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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 books that are too good to not own) 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 NOVEMBER 21ST, 2007

NOTE: What’s most embarrassing about this week’s reviews not posting until now is that they were completely written by 12:30 AM on Thursday morning. But 15-pound turkeys and driving to two family homes and a lengthy game of Uno all waylaid attempts to stay awake and get it online. The Buy Pile apologizes for any inconvenience, and hopes you enjoy this week’s reviews.

Checkmate #20 (DC Comics)

There’s a lot more flappin’ of jaws than shooting or punching, but the conclusion of the “Fall of the Wall” storyline is nonetheless satisfying, a political game of chess and brinksmanship built on rules of UN protocols and the back room dealings of covert operatives. The most interesting revelation is not the big surprise about Amanda Waller, nor the public revelation of the happenings in the new ongoing “Salvation Run,” but an opening pages moment for Black Queen’s Knight Jessica Midnight, who’s got an interesting secret. The new status quo is fascinating to readers of the title, even if new readers may not grasp the significance of events here. Tightly plotted like a legal procedural and enjoyable for all fans of that genre who’d like to add some capes and masks to it.

Grendel: Behold The Devil #1 (Dark Horse Comics)

Don’t call it a comeback — this story looking at the work of Hunter Rose back in the halcyon year of 1986 showcases the assassin at his ascendancy. Shown in shades of black white and red (the new color palette of choice for the character’s creator, Matt Wagner, in his Hunter Rose stories), this beautifully rendered opening lays out all of the relevant facts and draws you into Rose’s inappropriate charisma. Both a treat for those new to the mythos and long time fans.

G0dland #20 (Image Comics)

NOTE: What’s seen here is not the same as the cover available at retail. Cosmic kookiness as The Triad, a trio of stellar-powered nihilists, level Sin City as foreplay for their “phallic triumph” drilling its way to global annihilation. Protagonist Adam Archer is still gritting his teeth and fighting the good fight in his bathrobe while the US military treats him with fear and contempt. Oh, and “America’s most cherished hero” lies dead in the streets of New York as looky-loos gawk and wonder like they’d just seen “2 Girls 1 Cup.” The fighting and flying and blasting is interesting, but this issue — as always — really wins in its smallest moments. The issue’s charm is in looking at the uniforms on The Tormentor’s mouse-like minions, the character Supra’s emotional confusion over having a humaniform body (and … urges), the shocking appearance of the Gorilla Ranch Girls and lines like “Lesson learned here? Never grow a beard when your criminal persona includes a full face mask.” Nonsensical and fun, this is Stan ‘n Jack on the finest green and watching “Best Week Ever.”

Penance: Relentless #3 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. The fun part about people thinking that you’re crazy is the freedom it gives you in operational planning. The extrahuman formerly known as Speedball, borrowing a page from “Checkmate,” zigs when everyone expects him to zag in an issue that has Wolverine (in an uncredited guest appearance) looking confused, Robot Master laid up and Moonstone completely at a loss for words, all while Penance relentlessly carries on his plan. Enjoyable for its audacity and the Mulder-esque determination of the title character.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

“Fun” is the week’s watch word, even if it’s wrong fun, so that’s good so far.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

“Iron Man, Director of SHIELD Annual” #1 was the week’s closest to making the jump without actually accomplishing it, a suave spy tale with some brains as Tony gets an idea about Madripoor. However, with none of the visual sass of a “Danger Girl” and none of the scripting inventiveness of even “Checkmate,” the plot drags in places where it should be — sorry — fun and the art is serviceable where it could stun.

“Birds of Prey” #112 also had a lot of charm, as Lady Blackhawk takes the old trope of a cross-continental taxi ride to pay tribute to a fallen friend and adds elements of assassination from the title’s new favorite troublemaker The Calculator and adds an interesting Pakistani cabbie in the vein of Sam Jackson in that third “Die Hard” movie. Not bad.

“Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite” #3 was okay with a big fight with big robots, a prodigal sibling cursed with a Cassandra complex and art work that seemed to be colored a bit dark but otherwise was working. The problem — like the two issues before — is that getting anywhere always seems like a trip around the mulberry bush as the plot is scattered and lacks cohesion.

“Action Comics” #859 was interesting in a “Days of Future Legion” sort of way, as Superman finds himself in a red sun-irradiated thirty first century with a Giffen/Levitz-styled team, stuck where the normal Legion-era hope has turned into futuristic xenophobia (it’s both sad and appropriate that the future always turns out that way in western minded societies). Again, not bad, but not enthralling.

“Captain America” #32 was pretty good, with Doctor Faustus’ mind control follies featuring The Winter Soldier and Agent 13. The Falcon flies fast and falls hard (he’s not been doing so well in this title recently, but then again, neither has Natasha) but it never explains why Bucky’s so capable in resisting the good doctor and gives the Gollum-esque struggle of Sharon Carter short shrift (which could have been an artistic issue more than a script one, hard to settle).

Hannibal the drill-sergeant alien was a cute touch for “Drafted” #3 (even though the character looked like General Grevious’ little cousin), but the bit with the President could have done without being repeated, the archeological surprise needed a bigger look with more expressive coloring and the art’s nothing special (the two page spread should have boggled and shocked with its visual, instead just showing the scene). Still interesting in a “what if” sort of way.

Speaking of, the “What If? Annihilation” one shot was a better conclusion than the end of both the real “Annihilation” crossover and “Civil War,” putting Tony Stark, Steve Rogers and Richard Rider in a place of honor, settling the Silent War in a smart fashion (not that recent Skrull-o-caust concerns wouldn’t have cast a shadow on that anyway, but still …) and even gave Uatu some nice scenes. That’s all in the last pages, whereas the start was less smart and the balance of those elements was just enough to keep it at the store.

Sadly, we have to report that if the new “partner” is a regular feature, “She-Hulk” has dropped from the Buy Pile with this week’s issue #23 (especially given the 616 climate of late). The Creel fight was nothing special (is he really that easy to beat?) and the bounty hunter angle has no bite to it as of yet. Given the stellar catalog of Peter David’s work and the character’s long history on the Buy Pile, this one was tough.

Speaking of gamma-powered titles, while the Amadeus Cho/Hercules pairing is interesting and the art looked good, the backdoor pilot that was “Incredible Hulk” #111 had none of the titular behemoth and a pointless diversion now that the crossover is over. Eh.

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

This column is officially done with the work of Garth Ennis. Thanks, “Boys” #12. The reason why will not fit in the levels of civility we aim for in this column, so look for a blog on it on MySpace.

Isn’t Batman supposed to be smart? In “Detective Comics” #838, the latest chapter in the interminable “Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul” storyline, every dumb thing that he and Robin could do, they do and the Demon’s Head just smirks as he goes. Come on, Bruce — you gonna let Talia see you like this?

if you read the last issue, you’ve essentially read this issue of “Captain America: The Chosen” (#4 by count) as the Cap-lucination spins stories and inspires as he continues to fade away. Uh huh. Moving on …

“Dark Sector” #0 is a set up for a first person shooter game that takes place in a mutated version of eastern Europe. Okay. But it’s all talk and like the opening cut scene of a video game, and doesn’t seem to invest readers in the issues at hand.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Most of the stuff this week — “Metamorpho Year One” #4, for example, or “Ultimate Vision” #5 or even “Invincible” #46 — just kind of happened, but the really bad was outnumbered by the okay, so that didn’t make it a brutal slough getting through the reads.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A jump, not bad reads, let’s call it a win, if not by much.

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