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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 11TH, 2007

Deadpool/GLI Summer Fun Spectacular (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. There’s been a lot of negative things said about The Initiative, the plan to organize and regulate super powered beings in the Marvel Universe. Finally, you see that somebody’s making it work — the Great Lakes Initiative (formerly known as the Lightning Bolts, the Great Lakes X-Men and the Great Lakes Avengers, among other ridiculous monikers) show how they defend the state of Wisconsin from all threats … including one here that’s so ridiculous (even though it’s effective — it incapacitated most other heroes, including the “Blacktastic” Fantastic Four) that only they could be right for it … with the help of someone else who has a penchant for the ridiculous, the Merc with a Mouth himself. The results are a hoot, all while Squirrel Girl has a set of interludes that are simply hilarious (her meeting with Penance is the stuff of Usenet legends, and this quote defines her existence: “Squirrel Girl totally pwns Doc Doom. Know why? ‘Cause of somethin’ that happened in a story by Steve-freakin’-Ditko! That’s so in continuity. So just deal with it, fanboy!”). A fun one shot all around that writers Dan Slott and Fabian Nicieza packed ridiculous amounts of quality into — fallen Olympian gods, AIM, a martial arts battle ended by a stapler and even a trip to the 2099 universe — with art from a bevy of talents including (but not limited to) Paul Pelletier and Kieron Dwyer. Well worth the four bucks.

DMZ #21 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Matty Roth has been digging under every unturned stone to get a clearer sense of a massacre dubbed “Day 204,” that took place and changed the conflict between well-armed “white trash” (the comic’s words) and the United States military machine from an interminable skirmish to a stalemate. So when a three-star general wants to meet, on the record, about what happened, Matty can’t very well turn that down … even if the meeting has ulterior motives that have more in common with Rodney King than anything that ever happened at the Hague. Riccardo Burchielli’s art really brings home a number of points (the “You’d gave to” panel is posteresque, while the simple storytelling of the numerous vignette panels, such as the “reporting in on payphones” sequence were very distinct) and this is a comic that tells its tale completely while leaving you aching for what’s next — and that’s the way it should be.

X-Factor #21 (Marvel Comics)

Peter David deftly dances with the concept of loneliness in this issue (that very barely brushes against the “Endangered Species” storyline, but it’s an X-Book so it had to be labeled as such) centering around a character called The Isolationist (who seems to be a telepath with very poor filtering abilities as well as some other fancy powers and a very Dr. Doom-meets-John Constantine wardrobe) and addressing some of the simmering tensions around the offices of X-Factor Investigations. Layla Miller gets another surprise, Rahne speaks with body language and Guido gets a job offer, and almost as an afterthought, the company takes on a case with shades of Prussian Blue. Great fun and while it is indeed a bit Kirkmanesque in presenting a series of moments instead of a linear narrative, the framing device of loneliness ties it all together in a proper story styled box, and that makes it all work out.

Fables #63 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Prince Charming continues to show that he’s a man with a plan, while the Adversary makes plans of his own. The sheer scale and ruthlessness of Prince Charming’s work, compared to the relative reliance the Adversary has on his endless armies of battle droids, er, wooden soldiers, is remarkable. When you toss in the wild card of Flycatcher the Frog Prince, who’s developed an army of his own from a most unusual source (“Convincing words. One side, slowpoke”), you’ve got a fascinating installment showing a march from cold war to a much more heated conflict. The always consistent trifecta of Willingham, Buckingham and Leialoha (and let’s not forget the elegant coloring of Lee Loughridge) shows up again and gets the job done in style.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Nothin’ but hits here.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

The book that came closest without hitting the mark was “Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen” #1, which literally soared on almost every line of dialogue (using somebody’s face as a codpiece? making earmuffs out of their nostrils? Cutting off their head and making it your wife? That’s good crazy) but the cliched and pointlessly dumb plot robbed the reading experience of the mirth created by the characters’ entertaining, meandering chatter.

“BPRD: Garden of Souls” #5 had all the tension and climactic narrative purpose of a great conclusion, with action and well-handled transitions from scene to scene, and had it been supported by more compelling material before would have been a must have. But a good ending by itself may make the trade better, but does nothing for a monthly single comic.

