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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 13TH, 2007

Fables #62 (Vertgo/DC Comics)

The problem with really powerful stories is that they almost never die. Take the legend of Camelot. So Lancelot hung himself … his tale has passed into that of a Fable, and thus he lived on in a really unusual fashion, becoming the ghost in haunted armor hanging in the Fabletown library. After quickly recounting the tale of his rise and inevitable fall to the newly vengeful Flycatcher Prince, he begins to prepare the wrathful Ambrose for the right way to deliver his revenge on the Adversary. Meanwhile, Prince Charming shows the useful side of his personality, taking on Ambassador Hansel in a duel of words that’s a treasure trove of hilarity (“Okay, that was even more fun than the last time,” says the Beast of Beauty’s fame). Tightly told, delicious in its smallest moments and one of the most consistent pleasures on the stands, an issue of both literary and confectionary value.

World War Hulk #1 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. It’s like throwing a boomerang with a lit stick of dynamite — sooner or later, it’ll be back, and you’re not gonna like what happens. Sure, Greg Pak conveys the simple, merciless anger of the artist formerly known as Dr. Bruce Banner with crisp, clean lines … but nobody, and I mean nobody can bring the carnage and devastation to your door and make you sign for it like John Romita Jr. Here, he takes a whack a the Big Apple that’d make Michael Bay or Osama Bin Laden whistle appreciatively. Stuff gets broken and there’s an Authority-style response to civilian casualties that was pretty well done too. There are no fewer than five “holy crap” moments in this story alone. Even for four bucks, that’s pretty damned entertaining. Best of all, even if you completely ignored and/or missed the entire “Planet Hulk” detour, it doesn’t even matter — every relevant fact you’d need is right here, displayed quickly and effectively. Is it wrong to be rooting for the Green Scar? It’s hard to tell …

The Trials of Shazam #7 (DC Comics)

Some might have a problem with Freddy Freeman trading blows with a member of the fairer sex (and we use that term loosely), but given the secret origin of Sabina (“sired by a demon necromancer and a meta sorceress”) she’s more than happy for the chance to pound his face in. It’s a great fight with great thinking behind it (Howard Porter’s vibrant artwork perfectly comments Winick’s clever, almost Whedonesque script) that leads Freddy and Sabina to continue their parallel quests to reunite the Power of Shazam for wholly different reasons. Entertaining, informative, well conceived and well executed, this is fine comics making happening before your very eyes.

Dominion #2 (Boom! Studios)

Jump from the Read Pile. Back in 2003 Keith Giffen and Ross Richie had an idea for a comic book, and that title was released alongside “Firebreather,” “Venture” and “Invincible” as part of a new wave of superhero comics as parts of an integrated Image universe. Keith Giffen was “allowed” to take Australia as his personal baby and do with it what he wanted, and the results were pretty interesting … for two issues or so until they stopped doing the comic due to reasons probably not interesting enough to recount. Fast forward to the present day, and the title is back at Richie’s own Boom! Studios, and it’s so much better than the original, and not only because it’s moved from Sydney to Chicago. With a decidedly cinematic approach in terms of pacing, the assistance of another writer in the person of Michael Alan Nelson and the kind of measured experience that can only come with considering an idea on the back burner over a number of years, this is a gripping story that moves like an action movie (a smart one, like the first two “Die Hard” flicks, not the goofy one with Sam Jackson) and thinks like a science fiction novel (a good one with a lot of action, not a snoozer like “Distress” or “Faraday’s Orphans”). Sure. Tim Hamilton’s art is a little rough on the details in a place or two, but his visual storytelling is top notch and his ability to create a moment (the big explosion, the fire and the “greater gods” scene in particular) are really something to see. Worth catching up to, since it’s as much a reimagining as Eick and Moore’s “Battlestar Galactica,” and that’s turned out pretty well too.

DMZ #20 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

The biggest problem for normal people coping with the crisis of war in more modern times is the problem in clearly naming “good guys” and “bad guys,” and as surprise celebrity journalist Matty Roth discovers as he continues to investigate the story of “Day 204,” an August evening when US troops opened fire on a crowd of peace protesters, and the “trial” of soldiers on the ground being brought to task for it. “You fix old wounds with new ones,” an exiled soldier tells Matty, and he tries to find a thread of reason in the ocean of anger and tragedy that spun out of that fateful day that essentially ceded Manhattan to chaos. This issue, and this storyline, can call into question everything from Japanese interment camps to Abu Ghraib, and just like the ideal of the fourth estate, it divines no conclusions, merely presenting the information in a concise and interesting fashion. Fantastic work from Brian Wood with art by Kristian Donaldson.

Sub-Mariner #1 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. It’s not a good time to live in the US if you happen to be a resident of Earth 616, commonly known as the home of the Marvel universe. Rogue Atlantean terrorists blow up an entire town in Kansas (didn’t that happen to Gog in “The Kingdom?”) at a time when Tony Stark and SHIELD have a lot on their plate (isn’t the US also at war with Attillan and still keeping aircraft carriers off the coast of Wakanda? Plus, what’s that green thing coming in from space?) making some war-hungry policy wonks hungry for fish. Namor’s armored up and less-than-supported at home, much like Hannibal Barca fighting for an ideal that isn’t always by the facts in evidence. Marvel’s forcing many of its characters into smarter, more complicated situations (the opening sequence of this issue is an excellent case of that) and it’s fascinating to see where this one goes.

