WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?
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 OCTOBER 25TH, 2006
NOTE: Cover image shown here is different from what was available at retail. Also, considerably less impressive, in this case.
The puzzle is finally complete, as Elijah Snow forces one last, fatal confrontation with the mastermind behind the Four, Randall Dowling. To say much more about the what and the why, or even the where ... well, that would reveal more than is necessary, but this is a clever little proper end to the popular series, with only one final capstone issue left, probably visible some time in 2007. The meaner, more serious Elijah Snow is the one to watch, as his certainty and determination make the day and the formerly sassy Jakita and boorish Drummer are now relegated to bit parts in his grand drama. Which, perhaps, is as it should be. A good, if somewhat abrupt, end to an enjoyable ride.
Speaking of abrupt, there's one pivotal moment in this issue which moves a bit too fast for it to really work (one and a half pages, with little preamble), resembling a moment from the "Smallville" season premiere. But Adam Archer's struggle with captivity and new powers (yep, he's still figuring out what he can do) is compelling cosmic content, spilling wild new ideas here and there as if they were so many dandelion spores drifting on the wind. Keeping up with the benchmark, even if it misses the humor of some of the title's more usual antagonists.
Jump from the Read Pile. Buying this was a mistake -- the only way to enjoy it is to completely skip the last page (and the last panel of the page before it). Those pages, going meta in a very bad way, throw out the whole story. The narrative -- following a less-than-friendly World's Finest before they were "friends" -- is quite entertaining, showing Joe Kelly doing his "heroics-and-ha-ha" shtick with great aplomb. The way they snipe at each other, the razor sharp dialogue, even when bringing in Earth Two's dangerous combo of Ultraman and Owlman. Deathstroke is on hand to whack Wayne, and he even gets an Earth Two counterpart ... one who Kelly fans should be very happy to see, as he's very familiar. The scene with Bruce and Clark trying to share a state room, the Owlman dialogue with Bruce in civvies, Slade accepting the contract ... all spot on. But reading the end just ruins the whole experience, and to be fair, there are some clues it's gonna go wonky on you from the gray boxed captions on the "ultimate mamma jamma of super-battles." So if you'd like to enjoy this issue, stop right after you see the words, "the robe brings out your eyes." That's really all you need.
First of all, to be fair, at no point in this issue do Namor and T'Challa come to blows, so the cover's a bit of a tease. This is the first diplomatic mission that actually doesn't have "aggressive negotiations." So don't get all worked up over that. Second, after the page with the powder and the deal, the dialogue-art confluence is screwy for just a sec, but it's easy to work your way through. Third, there's a lot of talking and not much making with the "biff" nor the "pow." So there's that. But this is a very smart issue, taking on the issues of modern 616 geopolitics and realizing the strange bedfellows that Civil War makes of many. To be honest, if the story were told with more jumps around in time and more of a subplot, it could be a Priest issue. But Namor and T'Challa come to an understanding and Mister Panther is heading to Washington, with much entertainment (a la Aaron Sorkin) along the way.
This issue is very crafty in the details -- Brainy's sudden burst of precognizance, a new "plant" inserted into the Legion, a big shock for the Girl of Steel (using a very nice continuity point) and Shadow Lass at her sassy best. The last page, possibly showing a real "blast from the past" looks like it's bringing one of the Legion's most powerful names back. Just the right amount of stuff going on, some real pathos and emotion from Cosmic Boy and Supergirl, and the trusting nature of the Legion still causing it trouble in a less-than-trustworthy galaxy.
Well, there's no Dirk Anger suicide attempt this time, but his bosses make a surprising (in every possible way) appearance and give Ellis another chance to poke fun at super hero history (even his own, and yes, even Mark Millar's). There's not so much a story here as a long string of gags. WHIch is okay. Not great, but entertaining in bits.
Freddy Freeman has to hero up in a big way, facing almost certain death and the threat of a consortium determined to inherit the Shazam power and legacy. He also faces his Solomon test, which is a lot more clever than some might have expected, giving him a formidable power and a well-told origin with a nice dark undercurrent. Again, the devil (or the gods, here) are in the details, and that's too spoilerish to tell. But nicely done work, and Howard Porter's art is off the chain.
