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WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?

NOTE: Before we get started — the guy who came to Comics Ink in the Afro Samurai costume? Email a photo of your get up — people say it was so impressive it deserves publicity, and if it didn’t, it’ll at least deserve mockery. Hit up the email, yo.

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 OCTOBER 31ST, 2007

Trials of Shazam #9 (DC Comics)

This issue, Freedy Freeman — powered by the Wisdom of Solomon, half of the Strength of Hercules and the invulnerability of Achilles — goes toe to toe with Apollo, himself a full fledged divinity and slated to replace Atlas holding up the world one minor decision at a time. The thing that makes this quest for power so much more interesting than the Wizard Shazam’s original concept of a planetary champion is that he did the heavy lifting himself. Shazam shlepped around the ancient world, getting buddy buddy with the powers that were, and each one signed on to make the world a better place. In this new post I-Cri world, the gods of magic could give a flying flip whether or not there’s a champion, and the candidates have to come hat in hand. Case in point — with the previous second-letter-“A”-in-“Shazam” whacked, the next “A” god in line got called up … and didn’t wanna play. So instead of a nice orderly transfer of power, Apollo is whacking pieces of masonry down on a city street with Freddy’s body, and knocking the would-be champion into oil tankers. Meanwhile, the “competition” in the form of the morally challenged Sabina (who works for the Council of Merlin … just imagine magical Illuminati) cools her heels and waits for the outcome, herself holding the other half of Hercules’ strength, all of Atlas’ stamina (turns out whacking a god gives you their power — apologies to Gabriel Gray), and gets quite a surprise after Freddy’s fight. The “anybody can win this thing” nature of the story makes it compelling, and Apollo’s made believable struggling with his own morality versus all he has to lose. Plus there’s an amazing panel in the boardroom scene that’s literally twisted. Mauro Cascoli’s painted-styled art works well in most cases (best in action, less so for quick cut dialogue scenes) and Judd Winick’s script may be sparse, but it’s effective.

Kyle Baker: Special Forces #1 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Apparently inspired by the true story of an autistic teenager recruited by the Army, an Army recruiter is given less than a day to get a certain number of recruits to avoid himself getting sent to Iraq, signing up literally anybody he can find regardless of their unsuitability for military life. Unfortunately, one washes out so he gets sent anyway, in charge of his own band of misfits. Baker incorporates a whole lot more cheesecake into this bloody and immediate work than might be expected (there’s no fewer than three butt shots and one full page spread that’d make Bettie Page proud) as a female character serves as narrator for this cavalcade of carnage, herself a maladjusted rage-affected felonious nymphette. With all of the gritty realism of the series “Over There” and all of Baker’s clever whimsy, this is an interesting juxtaposition that continues Baker’s career arc as one of the most important graphic storytellers of our age.

Jack of Fables #16 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

NOTE: The image seen here is nothing like the actual cover available at retail, a cool Brian Bolland image with a jack-o-lantern, which will become important presently. The titular scoundrel has managed to escape the bottom of the Grand Canyon and the many, many people hunting for him to ride off into the sunset with his sidekicks Raven and Gary the Pathetic Fallacy. So what does all that time on the open road in a stolen van mean? Time for another tall tale about Jack’s troubled life, this time discussing how he made successive deals with successive devils to extend his already considerable life … and how it all plays out is so perfectly Jack, so perfectly Past Ted and Marshall, that it’s just a hoot. Confectionary but in an informative way.

Daredevil Annual #1 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. The story is called “Devil May Care,” but it could easily be called “Matt Murdock’s Sick Day” as the Yakuza move in while Matt has the flu and an unusual confluence of events lead him to buddy up with a bad, bad man who’s not such a bad guy after all. New York’s underworld has a big, mean new face to handle (and one that doesn’t like spreadsheets, FYI) and the art from Leandro Fernandez and Scott Koblish — delightful angles and perspectives, lushly detailed backgrounds (check the strip club scene) — will remind you of Eduardo Risso, but with much more detail and fewer stock expressions. The Ed Brubaker/Ande Parks script doesn’t exactly play by the rules and certainly doesn’t leave things nicely in their packages at the end of the story, and that deviation from tedium is what made this comic make the jump, clinging to the promise of purchase by its fingernails and scrappily pulling itself up. Plus, always fun, lots of punching.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #35 (DC Comics)

The main story here does fine — a team of Atom Girl, Timber Wolf and Shadow Lass confront disgruntled former Legionnaire Drake Burroughs (old time fans will recognize that name) on a mission to assassinate the United Planets president. That’s fun, and we learn all kinds of interesting things about Timber Wolf, about sentient energy, and Brainiac 5 keeps proving why he’s so smart. When it flips to Supergirl’s team of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, the story’s not as interesting, but the main plot is enough to overcome that and fairly pedestrian art from Dennis Calero.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Two jumps, nothing bad happening otherwise, not bad to start.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

“Midnighter: Armageddon” #1 was a pleasant surprise, just when you thought all the good Authority ideas had been used up. This time the one thing Midnighter never saw coming hounds his footsteps and makes him take a good long look at what he does and who he does it with. Not bad, but not quite focused enough to sell the story on a first issue.