Green Arrow #75 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Playing the game of politics is a lot like the game of chess, and Oliver Queen deftly handles that while doing not quite as well against Drakon and Deathstroke, who manage to keep the upper hand over him, Black Canary, Connor Hawke and Mia the new Speedy. Sort of. The title character uses a page from the Deadpool handbook (remember when Deadpool smacked around Taskmaster by being … oh, why spoil that too?) and there’s a big deus ex machina play spoiled by the cover’s “guest starring” blurb, but the issue all makes sense and the final few pages are simply brilliant in pulling together disparate threads and crying “checkmate” to all the naysayers in a way so spectacular that the possible inspirations in “Ex Machina” have yet to pull off. Turns out this issue is the end of the road for the title, and what a way to go go.

Noble Causes #30 (Image Comics)

Rusty Noble’s a hot head — that’s not news. But when he finds out a very unpleasant family secret (itself happening just to hide another family secret that ends up getting outed anyway) it takes a cryptic appearance by the outcast Frost to lead to some surprises from the metallic elder brother and some character development that’s very intriguing to enjoy. A bit more meaty than the average issue, but that’s not a bad thing in any remote way.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Expensive, but surely worth every penny as it brought destruction and revelation in equal helpings.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

The best comic that didn’t make it home was “Black Diamond” #1, which had almost everything it needed to be amazing. A simple sci fi conceit is presented in a smart and concise fashion, with solid art work and a script as tight as Eva Longoria’s backside … and if it were just a few pages more, it would be simply brilliant. But for three bucks, it felt like a #0 issue, with just enough to tease and interest but not enough to satisfy. In the trade it’ll be delightful, but as a single issue — even with the cute back up story — it just wasn’t weighty enough to make the jump.

A close second with the exact same concern was “Amory Wars” #1, which brought the realities of interstellar intrigues down to a level that’s as personal as a hand brushing your cheek, but had so much going on that it could have used even two more pages to have some room to breathe. Given the decompressed madness of many comics these days, the problem of trying to do too much isn’t much of a complaint, but it’s hard to part with dollars in the season of the wolf.

Spider-Man makes another great guest appearance in “Blade” #10 but the lead character seems lost in his own title, haunted by old business thats always a step ahead of him. Chaykin’s art almost drives this one clear to the promised land, but even that has its limits as the storyline seems to be treading water a tad.

“Justice” #12 is a paean to the power of possibility, as summed up by Hal Jordan, “I did not fear. I hoped …” Between his green power and a glimpse of the thirty first century, inspiration was the key here as Brainiac’s master plan hit some snags and villains turned on one another in a manner that was just a bit too predictable, although Ross’ art — like Chaykin’s a moment ago — could almost make you take it home by itself.

“Star Wars: Legacy” #13 danced on the line between “good” and “good enough” as the deposed emperor of an Imperial dominion far removed from the characters we know faces an up-close-and-personal threat to his life, showing a wonderfully nuanced shade of gray between the apparent “light side” forces of the Republic and the unabashedly naughty Sith. But while dancing on that border is interesting, it doesn’t quite cross the Rubicon due to not packing enough of a punch in either writing or art to truly impress.

“Stormwatch: PHD” #8 was a pleasant surprise in making a simple crossover between teams into a real potboiler of personal dramas and finally attempted murder. Close, but given the apparent ease of the new Weatherman’s appearance (how could a development like that not have popped up before now?) and the overplay of Fahrenheit and Hellstrike’s bittersweet reunion put the kibosh on it.

Upon reader request, this column took a look at “BPRD Garden of Souls” #4 and found it interesting in a way that appeals to fans of the outre and the unusual, but the jagged art style is surely an acquired taste.

Lots of books, sadly, weren’t good enough to be examined in any detail nor annoying enough to be properly denigrated, including: “Green Lantern Corps” #13 (which was a set up for bigger plans if one reads the yellow writing on the wall), “Avengers Origins” #1 (a cute way to repackage a reprint with a new McDuffie/Oeming take on Jan being smarter than the whole team and Stan Lee being more huckster than creative), “Grifter/Midnighter” #4 (informative at least), “Hero By Night” #4 (which had a turn of events in its second act that was too predictable), “Countdown” #46 (when Jason Todd’s the smartest guy around, that’s no good, especially with Mary in black leather), “Nova” #3 (you surely can’t go home again … not to Earth 616 anyway), “Gen 13” #9 (not much of a reveal, and the meta bits with Lynch were just weird) and “Cable/Deadpool” #41 (issue’s not bad, but when asked if the cover could be any less interesting or deter sales more, Comics Ink owner Steve LeClaire responded, “that comic doesn’t sell anyway”).

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

You will like the dialogue in “New Avengers” #31, as Spidey gets a run for his money in the quip department (why wasn’t Tobey Maguire this funny?) and the team’s interaction during one almost issue-long fight scene is great, but the big reveal is annoying in its lameness (Wolverine should have known the difference) and its rush to make something happen.

in “Punisher War Journal” #8, Frank Castle’s trying to fight a war with weapons and a battlefield too grandiose for him to even comprehend, and this series makes the same error Ennis did with the main title in trying to “say something” or get serious with a character that’s essentially a caricature.

“JLA Classified” #39 was a little less lame than the preceding issue, but was still kind of predictable as Kid Amazo spouted philosophical cliches like every college student of that sort does and his father goes all Anakin in “ROTJ.”

Also not as dumb as it normally was, but still not actually close to being good, “Superman/Batman” #36 showed Bats reading from the Tony Stark handbook and again showed Braniac not being terribly smart. Which, of course, is dumb in every way of looking at things.

“Toyfare” #120 was polybagged, so no idea what was in there.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Way more good than bad, and that’s good …

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A clear and unambivalent victory for the week as a whole as Bruce Banner led us into good times … albeit destructive good times.

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