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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 12TH, 2007

Salvation Run #2 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. The success of this issue, which steps up from the interesting debut, is handled by three characters: Kid Karnevil, The Joker and Lex Luthor. What’s funniest is that the order of their impressiveness is inverse — Kid Karnevil is the most effective, and Luthor just does that Luthor thing he does. Admittedly, this doesn’t go well for some characters, who end up having quite a bad day, but it’s sure as heck entertaining. “I do plan to honor you — but not by working for you,” said Kid Karnevil. “The first moment you drop your guard, I intend to gut you like a fish. Then I plan to skin you — hopefully while you’re still alive — and make myself a nice Joker-skin cloak. Or maybe a full cape, if there’s enough material.” That’s just plain good crazy, and while it’s the best bit of dialogue, it’s not the best moment in the issue. Bill Willingham has always had an excellent sense of humor, but here his dark impulses are given full rein and the results are wonderful. Sure, the Sean Chen/Walden Wong art skimps on facial details in some spots (how do you know it’s Luthor? He’s bald and talking), and sure, this is kind of like taking Reed Richard’s Negative Zone prison, mixing it with “Lord of the Flies” and using all DC characters for it. With this kind of fun, that’s nothing to fret about, and takes nothing away from the real fun of villains gone wild.

Fables #68 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Ambrose the Flycatcher King has set up shop, carving out a niche of the former homelands of these European-based Fables right under the nose of the forces that subjugated and drove them out in the first place. Through complicated means, you see, Ambrose is able to kick the butts of pretty much anybody who comes across him. Which, of course, makes the resident Emperor pretty peeved. All while the gang back home are warming up to re-invade as well. It all seems to be going well, but the Empire didn’t get into the game by being pansies and there’s a thin undercurrent of impending tragedy, because nobody gets out of war without somebody getting hurt. Delicately balanced between whimsy and gravitas, it’s another shining gem in Vertigo’s flagship property.

DMZ #26 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

This is another done-in-one personal perspective issue, focusing on rogue reporter Kelly Connolly, who helped the series’ protagonist Matty Roth go independent and, just for fun, slept with him whenever he was in town. However, unlike most of the done-in-ones, this one doesn’t exactly delve into the “why” of the character, only the “how.” Connolly’s ruthlessly focused on her career and on telling the story, the personal costs and collateral damage be damned. She even asks at one point, “Do you think I’m a horrible person?” But unlike other issues, there’s no glimpse of her past to explain why she developed into this mediagenic mercenary. Not a bad issue, but it surely lacks depth.

Scalped #12 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. John Paul Leon’s art is not a selling point, but Jason Aaron’s forceful script surely is. There’s a reason why Comics Ink retailer Steve LeClaire pushes this title so enthusiastically. Undercover agent Dashiell Bad Horse has a bad dream, but he’s walked too far from his heritage to understand that slumber is a means for communication as well. Along the way, the script shorthands a look at the entire world around him, a tribal reservation rife with hopelessness, crime and horror. The twist of the knife in the last couple of pages makes it all the more effective, the “and one” for a beautiful bank shot, and it can’t be denied that this is one well written comic book.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Two jumps, solid reading otherwise, and since everybody’s still talking about “Rally the Troops,” three pages of Chris Guarrusso turned out to be worth spending four bucks on a limp crossover coda, so that’s all good.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

The week’s biggest surprise is “Ant Unleashed” #1, a property normally associated with T&A that all of a sudden grew up and showed some backstory for the lead character, toned down the cheesecake factors in the art and generally kind of acted like a linear story. A slightly dull story, admittedly, but one told at least serviceably.

“Black Adam: The Dark Age” #5 was — again — good, but not good enough, with some inconsistencies in its knowledge of Egyptian myth (fun fact: Sekhmet has nothing to do with afterlife myths from that culture) and a twist on the Kryptonite bullet idea that sticks close to continuity, but Adam’s quest is turning tedious with a scene partially lifted from “Grosse Pointe Blank” featuring Atom Smasher and a lot of moving slowly (he has the speed of Anpu for the love of pie, which should properly be spelled Inpu but that’d ruin the acronym) and that’s hard to work with.

