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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, Jason, Vince and Sally) 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). Thursday afternoons (Diamond monopolistic practices willing, and yes, it used to be mornings, but management asked for it to slide back some), 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 JUNE 18TH, 2008

Pilot Season: Genius #1

Pilot Season: Genius #1 (Top Cow Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Also, the cover shown here is not what was available at retail. Wow. Really? Wow. This is something all new. On one side, you have a police detective named Grey who’s a whiz at numbers and statistical analysis. Using the entirety of the LAPD databases, he’s come to the realization that a singular charismatic force has risen up to organize many disparate gang elements in South Central Los Angeles in an organized military campaign against law enforcement and the government. On the other side is this “suspect zero” — a person who’s not at all what Grey expects, a person who may (as he says) possess “the greatest military mind of our time.” When you get a look at her (yes, her), a lean Latina named Destiny (doesn’t that just feel right?) who’s just as capable of dealing out violence as she is at commanding men. Artist Afua Richardson (love the fluidity of the style, which doesn’t sacrifice detail in any way) shows the inner working of Destiny’s brain in a way that’s reminiscent of what Marvel’s done recently with Amadeus Cho, but with an edge and a determination that’s frightening as well as entertaining. Writers Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman, who brought you the amazing “Highwaymen” series, have done it again. Seriously, wow.

Scalped #18

Scalped #18 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. It’s not much of a secret that Jason Aaron has been writing his behind off on this series. The regular art team has even started to catch up and present the material more effectively. This issue, however, with the emotional and nuanced work of Davide Furno, this done-in-one issue is so good that it practically floats in mid-air. The first three pages are some of the most beautiful and effective characterization that the comics field has seen in years, discussing the issue’s lead character, Officer Franklin Falls Down, struggling with the dichotomies of his life. The dramatic twists and turns that Falls Down’s life’s takes here, losing his way and working towards finding it again with the help of a shakabuku named O’Ray Beaver. There’s so much good about this issue, from the resolve on Falls Down’s face when he has his own gun pointed at his head to the eloquence of the silent scene in Captain Rayfield’s office to the descriptions of the beauty and horror the officer has seen … really, wow. Given that the regular protagonist Dashiell Bad Horse is never actually seen in this issue (and only referred to once — most of the series regulars get a break this month) and that this is all essentially new (or scarcely considered) data … this is award-worthy comics here.

Rex Mundi #12

Rex Mundi #12 (Dark Horse Comics)

As the cover shows, the Duke of Lorraine’s little girl shows some major surprises this issue, as she tracks down Dr. Sauniere in the hidden vale of Montsalvat. Weaving in biblical lore with political intrigues, the story ratchets up the stakes giving the Duke himself an empire, blowing up some stuff and doing more “X-Files” style answers … which reveal more questions. Deeply interesting while not offering an easy road, it remains one of the smartest books on the stands with in-depth back up material (although the “society pages” bit was a little facile with stories about “Thompson Cruz” and “Eliazer Schutzer”) from the fertile mind of Arvid Nelson with the always talented Juan Ferreyra delivering big on the visuals.

Anna Mercury #2

Anna Mercury #2 ( Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Also, the cover shown here is not what was available at retail. A big surprise. What seemed to be one thing is actually something way, way more interesting. We find out the true nature of the title character’s work, which is a development of the sort Warren Ellis used to make as a matter of course. Superstring theory, half-formed universes, secret science cities, space weaponry, international secrets and of course shooting, lots and lots of glorious shooting. Facundo Percio’s able to handle the intimacies of Mercury’s handler being frustrated as well as he’s able to depict a massive orbital platform. Go on, take some time to read it through a few times. It helps. Surprising, imaginative, interesting and beautifully rendered.

Justice League of America #22

Justice League of America #22 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. The actual plot and happenings here are fairly normal — villain has plan, heroes work on stuff — but the way it all goes down, from the secret inside Red Tornado to Red Arrow’s relationship strife to Vixen’s guilt and admissions, makes it work so well. Guest appearances by Bronze Tiger, Will Magnus, Zatanna and Niles Caulder are just the gravy of living in a grand continuity. The Red Arrow bit, especially with the advice from Superman and Green Lantern, is a particularly interesting emotional moment. Of course the masterful Ed Benes (with Pete Pantazis on colors) turns in another comic full of poster-worthy imagery. This series under McDuffie’s control has been consistently improving from its adequate opening run, but it’s really hitting its stride here by embellishing potentially pedestrian story elements with fascinating characterization all around them.

Grendel: Behold The Devil #8

Grendel: Behold the Devil #8 ( Comics)

Hh. This series, apparently, actually ended last issue. The only thing of consequence here — showing Hunter Rose in a snappy trenchcoat — is essentially just a couple of loose ends getting tied up. Really — so little happened this issue that it seems like the whole series could have gotten two or three extra pages per issue and seriously been done in seven. Not wholly disappointing, but not really living up to the rest of the series.

