WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?
Every week Hannibal Tabu (journalist/blogger/novelist/poet/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 books that are too good to not own) 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 thoughts about all of that ... something like this ...
THE BUY PILE FOR APRIL 18TH, 2007
Taking yet another look at this alternate future dystopia, Matty Roth has "come home," as a visiting high profile journalist, covering the military tribunal of soldiers accused of firing on innocent peace protesters, an event called the "Day 204 Massacre." This issue paints a picture that isn't pretty (in a tonal sense, complete with guest artist Nathan Fox for a flashback sequence) of the final days of a truly United States of America and how it led to this catastrophic event that framed the war in all new terms. The strength of Brian Wood's script is that it never flinches away from telling this story in the most curt and harsh method possible, the ugly truth under the harsh light of journalistic scrutiny. We follow Private First Class Stevens from the crucible of Yankton, South Dakota, where militias first became organized as the core of what would be the Free States Movement, all the way to JFK in Brooklyn where he's indoctrinated into service for the US Army. The issue lights a fuse for an ideological explosion that looks massive from this angle, and it's a riveting ride just getting to the ignition.
In the movie "Cocktail," Brian Flanagan said, "All things end badly, or else they wouldn't end." Maybe it wasn't him. Whatever. The same could be said to be true here, in an issue where everybody is painted into an impossible corner that has no clear escape. Hyperion and Nighthawk are on the ground in the Sudan, trying to "fix" the problem in Darfur with a combination of overwhelming force and sheer gumption. The problem is that Africa already has super-powered protectors who have explicitly told Hyperion and his teammates that the entire continent is "off-limits." This, of course, leads to predictable airborne fisticuffs and extreme violence -- as it should. All the new mysteries are solved here -- how Nighthawk kicked Hyperion's butt, why Emil Burbank is so dangerous and so forth, and even giving a name to one of Africa's extrahuman protectors -- but the ending is as good as it gets, with none of the exultant feeling you get from most comics at their terminal point, with a triumphant swelling score playing in your head as you hit the last panels. This is an ugly situation and nobody here has a coherent plan that can work. But Nighthawk gives it the best try that anyone could, wielding every tool at his disposal, and it shows that he is a force to be acknowledged in the Supreme Power-verse beyond the gods and monsters that roam the skies and board rooms.
Jump from the Read Pile. Also, NOTE: The cover shown here is not what was available at retail. It's refreshing to read a mainstream superhero comic that simply doesn't seem to have rules. From the time traveling warning at the start (and really, who calls Professor Zoom to help them with this sort of thing? He's crazy!) to the sales pitch Inertia pushes as he collects Rogues like baseball cards (or whatever the modern equivalent would be -- Heroclix?) to the last page jaw dropper (or maybe not in this post Peter Parker era), Marc Guggenheim's spandex-tight script works at every turn (he also wrote that "Squadron Supreme" mini series mentioned above, FYI) with picture perfect art from Tony Daniel and Art Thibert with Tanya and Richard Horie on colors (the Getty takeover splash page is great, the last page with the ring is also very good). A distinctive surprise after years of ho-hum speedster comics.
Layla Miller's origins may be wackier than that of a Thanagarian hero, but in story terms she's solid freakin' gold. Beset on all sides by the forces of iniquity and the foolishly righteous, X-Factor kvetches and moans until Layla wields the team like a finely crafted instrument of war, placing mutants like chess pieces and forcing a confrontation they wanted but didn't know how to find, using nothing more than a phone, several pieces of paper and a deli platter. Add to that the sad fate of one of Marvel's oldest villains and some slapstick action (did anybody else notice Slapstick in "Avengers: The Initiative" #1? How weird was that?) and you've got one damned entertaining comic book.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
None too shabby -- quite pleasing actually, and some already great in multiple rereads.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
We may as well lump all four "World War Three" one-shots ("A Call To Arms," "The Valiant," "Hell Is For Heroes" and "United We Stand") and "52" #50 as one story, since Didio essentially said that's what it was (and why would they not just print one oversized super issue?) in the issue-ending editorial from this month's issue of "Flash." Essentially, Black Adam wants revenge on every country (and all their citizens) who have done him wrong in his millennia-long lifespan. Which is no small number. Plus -- fun fact -- he's rampaging with the approval of his pantheon of divinities (it's hard to see Djehuti signing off on this kind of action, regardless of how you spell his name, but whatever). Okay. Black Adam beats the hell out of literal phalanxes of extrahumans -- including pantsing J'onn Jonzz and giving him a reason for his Martian pride weird series -- showing just how dangerous a Marvel can be. Also okay. Even the magical conclusion was "all right." Even in details -- the death of a hero, the fate of Gotham City, Aquaman making a big show -- are interesting in a continuity-picker sort of way. The problem lies in the overwhelming amount of whining done here -- seriously, Martian Manhunter navel gazes for what felt like 40 pages, doing his best Dr. Manhattan impersonation -- and ultimately muddies the ending of what looked like one hell of a fight with one very clever solution (that we'll hopefully see come up in "Trials of Shazam"). There's just under two issues worth of story here, and four issues worth of paper. That's ... challenging.
