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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 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 planned purchases) 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 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 FEBRUARY 13TH, 2008

Beautie: An Astro City Character Special #1 (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

NOTE: The image seen here is not the cover available at retail, but the image from page four, part of a two page splash. The best comic on the stands this week, bar none. For whatever reason, you don’t get a lot of Astro City comics. Maybe the creators pay the bills on other books and do this as a labor of love. Who knows? But whenever it hits, it never fails to satisfy, with creative storytelling and nuanced character work. This one-shot is no different, even though solicitations call it #2 and its inside cover claims it’s #1 (we went with what the actual book said). The artificial heroine Beautie is a mystery to everyone — her teammates, the public at large, and even herself. She looks like a famous doll that’s been sold to kids for decades (imagine a life sized Barbie) down to the anatomical incorrect-ness, but she’s super strong, she flies, she’s highly durable … and she makes The Vision look like a charm school graduate. So in between saving the world, she prowls the aisles of toy departments, wondering at the numerous dolls that look like her (the toy company signed her to a smart endorsement deal), hangs out with gay men (who she relates to as outsiders and who harbor no strange fantasies about her proportions) and wonders about who she really is. The answers are all in this issue, and it’s a poignant and smartly told story that fully utilizes the tapestry of this rich world created by Busiek, Anderson and Ross. Busiek’s craft, as well, is at its peak as he lays the elements of the story out perfectly, like carefully crafted origami. As the narrative reveals itself, it becomes more and more interesting. Just fine work all around, and even richer on rereading.

DMZ #28 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

In what’s thankfully the last of the “done in one” character studies, this issue examines (sort of) Soames, a former Free States soldier who went AWOL, was assumed killed and emerged as some kind of lunatic eco-warrior. Why? Well, that’s hard to say. The problem with presenting a comic book from a crazy person’s perspective is that unless the art goes from photorealism to cartoonish, it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate what’s the kookiness and what’s just stuff happening. That happens here, making the ending a bit of a deflation. Moreover, his rationale for defection (both ways) was never really laid out, and the entire issue feels abbreviated (it actually has twenty-two pages, even with the less-than-riveting “Young Liars” preview in back). Looking ahead to the new full-on storyline next issue.

Salvation Run #4 (DC Comics)

In this issue you have two talking gorillas beating the hell out of each other — one using the mechanized container of the other’s best friend as a weapon. Go on, take that all in for a second. Yes, it’s hilarious and awesome. Second, characters apparently die. That’s also a good thing, and funny after its own mean-spirited fashion. But it’s also very quick — the pages fly by, Luthor’s proposed work is all off panel and even when Catwoman discovers an interesting secret, it’s all hat and no cattle. Not bad, but not as vicious or overpowering as it once was.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Solid but not outstanding.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

“X-Factor” #28 was closer to what we expect from this series, still scattered due to crossover madness, but calming down as some teammates go missing, Rictor feels like he has a Cassandra Complex and Jamie loads up for bear. The Purifiers are here, and they’re not too well developed as an antagonist (remember the Secret Empire? Yeah, them neither). Still, an improvement, and Siryn’s part was well played.

“Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag” #6 is also close to the mark, as General Eiling takes a page from Hunter the White Wolf in doing business, not posturing. The Halliburton riff (Haake-Bruton) is cute, the idea of a corporation that indiscriminately evil doesn’t seem so far fetched, and the Wall actually kind of gets into fighting, but the issue either needed more clarity (with the kinds of losers they faced, why send anybody along with Eiling, given the power he commands? Or are we using Hyperflies to explain that away?) and the corporate weasels all seemed too interchangeable (kind of like Winick’s Council of Merlin).

There’s more story in “76” #2 than in the debut issue (and the “previously” pages work well), but not very much more, and the weaknesses of that era’s storytelling translate perfectly to the printed page … and that’s not the best thing in the world. It’s okay if you’re into that “bow-chicka-bow-bow” style of narrative.

“Punisher War Journal” #16 was an improvement and a surprise, looking at survivors of Punisher attacks. The Gibbon has a surprisingly good looking wife (admittedly, she’s blind) and a dream of revenge, played out with similar energy as that Killer Shrike issue of “Hulk” a few years ago. Fraction’s script is taut and well constructed, but it ends up doing nothing, and that’s both frustrating for the characters and depressing overall.

