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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 14TH, 2007

Fables #67 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Round one: the virtually inexhaustible forces of the Empire stand arrayed against Ambrose the Flycatcher King and his ragtag tyro kingdom, all while the powers of Fabletown watch. Ambrose makes many of his advantages known as he outmaneuvers the forces of the Adversary again and again, all while dealing with confusion within his ranks and overwhelming danger from the “illustrious Sixteenth Horde … including certain elements of the Seventh and Twenty-Third Hordes, which have been seconded to us for the duration of the campaign.” The issue plays out like a smart game of chess where one much better prepared player has fewer pieces but considerably better strategy and positioning. Great fun and already good after three reads.

The Circle #1 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. An MI-6 analyst follows a trail of tidbits into danger as he tracks down a relentless mercenary team from a former Soviet republic as an unseen CIA assassin tracks them. The stakes? A Russian missile train chock fulla nukes, floating somewhere around Kazakhstan. This intimate and fascinating debut works because it keeps the focus tight — three characters get the spotlight even amidst a stream of faceless gunmen, their characters getting presented with smart, concise strokes of narrative. With the same kind of action that made Warren Ellis’ “Red” zip along, it adds a level of characterization and personality that’s well worth checking out.

All-Star Superman #9 (DC Comics)

Like Halley’s Comet, it’s a wondrous day when Frank Quietly can get one of these mad, fascinating issues to market. This time, Superman has returned to earth after being gone for two months (don’t ask) to find that two space-lost Kryptonian astronauts have appeared as his “replacements,” and work as heroes at first before realizing they could just rule. This, of course, can’t work (and neither can Jimmy’s “overpants and belt combo”) as they break the moon beating up Supes and then patch it together with suspension bridges (which will make somebody’s commute suck, for certain). The crazy comes flying at you fast and furious, and while this is not the best issue in the series, it’s head and shoulders above most of the stuff on the stands, remaining deeply enjoyable.

X-Factor #25 (Marvel Comics)

Ooh, twenty-fifth issue! That normally means something special — extra pages, some special villain … what? It’s just a chapter of the big dumb mutant crossover? It’s not even a really pivotal chapter? Half of the team — Guido, Siryn, M — aren’t even in this issue? Seriously? Aw, man … well, does Layla at least do interesting stuff? Sort of? Well, that’s still good. Any good Jamie quips? Not so much? Mmmph. Oh, there’s the problem — the issue is chock full of boring normal X-Men, like Logan and Ororo and Scott. There’s even a lame appearance by a bunch of new characters nobody knows, including one who looks like Slate Blackthorne from “Noble Causes?” Maybe we should just check back next issue. Okay.

DMZ #25 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Another “done in one,” this time the series points its camera at the mysterious Wilson, Asian gang lord and all around happy guy. It details his audacious rise to power and his harsh but fair codes of conduct, maintaining a space of normalcy in the lunacy that’s post-war Manhattan. Equal parts charismatic and ruthless, he’s an “American Gangster” in the Denzel Washington anti-hero mold, forging a place for himself where none existed, no matter who had to die, in an almost Darwinist model. Jeremy Cox’s moody coloring makes guest artist Danijel Zezelj’s already edgy art all the more challenging, but the clean, smart lines of the script overcome any problems that causes.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Some rough edges, but not bad overall.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

“Black Diamond” #5 once again just missed the mark, this time coming closer than ever with nineteen pages of actual story. However, a key sequence where tension and suspense should have been gripping passed so quickly that it fell flat. Likewise, the big two page splash at the end didn’t work. But the romantic nature of the story (in the sense that it had a sense of adventure and importance) was solid and the lead has become more magnetic and charismatic, which is a good thing. Still improving.

“Batman and the Outsiders” #1 was very close to making it, with the Bat calling plays and his very nasty team walking through a tactical, procedural issue picking at a less-than-reputable corporate citizen holding a dangerous radioactive burrito. Sort of. The Bat’s fascinating as a mastermind, Katana and Catwoman are an instant hit working together and Grace needs more panel time. Why didn’t it work? Thunder, for starters, an annoying gnat in the Bat’s ear, and it moved just a smidge too slow to keep all those fascinating pieces working smoothly. But an interesting start.

“Punisher War Journal” #13 was also so close, with a story that was humming pleasantly along featuring the Rhino and Spider-Man, but it cut off all too quickly and its arguable actual antagonist made more of a cameo than an appearance. If gas prices were lower, it would have been good enough.

Tough times made it just a little easier to leave “Black Adam: The Dark Age” #4 at the store as well, where Adam borrows pages from the Teddy Bagwell playbook, puts some righteous fear into the super hero community and generally acts bad ass. But he’s too distracted to keep it together (why doesn’t he just wear different clothes while he’s powered up?) and wanders too far away from his goal to believe his zealotry, especially given the dreams he has.

“After The Cape Volume 2: Seasons in Change” #1 was — like the mini that preceded it — good, but not good enough, with interesting ideas and solid characterization swimming amidst mediocre plotting (how did he not see that coming?) and situations.

