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WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?

Every week Hannibal Tabu (journalist/blogger/novelist/poet/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 17TH, 2007

Checkmate #19 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. The fact that one of the “royals” of the intelligence agency is — at best — working on her own agenda (and at worst openly opposing to the goals of the group) is not a new factor in this title. That there’s open conflict between them on multiple levels is, and in this issue White Queen Amanda Waller (that moniker itself being an irony on multiple levels) strikes back at her counterparts with seeds planted in many of the previous eighteen issues of the series. Waller has an extradimensional storehouse of bad guys, has a fun episode at the United Nations and the requisite amount of gunfire. Greg Rucka’s script is perfectly balanced and the moody Joe Bennett/Jack Jadson art (complete with Travis Lanham’s colors) worked the intimate, almost claustrophobic mood of the conflict perfectly. This title has returned to “buy-on-sight” status.

Penance: Relentless #2 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Norman Osborn and Tony Stark share some harsh words while it looks like Robbie Baldwin’s loony ploy gave him time to get smarter than anyone could have anticipated, all in pursuit of one of the world’s most satisfying, most sought after goals — revenge. The ruthless focus of the title character, which makes a great deal of sense given all he’s gone through with the Civil War, is very enjoyable to watch as the reformation of one of Marvel’s dumbest characters (what happens with Slapstick is also interesting over in “The Inititiative”) continues to fascinate.

Fables #66 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Shere Khan and Bluebeard come into conflict with Ambrose at last as a new kingdom is established within the Empire, complete with Lancelot as an official envoy meeting the Emperor. This issue’s a bit insular — not much room for people fresh to the party — but the razor sharp plotting is as solid as it ever was, with Ambrose’s crazy quest getting the support and fascination of virtually all of Fabletown. Fun stuff for fans, though.

Highwaymen #5 (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

What a way to go — Monroe and McQueen are still blowing stuff up and tossing around bon mots as they fight their way towards fulfilling their mandate, as the last member of a black ops government project learns how to stand up for herself. This is a great last reel to an action movie, and even in its confrontations the chatter is kept concise and smart. Fast moving, smartly conceived and well executed (the part with the rope is especially fun on rereads).

Elephantmen #11 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Finally, this title delivers an issue that handles all of its disparate elements in a complete and balanced fashion. With a two-sided cover that explains its dichotomy, the lives of two men — the maker of the animal-themed Elephantmen and a destroyer of them — are examined, and in turn examining the realities of this world. Touching on almost every character and every moment shown, this issue encapsulates the entirety of the continuity, and it’s an interesting window into that world. Fascinating world building.

DMZ #24 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

A few issues back, Matty Roth saved the life of a girl who didn’t want to be saved, and now she’s trying to do something, anything to make a sane existence for herself in virtually impossible circumstances. While just trying to get some food, she gets pressured into the brinksmanship of a local warlord and that doesn’t end up going anywhere that could be considered good. Wood’s bleak script doesn’t pull any punches in showing the unpleasant realities for women in this dystopian wasteland, caught between the threat of violence and the consequences of choices, and as always Ricardo Burchielli’s Manhattan is as tragic as it is beautiful.

Rex Mundi #8 (Dark Horse Comics)

Yes, this title is largely insular — “The Story Thus Far” reads like a novella — but this issue shows some really important things happening in the storyline, as the “divinely inspired” Duke of Lorraine is forced to face some not-so-fun political and tactical realities and war proves too troublesome for the British. Dr. Sauniere is taken from the ruthless Inquisitors of the church, now much less powerful and feared, and all of it is rendered lovingly by Juan Ferreyra’s skilled hands. Back to form after some less-than-sterling issues as one of the smartest books on the stands.

Birds of Prey #111 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. This surprisingly personal done-in-one pits Oracle against her opposite number, The Calculator, in a digital struggle that also includes a light and overpriced lunch. Playfully poking fun at the digiterati, the issue highlights the personality differences between the two while also noting how similar they are. If you ever saw an old episode of the “G.I. Joe” cartoon where Zarana infiltrated the team and flirted with Mainframe, it had a somewhat similar energy. A very refreshing issue, down to its almost poetic final pages, Jason Orfalas doesn’t have to use any cheesecake and depicts real life people with dimensions that are recognizable and well rendered. The colors could have easily been muddy or unreadable, but Hi-Fi Designs makes every detail pop from the background and every panel crystal clear. A very, very pleasant surprise.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Four jumps, and four solid reads from the regulars? That’s legen — wait for it — dary.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

The best book that didn’t make it home was the breathless “Justice League of America” #14, which had to its benefit fantastic interplay between Luthor and the Joker, and likewise solid chemistry with Superman and Black Lightning. Why didn’t it work? It all flew by so fast — pretty art work, nice quips, but no real focus on the fantastic elements. That could be an artistic choice, or maybe scripting — the demands of episodic television are very brisk, and that’s where writer Dwayne McDuffie’s been plying his craft for some time, and maybe that’s affected things here. Each thing that worked needed just a pinch more room to do its thing — for example, what’s with Grodd? Still, pretty good.

The biggest surprise is the lack of sucktitude in Republican Avengers, er, “Mighty Avengers” #5. The Sentry gets smacked around some (yes, that’s one of the problems — how ramped up is Ultron to go blow for blow with the grieving power of a thousand exploding suns?), Ares completely shows up for the job (who needs Thor with this kind of ability?) and even Ms. Marvel made an impressive move, but Ultron still reads like a paper tiger and the threat is as nebulous as it is vague.

