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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 JUNE 27TH, 2007

Thunderbolts #115 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Comics Ink owner Steve LeClaire was heard telling customers that this issue as his favorite read of the week, and it’s easy to see why. A lot happened in not a lot of pages, and its paced so flawlessly and developed so deliciously that it’s almost perfect. The only caveat would be that it’s not wholly idiot proof due to the sheer volume of content here — for example, if you don’t know why Bullseye’s so dangerous, you have to figure it out from context clues. Which is easy to do, given the well developed narrative here, so that’s not much of a caveat after all. Here, a team of Thunderbolts (Songbird, Venom, Penance, Bullseye and Radioactive Man — the Chinese one, not the Russian) go toe to toe with (really, you’re gonna need links here) The Steel Spider, Sepulchre and American Eagle. While most of this issue is consumed by costumed conflict, what’s amazing is the characterization and plot development that still managed to make it in anyway. There’s nascent romantic chemistry between Sepulchre and American Eagle, which is fleeting but wildly effective. American Eagle also gets one of the best badass speeches seen in comics recently, and both the Steel Spider and Bullseye have what could be considered to be a really bad day (but not before Steel Spider holds his own in the fight against people who, on paper, should have mopped the floor with him). A fascinating issue from many angles which uses what some used to call the “Geoff Johns effect” in taking characters deemed dead ends by many and making them interesting. So much went right here, it’s hard to not praise this effusively.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #31 (DC Comics)

The Legion has elected a new leader, and the write-in candidate is a surprise to many. But with Cosmic Boy gone MIA and the United Planets sending in special prosecutor Tenzil Kim (old school LSH fans will recognize that name and what fate is likely for this guy) to investigate the genocide of the Dominators, well, there’s tons of excitement to go around. As if that weren’t enough, Mekt Ranzz’ Wanderers and the fragments of Terror Firma (as led by Sun Boy) are also hanging around and if you don’t understand a lot of this, it’s again mostly cleared up in context clues scattered around the Tony Bedard script (and the Kevin Sharpe/Robin RIgg’s art combo has a really nice visual balance, with brisk colors from Nathan Eyring). There’s a nice Scooby Doo-esque splitting of forces (leaving a lot of complicated personalities milling about on a shattered Earth) and three very diverse trios of teen heroes sent out to face off against some interesting surprises. A perfect balancing act of a lot of spinning plates, and done with the bright, wide eyed sanguineness that makes the Legion such a fan favorite.

The Nightly News #6 (Image Comics)

Along a much darker vein, Jonathan Hickman’s self-crafted paean to vengeance concludes with a Kansas City Shuffle that would have worked better with more clear visual clues but nonetheless manages to hit all the right notes with its deterministic pronouncements (“Know now: today, all that ends”) and a hail of flame and gunfire for most of the members of the Cult of the Voice (the one with the TV was funny). Filled with righteous indignation and a much more complicated and Palpatine-esque plan than anybody involved could ever have considered, it seems smarter the more you think about it, and the more you read it again. A fantastic conclusion.

She-Hulk #19 (Marvel Comics)

NOTE: The cover seen here is slightly different than what’s available at retail, which has the text “Objection, Leading The Witness” instead. Jennifer Walters stays away from being her normal gamma-infused self while legal shark Mallory Book proves herself a dangerous litigator in developing a legal defense for the Leader that’s almost too good to be true (and Jen walks into a few verbal traps that are simply diabolical). Meanwhile, a number of hidden secrets come to light, a surprisingly intimate interlude takes place with the assistance of Avril Lavigne and Diana Krall and a very disturbing moment in an alternate dimension worse than any hell. Clever, funny, smart and tense, all while borrowing from years of continuity in a brilliant fashion.

Jack of Fables #12 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

NOTE: The very nice Brian Bolland cover is still considered secret on the Vertigo website and was not available at press time for you to look at, so sorry. Speaking of funny, in the finest scoundrel tradition, Jack continues to use sheer idiot luck and his smarmy charm to stay one step ahead even as the forces of the Golden Boughs Retirement Community hunt him and seek to keep him down. All while a guy named Kevin in New York keeps freaking out, a strange story point pops up (which solicitations claim will be dealt with by issue #14) and an auto accident goes way too far. Just plain fun, and everybody involved seems to be enjoying themselves as well.

