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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 DECEMBER 28TH, 2007

NOTE: Due to the fact that, apparently, somebody at Diamond doesn’t wanna work during a lot of the last couple of weeks of the year, comics will be shipped on Friday December 28th and Friday, January 4th instead of the Wednesdays of that week. There’s nothing that can be done about this. That said, Friday shipping sucks less than Thursday shipping by a lot. Moving on …

Green Lantern/Sinestro Corps Secret Files & Origins #1 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. For the past few years, virtually every “Secret Files & Origins” book has been … what’s the word … awful (with a couple of exceptions, including the one written by Marv Wolfman). They included throwaway stories, incomplete and often incoherent profiles that often raised more questions than the answered. In the face of Marvel’s deliriously detailed OHOTMU updates, they were embarrassing. However, this issue … it shows up for the job in a major way. Admittedly, it doesn’t do anything along the lines of the power scales shown in an average Marvel guidebook, but what it lacks in statistical figures it makes up for in sheer volume of data. There’s biographical information on over 200 characters — Green Lanterns, Sinestro Corps members (don’t they have a better name than that?) a listing of fallen Lanterns and an actually interesting little story about the Oan grave keeper. Writers Geoff Johns and Sterling Gates stepped up their game in a major way, and this is exactly the sort of “Secret Files & Origins” that can serve as a reference for years to come — and that’s exactly what it should be.

Legion of Super-Heroes #37 (DC Comics)

NOTE: Shown is one half of a two-fer cover — be warned at retail. Please do not call it a comeback — Jim Shooter makes his return to the title that started his name in the comics field, showcased by deft-handed art by Francis Manapul and Livesay with Nathan Eyring’s colors. By using character basics that have survived all the disparate incarnations of this property — the frat boy nature of Lightning Lad, the two-fisted determination of Karate Kid, the ferocity and laconic nature of Timber Wolf, et cetera — Shooter immediately plugs into the mechanics of the Waid/Kitson Reboot Period while wielding the spirit and joie de vivre of the Legion’s glory days. Just a smidge short on story, but fun nonetheless.

X-Men: Messiah Complex Mutant Files (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. When you have a family reunion, you catch up with people you know and haven’t seen in a while, also getting a chance to connect with new people you’ve never met and hear their stories as well. Marvel has perfectly synthesized this energy in their myriad OHOTMU updates and one-offs, and this one is no different. Let’s say you’re not really interested in buying every single crossover comic in the latest mutant madness, but you’re curious as to what’s up with Jean Grey or even Irene Merryweather. This tells the important elements of most of the relevant stories of the last … however long it was since the X-Men had a Handbook. So you don’t have to pore through a bunch of issues to find out why Havok’s a Starjammer and or exactly how the long lost Summers brother became emperor of the Shi’ar. If that does it for you. Again, an invaluable story resource at a fraction of the cost that saves you tons of headaches by taking an almost Sportscenter approach.

Jack of Fables #18 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

There’s one story element here that’s … well, let’s just say overexposed. That notwithstanding, Jack and his motley crew of Fable-related refugees land in Steamboat, the capital city of the Fable land Americana (not yet located by either the Adversary nor the librarian forces of Mister Revise). This, in and of itself, is fairly uneventful even after a meeting with what looked like Huck Finn and Jim. Very little actually happens in this issue, but Jack’ makes fun quips (although his panel time was lessened — what is this, an ensemble title?) and while rogue librarian Hillary Page is not as hot on interior pages as she is on the cover, her blinking determination and will manage to be charming in the way Goldilocks was entertaining. Not a bad issue, but not the best in the run.

Blue Beetle #22 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. NOTE: The cover shown here is listed in solicitations as the cover for issue #21, and the solicited cover for #22 looks like this, with solicitation text about a very different story. Also, fun fact, Comics Ink had 25 copies of this issue arrive from Diamond in a condition too damaged to sell, the copy purchased was from the “new issues” browse box. Just FYI. The word for today is “answers” as this issue again achieves an excellent balance between all elements. Peacemaker has an interesting scene with Jaime’s mom, the title character has some of the best teen hero lines in years (“I’m sorry. I’ve had a bad couple of days … I’m new … my mentor got infected with a mind-controlling exosekeleton like mine, he’s in the hospital. My best friend’s aunt is the crime boss who killed her dad. My sorta long-distance girlfriend’s got problems being long distance and ‘sorta.’ I have a ten-page report on the Teapot Dome Scandal due next week in civics class …” — hilarious) and if you don’t know about the majesty and pathos of Tovar the Lava King, well, buddy, you just ain’t livin’ it up! Or, to quote, “Tovar’s incredulity is surpassed only by Tovar’s rage!” Add to that the defiant ending, the admirable showdown between the aforementioned crime boss and “a small-town mechanic with a super-powered son” and you’ve got an issue that could only be improved by art that’s a hair better — nothing wrong with Rafael Albequerque’s kooky art nor with Guy Major’s color palette, but it’s not industry-busting work either.

