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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 11TH, 2007

The Immortal Iron Fist #10 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. You probably didn’t believe it when you read the solicitation copy, but it’s true — “America continues to fall in love with Fat Cobra.” Go on, ask anybody who was in Comics Ink Wednesday night how often they heard the retail monkey and this reviewer say “Fat Cobra” in comedic fashion between 6-8PM. Mark this down: virtually any mini series featuring Fat Cobra would be awesome. Fat Cobra goes to 7-11. Fat Cobra spends a day calling talk radio shows. Fat Cobra wins a karaoke contest. Is there nothing involving this jovial martial artist that wouldn’t drip with awesome juice? That said, his hilarity is limited in this issue but that doesn’t stop it from being quite good, ironically with zero panel time for the titular character. Most of the issue shadows Lei Kung the Thunderer, a stalwart of the extradimensional “capital city of heaven” called K’un-Lun and the father of the champion for another “capital city,” expatriate and “villain” Davos the Steel Serpent. Lei Kung is, of course, wracked with guilt as his pupil Daniel Rand (the MIA Iron Fist) is wondered about by his competitors and bosses as the competition of “immortal weapons” continues. The title bout — Dog Brother #1 versus Bride of Nine Spiders (how cool are these names? Go Fraction and Brubaker!) — is embarassingly short as “Razor Dervish Attack – Ultimate” is little use against “The Black Milk of Hell” (how cool would it have been shouting stuff like that when you were a kid, kicking wildly at your friends?). A member of the Liberal Avengers makes a hardly heralded guest appearance as Hydra plots and the back room machinations of the tournament are almost as cool as John Saxon and Jim Kelly chatting between bouts. After last issue’s doldrums, this is a refreshing hook kick to your senses.

Iron and the Maiden #4 (Aspen Comics)

In the words of Xzibit, “so it all comes down to this …” Michael Iron has one final apocalyptic showdown with Sweet Joey to settle all mob related business while the monolithic church looks on with anticipation and his unwanted partner leaps and stabs her way into the action and a less-than-reliable constabulary horns in as well. Unlike many comics that would center around one cavalcade of violence, there’s tons of characterization and story development that happens around the shooting and bleeding, including a look at the backstory on Drop Dead Mike, a hilarious exchange between Pony “Mushmouth” Moore and two recently renamed criminals and a great final commentary by Iron himself. WIth a nice “keep it coming” closing and art and coloring that practically levitates, this series is one of the best new surprises of the year.

Fantastic Four #551 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. This settles it — your father’s super heroes are today’s super villains. 75 years from now, Dr. Doom, Namor and T’Challa grab a time machine and head back to the present day to stop Reed and the gang from implementing his terrifying “Idea #101.” Admittedly, there’s a lot of talking going on here, but the characters of Doom, Ben and Namor have rarely been depicted this well. This intricate story has Reed make a last page move that’s a real shocker and goes a long way to show the possibly insane thought process in Mister Fantastic’s mind. Fun, funny and finely crafted from the pitch perfect dialogue courtesy of Mssr. McDuffie to the crisp and creative artwork from the pencils/inks/colors team of Pelletier, Magyar and Quintana.

G.I. Joe: The Data Desk Handbook A-M (Devil’s Due Publishing)

Jump from the Read Pile. This is not a purchase for every fan. Admittedly. Truthfully, if you’re not a dyed-in-the-camos fan of the 1980s incarnation of the Joe team, this could even be considered a little dry and uninspiring — these dossiers certainly carry little of the flavor or fascination of the file cards that came on the backs of the figures (most written by comics icon Larry Hama). But if you love the team, even if you haven’t followed the current incarnation that closely, this expensive ($5.50, ow) tome is a must-have, detailing developments on characters who’ve seen major changes (Flint, Destro and Mainframe, for example) as well as giving key backstories on DDP-exclusive creations (Mistress Armada, General Rey, Kamakura, et cetera) to save you a lot of digging through back issue bins. But no, none of the Cobras in this issue are fat, in case you were wondering.

