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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 SEPTEMBER 13TH, 2007

Trials of Shazam #8 (DC Comics)

Consider, for a moment, the likes of Oracle or a Stormwatch Weatherman. Hooked up to a relentless flow of data, they task superhuman operatives, singly or en masse, to deal with crises at different points on the globe, while keeping an eye on a variety of other things. Challenging. Or even look at that last issue of “Checkmate,” where their Castellan has a data feed hooked into a computer he built into his brain, to defend their HQ from virtually unending assaults. No cake walk there. But when you look at the God of Magic called Atlas, and how he holds up the world here, you’ll think all those guys are just plain lazy. So when he falls down on the job (literally) and Freddy Freeman has to take over, wearing a magical helm hooked into the entire planet and, to make (quoting his guide), “the smallest changes imaginable, thus altering the world’s path. He avoids the biggest disasters by making the tiniest modifications … every second of every minute of every hour …” the pressure gets a little intense. So the Shazam pantheon now needs a new “A” and the chosen replacement doesn’t wanna play nice … and the storytelling here is just superb. Winick has never been this good, and Howard Porter’s no-nonsense art grounds the fantastic happenings and makes them feel right. This series just keeps getting better with each successive issue.

Fables #65 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Now, consider if you will, the hapless inhabitants of Fable Town, poised on the brink of annihilation, one of their own quixotically marching an army of ghosts towards an unknowable conflict with their ruthless enemy. All while they get to watch it like reality television, complete with scheming co-stars and no certain end point. Ambrose the Flycatcher Prince somehow still manages to be the side act for the real revelations of this issue, which leave the sheriff dumbfounded and reveal plans within plans. Deft and subtle, the virtually unstoppable (and award winning) team of Willingham, Buckingham and Leialoha turn in another practically flawless comic book.

Jack of Fables #14 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Ah, but then there’s Jack, himself practically the patron saint of scoundrels, suddenly beside himself — literally — as he grapples with his own personal clone saga. There’s other stuff going on — a reporter gets a very surprising visit, an ox fantasizes madly, and some big secrets are almost revealed about Gary the Pathetic Fallacy — but mainly you find out the truth behind Jack’s carefully crafted web of lies, with a moment so meta that it practically reaches out of the comic, grabs you by the shoulders and gives you a good shake. Honestly? Promethea would be proud. Fantastic fun.

X-Factor #23 (Marvel Comics)

A mind bender starts telling a very convincing story, and only Pietro and Layla Miller’s randomness stand in its way. Meanwhile, Monet and Theresa are up for some kidnapping and property damage (with a bad pun thrown in). What is this Isolationist’s real story anyway, showing some surprises near the end? How sad a figure has Pietro become, shaking and shaken, unsure and unwanted (“Silent War” did a number on him)? As you read along and the layers of characterization reveal themselves to you, you will only wonder why Pablo Raimondi’s art couldn’t be just a hair more evocative and perspicuous. A minor quibble for an enjoyable issue.

Black Adam #2 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Whatever you do, please, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t call it a comeback. The cover tells you all you need to know — with a will power that could crack planets in half or send a Green Lantern crying for his mommy, Black Adam’s Lazarus Pit gambit proves challenging, earth’s mightiest heroes continue to hunt relentlessly for him (including the JSA and the World’s Finest), while Adam shleps relentlessly across continents to cut a deal and suit up. The lead character is a tour de force, and the desperation of heroes in searching for him is both believable and riveting. This is the Power of Shazam, and all the glory it deserves.

Casanova #9 (Image Comics)

Don’t ask about the arms, the book purposely offers no explanations. That said, there’s a new spy in town, almost an anti-Casanova, and he’s (in the words of the artist) “Dragonball Wolverine” alongside his father “Retsudo Warren Ellis” (another wonderful touch — an endlessly polite super villain). If that’s not enough good crazy for you, there’s a sex marathon in a giant robot, a nod to Ray Bradbury and a strange fixation on a regionally popular confection (something’s in the water at Image, because they love them some desserts there — ask the company’s executive director about those little pies some time). Wildly imaginative absurdity with a creamy Roger Moore center. Mmm, that’s tasty!

DMZ #23 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

It’s called “Decade Later” as a focus on this issue’s protagonist, but it could have just as easily been called “The Big Picture,” as Matty Roth gets a break and we look in on the post-war graffiti scene, a done-in-one drive-by glimpse at another slice of life in this dystopian possible Manhattan. The whole issue kind of puts together one big puzzle, and there’s no way that’s getting spoiled here, but suffice it to say that even amidst shrapnel and senselessness, some still hold “on to when we used to dare to dream” (with apologies to John Legend).

Noble Causes #31 (Image Comics)

Things change. Really, seriously, probably irrevocably change. To say “all hell breaks loose” would be a bit of an understatement, as there’s explosions and punching and lies and abandonment and digging and making out and resurfaced memories and holy crap this is an important issue. By the way, Yildiray Cinar makes a big step at showing he’s tomorrow’s superstar, with such evocative facial expressions and kinetic artwork that it feels like he’s directing an action film rather than one with as much dialogue as this has. Big surprises, big changes, big issue, and well worth every cent.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

In a word, “wow.” To show up with seven guaranteed buys, and then have a jump aside? This almost pre-emptively makes the whole week a win.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

“Booster Gold” #2 wasn’t bad because it ended up using one of Booster’s hidden talents to accomplish his goals, all while seeing Sinestro in his prime as a Lantern and having a surprisingly touching moment with a college-aged Guy Gardner. However, it still has yet to get all its ducks in a row, as the fight scene seemed a bit too lengthy for its contrived origins and the threat of “procons” (proactive continuity — breaking, er, fixing things before they happen, phrasing courtesy of Retail Monkey Anne-Marie) seemed a bit too self satisfied to make the issue good enough.