While this writer in particular has wanted the results of “Booster Gold” #0 for years, this mildly incoherent time travel tale wasn’t exactly what was hoped for. Along side a cross-chronological team of Blue Beetles (Dan Garrett, Jaime Reyes and some guy from “the future”), Booster ends up almost dealing with a younger version of himself, almost getting killed by a pre-runaway Skeets, almost gets involved in Zero Hour … there’s a lot of “almost” and not much “actually.” So this issue “almost” made the jump, but it’s “actually” still on the stands.

The new direction starting in “Ghost Rider” #20 is a distinctive improvement, closer to the tone of “Punisher War Journal” (in the lead’s snark and determination, you can also find similar tones in Boom! Studios’ “Jeremiah Harm” or a number of other badass-styled comics) with strange overtones of “Preacher” (the nurses in particular). Not bad, but not making the cut just yet.

The writer of “Green Lantern Corps” #21 sent his blonde best friend into Comics Ink to buy a copy for him, and she told the retail troll (more on him later) that said writer was bent out of shape about a bad review. No idea if that was this column or another, but it’s funny enough to note (the shop is frequented by a number of comics writers, as well as some other interesting figures). Anyhoo, the issue itself is a half-decent build up of old business, establishing characters you half-recognized with backstories and raisons d’etre that drove the narrative. Which wasn’t bad. The cyborg Internal Affairs Lanterns (they’re called “Alpha Lanterns” here, and boy are they snooty) have the rank and file worried due to harsh criticism and constantly surveilling the Corps. Should you care? Probably not — if Joe Blow Lantern from Sector Who Cares gets suspended, maybe he can be a Nova.

The science and the character work in “Fantastic Four” #544 work out okay, as each member of the team hits their predictable notes (Johnny, you be a pompous dilettante! Ben, be lovable! Reed, be brilliant but scatterbrained, and ignore all that “idea #101” stuff from last issue! Sue, look attractive but don’t really do much!) but aside from escaping 19th century cowboys (don’t ask) not much of interest happens. Sue’s “charity heroics” idea sounds like it could have some legs, but it doesn’t get much room to run here.

Old school comics fans can enjoy “Hero by Night” #2, which had some familiar secret identity woes with a fiancee and a secret, plus lots of punching and flying and what not, from a newbie perspective. Which is cute. Not enthralling, but cute.

Likewise, if you liked that paramilitary squad from “Buffy the Vampire Hunter,” you’ll probably like Larry Hama’s “Spooks” #1, which has (in order), vampires, werewolves, zombies, a Frankenstein-styled monster and a squad of gun-toting commandos ready to take ’em out. One of whom is part of a very small percentage of humans who’s “immune to lycanthropy.” Which is convenient. Right. Moving on …

It’s not really right to talk about “Wolverine” #62 before discussing “X-Force” #1, which was said to have the “lamest variant cover ever,” with virtually the same image, save one with blood and grimaces and one clean and close mouthed. That said, the latter wasn’t bad, with Cyclops commissioning a Stormwatch Black styled covert team (what’s that? The Outsiders are doing this too? You don’t say!) led by a reluctant Wolverine and featuring Mutants Who Like Cutting And Slashing, including Warpath, Wolfsbane (here’s where she went) and X-23. “Emma … doesn’t have to know.” Uh, she’s a telepath … and a former super villain, she’d probably have some tips, Scott. Whatever. Not bad, for all that.

Then “Wolverine” #62 does the whole thing one better, where just Logan goes out into the field to kill Mystique. Not capture. Not interrogate. Finish off, for once and for all. But she’s wily, and she’s got that shapeshifting thing going for her, so she leads the Canucklehead on a slightly confusing trek through far off Muslim lands where his friendliness and understanding serve him predictably well. (The last sentence was “sarcasm,” for those not familiar with the term. Logan’s Roland Deschain impersonation is fun, and the flashbacks were kind of informative, but it wasn’t anything impressive.

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

“That was ill-advised.” This quote from “Countdown to Final Crisis” #11 could have been said of the whole issue, as Brother Eye sets himself to Borg Apokolips very early in the issue (some would say the whole series). Now, Wayne technology may be impressive, and the Bat’s a bad man. But even in this “Death of the New Gods” era, Darkseid is a galaxy-level threat, and a set of tinfoil wrapped around normal humans led by an Earth-borne killer AI satellite isn’t enough to, say, eat Apokolips. That’s just plain stupid. Add to that the fact that somehow everybody and their mom is on Apokolips, from Jason Todd’s cross-continuity crew to Piper and his disembodied hand … can we end this national nightmare already? Sheesh.