"Fallen Angel" #15 is a mysterious but possibly overly labyrinthine tale of Bete Noire and how it comes to be protected. This issue made more sense than the last and showed a kind of legacy in action, but was simply "okay," not "ooh, buy me!"
You almost get some answers in "Ex Machina" #27, which had very little of the City Hall-based twists and turns that made this issue fly and a lot of head scratching moments pointing to the secrets of Mitchell Hundred without ever revealing them. Again, "okay" ...
"Testament" #17 un-jumped itself down into the Read Pile with a chatty issue showing a new prophet being selected in times ancient and modern, but brushed past the aftermath of Marduk's rage and featured more hand wringing than actual story.
Let's just say it -- "Invincible" issues never really start or end, they just pick up mid stream and wander along until they run out of pages, and this week's #40 is no different (although many of the covers look similar, which is irksome). There were lots of interesting quips and some moments of worthwhile heroism, but overall this wasn't working.
Comic Ink owner Steve said, quote, "the writer of that book should be assassinated," when referring to "Army @ Love" and decried it as being as bad or worse than the all time benchmark of bad comics, "The Monarchy." Well, "Army @ Love" #2 just isn't that bad (neither is #1), a goofy story about tricking Americans into killing in other countries by using some less-than-moral methods that certain students of history may find reminiscent of a certain Italian-based empire. It's not worth buying, no, but it does have a certain mean spirited yet whimsical hatred for the rich and a lusty charm that's worth a snicker, even with the treacly emotional content injected by way of hearsay and inappropriate senses of dominion.
Yes, "Ultimate X-Men" #81 is mostly singing the same old songs like a Temptations cover, but the Mystique/Mastermind switcheroo was worth watching. Not worth bringing home, but a nice sequence.
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
Seriously, what do people see in comics like "Sensational Spider-Man" #37, which had maybe one panel (Hyde accusing Peter) even close to interesting. The rest of this retrograde punch-em-up could have been written in 1987 and you wouldn't have known the difference.
Despite the coolness of Val Armorr beaming in from the 31st century, the start of this three-team crossover was great on dialogue and bad on actually doing anything, as everybody talks and next to nothing happens. The solitary benefit here is that the JSA's new Starman gets a little less incomprehensible. It was chatty and atmospheric where it needed to be bold and tense, and that's just dull.
Midnight is the title character's new self-proclaimed nemesis in "Moon Knight" #9, which shows Marc Spector working out and feeling sorry for himself and ... hang on, does Midnight not have a face? Eww! Aside from being vapid and self-flagellating, that's just gross.
"Birds of Prey" #105 (which delusional Transformers fan and fellow Comics Ink shopper Julian had the audacity to say was a better title than "All-Star Superman") was overwhelmingly chatty, cutting away from the meat of a Hawkgirl fight that had some promise and reveling in banter and dialogue and leaving the arguable McGuffin of the story virtually unremembered.
When they saw the new Ultron, the "Mighty Avengers" in issue #2 would be well served in quoting Dr. Evil: "It ... it got weird, didn't it?" Did Ultron eat Tony Stark? Why does it look like Janet Van Dyne and also why is it naked? Why can't anybody lay a glove (or an axe or even a bullet) on this thing? None of these questions are answered, as this Avengers team literally stands and gaped at the damned robot for most of the issue. At least Ares tried to hit it several times (none of them would have been able to stop the real Thor, I tell you that).
Speaking of weird, even with Lobo and Supergirl finding one another in a space casino, "Brave & The Bold" #3 was a mess, with Batman and the new Blue Beetle botching a robbery (seriously) and some other mixed up stuff happening and ... you know what? Let's just move on.
If you ever got a chance to read the classic Joe Kelly run on "Deadpool," go back and read that instead of this very strange issue of "Cable/Deadpool" #39 (fun fact: Cable is nowhere to be seen, the best you get are his flunkies) as the cast off Agent X stays fat, Bob Agent of Hydra stands around, and Deadpool's quips are the only thing that works, and they're not even at full strength.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Kind of brutal.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
The crap overwhelmed the quality, and the un-jump cancelled out the jump, so this week lost, but by a narrow margin.