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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 19TH, 2007

Grendel: Behold the Devil #2 (Dark Horse Comics)

Ever get the feeling you’re being watched? No, it’s not a riff on that Rockwell song, but Hunter Rose is busy spilling blood and continuing his rise to power as the preeminent crime lord of New York City. All while his vassal keeps him well informed, his ward remains blissfully ignorant and a threat slowly begins to emerge. Almost like a “Grendel: Year One” approach, this early look at the ruthlessness of a killer is almost poetic, and every character not directly connected with the arguable protagonist seems befuddled, as if they were struggling through chest-high pudding. If you love rooting for the bad guy, this is manna from heaven.

Special Forces #2 (Image Comics)

Ignore the solicitations — you’re not gonna see anything here about the dead soldiers who served with Felony and Zone. Nope, here you just see Zone doing her best John McClane/Jack Bauer impersonation and Zone inexorably marching on despite her best to protect him. The character Felony’s zest for life completely permeates this issue, and even when she’s in overwhelming personal danger it’s clear that she’s enjoying her life as a soldier far more than anything she’d known at home as a drop out and a reject. Fun read, fast paced but substantive enough to make this feel complete.

Rex Mundi Dark Horse Edition #9 (Dark Horse Comics)

In a strange twist of fate, the French are victoriously marching across Europe, using a hail as a salute with an extended right arm and hand held flat, complete with resplendent red, white and black arm bands. Meanwhile, Brother Moricant hides out in a nunnery and Doctor Sauniere’s captors come into contact with quite a surprise. A lot happens here, and it’s well contextualized, and it casts the alternative history of the “Rex Mundi” world in a very sinister light. Darkly entertaining for the shadow of what craziness could come.

The Order #6 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Also, cover shown here is different than what was available at retail. Finally getting the balance right in this Matt Fraction script, the lead story here focuses on the armored Supernaut, a war veteran and retired Marine turned war protester. He’s on a standard mission when a secret government agency shellacks him and a teammate, which leads to a “man down” scenario that is the emotional core of the issue. Meanwhile, team leader Hank Hellrung has a cell phone screaming match with Tony Stark, teammate Mulholland Black has a bad day due to her former involvement with a street gang and the mayor of San Francisco has an international incident. A fascinating international incident. Barry Kitson, Mark Morales and Scott Koblish are doing a fantastic job on art, and colors by Soto and JelenaKevicDjurdjevic are clear and vibrant.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Good reading plus a jump, that’s a good start.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

The Bat’s back at his “Tower of Babel” ways (either that or doing a Tony Stark/Reed Richards impersonation) in “Batman and the Outsiders” #3, which has his team going toe-to-toe with a Justice League task force, picking up another new team member (or old team member, depending on your point of view) all while he outmaneuvers and does things for people’s own good, whether they like it or not. It’s not bad, but it’s not a winner either, because while the story is enjoyable it doesn’t do anything to make the Bat an enjoyable lead. Who’s got odds on Bruce Wayne spearheading an effort to register or capture metahumans around 2009, when that stupid space zombie crossover is due? Years late and a billion dollars short again …

No, there’s no Fat Cobra, but “Immortal Iron Fist” #112 is closer to the mark than some other issues in the “Seven Capital Cities of Heaven” storyline, as this one brings things more towards the actual events of the Tournament of Immortal Weapons, showcasing the Steel Serpent’s new name (Steel Phoenix) and his brutal fighting style while Luke Cage, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing prepare to do battle with a whole village full of Hydra troops armed with way, way too many explosives. Almost like “The Order,” the balance of elements here is very close to being right, focusing more on the events in the magical world than the more mundane attempts of Hydra at imposing a military solution to a mystical concern.

“Justice League of America” #16 was also close, especially due to its well-honed interaction between characters, but the Tangents are not in any way explained (if you’re not a web fanatic or continuity guru, you might not remember the Elseworlds-esque fifth week experiment from 1997 and 1998) nor does the transdimensionalswitcheroo make any sense based on the existing information available on the object in question (admittedly not easily remembering the GL-related events that led it to its current location). This issue sure was pretty, though.

“What If: Civil War” was filled with optimistic wishful thinking, showing that old bit of convention art putting Steve Rogers in armor, positing different ways for the Civil War to have gone that aren’t any better but aren’t any worse either. The best part about these hypothetical tales is that they’re so much faster than the actual crossovers. But Cap continues to baffle with some of his decision making.

“Countdown: Arena” #3 at least crept into the upper rungs of mediocrity due to one of the most interesting uses of heat vision ever and some funny quips from the Bat-vampire. Otherwise it’s just a limp potboiler with a half-baked surprise in combat.

“Incredible Hulk” #112 has absolutely no appearances by the titular character, but does even more to make Amadeus Cho a likable scoundrel and making Hercules Cho’s useful and whimsical pack horse. Adding the newly “reformed” Ares as the government’s tool to punish the muscleman (smartly bringing up “old business” from Greek myth) as a relative Thunderbolt (reformed villains as heroes hunting down people who’ve been heroes for years — ah, irony), which is a nice twist on things. However, the issue lacked cohesion in making Herc’s decisions make sense (Cho’s, as always, sneaky in his brilliance) despite some solid action.

“The Circle” #2 was not as good as its opening act, but wasn’t bad, trying to establish an antagonist for the mercenaries (but only creating a caricature) and only advancing the actual plot *this* much.

“Checkmate” #21 was likewise “okay,” feeling a lot more like a less-than-great issue of “Queen & Country” in having the largely anonymous Mademoiselle Marie doing a favor for the UN Secretary General. The historical context was more dull than revealing, the crisis less than earth-shaking … eh.

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

“Thicker Than Blood” #1 was not ordered by Comics Ink, which is often a review in and of itself.

“Detective Comics” #839 was stupid, with the “Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul” taking a decidedly dumb direction and Talia’s son being tossed to and fro with little direction of his own. Sad and predictable.

“Terror, Inc.” #4 took forever to moon around like a brokenhearted big girl on prom night.

“Birds of Prey” #113 went completely berserk with a crime heiress in a truck doing something … well, it’s both ridiculous and upsetting. Bad things happened here, and that’s no good.

“She-Hulk” #24 has fallen a long way from its heights, trying to make the Skrull sidekick make sense (not happening), loosely linking the title character to the law firm that depended on her litigation (again not working), and prancing around like a horny little pony. Sad, really.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Eh.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Just a hair over the line towards a good week, because the reading was kind of dull in so many places that weren’t even interesting enough to mention (“Captain America: The Chosen” #5, “Shadowpact” #20, “World War Hulk: Warbound” #1, “Superman/Batman” #44, “Ultimate X-Men” #89 and so on).

Also, fun fact: Comics Ink owner Steve LeClaire has initiated honors for five comics categories, and he’s including the votes of all of his staff and many of his customers, including this reviewer, for a total of twenty five voices (each with a vote totalling four percent of the final tally and tabulated by an indifferent accounting firm). These awards have no name yet (feel free to chime in with ideas, since he shot down my idea of naming them after his wife) but spirit willing the results will be posted here on Comic Book Resources. Consider yourselves … warned!

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