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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 JULY 18TH, 2007

Godland #19 (Image Comics)

Most of the disparate storylines finally start to converge as Adam and Crashman finally have their tete-a-tete (sort of) as do Friedrich Nickelhead and the Tormentor, all while three cosmic powers prepare for devastation in the desert … all without Adam ever taking off his bathrobe. No more of the plodding navel gazing here — it’s all out crazy Kirby-tastic action, and it’s just in time (this title was in danger of losing its “buy on sight” status). Oh, and there’s a sinful surprise at the end of the issue, which presents the next challenge for Adam to handle. Good to be back to the regularly scheduled craziness.

Thunderbolts: Desperate Measures (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. The first thing you need to know here is that you may think you know Americop but you really don’t. He’s considerably more dangerous than before (and, coincidentally, blond). With that in mind, you may guess what Normal Osborn is doing when he taps Bullseye to lead (that’s not a typo) a mission with only Penance (the artist formerly known as Speedball) to capture the law enforcement themed murderer. What happens … well, let’s just say “mean spirited” is a kind word for it, but a much more accurate one is “entertaining.” Penance has some surprises, Bullseye almost has too much fun, Moonstone gets all worked up, Osborn loses some money and there’s a bungload of hilarity from the Marvel Universe’s most lethal collection of masks. Simply a delight.

The Highwaymen #2 (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Speaking of delightful, you can’t beat the style and panache with which these two retired instruments of policy go about their work in retrieving a rogue government asset is just plain fun to read. The entire opening sequence, escaping a CIA field team, is the stuff of action movie legend, as Mr. Monroe and Mr. McQueen practically waltz through super powered assassins and deluges of high caliber ammunition flying their way, firing quips back and forth at one another the entire time. It’s wonderful analog enjoyment, as Lee Garbett (with colors by Johnny Rench) perfectly depicts almost everything from car chases to gunfights to dialogue (the automotive somersault could have been a smidgen more clear, but wasn’t bad), and the script by Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman is so tight that you could bounce a paper dollar off of it. Now a “buy-on-sight” as this mini is firing on all cylinders.

World War Hulk #2 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Also in the “more fun than should be legally allowed” column is the second installment of Dr. Banner’s comeback tour, where Rick Jones and the She-Hulk try to talk him out of this (hahahahahahaha) and Hulk and his Warbound take it to the Avengers and the FF (including their Wakandan pals) like Jade Jaws worked for Fed Ex. Sure, Reed uses his big brain, but all that thinking got his stretchy face handed to him (you’ve gotta be really determined to beat a guy senseless who can stretch and control his body that well). What’s unusual is why Hercules takes another swing (after that astounding beating he took in the last issue of “Hulk” proper), but it’s over so fast it’s probably not worth thinking about. This issue is like watching a 1967 Camaro plow full speed through a field of dandelions — and that’s a good thing.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Like the “Transformers” movie, this week could have a subtitle: “f*** sh** up!” Fun fun fun.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

NOTE: On Wednesday before time to buy comics, the Treo 600 that normally powers this section irrevocably died. So notes had to be written by hand … and that never goes well. Apologies for any added brevity for this week’s reviews while we try and reformat.

It’s also interesting to note that DC lost an entire bookshelf of display space to Marvel this week due to perceived popularity of titles being ordered by the shop — Marvel has the momentum in moving the dollars and DC, apparently, doesn’t. Just an interesting note.

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

The best books that didn’t get bought this week are “Captain America” #28, “The Order” #1, “Cover Girl” #3, “Painkiller Jane” #2 and “Justice League of America” #11 — and that’s shown in descending order of quality.

“Captain America” #28 relied heavily on what some call Christopher Priest segues (they’ve likely been used elsewhere, but no one in comics made them as much of an institution) with SHIELD looking kind of incompetent, the Red Skull nipping at their heels, Bu … er, the Winter Soldier gunning for everybody and Sharon Carter and the Falcon failing to find him at all. Oh, Nick Fury makes a brief appearance. Gritty and fast paced, but lacking focus.

Focus was also in short supply for “The Order” #1, showing California’s Initiative super team as modeled on the Greek gods (complete with royalties being paid to Ares — how did Hercules get screwed out of that deal?) and a “Strikeforce: Morituri” twist that guarantees nobody gets too popular for their own good. The lead character — an actor who used to play Tony Stark on some televised show based on the man’s life — got the lion’s share of panel time and development, and was honestly a little bit sappy. If the issue could have chosen a direction — “Wildguard” style public heroism, “Demon In A Bottle” styled redemption story, LA based smash up (and the scenery could have been a bit more “LA” — even “Runaways” hits this more convincingly) — it might have worked better.

“Cover Girl” #3 again did a great job of showing the pimping of popular culture by the moneyed and manipulative, doing a great job with the same kind of banter that made “Highwaymen” so much fun. Where it fell down was in trying to inject some gravitas into the death of one of the characters, who was barely given any panel time and where the emotional reaction of those left behind felt hollow and half-hearted.

“Painkiller Jane” #2 kept up the fun sexual tension with crisp and lush art work, but used a big action piece as an excuse to run in place and chatted up the rest of the time with banter that bordered on the pedestrian.

Novelist Brad Meltzer knows how to depict tension and claustrophobia in a dangerously “intimate” issue of “Justice League of America,” with Red Arrow and Vixen trapped underneath the remains of the Watergate Hotel, which managed to get tossed into the Potomac River. A white-knuckle potboiler which did a lot to flesh out the characters, but again had just barely anything actually happening.

