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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 8TH, 2007

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: Gunslinger’s Guidebook (Marvel Comics)

Marvel has just finished up its serviceable graphic retelling of a pivotal part of the Stephen King masterwork, “The Dark Tower” and while it was entertaining both in its original format and the abbreviated derivative, this guidebook finally gives fans something they couldn’t get somewhere else — definitive information, easily formatted without the need to pore through seven books worth of prose. Where did the Big Coffin Hunters get their tattoos? How many characters actually worked with North Central Positronics? What was Arthur Eld’s story after all of that? All that and a ton more — some familiar info, some surprises — can be found in this wonderful companion piece which should definitely be held on to by any fan of the property.

Fables #64 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Guest artist Aaron Alexovich cartoonishly takes over for the Eisner-award winning duo of Buckingham and Leialoha to also take a moment away from Flycatcher’s quest for vengeance. The Farm is being retrofitted as a staging area for war training, Bigby proves his reputation and his children have a birthday party with a special surprise. Oh, and there’s a very slight nod to the sister title “Jack of Fables” which is more expanded upon there. Somewhat like an average issue of “Countdown,” this read partially like the news — this happens, then this happens, then that — but had the throughline of the “cubs” birthday to draw it together into a coherent and entertaining narrative. Then of course there’s Bill Willingham’s masterful writing, effortlessly making the children’s dialogue as believable as the romantic tension between Rose Red and Boy Blue. Another fine issue in a virtually unbroken string of them for Vertigo’s finest title.

Jack of Fables #13 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

The image you see is the cover of this issue … sort of. Some details were deleted when the original was released to cover up revealing Brian Bolland’s assignment as cover artist (now common knowledge) as well as the fact that the story revolves around just why Jack has the sword Excalibur sticking from his torso (especially since it’s supposed to be at Flycatcher’s side somewhere in the Witching Well). Many, many secrets about Jack’s fortunes are revealed here (including one that didn’t seem very hard to guess, but has a fairly interesting twist) and virtually every panel brims with wit and amusement. A sure rising star, this title is.

DMZ #22 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Like the scrutiny of any major media trial, when the Day 204 verdict was released in the alternate future New York City, All Hell met his good friend Broke Loose and they did their usual shtick. At the end of the day, things don’t look so good for the United States government, who finishes the day with a positively Roman finale, all leading to lead character Matty making some major discoveries about his life and about himself. A bit talky but still compelling.

Casanova #8 (Image Comics)

He’s baaaaaack! Littered with pop culture references, snarky dialogue and sci-fi inflected sexual innuendo, this issue feels a bit short but makes up for it in cleavage and blowing stuff up. In today’s quick cut world, that’s some of the highest praise one could hope for. A giant robot goes on a tear, there’s lots of shooting, teleportation plays a role in “surreal estate” and a hospital burns to the ground. Just when you might have worried Matt Fraction had lost it, once again it’s on, and the switch to new artist Fabio Moon is only noticeable near the end where some characters are a bit difficult to tell, but that’s just getting used to the new way of looking at them. Big fun.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

All good here.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

There was no way to read “Public Enemy” #4 because Diamond shorted the order made by Comics Ink, so there that is. Deal with it — they’re a monopoly.

“Black Adam: The Dark Age” #1 was very close to making the jump, as the title character again showcases his virtually boundless will to bend acolytes to his service and overcome even the forces of everyone in the world looking for him. However, even with his singleminded determination, the issue itself never really gets out of the lower gears, cruising along where it needs to power through. Plus, isn’t the McGuffin in the end of this something that got written out of continuit … oh, right, never mind that one (Superboy PUNCH).

The week’s other closest miss was a surprisingly coherent Grant Morrison turn in “Batman” #667, which melds nostalgia with modern sensibilities in looking at a Morrison favorite (England’s Batman, “The Knight”) as a member of a club of similarly themed heroes in a claustrophobic potboiler that had the Dark Knight virtually too big a persona to contain in the pages here. Why wasn’t that good enough? It echoed a kind of “Watchmen” sensibility that felt a bit retrograde — possibly part and parcel of the story’s direction — and had too many cast members that just served as fodder.