Admittedly, there’s a couple of dumb elements in “Sub-Mariner” #5, but the machinations of power, the continued ineptitude of Tony Stark (say he’s not a Skrull, say it, we freakin’ defy you to!) and Namor’s continuing struggle to rule are interesting. His overly speedy resolution to the issue’s central concern was a bit too easy and the sheer anonymity of all those blue guys around him doesn’t help, though.

Unfortunately, “Crime Bible: The Five Lessons of Blood” #1 is not the beginning of actually printing the fascinating concept — DC’s lore here contests that there are only three completed copies of it, called The Prophet’s Codex, Sana’a’s Edition and the High Madame’s Binding, with the first two lost forever — but a story revolving around the neophyte Question Renee Montoya in a cutely written but largely circular story about how the Religion of Crime is trying to evangelize. One wonders if MySpace or Facebook would be less drama. In any case, it’s solidly okay but not compelling enough to buy.

The “Battlestar Galactica: Pegasus” one shot that came out this week fits in nicely between panels of the show’s continuity, following Bulldog’s failed stealth mission and showing that, in the words of Velma Kelly, the Colonies kind of had it coming. It also shows why Pegasus is less impressive than it could have been, makes a lot of Cain’s brooding and introspection and has Cylon models together and laughing at humans long before the invasion. Really, could we not get better art than this, as that distracts from the storytelling?

Continuing the wholly surprising Redemption of Frank Tieri, “Countdown: Lord Havok and the Extremists” #1 was kind of interesting once you got past the Civil War swipes, er, analogues which cast Havok and his team in Luke Cage’s role (with much less moral ambiguity) bringing the team once felled low by Mitch Wacky into a more modern continuity (screw you “Bwa-ha-ha” fans) into a more comprehensible form (Dreamweaver in particular came down to earth). If it wasn’t so openly derivative, this issue might have worked.

It would be nice to review “Necromancer: Pilot Season” #1, but Diamond failed to ship the ordered comics to Comics Ink this week, instead sending more copies of “Velocity” from previous weeks. Know your monopoly, kids, love it.

The two scenes of walls were the best parts of “Death of the New Gods” #2, as Scott Free’s agonizing took up way too many panels and Orion need Xanax. This comic stood at the bottom rung of mediocrity, but had ambitions for so much more.

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

The absolute dumbest comic this week was “JSA Classified” #31 (sorry Arvid) which had a disembodied Nazi brain building superweapons on a moon base by page four. Seriously. Toss in the deus ex Kryptonian, the wholly not-so-smart work of Mister Terrific, the bloated art work and the tedious pacing and you have a sure fire stinker.

Uh, did the memo not get over to “Annihilation Conquest: Quasar” #4 about what happened in the “Wraith” comic that essentially ended this crossover? When they finally opened the wrapper on the so-called Kree Savior, it was so rehashed that Jim Starlin, himself busy over on “Death of the New Gods” must have even sighed “Good grief” Charlie Brown style. Some people deserve a right to stay dead, don’t they?

“Countdown” #26 gets the gas face this week because it managed to negate the almost-events of last issue using its Jean Gray Gene in a certain starry-spandexed heroine and tossing in the idea that the Source Wall works like the opposite of the Bleed, keeping the 52 realities separate. Okay. How about “no?” That work for you? Yeesh.

This week’s “WTH?” award winner is “Ultimate Power” #8. Doom goo? The Hulk goes in then? Double the Squadrons … and in stereo? Seriously — WTH?

A double bozack for the start of the “Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul” storyline (it’s on the cover, so it’s not a spoiler) in “Batman” #670 and “Robin Annual” #7, which should have Boston Brand suing for infringement and has this annoying Damian kid running around like he needs a firm lesson in corporal punishment. Or was that capital? Hard to remember. Anyway, no.

“X-Men Messiah Complex” One Shot was so uninteresting that it barely merited notice this week, with Chuck Xavier playing the disconnected Yoda role from the Prequel Trilogy and events that are just not interesting being played up as though they meant everything. Which, of course, they don’t.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

The needle slipped ever so slightly off the mid point towards “sucktitude” this week.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A nailbiter until the end, but it’s like losing by one point. Still a loss.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, that does include the big Zuda launch, where the best things available were by professionals — David Gallaher and Steve Ellis’ slick but somewhat cliched “High Moon” and Jeremy Love’s wildly cinematic Bayou (and yes, the art on “Black Swan,” “Alpha Monkey” and “Raining Cats and Dogs” was worth a look, but not the stories).

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