“World War Hulk: X-Men” #2 had much the same essential effect of the main title, but with a much less prime time players, an out-of-the-way always-gets-trashed locale and dull dialogue, it didn’t work as well (not to mention lacking the Romita-esque visual power to drive the story).

“Checkmate” #16 stumbled its way towards romance for two of its characters while whinily reuniting two JLI favorites and adding a healthy dollop of tension by way of a new bishop added to the board. The smart stuff was on the back burner, and that’s not so interesting.

“Avengers: The Initiative” #4 has one messed up bit of gallows humor if you’re astute enough to notice it, that casts “World War Hulk” #1 in a new light. But its corruption of innocence was not very well depicted and nothing special happened, despite Rage’s impulsiveness.

Speaking of impulsiveness, Wally West is back in “All-Flash” #1, a bridge issue between the fall of Bart Allen and the comeback of a fan favorite. The most of rogues who did the deed get addressed, while Wally runs and goes nowhere, crying a bit and having tea with his aunt. The issue sidesteps some details (where was Wally? No answers here) and goes for your heartstrings but never has enough force to really grab them.

“Super Villain Team-Up: Modok’s 11” #1 was a bit promising, even though it had yet another remix for Puma (who seems to have been killed and retconned about a bit in the last couple of years) and a set up that felt a bit too easy as characters fell into stereotypes instead of roles (Rocket Racer, for example, getting all skittish, or the fact that Modok was getting written off and pretty effectively silenced in recent issues of “Ms. Marvel”) making the book feel like it should have been enthralling but barely managed interesting.

The finale in “Shazam: Monster Society of Evil” #4 was a little on the saccharine side, but was wholly consistent with period-styled stories of its type and added modern technology to its mix for a bit of an Ultimatizing effect. That makes it accurate in its invocations of nostalgia, but not quite the best story it could be.

Given the resources her would-be fiance has at his disposal (not to mention her pal Babs), it’s embarrassing that the title character in “Black Canary” #2 has so little information about what’s happening around her, so much so that it distracts from the story. It’s apparently a big conspiracy, and the revenge factor is merely icing on a tasty treat … but it all seems a bit too pat for it to have any poignancy or power.

In the novel “The Crown: Ascension” there’s a character named Nikolas Manos who desperately tries to live up to the reputation of his family. Phyla Vell has a taste of that in “Annihilation Conquest: Quasar” #1 where she doubts herself almost as often as she takes flight, chasing the myth of a Kree hero while being pursued relentlessly by the Borg, er, the Phalanx. Which, as you might guess, takes something away from the experience.

Oh those Nazis and their zany super weapons. Apparently, every really dangerous idea had its roots in the creativity of the Fourth Reich, as “The Programme” #1 bounces around from 1945 to the modern middle east and tries to answer the question from “Heroes” — “how do you stop an exploding man?” You start with learning (slowly) how to make one. The art work is a little Andy Warhol, which may turn some people on but seemed over-stylized here.

“World War Hulk: Frontline” #2 continues teaching the lessons of Hurricane Katrina and mocking the irrelevancies of the Super Hero Registration Act while trying to jam in a police procedural as a back up element. Ambitious, but again lacking focus.

“The Weapon” #2 was a bit talkier (except for the weird tourist trap part — what was that about?) and featured a very cliched moment of amour, but was harmless fun despite its overwrought attempts at establishing history and legacy in ways that “Agents of Atlas” did effortlessly.

Teenaged Tony Montana is a lot more politically minded than he’s shown in later years if you go for “Scarface: Devil In Disguise” #1, but the premise seems limiting given the hard historical facts that the storyline can’t easily violate in a story that’s okay but never really does anything to seize your attention.

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

Notes on “Terminator 2: Infinity #1” — art? Less than appealing. John Connor? Super whiny. Plot? You honestly think Skynet would focus on winning the present by now, but noooo … grr …

A bad man stalks the sunken avenues of “Zero Killer” #1, but if you’ve ever seen a bad man in a bad future — Mad Max, Snake Plissken, and so on — you’re not gonna see anything new here.

“Army @ Love” #5 got dull, with a petulant and ultimately embarrassing character development while some pieces got moved around like checkers — limited — more than chess in a scattered narrative that plays at politics while never really doing anything of relevance.

“Robin” #164 was titled “Making the Band,” and a neophyte villain reads from the Inertia playbook, but instead recruits people even fewer people know, “characterizing” them in a panel or two at most. Why should anybody care, again? Diddy does it more interestingly than this, and that’s no compliment for anybody.

Store owner Steve LeClaire said he could read “Countdown” #41 while ringing up customers because he felt virtually every page was self contained. Reading more like a news report of stuff that happened instead of, you know, a story, that’s not an unfair assessment.

Despite downing a president (what was with the change of heart?) and death from above, “Amazons Attack” #4 still doesn’t feel like it’s got an real consequence, like a magic wand can be waved to fix a lot of what’s occurred. The secret behind the Amazons’ advance is revealed … and it’s boring too.

If you had any idea how much of a waste of time “Ghost Rider” #13 was, with its so called showdown between the Spirit of Vengeance and the Hulk, it would make you mad. Easier still, just don’t read it and pretend we never had this conversation.

The Spy Smasher vs. Oracle beef gets settled — sort of — in “Birds of Prey” #108, which featured a five page splash image (how’s that for padding the page rate?) and another attempt at getting emotional. Unsuccessfully.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Kind of rough — stay on target, people!

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Given three jumps, let’s call it a win despite a lot of getting distracted by shiny things.

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