X-Factor #20 (Marvel Comics)

Pietro and X-Cell face off against a Zack Snyder-inspired Madrox and X-Factor, who bring the fight as a distraction so Layla Miller can use one of the most dangerous weapons around — one that has toppled presidencies — to drop the hammer on Pietro’s dirty little secret. Quips aplenty (Monet gets a nice one, as does Layla) and the close to this storyline has a nicely poetic touch to it. Kind of dour, given the ultimate body count, but surely worth the price of admission.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

How about “wow” for an analysis? Great reading all around.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

Four comics were this close to making it home, and in better economic times would have been jumps without a thought. Let’s examine each in turn.

“Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Special” #1 was the biggest surprise, a fascinating story that chalked up a lot of corpses and made some really high profile “acquisitions” to follow, again, a path that Palpatine could probably approve of (short of all the non-humans, of course). However, there were a number of logistical errors here that were too galling. For example, Sinestro said that GL power rings were incapable of killing, but just a few pages before a power ring-wielding Lantern is shown killing an antagonist all the way to flashing flesh off of bones. Still, with the almost fantasy league style of drafting that Sinestro is doing (ignoring the ego involved with naming a whole organization after himself — why not Parallax Corps instead?) it was interesting to watch.

“Criminal” #7 was ridiculously close to getting the nod, first by more closely tying together the events in this storyline to the preceding one (very well crafted) and the nuanced dichotomy between what the lead character did and what he was thinking. It was very solid crime fiction, but didn’t exactly do anything jaw dropping, so in such a crowded week, that just wasn’t good enough to make it happen. Still a damned good comic book, though.

The character on the cover’s mysterious reappearance is the major problem that made “Blue Beetle” #16 stay in the store (if it’s just SUPERBOY PUNCH again, seriously, somebody has to die … somebody new) in a wonderfully told tale that again mixed every possible dramatic element with just the right balance and had the gem of the title character’s power fantasy being something truly shocking. But while spinning on the axle of that one character … it made the rest of the issue wobble too much to work, but the margin was very thin.

“World War Hulk Front Line” #1 was the final serious contender, with an in-depth look at a lot of parts of Marvel’s New York that would go unexamined otherwise (there were less-than-enthusiastic evacuations of Harlem, which had shades of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward circa Katrina) and also showed an interesting political point (“entente cordiale”) with Hulk’s forces playing nice with others (how shocking is that?) to the dismay of a police detective. Face first in the trenches, but the whole mysterious man in the shadows bit with the money was a little too easy.

Two parts of this week’s Themisciran War crossover were good enough to be mentioned here, which was “Teen Titans” #48 and “Amazons Attack” #27 (which you should read in that order) as the first deals with modern internment camps (not just for Japanese-Americans in the forties, recently used for Freedom Act detainees and here used for anybody who ever met an Amazon) and an overzealous extension of essentially unconstitutional law while Hippolyta makes an ultimatum that the Green Scar would respect as her closest advisors start acting all Mark Anthony and Brutus. But it still doesn’t seem to have any real direction — where is this all going?

“Silver Surfer Requiem” #2 featured another very smartly done Spider-Man guest appearance (he should only appear with other people, really, he’s like Nate Dogg or Robert Horry) which gave Norrin Radd a chance to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony (per-fect har-mo-nyyyyyy …) but was awfully saccharine, still doesn’t really explain why Surf is having this problem at all (as there’s no fewer than three ways to fix it and five reasons why it’s dumb at all) and of course was done in the final phases of “Robotech: The End of the Circle” by Jack McKinney (among other places).