“Nexus: Space Opera” #1 was a favorite of store owner Steve LeClaire, and was in and of itself very close as it precisely presented the tensions in a melange of cultures (think about Cable’s Providence in space and way bigger) while the title character was vexed into sleeplessness by assassination attempts on his pregnant wife. Had the aforementioned protagonist not whined so much and the issue focused more on this strange new world, this comic book would have made it home.

“Shadowpact” #15 was very close to making it work, with Doctor Gotham making one of the most thrilling super villain debuts in some time, setting the bar extremely high all while completely eliminating the DCU’s chances of having a summer convention to compete with San Diego (however, since they sank and then raised the city of San Diego in “Aquaman,” can they even have an SDCC there? Does DC secretly hate summer convention season?), failing only in making Doctor Gotham all talk with a vague raison d’etre and barely having the team show up at all.

“Star Wars: Legacy” #14 is another swing upwards into the higher degrees of adequacy, with a story that hit a variety of great notes — Coruscant’s eternal underbelly, lightsaber battles, shooting people, scoundrels and Sith Lords mingled amidst politicians and padawans. If it could muster some more enthralling character moments or had more remarkable art, this title could be a contender.

“Just because I’m whimsical doesn’t mean I won’t shoot you!” These words from the Madman action figure pretty much sums up the humor in “Toyfare” #121, which had a less-than-hilarious Wookie-centric Twisted Toyfare Theatre as its centerpiece. Not bad, but not necessary, unless you’re one of those people actually buying it for details on new toys headed to stores.

“Justice Society of America” #7 showed another legacy being passed on, even if reluctantly, with the tedious threat of neo-Nazis as the straw man antagonist. Wildcat got in one of the week’s best quotes (“Fists are nature’s problem solvers!”) and Starman was as much bewildering as bewildered. The fighting was pretty paint-by-the-numbers, but then again, it was just Nazis, who are the easiest to defeat of the Cliche Quartet of Antagonist Types (for the record: zombies, ninjas, pirates and of course adherents to National Socialism or some derivative therein).

“Voodoo Child” #1 was created in part by actor Nicolas Cage, which probably means something to somebody. However, in this fairly paint-by-the-numbers “undead runaway slave in New Orleans” story, nothing really spectacular or fresh happens, art wise or in the script. Again, fine if that’s your shtick, but just “eh” otherwise.

The Liberal Avengers, er “New Avengers” spend most of their 32nd issue yammering on about Skrull-minded conspiracies (it was like Al Franken was writing Wolverine’s diatribe, which is worth torrenting just to make a desktop background out of it) which still managed to be kind of entertaining until the end of the second act where something unclear happens that made it seem like either Danny Rand buys cheap jets or the issue’s script accidentally got mashed up with one from the TV show “Lost.” All of a sudden Dr. Strange’s cloak doesn’t work when he’s falling? Seriously? Blah. Worked until it fell apart — literally.

The best part of “Superman” #664 was that Big Blue got hit with a giant pie. A giant electrified killer pie. That’s just plain funny! However, what was less funny for the Man of Steel was having to face the fact that more people distrust and fear him than respect and love him, as Arion’s spellcasting makes him appear a threat and everybody (including many of his closest pals, even Hal in a very hypocritical “light”) jump to conclusions, not to help. More of an indictment of the weaknesses of the character than an actually interesting story (since almost nothing actually happened outside of some fairly normal property damage).

“Sub-Mariner” #2 sent a lot of plates spinning, but didn’t do it very fast. Lacking the urgency of the first issue, a big (and fairly obvious, when you think about it) red herring floated up to the top of the bowl and Iron Man looked dumb while Namor pulled a page from the T’Challa handbook and couldn’t delegate.

“Stormwatch PHD” #9 was a super powered episode of “Law & Order,” spending a lot of time going essentially nowhere and leaving a conclusion that didn’t go well for anybody. Not bad at a third of the price, but not working as it is.

If you liked the Falcon’s speech in “Fallen Son Captain America: Iron Man,” you’ll like a lot of what’s in the “Martha Washington Dies” one shot, but here Miller assumes a lot of facts that either aren’t in evidence or happened so long ago that they’re lost to history and back issue bins. Not worth the work to research just to understand what’s happening here.

is it a bad sign that every panel with a Sinestro Corps member completely outshone every Oan-inspired hero’s moments in “Green Lantern” #21? Hal and his team are on the ropes, the Guardians are divided and comics’ greatest fantasy league team of super villains has yet to play its most dangerous members. AT this rate, Sinestro would be better off starring in his own series, as Hal’s whiny self-doubt and the rest of the Corps lacking the sheer will (sorry) to achieve has them all looking pretty pathetic.