Pax Romana #1 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. The Catholic Church has discovered time travel. Got your attention? In the middle of the 21st century, the waning powers of the Holy Roman See get some ideas and talk it out (it sounds dryer than it is, Hickman’s dialogue brings it like Fed Ex even as his art sometimes just mails it in) as the debate drives towards taking five thousand sterilized and armed men — ostensibly Catholics, but some fibbing may have been done in the recruiting — from the year 2054 and sending them back to the second or century AD, carrying nuclear weapons, satellites, a host of modern armaments and forty-one hundred metric tons of gold. Wow. That alone is enough to get your blood pumping and asking “what’s gonna happen next?” but Hickman manages to imbue the Gene Pope (long story), General Nicholas Chase and even the four year old emperor with a nice breadth of characterization in a very small space. One day, at a convention, Jonathan Hickman will meet an artist of the Bryan Hitch/Joel Gomez level of quality (or an editor to match him up with one), and he will pwn your world. You read it here first.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Jumps galore, big crazy ideas, carefully depicted intimate moments, heroism and hedonism and engrossing reading … talk about saving the best for last, this week rocked.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

The best scene in comics this week, as noted by retailer Steve Leclaire, happened in “Daredevil” #103, which is so delightful and so wonderful on so many levels that to even describe a bit of it would be too huge a spoiler. Sadly, moping around with Milla and brooding as cops and robbers fight weighed down too much of the rest of the issue. But there’s a poster or a t-shirt in there, if somebody’s smart enough to make it.

Close but no cigar, “JLA Classified” #49, an up close and personal story featuring Alfred and Lois Lane, showing the struggle of those who love heroes waiting while they are away, saving the world. Sort of old school in its sensibilities, and it didn’t really do anything new or exciting with either character, but nonetheless okay.

You could say the same of “Invincible Presents Atom Eve” #1, which was a very solid start from a perspective of craft, telling a lot of story in a small space with the normal humor and solid art you’d expect. It doesn’t, however, do much to make the protagonist interesting, a girl who could have it all but doesn’t.

“Giant Size Avengers Special” #1 has some cute moments with Jarvis (butlers get props this week, apparently) and a great joke on “faders” but was jam packed with reprint filler blah blah. Also, for the fanboy crowd, Carol Danvers sunbathing with Natasha Romanov and Janet Van Dyne. Enjoy.

The cover gives it away, but it could be argued that something finally happened in “Countdown to Final Crisis” #18, with a purposefully retired Justice League on Earth 51, secrets and dinner parties, and a fat Zatanna (nobody wanted to see that … okay, nobody decent wanted to see that … Fatanna?) finds a new job. But so? Plus, Mary Marvel’s still battling Eclipso (seriously), fat Harley Quinn and yadda yadda blah blah blah.

Sure, the ending was telegraphed months before, and sure things go a bit too easily for Tony Stark, but “Captain America” #33 had some great moments, great dialogue and solid art. If the core conceit worked better, this could have been a purchase. Alas …

“Bomb Queen” #4 was — finally — a bit of an improvement as the wildly stupid demon plot line was put to rest and this issue got to see the stupidly over-the-top protagonist actually do things that were funny and mildly interesting … but it’s too little too late at this point.

Taskmaster showed up to have some fun in “Avengers: Initiative” #8 (although Peacemaker had a similar shtick with Giganta in “Blue Beetle” recently) as things — at best — go badly in a decently engaging way. Just remember kids — clones are never a good idea. At least not a lot of clones …

Is it fun watching a battle of jade giants in the “Hulk vs. Fin Fang Foom” one shot? Sure. But it’s also contrived, its biggest scene lacks artistic oomph, and it has no real consequence. Eh.

The twist at the end of “Crime Bible: The Five Lessons of Blood” #3 was cute, but this whole thing is moving too laboriously to be done as individual issues. Shoulda been a trade with the actual Crime Bible text. Moreover, the Question/Batwoman drama fell flat. Ah well.