Speaking of the Surfer, “Ultimate Fantastic Four” #43 shows him coming to that continuity’s earth for the first time, the servant of an unseen master who learns how to speak English by watching the radio waves in the air and who finds the world fascinating. Plus Ultimate Carol Danvers “pwned” Reed (Ultimate Ben Grimm’s words, honest) but not a lot was actually said or done.

After the brutal last issue (which made Comics Ink owner Steve swear off reading the title, and even warn customers away from it), “The Boys” #8 was much quieter with nothing but conversations (the bit with the butler was funny though) as nobody here seems really happy about any of what’s happening.

What’s so funny about a Skrull zombie apocalypse? “Black Panther” #28 is a great joy … if you like zombies. Kirkman’s brains-eating variant of the Marvel Universe gets visited courtesy of the strangest items of T’Challa’s canon and with Johnny and Ben along side (the Lyja thing sealed the deal that they weren’t around the 616 neighborhood anymore) it was witty and amusing … but only if you don’t find the very concept of zombies dazzlingly dull, which CBR’s own Steven Grant pointed out was a highly logical response.

Another disappointment is “Silent War” #6, which inexplicably rocked “The Sopranos” ending (and it was written months before the finale aired — weird) and left so much of a mess that the story didn’t so much conclude as collapse. The even stranger thing is that, up until the infuriating last couple of pages, it was freakin’ riveting.

“Who gets crippled next?” That’s possibly the best line in “World War Hulk X-Men” #1 (all the good parts are from him) in a story so short that it probably could have been done in less space, as the characterization didn’t help make uninteresting characters any more compelling. Credit the good doctor with at least getting all the facts.

Another comic where the central spoke of the story just never held together is “Daredevil” #98, where every character save the central antagonist was fully realized and fleshed out, but that one problem infected the rest of the issue with the kind of inconclusive head scratching strangeness that’s hard to figure when so many pieces work, but the sum of those parts does not.

Ultimate Morlocks, eh? Not bad, “Ultimate X-Men” #83, but not good either. Ditto for the “suddenly hitting the brakes” close to “Cable/Deadpool” #42 (which at least showed a different perspective to Cable’s problems in “X-Men” #200), the frustrated (but not actually frustrating) “Ultimate Vision” #4 and “Immortal Iron FIst” #6 (which had a nice fight scene splash panel and the return of “Sweet Christmas” amidst bleeped profanity, but was all prelude and preamble for something else).

Finally, “JSA Classified” #27 managed to not be abominable despite a really dumb and pointlessly cliched set of mob enforcers, but the surprise instigator at the end was an intriguing choice.

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

“Superman/Batman” #37 continues that title’s tradition as being one of the worst on the stands, complete with a cover that looks like it was done as fan art for a ‘zine or a website (down to the rough edges on the line work) and a central story that had lunch with Pete Ross being the most interesting moment in the pages of the comic. Just really badly done all around.

“X-Men” #200 was whiny and had a last minute surprise that’s kind of sad in its predictability and lack of raison d’etre. At least it has Scalphunter looking kind of cool.

“Wonder Woman” #10 could have used a spell check, because spelling “seize” S-I-E-Z-E just doesn’t work (hey DC — you’re overworking your editors, many of ’em talk about it at ‘cons, and it’s showing up in the product) and Diana’s confrontation with her mother seems like it was part Russell Crowe and part Dr. Phil. That’s not a good thing.

“Sheena” #1 was so jam packed with cliches, that it actually included a side order of cliches and a regular sized cliche shake in its tiresome femme take on the white protector of the jungle mythos.

A reader wrote in and said that the events of “Countdown” were happening a year after the close of “52,” but given that issue #44 here talked about both Freddy Freeman’s current “trials of Shazam” and the recent developments for Bart Allen, it’s current and that’s even harder to wrap your brain around. Billy Batson and his sister Mary have harsh words and as the cover shows, a guy who was so wildly and thoroughly dead just wanders in … or at least somebody who robbed his wardrobe. Baffling.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Four serious contenders make up for all of the half-finished thoughts, bad art and spelling errors. Mostly.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Due to the sheer volume of quality in the winners and contenders, let’s call it a victory overall.

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