“Blade” #11 felt like it happened on a stationary bike, because the wheel was spinning and it surely was working hard, but it never got anywhere. There’s a prophecy that keeps getting mentioned (funny how a prophecy just “pops” up in one title and nobody else in a connected universe ever talked about it) and the inclusion of Dracula as a boogie-man pushes hard to add “vampires” to the CQAT to make it a quintet. Plus there was lots of arguing and a smidgen of violence, but with Howard Chaykin on art (his sequence of panels leading to “No” was fantastic) it’s hard to get that angry at it.

“Green Arrow: Year One” #1 had a great showing of craft with less than inspiring content, as Oliver Queen showing as a “champagne anarchist” squandering his life is tossed into a crucible and forced to deal with betrayal and hardship. Diggle and Jock did a good job, but it was far from revelatory and did nothing to make the Emerald Archer’s beginnings carry any weight.

“Annihilation Conquest: Wraith” #1 was all right, with a protagonist that was very “High Plains Drifter” sans the ability to — again — carry any weight. He’s a badass just because, apparently, like your parents used to tell you. But he’s got the newly ascendant Phalanx nervous and they send in their Borgified, er, assimilated Accuser in to find out what’s what. Nothing to really hold on to unless you like fairly anonymous tough guys.

“Amory Wars” #2 had great ambiance and atmosphere, but it’s a little hard to get into what’s actually happening. It’s like dating a beautiful biochemist and trying to hang out with her co-workers when you don’t know anything about biochemistry. Interesting, sure, but a bit difficult to decipher.

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

In the “They told me they fixed it — I trusted them!” file, “Code” #3 and the “Guardian Alpha” one shot were not ordered by Comics Ink. “I tried the earlier issues on the stands,” Steve said, “and nobody bought ’em.” To be fair, “Code” #1 made the jump from the Read Pile on December 20th so at least one copy sold …

“JLA Classified” #40 was, in turns, whiny, confused and destructive … but not necessarily in that order. Oh, and the Flash is voting for murder. Right.

The last few pages of “Punisher War Journal” #9 were so dumb that it’s hard to believe the brilliant mind of Matt Fraction had anything to do with it. Not to mention that there’s more neo Nazis and — get this — “hate waves” straight out of “G.I. Joe” #2 (the Hama run). Also, fun fact: Frank barely even shoots anybody, with a single digit body count.

“Countdown” #42 featured a very strange team up with the new Black Adam-inspired Mary Marvel joining forces with the Riddler to take on Clayface. Seriously. A lot of seemingly random stuff just happened, like Batman dissing Val Armorr, and it was more bullet points than plot.

The new Guardian makes a very impressive visual show of force in “Omega Flight” #4 but a lot of weird stuff made this less than good. For example, take accepting on the surface that the Wrecking Crew tossed in their lot with these Great Beasts … suddenly starting to talk much more intelligently in the bargain? That doesn’t add up. Then there’s that business with Sasquatch … and the fact that the art work seems all hasty and sketchily rendered. Nah.

Imagine you have Whilce Portacio in a room with art supplies and paper. Then imagine you hit him in the face with a baseball bat. Then imagine you made him draw. It would probably look a lot like what Ryan Benjamin and Saleem Crawford turned in for “Grifter/Midnighter” #5. When you add to that the idea of fighting interdimensional sperm (no, an issue of “The Filth” didn’t get slipped in by mistake) and getting teleported to Mars to re-enact a scene from “Total Recall” … just … well, no.

Richard Ryder discovered the trouble with Hala in “Nova” #4, unwittingly facing off against a Borged, er, Phalanx-infected Gamora in a battle of wits before leading to an ending that just smacked of “what the hell?”

A dumb jock and a nice guy both have something they want from the callipygian female lead in “Consumed” #1, but while the latter is trying to be Shia Lebeouf, the former is more like Felix Faust. The last sentence, sadly, was more interesting than the issue that inspired it.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

A lot to get through with little to show for it, so kind of not great.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Due to a surprisingly effective jump and some genuine moments of entertainment in throwaway statements and citations, we’ll call it a close win.

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