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 JUNE 21ST, 2006
Certainly the rumors have swirled, and there's been anecdotal evidence. But now we have incontrovertible proof -- Matt Fraction, clearly, is stark raving mad. In the best possible way. In the first installment of his "wall of sound" style of comics making, Freelance intel operative (and scion of a spy family) Cassanova Quinn ... well, the most balanced way to say it is that a lot of stuff happens to him. Like, "ten issues of the classic 'Authority'" level of stuff happening to him. Like a "Metabarons" amount of stuff. An almost overwhelming amount of stuff and text and craziness on every one of the 28 black-and-white page of this ad-free issue literally floods off the page and into your brain like your head bones were the old levees from New Orleans. Shooting? Check. Interdimensional madness? Yep. Swank spy subterfuge? Done. Hot girls (even if one is dead and many are robots)? Gotcha. Even a sort of mental kung fu match in a flying casino. Wow. Just ... wow. Possibly the best two bucks you'll spend in some time, and a clear candidate for best single issue of the year (even giving that brilliant "Fables" issue from a few months ago a run for its money). Damned entertaining.
Speaking of a deluge of crazy ideas and being damned entertaining, Morrison and Quietly don't ease up (despite this book being, of course, a smidge late) while taking a silver age trope that's used shlockingly on "Smallville" but with great amusement value and pathos here. It also manages to do the impossible -- make Jimmy Olsen seem less "useless hanger on" and more "holy crap, that guy's got an insanely cool life, wow!" Start by placing a wildly futuristic think tank on the moon. You could pretty much stop there, with a tungsten gas life form that has a purely optical language, or "explaining the unified field in the form of a perfect haiku." That's all good crazy right there. But when you start "looking into the dense foundations of reality, where time itself cools to a solid" and within a page or so you've got the Man of Tomorrow running amok and Jimmy Olsen left to save the day. All the way to the picture perfect ending, this issue is wall to wall fun, in the best possible way that captures the wonder and whimsy and power and glory that is inherent in the property, never running from the ridiculous elements but embracing them and taking them out to tango. Fantastic work.
Jump from the Read Pile: If you're going to have an issue full of huge, splashy images, ridiculously intense fight scenes and macho posturing, it absolutely has to be as entertaining as this. With just a little bit of time left on the Millar/Hitch era of "Ultimates," restraint has seemingly flown out the window while the Liberators capture the United States (seeing Ultimate Spidey, the Ultimate X-Men and the Ultimate FF in restraints is almost worth the price of admission, before you get to Air Force One and any of the other craziness here). Ultimate Captain America once again shows why he's about a grillion times cooler than his 616 counterpart, Ultimate Hawkeye calls it a comeback in a major way, while an old friend comes back in a much more serious manner. Every page you turn just ratchets up the volume on this symphony of destruction, taking the world-smashing work of the classic "Authority" run and bringing it to a much tighter focus, which makes it all the more amazing to behold. There's no need to say "bring it" -- it's already been brought-en! Mercy.
While this issue felt a little abbreviated (which it isn't, just feels that way) the machinations of the Blackthornes are surely fun to watch, especially trying to figure out the very dangerous Sydney Bristowe-style tightrope that Slate is balanced precariously on. Much of what could be said about what happens could be considered spoilerish, and the lack of a clear "start" and "stop" is both the strength and weakness of this wholly episodic issue (few "Noble Causes" issues stand well on their own, but they all serve well to give enough info to draw readers into the whole storyline and buying more, a neat trick). But like all good "soap operas," you don't really care about that, you're sitting on the edge of your seat (why even pay for the rest of it?) waiting to see what crazy thing is gonna happen next (in contrast to this week's first two comics, which simply keep beating you over the head with crazy until they get tired/run out of space and lets you rest for a month).
Jump from the Read Pile: The retail troll Adam felt the need to exact a kind of revenge after some particularly biting insult, and shoved this in the face of your humble reviewer. It's well known that every single directory-styled book Marvel prints ends up on the Buy Pile. It's a fact, like Captain America being blond and She Hulk being curvy. However, in a similar manner to the "Sesame Street" song, this is not like the other guides. In trying to stick to a theme (somewhat like the "Secret War" guidebook), this relates the stories of Marvel's wild west characters as actual stories -- newspaper articles, letters, file entries and so forth. Some (file entries in particular) work better, while some are just hard to read due to font choices, and others are needlessly obscure because they're written from a perspective within the story, not from the viewpoint of professionals summarizing information for an audience. As one of Marvel's "reference" styled books, this one's a clunker, dangerously short on actual information (what in the name of Kang was Captain America doing in the wild west? Wasn't he an "Indian" in "1602?" Oy ...) and willfully vague.