Somebody must have called Michael Scoffield, because this prison break is one to watch. Jack, with a smug smile and an arrogant comment at every turn, makes good on his promises even as some of the captured Fables don't make it out alive. This week's full of comics that would be spoiled by over-analyzing, and the jokes and gags and fairly fun turns of plot here are no exception. But still, well worth your time and fun to reread for its cleverness.
Squid-Boy? Seriously? Why didn't Slaymaster know better? Fabian Stankowicz, technical genius extraordinaire? Doctor Strange's brother is a vampire? How can a character with a name as cool as "Stained Glass Scarlet" be so lame? How is it the Sons of the Serpent didn't get absorbed by Hydra or something? What gives with Skein getting a two page entry, and a half page of description for her powers (such as they are ... "fibrokinetic," sheesh) and the Red Skull's evil daughter only got a page? Even with all those questions raised, the SHIELD entry is almost worth the price of admission all by itself.
The Marvel Encyclopedia (Marvel Comics)
Hannibal says, "Shut up, I hate you. I know, I know, it's more pictures than reference data. Which I'd have known had I read the press on it ...
... but Steve tricked me! They know how I love reference works. They shoved it in my face. Said, 'it's forty bucks!' I vaguely said, 'eh, I might get it if it was thirty.' 'Ring it up for thirty!' Steve said. How could I turn that down, with the 10% discount on top of that? So now I've got a pretty picture book with less-than-complete info. But it is pretty.
So shut up, whatever ..."
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
Very expensive, but pretty solid and very entertaining in spots.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
Intergang tried to grow up and be somebody in "52" #25, but one can only wonder why Gotham was more appealing than, say, Zandia. Ed Brubaker crafts a spy-tastic yarn in "Daredevil" #90 as Matt gets played by a dame and beaten down by Tombstone, but even makes a point about his own idiocy, needlessly running around in costume. Geoff Johns' debut on "Action Comics" #844 is better at craft than content, as yet another mysterious Kryptonian appears (an interesting shout out to "Supreme Power" comes in) and Kal-El gets all emotional. Well done, but even doing a boring job well is still boring. "Heroes for Hire" #3 is all about very clever switcheroos as the team walks the line between the worlds of legal and illegal capes and masks, while their arguable arch enemy plots revenge (mwahahahaha). To be honest, this should have come home instead of that "Annual" above. Either that or "The Boys" #4, which actually tells most of a story (that falls apart in the last few pages) for a change in between really gratuitous sex scenes and mean spirited humor. The Winter Soldier weighs the implications of the Civil War in "Captain America" #23 (an issue where the title character barely appears and has no dialogue) while making a mockery of SHIELD security (really, why do they even bother any more after that "Agents of Atlas" embarrassment?) but it looks better than it sounds. The labyrinthine plot of "Secret Six" #5 shows some real team work despite deception as bad guys throw done on one another in a random part of the world (and is Dr. Psycho freelancing?). "Justice" #8 had the same problem as "Action Comics" as the tools and skill of storytelling are more compelling than the story itself, with a Hal Jordan delusion as a core problem in the narrative. Finally, it's hard to tell exactly what happened in the long-awaited, anticipated "Seven Soldiers" #1 -- like waking up sore and sticky in an empty and rumpled bed, with no sign of anyone else around -- but whether it was good or bad, it was surely densely packed with data and crazy.
No, just ... no ...
Seriously, did the Sentry just whine his way through all of "New Avengers" #24? Plus, how much of an ass is Iron Man, trespassing on a sovereign state that's already peeved at the US government in particular and its superhero community in general? The coffee cup close ups and confusion (Effigy had a big thing in space, now he's in New York, and has no idea why?) that torpedoed "Ion" #7 were no good. What's up with Marvel selling what's essentially a collection of movie trailers in "Civil War: Choosing Sides?" Nah. Both "JSA Classified" #18 and "Deathblow" #1 were wholly disposable, stories that kind of happened and left little mark of their passing.
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
Not awful, overall.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
We'll call this week a thin win after last week's brutality, and a costly one at that.