a Kirby-tastic fashion that the King himself would be proud. But the dry wit that’s made this series such a delight is in short supply as whimsical figure Basil Discordia barely shows up (seriously, could we get a Basil Discordia/Fat Cobra buddy book? Maybe even get some guest appearances by Ambush Bug and Aaron Stack …) and Vegas gets trashed. Neela Archer also makes a return — sort of — while the other Archer sisters argue at the Pentagon. A bit more unfocused than some issues, and Tom Scioli’s art could use some clarity around the Maxim missile scene, but not bad overall.

Checkmate #23 (DC Comics)

Now this is entertaining comics. The fast paced patter of the international intelligence organization is boosted a touch when a big name DCU super star gets “deputized” into a rescue mission. Like the previous two comics, this is a fast read, but unlike them, it’s meaty, giving you nuance (“Bad Samaritan” is interesting in a “man of mystery” sort of way, and the “vacation” is like the mis-matched dinner date on a first-season episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”) that you can look back on and enjoy again. Good to see this series back in fighting form after the last crossover season.

Rex Mundi #10 (Dark Horse Comics)

If you’ve seen the “done in ones” from the series “DMZ,” you’ll get the central conceit here — writer Arvid Nelson had an idea that he’d fleshed out in his notes making the fascinating world of “Rex Mundi,” and now we get an issue to showcase it. Here, a peaceful community of Muslims lives under oppressive rule and essential captivity by forces ultimately led by the ascendant Duke of Lorraine. Coincidentally, they’re also close to the McGuffin being sought by the title’s protagonist, but that detail gets thrown off track by an ill-considered supernatural interlude (that’s a bad idea that keeps popping up) and the Duke’s fascist troops tromping about. As always, the last page faux newspaper is a treat, itself more illuminating about the details of this alternate history, and this issue will not stand out as one of distinction.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Of the four purchases, only “Checkmate” really showed up for the job.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

It might be closing time with “Cable/Deadpool” #50, but this issue almost made it as its narrative dipped between the cracks of the recent Republican Avengers, er, Mighty Avengers storyline (before you start sending angry emails, the New Avengers are called “Liberal Avengers” for parity) with the symbiotes (which we’ll also address shortly), giving Deadpool a chance to play Jon Stewart and crack wise on the state of affairs in the modern Marvel universe. The dialogue’s always excellent, but it’s not really anything that matters in any grand (or even petite) scheme of things. Here at the Buy Pile, unless a comic is wholly confectionery (in the sense of a “Noble Causes” or, say, classic “Ambush Bug” stuff), we’d like it to be going somewhere.

Silver Age fans will enjoy the nostalgic stylings of Waid and Perez on “Brave and the Bold” #10, with Superman doing a time travel thing alongside Shining Knight and the Titans of yesteryear teaming up with Aquaman. It’s zippy and confectionery and old fashioned, which lots of people like.

“Prince of Heroes” #2 carried on some of the good things from the last issue — lush visuals, solid anime styled characters, an attempt at epic storytelling, good fight scenes — as well as the bad (including numerous cardboard characters, the first third of the book being drawn without backgrounds and a pace bordering on being glacial). Interesting to watch, but probably better collected … or adapted, honestly,

“Transformers Spotlight: Arcee” quickly tells the origin of the first female Transformer (not cool) and implies that hell hath no fury like a feminine mechanoid scorned. It’s an interesting reinterpretation of the character as, well, a psychopath, but it’s hard to make out a lot of the action in crowded and overbusy visuals. Also, fun fact, not that much story here.

“Umbrella Academy” #6 was a solid if quick ending that’s really not served well by its art. If only James Jean could have done interiors as well as the cover. Ah well. Not a bad way to try and end the world, and Spaceboy’s passionate anguish almost leapt off the page.

“Blows from an unseen assailant have felled Wonder Man!” In “Incredible Hercules” #114 (how is Herc gonna just carjack Dr. Banner’s title and numbering? That just ain’t right!) you remember exactly why Ares was so useful as a super villain (Martin Blank would say he has “a certain … moral flexibility”) and the title character spends most of the issue hallucinating (but in a way that was drawn clearly, so there’s never any confusion for the reader). The bits with Amadeus Cho during the last third of this issue were almost enough to bring it home, as the boy genius reaches out for a vengeance that Tony Stark’s house of cards might not withstand. Shame the issue didn’t center on him and Ares, that might have been worth buying.

“Drafted” #5 has a decent script hamstrung by the same problem facing IDW’s “Transformers” minis — when you’re trying to impress the scale of a menace upon the reader, a straight on “camera angle” mostly won’t get it done (other customers in the store pointed out how well it was done in “Secret Wars” and even during Christopher Priest’s “Black Panther” storyline “Enemy of the State 2” when Klaw was a big sound and water monster). The menace is still faceless and abstract, the “allies” of humanity still too unfathomable and the whole presentation lacks any distinguishable elements. The core idea is still interesting, but it’s surely not taking any interesting twists and turns getting where it’s going.