“New Warriors” #7 was okay. Actually, so was “Fantastic Four: Islade la Muerte” #1 once you got by the dumb “X-Files” slant to it.

The happenings are grim in “Action Comics” #860, with a depowered Kal-El stuck in the 31st Century with a retconned Legion of Super Heroes (hyperflies) and their xenophobic adversaries, and it’s not bad to look at nor to read. But it keeps pulling back storywise when it should dive in, keeps obscuring when it should focus.

Shockingly, “House of M Avengers” #3 continued to improve (if only “Teen Titans” had learned … more on that later), some surprises from the Punisher and interesting wheeling and dealing from the Kingpin. Why didn’t it make it home? Well, imagine an ant in one of those plastic ant farms tells you a mildly interesting story about its life. Would you pay for a mildly interesting story of stuff happening in an ant farm? A discontinued ant farm, at that? Right, then.

Finally, the big bad got revealed in “Shrugged” #7, which wasn’t bad for all of its pyrotechnics and pronouncements, but again answers are elusive and that’s not a good thing. Maybe they should do character bios and summaries on their website or something …

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

Break it down by company …

“Countdown Arena” #4 was sacrifice without consequence, a foregone conclusion depicted boringly, fan fiction at its finest. At least we know what happened to Breach …

Was it the art or the writing that made “52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen” #5 so mixed up, with a rumor of gene splicing, Veronica Cale in danger and Batman talking a lot? It’s hard to know.

“Death of the New Gods” #4 was virtually incomprehensible. Okay, this guy’s the culprit! No, it’s that guy! Wait, it’s the guy who’s been standing here all issue but just stepped away for no clear reason! It’s a contender for this week’s WTH award.

Also in the running, the ending from “Batman” #672, as Bruce gets a steady girlfriend, base jumps and has an impostor. Yeah, there’s that … but no.

Sorry, though. This week? “Brave and the Bold” #9 — WTH?

“Teen Titans” #54 had an inconclusive Moebius loop that essentially makes any further issues of the title almost moot. That’s annoying. Plus, the fading? That’s no good.

Read “Green Lantern” #26 and try to explain what the heck an Alpha Lantern is. Lantern Deathloks? Hard to know. Anyhoo, it’s zany that John Stewart can get a ring to say (and we quote) “Willpower exceeding power ring capacities.” Really? Kyle Rayner held in an evil exploding sun with one (less than the number of exploding suns that power the Sentry, but still) and John Stewart is now overtaxing it? No. Cute, but no.

Since this is essentially a DC Universe now, “Authority Prime” #3 kept up the very predictable fighting (well, save Rose Tattoo essentially boinking in mid-battle, that’s kooky) until faced with the Ghosts of Bendix Past. Yawn.

Something bad got into the Kool Aid at 417 Fifth Avenue this week too.

There are a few words that sum up the biggest of the many, many problems with “Black Panther” #33 — Martin Luther Skrull, Jr. Seriously. At least the part where Ben and T’Challa talked to the extradimensional alien overlord was smart. The rest of this? Gah. Drawn well, but seriously, gah.

There’s a very disturbing female Asgardian resurrected in “Thor” #5 (please don’t let the Thunder God get drunk and bed her — ew with a capital “ew”) and the best parts of this issue were the opening sequence and the closing. The rest? Treading water.

The finale that was “Ultimate Power” #9 was very, very, very dumb. Where to begin? The threat of two Squadron Supremes came and went so fast you might miss it if you read fast (and you should). The ultimate (pun intended) “antagonist” once revealed was both predictable and problematic in terms of popularity. With two very simple exceptions (the female one was a surprise), all the toys are put back in their places none the worse for wear. This didn’t need to happen.

Speaking of the Ultimate Universe, “Ultimate Fantastic Four” #49 was dull.

Fun fact for “Captain Marvel” #2: a newspaper that prints on Monday would not need a Wednesday deadline unless it was typeset by hand. That’s dumb, and implies a simple lack of research (the reviewer here has worked at four weekly newspapers, and knows that the standard two-day deadline is often given a ton of wiggle room for the right ad or story). That notwithstanding, almost everybody in this issue had no idea what was going on, as Ms. Marvel plays lost fan girl (yawn) and the title character again wanders around, thinking. Why bother getting resurrected for this?

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

The bad was really awful, but numerically it didn’t overwhelm. Barely.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A hard fought win to end the year on a good note. Go jumps!

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