The New Avengers: Illuminati #5 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Given how much time Tony Stark spends sitting in a chair (isn’t his armor super heavy?), it’s shocking how much he gets done in this wildly revelatory issue, which reveals that Skrullocaust, er, Skrullagaddon, um, Skrullpocalypse is now “The Infiltration: Secret Invasion” (or maybe that’s “Secret Invasion: The Infiltration,” you could read it either way). For one last time, he calls the great powers of the Marvel Universe back together to show them the Skrull Elektra corpse and wonder about war … until there’s a betrayal, a reveal that explains a lot from the last year (World War Hulk, why the Skrulls were so absent from all that space madness, and so on), and makes for a whole lot of destruction, both physical and in terms of personal relationships. Namor even represents the perspective of any would be naysayers — “So one Skrull in all the world dresses up like a woman and we’re at war?” It’s a bad day to be a futurist as there’s a surprising show of heavy metal on one two-page spread and the seeds of discord bear bitter fruit as the question to replace “which side are you on?” is now “who can you trust?” Fascinating on multiple reads in a way only Brian Michael Bendis’ verbose stylings can be.

Fallen Angel #21 (IDW Publishing)

Jump from the Read Pile. Another issue where the lead character is virtually absent. Here, newly minted magistrate Jude learns exactly what power he wields as the law for Bete Noire, “the city that shapes the world.” With a confessional booth as a framing device, Jude takes the concept of “act locally, think globally” to an all new level, using what resources are at hand to make some fairly surprising changes. Most of the issue is spent in a repressive dictatorship, watching the machinations of a character probably based on Kim Jong Il, and this is smart, mature storytelling. Peter David’s writing is as keen as a box full of razors, and while J.K. Woodward’s moody art isn’t the most detailed, when it gets into areas of metaphor or symbolism it rocks, even on an almost explosive rescue scene. A sly delight.

Super-Villain Team-Up: MODOK’s 11 #5 (Marvel Comics)

This, however, is the best book of the week: even as everybody tries to kick everybody else’s butt, triple-crosses fly fast and furious, and MODOK shows off how smart and vengeful he really can be. This issue was called “How Not To Be Good (or ‘The Payoff’)” and it really is a great payoff for one heck of a roller coaster of bends and dips and character arcs. This issue makes you want to go back and ride again, enjoying each dip and turn from previous issues with new eyes. A true delight from Fred Van Lente, and the artwork from Francis Portela, Terry Pallot and Guru eFX managed to keep the delicate balance between action and humor flawlessly.

Transformers Spotlight: Ramjet (IDW Publishing)

Jump from the Read Pile. Much like the issue of “Fallen Angel,” this is about a scheme, but from a very different perspective. A would-be chessman, Ramjet has been effectively kicked out of the Decepticons and is running loose around the world, using a knockoff “facsimile” (the Transformers can create humaniform constructs to walk and talk and go do stuff for them) and “Mini-Constructicons” who watch too much BET and never form into a bigger robot. Why? He wants to take down Megatron, devastate the planet, and rule everything himself. He tries to recruit Skywarp to his side, but the cagey jet hedges his bets as Ramjet postures and plots. All of this happens in between panels during the “Transformers: Infiltration” mini, and Ramjet shows some really clever ideas (the flyers? Genius) but … well, to say what happens would be spoiling, but it’s gallows humor and really showing what the Decepticon organization is all about. Fun stuff.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

So many jumps it felt like a trampoline sale — fantastic start. But feel free to still call it “Skrullocaust” or “Skrullpocalypse” amongst your friends.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

So close, yet so far — in “All-New Atom” #17, the sheer juxtaposition of Dr. Ryan Choi (the miniaturizing hero the Atom) engaged in a romantic relationship with Professor Doris Zuel (also known as Giganta, recently seen getting her butt kicked by Blue Beetle yet now working a nice normal job as a college instructor in Ivy Town) … it was magical. It was just about perfect. Right up until about five or six pages from the end, where it just started to get dumb (what was that brain stuff about?) and the ending completely fell apart. Not to spoil things, but if Ultimate Spidey can date Ultimate Kitty Pryde, why can’t we see these wacky kids trying to make it work for a year or two? Who wouldn’t find that entertaining? Especially if Fat Cobra made a guest appearance …

“The Order” #4 was the best issue yet, and the closest to making the jump, as the characterization on Veda (bad name, fascinating character) was amazing to watch as who she is influenced what she did, and the artwork really came close to capturing the desolation of Los Angeles’ Skid Row neighborhood in a showing that was one of the best recent depictions of the city. Only two things stopped this issue from coming home. First, the straw man-quality of the antagonist, who’s so nebulous as to be wispy. Second, zombie hoboes. Just … it’s just not working.

