WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?
NOTE: Before we get started, in last week's reviews, I revealed why one should never try to make logical leaps while sleepy. You see, I referenced a bit in "Punisher War Journal" with The Gibbon, who I mistook for The Mandrill, because as one reader wrote in, "All ape-themed super-villains looks the same to you, don't they?"
Apparently, yes they do. My bad. Both are even ape-themed mutant super villains, for the love of pie. Fantastic. I want to apologize to all fans of the Gibbon and/or the Mandrill, and thank Anthony (on MySpace), Gregory Davis, Will Berkowitz and Madison Carter for writing in to point out how much of a moron I can be. Yes, even me, sorry all. Right, well, let's carry on ...
Every week Hannibal Tabu (journalist/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 FEBRUARY 28TH, 2007
This brilliant mini comes to an emotional close as the good doctor is forced to make some pretty challenging choices around his final confrontation with his dark doppelganger Nicodemus West. The conclusion is (as they teach in writing programs) inevitable and surprising, with some wonderfully emotional turns of plot and more depth to Stephen Strange than we've seen in many a year (and yes, that means it's time for the customary shout out to Neilalien, who may be Strange's most ardent fan -- not name checking him would be like writing an Iron Man project and never checking out the fans over at Advanced Iron). The simple but effective art work of Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez will surely find a home on some other title, as they've shown themselves to be quite effective here, and Vaughan is again doing top notch work.
The Blackthorne family has a secret -- a mean, hairy, razor-clawed secret -- and it's getting harder to keep. Meanwhile, it's all still memory-erasing food additives here and battered siblings there for the title characters, who struggle with an imprisoned Rusty and a debilitated Zephyr while Doc remains befuddled and Gaia works on a cover up. Wonderfully confectionary as always, somehow Slate has become the comic's most compelling character -- conflicted and complicated, like Frost but without being such a scoundrel. New artist Yildiray Cinar brings big, evocative imagery, helped by the bright and vibrant coloring of Ron . Fun stuff, and consistently so.
NOTE: Yes, this is the cover from last issue, that's what was in the solicits -- two issues this month, you see. In the final of three attempts at global domination, the Red King uses his vast array of super powers to simply overwhelm the heroes of the DCU and beat them into submission, killing several of the favorites along the way in outrageously creative and often messy ways. But does that mean getting what our antagonist wants? Well, that's the complicated part. Dan Slott's made a villain worthy of following in the foot steps of Prometheus (before he got all lame and could be taken down by anybody) challenging the entire League and never even hesitating. His grasp on the team dynamics of the JLA is solid, as is his command of dialogue, honed from his other projects. Of course, what could you say about Dan Jurgens and Al Milgrom on art, two masters of the craft wielding their skills with a deft touch? Interesting, even more so to see what the Red King will finally choose to do ... and how anyone could possibly stop a villain with such diligence.
A lot of the action in this issue happens between the panels of "Civil War" #7, so that's something of a let down (especially since you'd have to have read that to know exactly what happened in one crucial fight), the "Do not attempt to take off" page seems a bit unclear and Ororo is getting almost as much panel time as T'Challa. Still, this issue manages some really interesting moments, including some arguments for and against Reed and Tony's perspective that haven't been explored and oh yeah, the US effectively makes an act of war on Wakanda (given that they're already at war with Attilan and possibly Atlantis, that doesn't seem smart), a use of Storm's powers that is very new. The moments work more than the sum of the parts, but it's still not bad.
All hell has broken loose in the thirty first century as the Dominators unleash hell all over earth and neither the Legion or their newly-uncovered rivals the Wanderers are doing too well at fighting it -- especially with the Dominators capturing metahumans and making super powered clone soldiers out of them. Yowza! Things look dire and the "heroes" are sometimes too busy bickering to stem the tide. Effective work from Waid and Kitson revealing the character work behind big plotting, with an emotional tribute to Dave Cockrum to close the issue.
Hero Squared #5 (Boom! Studios)
Last issue's big dance number left a disturbing number of corpses, which Captain Valor's silver aged mentality is ill-equipped to process, to hilarious effect. The humor holds steady (never has the word "Eustace" elicited such a response) even including homages to Stan Lee and Adam West. Add to that romantic tension on both sides of the Milo/Stephie diptytch, really well characterized background players and the detailed art work of Joe Abraham (with more solid coloring work from Ron Riley) and you've got one winning issue right here.
First of all, let's talk sub plot. Monet and Theresa are, essentially, completely amok in Paris, fighting anti-mutant sentiment and causing property damage while ducking the gunfire of the gendarmes. That's all about causing international incidents (to be fair, Monet is Moroccan, and they're not always on the best of terms with the French) and interesting in its own vigilante way. But the key here is Jamie hunting down (another) rogue duplicate, this time Reverend John Madrox, who's got a lot Jamie couldn't even begin to understand. The confrontation between Madroxes (Madri?) is filled with sophisticated character work and genuine tension, a real connect between Peter David's script and Pablo Raimondi's layouts. Oh, sure, there's a mysterious hooded figure lurking around behind the sub plot, but there's not much one can say about that ... which makes it a great sub plot, because it keeps you guessing. Masterful work all around.