“Angelus: Pilot Season” #1 was okay, with really attractive art and an okay story of a runaway spiritual power avoiding old business. But the “Pezzini affair” is old business that new fans won’t know and the insularity of that. Not the best strategy for a “pilot.”

If you’re a fan of old-school storytelling, the silver-agey field trip to Qward in “JLA Classified” “#48 will probably make you happy, in a harmless “Savage Dragon” kind of way.

Frank Castle’s a better detective than murderer in “Punisher War Journal” #14, which shows a young Kraven being rather hard core with a gang of animal-themed criminals in an issue that’s cute in its “oh, these losers” attitude but far from necessary to buy.

The creativity in “Fallen Angel” #22 was inventive, with very nice art and using the dreams of a creative kid as a framing device to reintroduce Bete Noire and its influence on things, but again it was cute but not vital.

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

It’s always sad when a regular Buy Pile title falls prey to a crappy crossover, so the tragedy of “X-Factor” #26 is exceptionally troubling. First of all, there’s not a lot of the characters you normally see in this title. Chuck Xavier, Scott Summers, even the supposed-to-be-dead Cable, sure. Even Wolverine takes on some quality screen time, and that’s all well and good if you care … but in that “X-Factor” has been such a welcome retreat from the labyrinthine madness of the X-universe, to see it roped in this way is just not fun for fans of the title.

Maybe it shouldn’t be annoying that this week includes the end of another disappointing green-themed crossover. “Green Lantern” #25 … well, the photo you see here is of a Comics Ink customer and long time Green Lantern fan who’s been enjoying the Sinestro Corps War crossover. The look of disgust and sadness you see on his face is caused by him reading a somewhat spoilery two-page spread that could be reproduced here (a photo was taken with a digital camera) but won’t be (this column tries very hard to avoid spoilers). Suffice it to say that, in the words of the long haired retail monkey behind the counter (whose name is “Adam” but who’s normally referred to by little girls’ names), it went a long way to take the most powerful weapon in the universe and make it the most generic. Moreover, after a mildly effective dance number (the fights were more posters than storytelling) featuring friendly fire, germ warfare (seriously), a double-edged use of Manhunters and Sinestro’s ideological victory — none of which lived up to the fantasy-league stats of this crossover, even having the JSA and JLA shown on panel but never really a factor — the end of the book teased a new GL-related crossover … in summer 2009. Featuring what looks like zombies. Yes, zombies. The guy in the picture summed it up best when the retail monkey showed him those two key factors: “I’m now pissing on Adam’s door handle. It may be today, it may be two weeks from now. He won’t know until he breaks out with ebola.”

The boredom continued in the wholly needless “Green Lantern Corps” #19, which had only one minor note of interest in another fantasy-league kind of way, and the equally sappy “Tales of the Sinestro Green Lantern Corps: Ion” one shot, which showed the new torch bearer chatting with new Honor Guard Lantern Kyle Rayner and of course having a wholly pointless and unimportant fight. All of this is not gonna work.

Remember the telepathic Russian space dog? He’s back in “Nova” #9, an issue so convoluted that only maybe Grant Morrison could save it (yes, Jack Holcolm, your email was received, sorry it took so long to holler) … but he’s not here, and a generic super team, a cardboard threat (damn you, zombies) and a less-than-thrilling conclusion did nothing but make this issue feel like a placeholder … and a bad one at that.

“Countdown Arena” #2 is still bad fan fiction. Let’s just move on.

This week’s “WTH?” award goes to “Engineer” #1 — seriously, WTH?

In Liberal Avengers, er, “New Avengers” #37, we finally find out how the Hood became such a player … and it’s slightly less stupid, but only slightly. Great talking and lots of punching, but it’s much ado about nothing. Moving on …

“Nightwing” #139 has a happier ending on a fairly clear Anakin vs. Obi-Wan homage, but given the crappiness of the overall storyline and the lack of consequences here (Tim Drake, dark apprentice? Yeah, right) it’s a tedious bit of treading water.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Uncomfortable shuddering, sad disgust, overwhelming boredom punctuated by moments of bare adequacy … not good.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Tie game, because two jumps can’t beat that Oa/Qward madness, all on the day Ike Turner died. Blah.

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