Fans of vintage stylings will enjoy “Brave and the Bold” #7, with Mark Waid and George Perez delivering a classically styled team up between Wonder Woman and Power Girl, facing off against a historical menace and a massively dangerous but often underrated antagonist. The nostalgic stylings of this just slightly bombastic issue may not work for fans with more modern sensibilities though.

Keeping the “better than could be expected” train rolling along, “The Boys” #11 refrained from senseless shock value (mostly) to — brace yourself — tell an actual story, with some character development for a guest star and a smartly depicted mysterious adversary (instead of the “kill everything” vagueness of Ultron back there). Lovesausage of the Glorious Five Year Plan may have an air of goofiness about him, but the real pathos of a washed up super soldier slash super hero was interesting, as was a chance to see how he interacted with the team. Still not quite good enough, but a huge improvement over the lame attempts at satire from previous issues.

“Primordia” #1 was good, a mystical tale of human babies raised in a magical community, where they get somewhat Cain and Abel over the love of a woman and bring the violence of man to a peaceful community despite their best intentions. If you ever read the old Atari “Swordquest” comics, this is less tongue-in-cheek but feels somewhat similar. In an “okay” way.

“Captain America” #31 showed a battle of wills between The Winter Soldier and Doctor Faustus, as Tony Stark continues to show why he’s the George W. Bush of SHIELD directors (getting infiltrated by dozens of compromised agents in this title, plus the whole Ant Man suit stolen debacle, that goofiness in “Sub-Mariner,” getting hacked in “Penance: Relentless” and smacked in his own title, and so on). Still needs some pep in the pacing.

Stylish but somehow a bit empty, “Suburban Glamour” #1 felt like it was Chynna Clugston-Major meets “Buffy,” as magic invades small town America where everybody’s too hip or too preppy to know any better.

On the “that was okay” list — not bad, but not worth any detailed analysis — were “Powers” #26 (Deena looked bad), “Death of the New Gods” #1 (when did Scott get the Equation? In any case, the idea of three dead New Gods is cool, Darkseid telling Metron to get off the pipe was funny, but the blinded Jedi allusion was a bit facile) “Ultimate Fantastic Four” #47 (read the last copy because Diamond shorted Comic Ink’s order, but Reed’s just not as smart as he thinks he is), “The Sword” #1 (too much build up, not enough meat to the story), “Shadowpact” #18 (too much happening at once and little of it seeming related), “Abyss” #1 (cute, but some of these elements are kind of played out, from “Firebreather” and “Invincible” and other titles), “Ultimate X-Men” #87 (nice twist with the call, but that’s about it), “Ex Machina” #31 (nice killer gorilla flashback, but the papal examination shtick was a bit melodramatic, n’est ce pas?), “Terror, Inc.” #3 (not an easily pulled off bit of betrayal, but one that kind of leaves a “Crank” style ending as the only choice, doesn’t it?) and “Umbrella Academy” #2 (the flash forward was too long, the Orchestra was interesting but short sheeted and the interplay has the seed of something interesting).

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

This may anger somebody at Marvel, but things actually managed to get dumber in “Captain America: The Chosen” #3. Should we take the explanation of why Cap is strapped to a table at face value, it makes his “new power” all the dumber — why would the Super Soldier Formula break down on one hand and still work on another? Is it saying Cap never used the part that still worked (yes, trying to avoid spoilers here, even as dumb as this issue was)? Why would medical professionals even let this happen? Infuriatingly not smart.

“The Programme” #4 was largely impenetrable. It was like two teenagers humping in the back seat of a slow moving car on a Kansas back road — nothing to hit, no chance of any real danger, but completely out of control. This is our “WTH?” winner of the week.

“Marvel Zombies 2” #1 was virtually bursting with stupitron particles, giving the Wasp a chance to understand zombie-ism better than the intellects of either Tony Stark or Reed Richards in a spoilery way that just makes the whole series and practically the whole continuity pointlessly stupid. This really made it through editing with nobody noticing the logic hole large enough to drive hyperflies through? Wow.

On the “that was dumb” list — not so stupid to deserve actual excoriation, but not good by any means — included “Countdown” #28 (that Trickster/Piper thing? No), “Army @ Love” #8 (aside from the line “Don’t embarrass yourself in front of my magic monkey,” this is the same song on repeat), “X-Men: Emperor Vulcan” #2 (the big planet busting weapon was the most interesting thing here, actually), “Metamorpho: Year One” #2 (an issue so dull that the topic most discussed in the shop was Rex’s buckled underwear, which a lawyer defended as the Orb of Ra reading Rex’s mind for what a prototypical hero should dress like, which is sad in so many ways), “Starkweather Immortal” (is this like the TV show “Reaper” but more hard core? Perhaps too matter of fact jamming magic into a normal world) and “Lazarus” #1 (boring, way too slow).

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

One Read Pile title — “99” #1 — wasn’t ordered at all, so take that for what it was. Despite a lot of really dumb things that happened, the pleasant surprises made it okay.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Before we even analyze comics, the week’s biggest winner is writer Marc Guggenheim, who reportedly welcomed a new baby girl into the world this week. Gratz to the Guggenheim family on the addition.

Anyway, with four jumps and even the likes of “The Boys” being more interesting, this was a great week to love comics.

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