Gemini #2

Gemini #2 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Just when you think you’ve got Jay Faerber pegged, he throws you a curveball … or six. The big surprise at the end of last issue was nothing compared to what this one throws at you. Without giving up the biggest spoiler (which comes from that last page of issue one), the best and most interesting development here is the organizational structure that The Constellation has (not the one from “Anna Mercury,” which is also brilliant), with a set of super powered operatives (Andromeda, Orion, Lynx, et cetera) who both don’t know each other and don’t know themselves in or out of their costumed identities. Fascinating! Sleeper cell super heroes! That’s kooky! There’s tons of fast moving punching (albeit ultimately pointless punching, but fun in any case) and the last couple of pages does a writing callback that develops a big new surprise. The Constellation organization is the hidden star here, the backdrop for all these developments and a cool idea in and of itself. Well done.

DMZ #32

DMZ #32 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

The charismatic Parco Delgado doesn’t make any fiery speeches in this issue, which sulks and paces about as it shows powerful people making decisions (but kudos to Parco for his preparation — does he know Destiny? Aaaaand we’re back… ) all around and sometimes about the series lead, Matty Roth. Suffice it to say that an assassination attempt will not silence the Delgado Nation, but this issue is a slow burn with just the last few pages showing any real plot development at all. Perhaps this six part story could have been told in five? Certainly not as good a per-page value as “Scalped,” but whadda ya gonna do?

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Despite some plodding points of “DMZ” and the “Grendel” book, five jumps and great work from “Rex Mundi” make this a fantastic week of purchases.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

It should be mentioned that the next two comics — both from the House of Ideas, oddly enough — would have been purchased if gasoline wasn’t more than $4.60 per gallon here in the Los Angeles area. Ow, ow, ow. Anyhoo. It should be noted that “Incredible Hercules” #118 and “Guardians of the Galaxy” #2 were both rather bloody good. The first takes the Olympian demigod and his “God Squad” into the space of mortal consciousness to parley with Nightmare for a map to lead them to the Skrull divinities the plan to kill. Amadeus Cho’s the attempted voice of reason, but the story has a twist that’s quite interesting. Moreover, the art is really compelling — the one page splash of the ideaspace is a remarkable image, and even the historical looks at the fears of deities is well presented. Seriously, even with the Skrull revealed in their midst, if there had been fewer good books to buy or gas was cheaper, this would have been a purchase.

As for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the framing device of a post-game debrief when held up against the mystery of a time-tossed Vance Astrovik (it might be interesting to have him meet his 20th century version) and fighting against rips in space time. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes,” Adam Warlock said, and the voiceover from Gamora was interesting. Honestly, many character moments were great — even with that raccoon — but again, it was getting to be too pricey a week. Had “DMZ” and that “Grendel” book been read in the store (and honestly, if we have to start interrogating regularly purchased books, this process is gonna become even more lengthy than the multi-hour oddessy it currently is), they’d have easily been replaced by “Hercules” and “Guardians,” even with that raccoon involved (rodents in comics … preposterous).

“Star Wars Legacy” #25 had another “up” issue in its Paul Pierce-esque (read: “streaky”) run. An appointment at a hidden Jedi temple in deep space gets some uninvited guests, which leads to a portentous meeting with denials and plots for regicide. All of this is good. What this issue did better than many before was not bogging itself in traditional trilogy or Clone War-era material. What it didn’t do well enough was build on the Black bounty hunter’s subplot (which lingered around but didn’t get there) or address some of the other supporting characters.

The biggest surprise here is “Transformers Spotlight: Wheelie” — the Orko of the Transformers universe, as shocking as this is to both write and read, gets treated with some dignity and becomes a realistic, believable character. You’re not having a stroke right now, you’re not losing your mind, you read that right. Wheelie’s role in the war was much like Kid from the “Matrix” movies, bringing ammunition to larger, more dangerous Autobots, until he got a shot to go do some exploration for the cause. However, things went awry and he got stranded like he was on Oceanic 815, which led to all kinds of craziness that explain the mechanoid you saw in the 1986 movie. The rhyming. The arm hanging off the back. All explained, all logical, and honestly all a little bit tragic. However, it’s all a side trip in the complete tapestry of the Transformers story making it essentially parenthetical, plus, if you walk out of your comic book store with a Wheelie comic book, you’re opening yourself up for eternal mockery. Just saying.

