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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 AUGUST 15TH, 2007

Highwaymen #3 (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

The government is into some bad mojo, performing experiments on people. Yawn. The government keeps tough guys socked away with relentless resources ready to move at a moment’s notice. Heard it all before. The forces of the first come into conflict with the forces of the second. How, exactly, has this creative team taken such fairly well-mined material and made it so damned entertaining? With artist Lee Garbett doing a very animated Frank Quietly impersonation, there’s a massive explosion by page three, a major shootout starting on page four, a car/boat chase by page seven and, oh yeah, a menacing senate appropriations hearing. Through all of this madness, the quips fly as easily as the bullets, the plot is deftly weaved in with detail and thoroughness, and the twist at the end was just right. Truly well done in craft and truly enjoyable as entertainment.

Super-Villain Team-Up/M.O.D.O.K.’S 11 #2 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Picking up the pace from the promising first issue, the motley assemblage of C-listers and laughingstocks tries to get something resembling a team dynamic going … and it’s uglier than waking up next to Ernest Borgnine. Mentallo takes time to surf the brains of some of his teammates during MODOK’s attempt at a pep talk and some of the story’s secrets start to come out of hiding, and they’re well worth the look. Plotted much more tightly than the last issue, Fred Van Lente’s script gives each character a moment to shine and never drags the point or slows down needlessly.

Stormbringers #1 (Stormbringer Studios)

Jump from the Read Pile. Ignore the fact that writer Korby Marks rocked San Diego with some of the hottest booth babes at ‘con. Forget about the “UVC” feature on his comics debut. None of that matters. What matters here is that one of the week’s heaviest comic books (physically, the thing is double sized and on good paper stock) showed up for the job and did it well. There’s a lot of story here, surprisingly well managed through flashbacks and captions over pin up shots, and it develops the character Dr. Malcolm Xavier Forbes as not only a serious badass but builds a believable near-future world. Yes, the art work from John Stinsman could use some polish so the details of the work would be as consistent as the visual storytelling. Sure you could get a little more detail about these one-word styled characters (“destroyer,” “gunslinger,” et cetera) who popped up near the end. But overall this is a very impressive debut, and a story that’s worth watching.

Justice League of America #12 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Novelist Brad Meltzer ends his run on DC’s premiere super team with a very intimate done-in-one (not as claustrophobic as the last issue) that centers on monitor duty, considered “scut” work by many but a crucial element of the team’s ability to save the world on a regular basis. As is Meltzler’s tendency, outsiders watch all of these events and comment as a framing device for the story as well. First meetings are seen, secrets (and other things) are exchanged and at the end of the day, everybody’s on board to stop a big bad. The journey is far more important than the destination, and this final love letter from Meltzer hits all the right notes where some of his serial stories dragged on.

Checkmate #17 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Please, before you even start, don’t call it a comeback. After the ill-advised Outsiders crossover, this title returns to what it does best — the nitty gritty of running an intelligence agency in the DCU. This self-contained issue centers on installing a new “Castellan,” or head of “physical security” for Checkmate’s data-rich headquarters. The candidate, however, is a question mark — the medicated and therapied-up former super villain Carl Draper (known as Master Jailer, Locksmith and Deathtrap). He’s done some really remarkable things to bolster security (things that both Calculator and Oracle would likely be fascinated to examine) but his face is in question due to the fact that he, of course, was once a spandex-clad fruit basket. A series of tests for his skill is followed by a fairly average day at work, and every moment of it is a nail biter. Greg Rucka’s script is virtually flawless (with help from Eric Trauttman), and art from Chris Samnee and Steve Bird is well complimented by Santiago Arcas’ matter-of-fact coloring. Welcome back, “Checkmate.”

Rex Mundi #7 (Dark Horse Comics)

Speaking of back on track, after last issue’s disastrous digression, Dr. Julian Sauniere is back … and he’s drunk! In the hands of the police-like Inquisition, the good doctor hunts down even more answers in the series lengthy search for the bloodline of Yeshua ben Josef which — of course — leads to more questions. In the style of serialized shows like “Lost” or “The X-Files,” every issue is rife with minutiae to examine and things to refer back to, and this issue shows that either the Duke of Lorraine is a tactical genius or a strategic idiot, that Sauniere is still on the right track and that the series can rebound from creative mistakes. Also like those shows, it’s always very smart in letting neophytes in while rewarding those on board for the long haul.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Top to bottom, that’s damned good comics, boyo.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

It was not easy to leave the very ambitious “Booster Gold” #1 in the store. Despite a huge word count (there’s a whole lotta text, especially early on) it was still very close to making the mark establishing a new status quo for the historical (no pun intended) screw up, but the structure seemed a little too facile and well-trod.

“Captain America” #29 was also very, very close to the mark (despite setting Sam Wilson on fire). The pacing of the issue felt very much like a television episode, which was both a benefit in the amount of things this issue got done and a detriment in terms of not really letting any of those things sink in. For example, SHIELD made a discovery that’s Valerie Plame-level, and it just flies by, Well worth watching, but just a hair from making the cut.

“Black Canary” #4 came on strong at the end, with a emotional tug at the heart strings that closed off all the plot threads, kicked a lot of people in the face and generally warmed people up for comics that have been advertised and announced elsewhere. The problem with it? The central conceit of the plan that is the plot’s axis is essentially goofy and relies on somebody smart being plain stupid.

“Brave and the Bold” #6 took all the crazy, overdone elements of the last five issues and finally got them to kind of work, maneuvering around prescience and playing with archetypes while again making sure everybody knows that Batman Is Smarter Than You ™. Not bad.

The story elements of “Killing Girl” #1 may not be the most innovative, and Frank Espinosa’s whimsical art styles seem ill fitted for a tale this merciless, but it was okay.

The family moments in “Flash” #231 (or “Flash the Fastest Man Alive” #15, depending on your point of view) was fantastic, with perfect ambiance and filial dialogue worked … but the detective angle was not so much, and that weird looking thing? Nuh uh. Staying in the West household seems like it would have been better … even though it seems like Wally could have made any of ten phone calls to have a better handle on the situation.

Despite introducing a very tired and cliche story element, “Shrugged” #6 was an improvement, with many questions answered and an interesting show of power.

“Ripclaw Pilot Season” #1 felt like “Sam Noir” with ghosts instead of a snarky internal dialogue guiding his actions, but it was okay.

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

There’s a simple scientific element that makes “Action Comics” #854 just plain not work. The more one thinks about it, the less sense it makes, with a huge concentration of stupitron particles. Oh, and there’s a whole bit about hugging a giant chimp. Let’s just move on.

“Sub-Mariner” #3 was actually doing pretty well, with lots of action and Namor getting the T’Challa Treatment (apologies to Christopher Priest), but twop elements made it fail, the second worse than the first. One could probably get past the overlong and overly pompous section in Westchester. But once you got to the guest appearance ending that (according to the rumors overheard in the shop) was argued over by the writer and Marvel editorial, and the dumb side of the argument came down as the winner.

“Grifter/Midnighter” #6 ended in a manner that felt like it could clearly have gone undone completely. With two characters so charismatic, for them to have done such a bland and out-of-character experience … it’s unemployed, y’all. Just not working.

Speaking of flawed team ups, the Dark Knight contradicts his smart guy rep in “Superman/Batman” #39 with a tactical choice that borders on suicidal.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

The jumps showed the way, and despite some really stupid things happening and lots of books that just came and went, it was still good reading.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Thumbs up.

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