“WWH Aftersmash: Warbound” #3 had some good character interplay and nice moments of loyalty and ardor, but the plot inched along from last issue and for a guy with a giant brain, the Leader gets played for a sucker a whole lot.

The Dwayne McDuffie-penned back up story in “Justice League of America” #18 was far more interesting than the lead “Asylum” story, which is a shame because the “Salvation Run” influenced idea of a set of dangerous super villains running scared from the feds has a lot of potential that just kind of simmered instead of coming to a boil. All of it was really well drawn and colored, though, and you could really get a feeling for the emotions of the Red Tornado and his family in the backup, despite nothing actually happening.

The Initiative isn’t a new idea, according to “The Order” #8, which casts an old pal of Tony Stark’s in the role of billionaire bankroller, also delving into the super powered street gang called the Black Dahlias. That said, there’s two plots here, each of which could have easily commanded its own issue, and both of which are shortchanged in this issue due to space. Love Kitson’s art, though.

“Youngblood” #2 was again adequate but scattered as it tried vainly to establish a rivalry along the lines of the Holograms and the Misfits (yes, that was a Jem reference, hold on to your wigs) and generally managed to stumble on all the things “Wildguard” got right. Note, that’s not “fall” but “stumble,” which is enough to keep watching but not enough to actually buy.

The science behind “Ultimate Human” #2 had some interesting bits, with Ultimate Bruce Banner explaining some of his rationales behind his failed super soldier formula, but other than that and a few cute quips from characters involved (Ultimate Leader is destined to be a nobody, sadly), it’s not much to see.

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

Re: “Ultimates Volume 3” #3. There’s a rumor going around the comic book shop about Ultimate Black Panther’s identity that borrows the old Michael/Janet Jackson argument (seriously, who’s ever seen them together, for real?) which is much more interesting a discussion than the idiotic finger pointing and recriminations and creepy reminiscing with Ultimate Logan that actually comprises this issue. There’s one almost cute surprise, but seriously, why does it look like this entire issue was colored with mud in the ink?

Given how many times this week Tony Stark was made to look like a moron (“Mighty Avengers” #9,” Iron Man” #26, the aforementioned “Ultimates”), “Hulk” #2 was embarrassing in that a giant red man (no, no one knows why he’s red) with a stolen SHIELD gun kicks butt in a way that’s really kind of sad. Moreover, the lead character, the one element nobody knows anything about and has everyone asking questions? Barely seen. More felt than seen, really, so don’t expect any facts here, aside from the fact he’s hunting down people who have a history with ol’ Jade Jaws.

Speaking of “Mighty Avengers” #9 (and yes, Marvel really stunk it up this week, sorry), Tony Stark goes armor-to-armor with Victor von Doom. Okay. You’re a genius and a futurist. You can link up to technology. You probably have even read stuff on the internet, or chatted with Reed about Doom. So why in the name of pie would you look surprised, nay, shocked when ol’ Vic whips out some magic on you? Shouldn’t you have been ready for that? That thought never crossed your mind? Seriously? That’s stupid. Either you’re a genius or you’re a moron. You can even get a partial credit if you’re drunk (that one’s for you, Ultimate Tony Stark). But sober? Yeah, that’s just not right, unless — all together now — you’re a Skrull. All that aside, the opening with Doom and Morgan le Fey was interesting, but not enough to carry the six splash pages of melee combat at the core of this issue (and it’s not like Mark Bagley and Danny Miki’s art is bad here, it’s just not “six pages worth of splash” interesting), and the anachronistic ending didn’t help.

To get off Marvel’s back for a minute, this week’s “WTH?” award winner is “Death of the New Gods” #6, with a betrayal that’s hinkety, a big fight for Orion that you could miss if you blink, Scott Free run amok and Supes not being fast enough in the vacuum of space (yes, he’s not wearing a breathing mask, hyperflies, there is no continuity, these aren’t the droids you’re looking for, we’ve always been at war with Eurasia). Really? This is what you’re offering this week? WTH?

Let’s even go a step further, looking at “Countdown to Final Crisis” #10. If you know what a syllogism is follow along. In this issue, we find out (no major spoiler here) that Darkseid has imprisoned the entire Greek pantheon of gods on Apokolips. Take a second with that one. Go on. Think about it. Many of the Shazam powers. One of the Quintessence. Captured by a guy in short shorts. Okay. Now, let’s run with that for a second. This guy takes down an entire pantheon of gods … but Brother Eye — which was made by Batman on slow weekends and off days — is eating Darkseid’s entire planet. Really? Is that what we’ve been asked to believe? It was hard enough to accept last issue, but tossing in the Hellenic element? The mind boggles and reels and crawls into a corner, sobbing while demanding its piwwow and bwankie.

But even more fun, while we’re on the Bat subject, in “Batman and the Outsiders” #4 (a book with way more style than substance) a promised Batgirl/Green Arrow showdown is wildly anticlimactic, the Bat tries to use an “erased iPod” theory on a piece of technology way, way too dangerous for that kind of shenanigans … it’s … wow, just no, guys, really.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Rather bloody stupid, actually.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

One great read does not a good week make, so let’s call this one a loser and hope next week will be better.

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