Every issue of Hippie Avengers, er, Liberal Avengers, that is “New Avengers” #38 should be sold with a block of Gouda or Swiss, because only cheese can properly accompany this much whine. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones have a talk about their relationship. A long talk. Like, more than ten pages of talking. Seriously. Oh, and Danny Rand rents an apartment. Well, “squats” more like it, but it’s best not to think about that. For all this tense character work, nothing at the end of the issue is substantially different from anything at the beginning, so why did this issue even happen? That’s a good question …

Speaking of whiny, in “Green Arrow/Black Canary” #5, we find out that Ollie Queen wasn’t the father to Connor that he could have been. What’s that? We’ve known that for years? He’s actually gone on about it, and they sort of dealt with it? Oh. Well, he’s back to whining about it here, now that Connor was attacked and is laid up and what have you. Then there’s a secret marriage that Sting wouldn’t have anything to do with. Oh, and apparently, Superman and Batman are both openly incompetent, because somebody snuck by them and … oh, what difference does it make? Let’s just forget about it, this issue wasn’t worth that much energy.

Remember the problem with “DMZ” earlier? “Nova” Annual #1 shares it, as flashbacks and delusions share page space with the modern day as techno-organic assimilationism (what’s with everybody wanting to be the Borg this week?) of the Phalanx tries to make inconsistencies work (if you see Magneto flying in space without an air mask while the Hulk has one, chances are something’s fishy) to reel in their big Nova powered fish. Also, we (maybe) learn something about the Nova Corps: “The Corps always recruits individuals who best represent the typical qualities of their species. We find they make the best Centurions. They bring no arrogance or pride with them, no self-importance or elitism.” This was said by the guy who gave Nova his powers. So … they’re all Larry the Cable Guy? Isn’t this the same argument police departments use when they say they don’t want candidates who have an IQ that’s too high (fun fact: most police departments don’t have almost anybody with an IQ over 110)? That’s depressing all by itself … but perhaps a good explanation why they’re virtually all dead.

Now, if you’ve been reading for a while, you know that by the time you open “Superman” #673 that the Man of Steel’s got brain bugs sapping his will and controlling his actions. Okay. We’re gonna do a very rare spoiler on this issue, because this is too stupid to not mention. He tells his foe that he used (and this is a quote, or a close approximation therein) a blast of “internal heat vision” to whack the brain bugs, and then whooshed ’em out with super breath. What? He turned his own heat vision inwards on his own brain (how did he see what he was doing? How did he even do it — just close his eyes, let ‘er rip and it reflected?) before, what, blowing up his cheeks and belching internally? That doesn’t make any sense at all, even with Superman’s sometimes hard-to-explain catalog of abilities. That might have flown in the Silver Age, but come on, people! Oh, and the Lana bit was cute but pointless, the Lois and Chris bit was needlessly maudlin … yeah, this issue was terrible all around.

“Captain Marvel” #3 should have had one of those “Secret Invasion” headers, because it’s very Skrull-y. Oh, wait — it infiltrated comic shops, pretending to be normal! Crafty! Or not. Anyway, lots of Skrulls skulk around, Tony Stark avoids Marv, an old villain turns out green … it’s a lot like spaghetti thrown at the wall, and none of it’s sticking. Bah.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Honestly? Kind of terrible.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Despite valiant efforts, this week was drenched in stupitron particles, and that’s just not good.

BEFORE WE GO …

Apparently, over the last week retail troll Susie (known to most people as “Adam,” a school teacher and clerk at Comics Ink) got a lot of emails from people telling him he’d “gone global” with his January 23rd comments saying customers would get “eye cancer” from reading “Amazing Spider-Man.” One reader even sent in an email to defend him and ask why this column is so rough on him. Which amused him to no end — he’s been quoted in this column (and even on Twitter and there’s a picture of him in the background of one of a couple of old photo blogs) before, so the fact that people took notice of that quote tickled him even more pink than he normally is. When this reviewer gets there early enough to trade jokes with Jason, he could get quoted (which is admittedly rare), and even owner Steve LeClaire gets quoted a lot (Steve’s visible in the last photo blog link). It’s an inclusive experience, which is why this shop is such a joy to visit every week … even when the comics are bad.

Since comics were so crappy overall this time, no harm in taking note of oddities like this to pass the time.

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