If “Thor” #2 had have stopped with the Iron Man confrontation (the dialogue, the beat down … nice!) it would have made it home. But its sappy reclamation of one of its own from a wholly unlikely situation shared the same problem as the first — too easy to just “will” gods back into being, which makes it all the stranger that the Norse hold sway over America while the gods of its indigenous people apparently, what, play shuffleboard and slots in some celestial retirement home?

“Cover Girl” #5 was a cute finale with a partially effective comedy of errors bit played in its middle, plus lots of effective shooting and punching and what have you. In final analysis, that’s all it was — cute, and in a far less filling confectionary way than, say, “Noble Causes.”

“Star Wars: Legacy” #16 almost made it based on a fateful meeting between two Jedi (on the one planet the Sith would probably mostly avoid during the Imperial rise) and its inexorable seduction of a Skywalker, but it spent too much time yammering in a bar and not focusing on the real Jedi/Sith mysteries that would have been more compelling. Still, this is the most consistent “Star Wars” series in years from Dark Horse.

Had it not played the same scene so many different ways and focused on the procedural strengths the series has used so well, “Stormwarch PHD” #11 would have worked better, still managing some decent moments through the treading of water.

Despite the failure of anyone to catch “herarchy,” the stack of Lantern corpses, Hal’s unorthodox method of fighting back and a give and take for both sides as the true danger of Sinestro’s fantasy league team starts to be revealed … this is the most interesting period in recent Lantern history, even though it can’t really stay focused on the real reasons why (or, say, color the books like there’s more than a pocket flashlight anywhere to be seen).

“Drafted” #1 might well be Ozymandias’ vision militarized, as a warning from the stars makes mankind twitchier than a Super Dimensional Fortress flattening a Pacific island (yes, that’s a “Watchmen” and a “Robotech” reference in one review, this is what happens doing The Comic Reel every week day). Not bad, but again, not really honing in on anything, just kind of letting the story flop around like a loose fire hose.

Dwayne McDuffie’s script manages to make the “JLA Wedding Special” not outrageously lame, with some great character interaction and a wholly fanboy-pleasing nod to televised history, while also almost whacking one of DC’s few Black characters (who himself showed some real growth with a smart tactic) and showing Luthor back at the top of his game. But a bachelor party at the Hall of Justice? In costumes? Sans strippers? Eh.

“John Woo’s Seven Brothers Series 2” #1 might have been better if the first series was better recapped, as the interesting but not wholly compelling characters all got brief moments to shine but seemed too populous. Plus, wouldn’t a “super sonic voice” essentially be unhearable? What good is that? How does that even work?

“Fallen Angel” #20 was kind of interesting, with a new Magistrate struggling with the job’s responsibilities.

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

Here’s a short story about “Wonder Girl” #1: no. Or, in the words of former Digable Planets beatmaker DJ Jedi (a Comics Ink regular), “Who thought to themselves, ‘she is so handlin’ her business in ‘Teen Titans,’ we gotta get her into her own book!’? Who wanted this?”

The smartest book to still be stupid was “Ultimate Power” #7, which made both Emil Burbank and Nick Fury look absolutely dumb (which doesn’t make sense for either) while still delivering some choice beat down from Ultimate Thor (good week to be Norse). But the surprise package in the helicarrier basement, the continuity-bending last page … it was just too disbelief to suspend.

“Countdown Search for Ray Palmer Wildstorm” #1 was extremely stupid and a waste of time, manufacturing a reason for a set of DCU heroes to fight the Authority (and somehow not get completely murdered) while fitting this somehow between issues of The Sinestro Corps War (Kyle’s all happy and useful here).

Given all the chaos in Marvel space, the idea of a Shi’ar civil war still proceeding unabated in “X-Men: Emperor Vulcan” #1 seems dumb long before you get to the idea that a lost Summers brother is the cause. Did Havok need a job this badly?

Couldn’t leave well enough alone, huh? Had to bring in “Kingdom Come” with “Justice Society of America” #9, didn’t you? Can we have any classic stories without modern urine on them? Please?

The countdown to Skrull-pocalypse continues in “New Avengers” #34 as the Liberal Avengers trust something that seems really dumb (any telepath with a hologram projector could have done that) and then decide they’re gonna go rescue the Republican Avengers. Seriously? Nothing else important going on? Wow.

Apparently, Lana Lang just discovered T-Spheres, or whatever, in “Superman” #667, which has a wholly pointless fight with a broken alien in the middle of it and a fairly easy workaround for smacking Arion upside the head. What’s funny is how many former “heroes” are considered villainous these days.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

A little rough, especially given such a big week of comics (and so many were just too “eh” to even mention — thanks “Daredevil” #100, “Countdown” #33 and so on).

WINNERS AND LOSERS

The amazing, eminently re-readable purchases whomp the hell out of the wackness in the Read Pile, which itself still had some moments worth noting.

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