“Salvation Run” #1 was interesting, but moved too slowly, with a platoon of super villains, both dangerous and annoying, shipped off to a planet filled with lethal predators and left to their own devices. None of the characters stepped up to really make themselves important (although Weather Wizard tried, but even the Joker was blah) and the threats were too goofy looking to consider that dangerous. If it picks up the pace, it could work. What’s funny — Dwayne McDuffie made a not-so-dissimilar concept work in “Beyond,” and the equally talented Bill Willingham couldn’t here. Hmph.

Liberal Avengers, er, “New Avengers” #36 wasn’t bad, with a nice framing device for a possibly boring story element, but how many times are the Republican Avengers gonna say, “oh, all right, we’re gonna let you guys go, but just this time!” before somebody gets charged with aiding and abetting? Plus, the Hood as a mastermind? That guy is so a Skrull. Has to be. The original was an idiot.

“Captain Carrot and the Final Ark” #2 was a lot less horrible than the first issue … but it wasn’t really good either. Mmm, maybe this should be listed in the next section …

“Avengers: The Initiative” #7 was okay and doing fine with some nice action and work with the Scarlet Spiders (plus a pissing contest back at base), until the last page reveal, which is just annoying even as it makes so much make sense about those three. Plus, why is Spider-Man so darned interesting in these “Initiative” guest appearances and so whiny elsewhere?

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

The biggest disappointment of the week, and possibly of the year, was “World War Hulk” #5, which was an amazing display of power and glory for about two thirds of the issue before an overwhelmingly annoying switcheroo robs so much resonance from the story that it essentially ruins most of what came before and then does such a goofy ending that it messes up the rest. It’s more of a pain because the series was so good, whereas you couldn’t be this mad at something like “House of ATM” or “Infinite Crisis in Your Wallet” because they were never that good.

In “Wonder Woman” #14, the title character moves a team of super-powered commando talking gorillas into her apartment, and they hide whenever anybody shows up. Seriously. Add to this an invisible helicopter, the appearance of recently-beaten up Nazis (like, just a little while ago in a JSA title), and this book is so jam packed with stupid it’s amazing that it could be closed and shelved. Please, if Grant Morrison offers you some drugs, say no. His brain is made to handle them, yours is not.

“Nova” #8 features Cosmo the Telepathic Russian Space Dog. Why’s that a problem? Because Cosmo is not only the most interesting character here, he’s also the smartest. Just think about that. You’re writing a comic book, and you say to yourself, “ooh, lemme put a telepathic commie space dog in here!” Then other people say, “Yeah, okay.” Seriously? Let’s never speak of this again.

“Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag” #3 suffers from a dramatic misunderstanding of a simple character: The Shaggy Man. See, back in Grant Morrison’s brilliant run on JLA, a US Army general transferred his brain into the body of The Shaggy Man, a virtually unstoppable artificial man that’s so dangerous he makes Superman’s sphincter pucker. Also fun, he has the brain of a highly talented strategist and tactician alpha male, wielding Hulk-level strength. So the wildly dumb idea they have for controlling him long enough to have him do missions for Waller … it boggles the imagination. He almost killed the entire Justice League singlehandedly. He was so dangerous, Superman stranded him on the asteroid belt near Mars, just in case. Now Waller’s gonna make him her bitch? Un-freakin’-likely, pal. Oh, and the Rick Flag, interdimensional POW stuff was dull too.
Then there’s “House of M: Avengers” #1, which feels like it shipped two years too late. Really? A “House of M” title? Now? It’s like that island full of Japanese soldiers, still fighting World War 2 decades after it was over. Seriously, let’s just move on already. Oh, and by the way, it was boring, retelling Luke Cage’s story with some mutantified tweaks. No.

The death in “Teen Titans East Special” #1 couldn’t have come sooner, so that’s a good thing, but Lagoon Boy is just gross. Nobody wants to see that. Which brings up, by the way “Wonder Girl” #3, with its inappropriately cartoony art and tedious plotting. Nothing anybody needs to see there, either.

He’s dying of cancer and Mar-Vell whines and hangs out at the Louvre? “Captain Marvel” #1 was both whiny and self-involved, with everybody talking time paradoxes but nobody actually, oh, finding any of the working time machines in 616 and fixing it. Beyond idiotic.

Oh, Desaad — you’re like Loki and Balder in “Top 10” — you just never learn! In “Superman/Batman” #42, a lot of predictable things happen, Orion’s wife is apparently the town bicycle and Darkseid screws up again. It’s like Bill Adama is consulting here, because all of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.

This week’s “WTH?” Award goes to “Brit” #3. Seriously, WTH?

It’s not a reprint — “Thor” #4 adds refinding the Warriors Three (which was telegraphed so far away that Stevie Wonder could see it coming) to the recent “Squadron Supreme” African storyline. Oh, white super people, your powers can’t fix Africa. Let them suffer while you go beat up somebody in spandex. Idiot. At least Thor added a hiccup to it, minor though it is (helicopters, duh).

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

About two thirds through reading, it was like, “Oh, god, it’s not over yet?” This was before reading “Superman/Batman.” Ow.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Due to the extra-sized disappointment in Dr. Banner and an overabundance of dumb, even the cute jump of a new title can’t save this week from being a stinker. So it’s back to the picket lines, then …

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