Amadeus Cho had his faith shaken in “Incredible Hulk” #109, as the undeniable rage of the good doctor literally shakes the world. Told mostly from the perspective of the boy genius, this issue forces you to walk the line on choosing a side — showing with equal weight the perspective of the powerless furious at the new world order, one nation under Stark versus the very real possibility that the Hulk could be bringing the end of all things. If this issue had a smidgen more focus and picked up the pace, it would have made the jump.

The gamma-charged fun continued in the close “World War Hulk Frontline” #3, which had two very good stories that could have been purchase worthy if they happened on their own in a virtual “Elephantmen” problem. The investigation of the robot’s murder needs more space, because it’s good. The reporting on the ground of the futility in abandoned Harlem and a military charged with a duty too great to discharge … it needs more space. The humor element at the end? Wholly out of place.

Like the “Black Adam” title before, all the pieces are there for “Green Lantern” #22 to have been an issue you talked about with your friends … but it never really went for your throat, content to just do jazz hands as it danced around the bounty of riches it has at hand. Hank Henshaw as head Manhunter, with the Anti-Monitor as his supervisor. Superboy Prime chuckling and waiting. Beloved Lanterns falling in battle. Yet for all of that, it’s like a stacked fantasy team that’s still not winning its league. The same could be said for all four of these issues. Try harder, please.

In an issue that did the best of any in its run, “Star Wars: Legacy” #15 had an amazing surprise (if you know anything about Dark Horse’s pseudocanonical tales) on its last page, covered a lot of pseudocanonical history and tried really hard … but just missed the mark with a cliche “not my friends” shtick in mid issue and some rather tedious intra-moff politics that only got interesting during dinner. A lot got thrown at the wall, but the stuff that stuck never gets any more notice.

“Cover Girl” #4 was hokey but fun, the kind of entertainment you can enjoy late at night flipping and finding “She Spies” or that latter day “Knight Rider” series … but that stuff is free.

The same goes for “Criminal” #8, which is a good read on a Saturday afternoon when you’re in the mood for a noirish yarn, but is a bit too slow in its pacing and a bit too niche for any other applications.

On a good note, “Countdown” #38 was a bit less scattershot this week, and it seemed like some stuff actually happened.

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

“Un-Men” #1 piled on the cliches, from the German mad scientist to the bearded ladies, attempting “mysterious” and ending up with “dull” and “played out.”

“New Avengers” #33 cemented why exactly this team is the Liberal Avengers — they can’t work together, they can’t trust one another, they can’t accomplish anything, they watch their counterparts on television jealously and they talk more than they ever do. This sad homecoming rife with internecine mistrust and unanswered questions only shined in a Captain America flashback — that’s not good.

Speaking of Skrullocaust-styled exercises in team-tearing, “JLA Classified” #41 sampled both the central theme from the “Rock of Ages” storyline and the “V’ger” episode of “Star Trek,” all while getting disturbingly Oedipal with Ivo’s family and Batman being stripped to his underwear in the middle of a fight. No.

“Annihilation Conquest: Wraith” #2 served up a different set of cliches with a tedious interrogation by a compromised Ronan that’s too spoilerish and too embarrassing to relate.

Here’s a short story about the supernatural-scented sorority story that “Ghosting” #1: no.

“Boys” #11 keeps devolving into weird spandex sex dramas with some sidekick stylings that you simply do not want in your brain. Ew.

Somehow, the only Black guy in “Omega Flight” #5 ended up hanging with something around his neck for a few panels, which wasn’t even the most tedious thing in the issue. Oh, and Beta Ray Bill fans will not be happy.

At least “Punisher War Journal” #10 finally finished with the Nazis and almost got entertaining in its last few pages.

After its appealing opening, it’s quite disheartening to see an issue as dumb as “Dynamo 5” #6, which had almost every character in it doing something stupid and/or ill-advised, even a telepath who should have known better.

You wonder what about “Nova” #5? Taking all the emotional investment in the title character … and sidelining him for 21 pages in favor of an unknown neophyte only to bring in a Kyle Rayner story element? No.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

A little bit rough, honestly.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

With a lot of titles just treading water in a way not worth typing (“Green Arrow: Year One,” for example) let’s just call it a wash.

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