Do you like Elseworlds/What If?-styled comics? if so, the Mark Millar-penned “Wolverine” #66 is right up your alley. Set in the future, Logan lives a hard scrabble existence on a Sacramento farm with his wife (you don’t know her, she’s nobody) and kids (he actually named one “Scott”). Problem is, all the superheroes got whacked and the future US is ruled by super villains. The Hulk’s grandkids run the west coast (and serve up a beat down to Logan, and apparently they took the area from the Abomination), Kingpin handles the mountain time zone (yanked from Magneto), Doom holds it down from Minnesota to Georgia and “The President” (whoever that is) holds down the entire eastern seaboard, with surprises all along (Osborn in Indiana, Electro west of Kansas, et cetera). To make some much needed rent money, Logan agrees to help a blind Hawkeye drive a modified Spider-mobile across the entire continent. It’s sort of interesting … but so?

Bruce Jones’ “Checkmate” #27 is moody as it does an okay job of making Chimera into somebody (showcasing his powers and personality development) but the plot’s not focused enough to make it happen. “There are consequences for greed,” as the old world strikes out at the modern, and the ideas are better than the execution.

You could say the same of “Ultimate Fantastic Four” #55, which has both Agatha Harkness screwing with the teams mind while “The Seven” come in antagonistically to … what, take the FF’s place? Hard to tell. The distracted plot just can’t come together although many moments — Ben’s admission of depression, Sue’s combat and so on — manage to work.

“Brave and the Bold” #14 has an unusual team up based on Boston Brand spending most of the issue inside the body of Oliver Queen. Why? To keep him from being possessed by (dun dun daaaaah) The Ghost Killers of Nanda Parbat (oooh). An old Indian god has sent these creatures to take on new bodies Doro style (love for the Octavia Butler fans in the house) and bring murder and mayhem to the modern world … for kicks, probably. Surely a good hit for fans of 80s styled comics.

“I will break continents to get him back.” Ultimate Peter Rasputin is on a mission in “Ultimate X-Men” #95 where a drug-enhanced, international-minded Ultimate Alpha Flight (including Ultimate Jubilee and an Ultimate Sasquatch that’s not who you expect) having kidnapped Northstar (really?) and … eh. It’s gain okay in scattered panels but doesn’t hold up as an entire issue.

“Kill All Parents” #1 mixes “The Authority’s” Dr. Kriegstein idea with the Justice League’s origins, where a prescient scientist uses government resources to ensure the creation of archetypical heroes to save the world from some massive fate. Is it okay to whack dozens of parents to save the world? if that question intrigues you, this kooky take may work.

The story in “X-Factor” #32 feels incomplete as the team’s forced to deal with government oppression, seeming like two mostly-done stories got jammed into one issue and nobody won. Jamie’s hallucinations are a little Dr. Baltar-esque, but whatever.

“Tangent Superman’s Reign” #4 showcases a lonely dictator (maybe the other end of “Genius?”) who’s got the Justice League’s of two worlds on the ropes. It has some promise with a switcheroo, but doesn’t really get it done.

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

Where’d they get this guy?

You’ll see an image here of a panel from “Batman and the Outsiders” #8. A guy is standing in the middle of a crowd, aiming a rocket launcher at some of the superheroes. Yes, a rocket launcher. The blowback would whack the guys behind him, and the blast in front would immolate him and most of the crowd. Sadly, laughing at that was the high point of the issue. Despite the possible coolness of Cassandra Cain with Katana’s sword, this issue was way too quick and clean for its own good.

“Megas” #4 ended the mini series with … well, kind of a babble, less than a bang. The mysteries behind the murder and the plots … it’s all kind of resolved. No new king is selected. Honestly, it was kind of a letdown. Which sucks, giving how well it was going. It was like, “aw crap, we gotta finish up all this stuff, just … just type up all the notes, it’ll work out!”

Clearly, the object of “Iron Man: Director of SHIELD” #30 — and most of the issues in this run, apparently — is to make people realize that Tony Stark’s “genius” is disturbingly limited. In this issue, he realizes that his old business partner has used his technology (duh) to do something terrible. Meanwhile, a SHIELD guy that he essentially put out of a job goes wild and then sets himself on revenge against Tony too. For a self-proclaimed “futurist,” it’s sad to see that he can’t recognize the flaws in his own techniques. Ah well.

As good as the “Wheelie” book was, “Transformers Movie Prequel Special” falls down on the job with hard-to-read art and telling the reader things they essentially already knew from watching the movie without adding any significant new data.

There’s lots of fighting in “DC Wildstorm Dreamwar” #3 with a good Batman/Zealot fight … why exactly are they fighting? The DC invasion of the Wildstorm universe starts to see some fatalities (not who you expected) while some sleeping guy keeps getting shown. Why is any of this happening? Who are you people? Oh, wait, there’s a term for this … “WTH?”

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Not bad, with the ones that should have made the jump in better times.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A big win, lots of money spent, great week to love comics.

FINALLY …

Two notes: Next week the writer of The Buy Pile starts a job in Pasadena, which is a long way from Culver City’s Comics Ink. The preference would be not to shift over to another retailer, but all options are still being examined, including maybe another day for the column. Thoughts??

Finally, The Hundred and Four are in your room, touching your stuff.

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