Jump from the Read Pile: NOTE: The cover image seen here is not what was on shelves, but instead the page three splash. On the recommendation of a reader named Steve, this title was added to the Read Pile for a look, and was just too intriguing to let alone. The early marketing information for this title did it a disservice -- a conflict between pantheons for the very soul of mankind and the right to exist, this story plays out in both the biblical epoch and the modern day, with tales that carefully dovetail into parallels in order to both follow the religious storyline and diverge in creative ways. A complicated, smart, challenging and ultimately worthwhile issue that invites repeat readings, and a quick glance at some earlier issues shows that this title really has something interesting going on. Permanently added to the Buy Pile until it screws up.
WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?
A great new find (thanks Steve) and a boatload of crazy all overrule one lackluster reference book.
THIS WEEK'S READ PILE
After picking up "Continuity" on a personal recommendation from comics legend Larry Young, it turned out to be a very interesting, very challenging speculative fiction tale that was *this* close to being worth buying, and will definitely spark the minds of certain fans (while hearkening back to lessons from "Transmetropolitan" and other messed up future visions), but just missed the idiosyncratic standards of this one. "Justice" #6 was (of course) gorgeous looking but with a decompressed and distracted plot of villains playing the role of heroes (which "Noble Causes" is playing in a much more compelling manner, even with characters you don't know as well). The Nazi-flavored (and badly lit) Brit spy action of "Captain America" #19 was all right as he's still chasing somebody who should be dead. "Star Wars: Legacy" #1 had a certain amount of charm, but in essentially retelling the same story and remixing some of the pieces (while handing out more lightsabers) it just felt to retrograde to spend money on. Gaiman's "Eternals" #1 was very close, with the tricks of everyday life being used as a window into the fantastic ... except it's done in a more blocky way than Morrison did just a few months ago in "Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle." "Robin" #151 tied up all the dangling plot threads while adding a new rogue to the Boy Wonder's gallery (and getting rid of one from the Bat's). The same "no story" shtick that managed to work for "Noble Causes" didn't get the job done on "Astonishing X-Men" #15 (you'd expect they'd be better at this sort of thing by now, getting caught with their pants down like they worked at CTU) or in "Ex Machina" #21 (which just kind of talked and talked and talked without going anywhere). "X Isle" #1 felt like a slightly weirder take on ABC's "Lost" without all of the whimsy and sheer kookiness of characters to buoy it. Tony Stark's playboy ways may have ended in homicide if one if reading "Iron Man" #9 correctly ... or is it just a drunken rampage? Hard to know, for him or for anybody else. Booster has a bad week in "52" #7 but the rest of the story is just kind of random blah blah blah. "Giant-Size Hulk" #1 almost begs the question if there are other sizes of Hulk, but the two new stories are "all right" (another Banner/Hulk intellectual struggle is hard to buy after Len Samson did such a good job cleaning things up in the classic Peter David run) but that reprint of "Hulk: The End" is still compelling. "Shadowpact" #2 shows the misfit magical mystery men (and ladies) getting handled by an almost Bizarro team set against them ... which was all right, but so? There was more smashing and less whining in "Nova: Annihilation" #3 as Quasar shows up to actually have a plan (while Drax is alarmingly compelling in his new role as a schemer) ... but still whines.
No, just ... no ...
"Superman/Batman" #27 goes so obliquely into continuity, hitting Earth 2 (the old one, not the hip new Grant Morrison one) and Kandor on its trip into "huh"-ville. The reset button is hit on Canary and Shiva in "Birds of Prey" #95 (yawn) and in part on "New Avengers" #20 which takes the power back to Genosha in a way Pietro could only dream of doing (and tried ... just last month, if memory serves) and if anybody thinks that ending is gonna work, they never read "The Authority: Scorched Earth" (wow, the Authority is kind of influencing the whole week).
SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?
There wasn't that much that could be considered really bad, so that's all good.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
A few stumbles in each direction couldn't stop the forward motion, with even Gaiman dragging the non-purchases into a place of interest, so let's call the week a win.