The seduction of Cade Skywalker in “Star Wars Legacy” #17 was interesting, but the whole “ragtag crew to rescue him and the galaxy in the process” subplot was too hokey to fit the tone of the story. It would have been better to look at the machinations of Emperor Fel and how he’s dealing with that last Sith strike, but oh well.

The sci-fi ambitions of “Silver Surfer: In Thy Name” #1 were admirable, as the writing made the alien utopia at least have a bit of believability. Sadly, the overpowering coloring and overwrought artwork made what story was there virtually indecipherable.

The title character got outmaneuvered but good in “Midnighter” #13 when somebody finally figured out that his tactical cognition engine only starts when he’s faced with the threat, having no idea how to prepare for stuff he doesn’t know is coming. Anthem is shaping up to be a much more menacing new Halo, and that’s a good thing, if they can get their operatives to look less lame and de-chees their approaches.

“Criminal” #10 had a grim and sadly cyclical ending, spending a lot more time talking than expected and the actual mechanics of the heist went so quickly that it was hard to figure out what happened. Not bad, though.

“World War Hulk: Gamma Corps” #4 went even further to say why Dr. Banner is right and Reed, Tony and the rest are essentially super villains in a surprising turn of events that also showed why the Hulk is not so easy to beat … say, where’s the last installment of that crossover title, anyway?

He’s not Fat Cobra, but Aaron Stack continues to shine in “Ms. Marvel” #21, the Barney to her Ted as a weird touchy-feely alien thing on Monster Island and the Brood just don’t interest, but a LMD body you’d never expect? That’s gold, Jerry! It’s gold!

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

In a dumb and unannounced “Sinestro War” crossover, the title character flies fast in “Supergirl” #23 but never seems to know what’s happening, or at least in a way she can communicate to anybody else. Overly tedious.

“Annihilation Conquest” #1 rented Seaworld so it could find enough sharks to jump simultaneously. With the inclusion of the “Kree Savior,” a stellar element so over-used by Marvel that he had to be Teen Tony Starked just to try and cure the tedium (oh, and bringing in his “Dad” in a solar hideout was strange), adding the absolutely idiotic last page (especially with what’s going on in the Republican Avengers title) just ruined the whole crossover. While we’re here, what happened to that whole Ruul thing? Seriously? Ah, screw it …

“Infinity, Inc.” #3 had the distinction of being wildly incoherent and drably depicted simultaneously. Wow. That’s … that’s just no good. Honestly, you could easily cast “Metal Men” #4 in the same mold.

Comics cost too much for you to have taken this long for Faith to get to this point in the story arc, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” #8!

Speaking of vampires, “Countdown Search For Ray Palmer: Red Rain” #1 had this week’s worst artwork (and that was a tough race to win), maybe happened on Earth 43 (is that what the little number on the cover means?) and had a story that could not be less important because it’s so far removed from any narrative consequence that it could be forgotten by the end of this sentence and nobody would be effected.

It says something when a twenty-five cent comic book can’t make the jump, but in “Atlantis Rising” #1, Atlantis attacks … but so what? Assuming facts not in evidence, apparently this takes place in a world where Atlantis and political relations with that fabled land are as normal as diplomatic envoys to Kosovo, but there’s nothing really worth noticing here.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

The good was really good, outweighing some really dazzlingly dumb things happening.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

That many jumps plus solid turns from books like “Criminal” and even “Atom” surprising us means that this week wins big.

Oh, and this columnist will be physically walking the line like a Black Johnny Cash with the WGA to support the strike. Just in case you were wondering. Fat Cobra.

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