Note: the actual cover for this issue was solicited as the cover for issue nine, and this cover ran on last month's issue. Don't blame us, we're drunk too. Time to meet the family, as Jack's new billionaire scion bride takes him home to press the flesh with the in-laws and such. The killer Belgians are just good for a laugh, the lucky horse shoe is an interesting diversion and this issue maintains the incorrigible charm that the title character has been charismatically smearing all over the collective consciousness. For lovers of bad boys, this is another keeper.
Transformers: Escalation #4 (IDW Publishing)
How about open conflict on the border of a breakaway Soviet republic? That's right -- Wheeljack, Skywarp, Astrotrain, Prime, Blitzwing, Jazz, Hot Rod, Hardhead and Prowl exchanging ammunition over a snow field as two befuddled human armies look on. Yeah, that's (as the kids say) the business. Add to that Ratchet and Ironhide doing some detective work with their human cohorts and you've got a robust and entertaining issue that has its own resolutions while allowing the overarching story to develop (and leaving two very gasp inducing cliffhangers). Glacial pacing is a thing of the past as "Transformers" is once again worth a look, with E.J. Su handling the images small and large with aplomb and the ever skilled Simon Furman never missing a beat on the script.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Despite some mild mis-steps in "Black Panther" (which can happen in a big cross over), all around pretty good.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy
The action is as big as the names involved for "Justice" #10 as the Metal Men help the JLA invade the Legion of Doom's headquarters and you'll see fight scenes you never imagined. Posing, punching and one-upsmanship was all this issue had to offer, however (unless you want some creepy Braniac stuff with the baby) as the much more interesting idea of happy populaces in cities themed on villains didn't get much attention ... or what would happen if their patrons lost the aforementioned battle.
"Heroes for Hire" #7 was very close to making the cut despite it's Kirkmanesque (or is that Seinfeldesque) inability to complete a narrative thrust within its pages. Still, Orka was excellent, the dialogue between the girls was fantastic, the art rocks and the humor makes everybody fit in perfectly (has M'Baku ever been so charming?).
There are considerable improvements in "Flash: Fastest Man Alive" #9 with Bart grappling with the responsibility of the speedster legacy as he hits relationship problems and accomplishes a lot in 22 pages. Working its way towards something, hopefully.
Despite the whininess of 616 Captain America, "Civil War: Frontline" #11 had a lot to say, confronting Stark with the evidence of his apparent villainy and putting each side of the conflict under ideological scrutiny. A nice closing argument for (arguably) the winner of the event comic wars.
If you can take any lesson from "52" #43, it should be that great caution is needed when dealing with crocodiles. The Black Shazam Family (note: none of them are actually Black, they're all Arabic apparently) struggles with Osiris' manslaughter charge and bicker with their Caucasian counterparts. Which is okay, especially with the surprise ending, but essentially settles nothing.
"Iron Man" #15 has Tony Stark revamping SHIELD in the image of one of his corporations. The numbers add up even if it makes some of the old guard less than comfortable, and that's interesting storytelling as Stark applies his mental abilities to solving real problems ... even while the competition steps up its game as well. Reminiscent of the fun tension in "Checkmate."
The interplay between the title character and Peacemaker was very fun to watch in "Blue Beetle" #12, but most of the fight was a little hard to discern (to be fair, it's hard to draw phasing or intangibility) but the teen hero's struggle is relatable and compelling.
"Wonder Man" #3 had some nice moments as the latest Ladykiller is missed by her co-workers and everybody starts to doubt Simon's mission to reform the super villainess. The art's especially effective in this issue positing a much more brutal future world. Good, just not great.
"Connor Hawke" #4 made a departure from its "Enter the Dragon" shtick to have Connor face more unusual fates, including a dinner party and a surprising myth manifested. It just took quite a while to get there.
"Eternals" #7 finished fairly strongly, with an unusual battle between Deviants and the speedster Makkari, an awkward dinner between Sersi and Tony Stark, a resolution for the rebel Eternal and a new ongoing mission suitable for spinoffs and sequels. The stumbles kept this otherwise strong issue on the shelves.
The tune may be familiar in "Firestorm" #33, but the words are different as Professor Stein has a hint to one of the DCU's oldest mysteries locked in his head
No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...
"Green Lantern" #17 -- Sinestro Corps? Seriously? Old business like this seems made for HEAT types, but not for average readers.
The cover rocks, but the actual content of "Daredevil" #94 seemed a bit emo, a bit self-indulgent for the character in question, a bit whiny overall.
Somebody's been watching "Smallville" if "Action Comics" #846 is any indication, with Zod loose on earth and intent on a scion while Clark gapes and bumbles and generally gets his butt kicked Sean-Connery-as-007 style.
Even the title character couldn't stay awake for the "action" in "Wolverine" #51, so why should anybody else?
The premise in "JSA Classified" #23 seems ridiculous for people who have faced Eclipso, but that aside, what was with that art work? Ew!
"Annihilation: Heralds of Galactus" #1 told stories for both Terrax (cuh-razy) and Stardust (The Devourer's Hand?), the latter of which was more interesting but both still lacked compelling developments to make the issue work.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Wobbly, at best.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
The week as a whole will lose by a hair, due to a preponderance of dumb stuff in the honorable mentions and a crossover-dictated muddling in "Black Panther."