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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 thoughts about all of that … something like this …

THE BUY PILE FOR JUNE 6TH, 2007

Jack of Fables #7 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Finally picking up where the story left off in issue #6, Jack completes his tale about how he usurped the powers of Lumi the Snow Queen and essentially created her current brutal disposition while leaving her something special behind (a plot element too delicious to be left unattended). Jack is predictably incorrigible as he wreaks havoc (and actually inadvertently causes quite a number of deaths, probably) while continuing his never ending quest to feed his own megalomaniacal desires for hedonism. This is deliciously wrong, and the fact that Jack has never had to answer for his caddish behavior, reveling in his flippancy, somehow makes him all the more endearing. Especially since none of the deaths were on panel — that would probably make it a little less whimsical. Jack of Fables is a bad person, and that’s a good thing for a story as wickedly fun as Jay Mohr in “Action.”

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #9 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Speaking of incorrigible lead characters, Eric O’Grady is happily ensconced in his new life as Damage Control employee Derek Sullivan, the Slaying Mantis (seriously), even managing to effortlessly dupe SHIELD when they come calling and have a blast while he’s doing it (the Wii panel with The Black Fox is simply priceless). Like the aforementioned Jack of Fables, the lead here sidesteps any sense of trying to be liked, blackmailing and stealing and committing felonies like taking a breath, all while leading up to a development in his nascent romantic relationship that’s sure to have even fans of this title wincing a little. Wrong fun, but too much fun to leave alone all the same.

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Mystic Arcana, The Book of Marvel Magic (Marvel Comics)

The most fun, and funniest, issue of the week however is this unexpected gem, which proves one inescapable and entertaining fact: magic in the Marvel universe is stupid. Some sample quotes to prove the point: “While the Human torch was resting after an exhaustive training session, Mechamage took off her armor and gave the surprised hero a back rub.” “The Black Crow was angered at how the people of the USA had treated its indigenous population, and sought to balance the hardship the Native people had endured by taking the life of the one man who most embodied the country’s greatness: Captain America … the Black Crow eventually confronted him and explained why he wanted Captain America to die. In order to satisfy vengeance, Captain America offered his life freely. Impressed by him, the Black Crow refused to take his life, and considered the Captain to be his ‘brother’ from then on.” “Pro-Rata felt that, by juggling the books, he could rule infinity. He mystically built a tower of old credit cards (including Stan Lee’s expired Master Charge) in the middle of the Cuyahoga River.” Just going through entries like M’Gumbu, Black Talon, the Cognoscenti … what the hell were people smoking when they came up with this stuff? Chondu the Mystic alone, wow … No fewer than six solid laughs and scores of giggles and smirks, and that’s surely worth the money.

New Warriors #1 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Before we address the good here, let’s stipulate some things: first the character from the last page reveal has had a lot of really dumb things about him which are worthy of open mockery and derisive laughter. No question. Second, another really famously dumb character is in this issue, but you’d never recognize him and he may have managed to find a way to become cool. Which is a surprise. That said, Kevin Grevioux, with the talented hands of Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco and Marte Gracia to help, has created such a textured and nuanced look at the post-Civil War Marvel US that it showcases every level of the society, from homeless people to Tony Stark on national television, hitting street level cops, diner denizens and Gray Gargoyle along the way. Every line of dialogue is note perfect, with even parenthetical characters becoming vibrant with life and meaning in a deceptively simple plot that makes heavy use of “the Morpheus routine.” Savvy, smart, and well told — this is definitely a comic to keep your eyes on.

Avengers: The Initiative #3 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. This one made it by the barest of margins, due to some really great character work on Komodo and a fantastic guest appearance by Spider-Man (who many know is not a favorite of this column, but really just takes off in his work here). Not noted is a cute guest shot by Ben Grimm, as well as cameos by Stingray, the Black Widow, Patsy Walker and Dani Moonstar (that’s just in the space of two pages). The bar scene had a delightful conspiracy twist to it, the fight scenes were well done (an old toy of Tony Stark’s comes back to play) and overall this issue stepped up its game from previous ones.

Black Summer #0 (Avatar Press)

Jump from the Read Pile. The central plot is part of the marketing for the comic, so that’s no real surprise: one of the US’ most cherished heroes walks into the White House, kills Bush and Cheney and most of their staff, and then goes to the press room to declare the need for fair elections with votes on paper. What’s great is the wonderful texture of the backstory, with loss and abandonment and death and news coverage and the kind of crazy futuristic ideas that have made Warren Ellis such a compelling creator to watch. Oh, and the entire press conference is done with presidential gore still sticking to the guy’s freaking coat. Much like the frankness of “Cla$$war,” this project pulls no punches in plopping ridiculous levels of extrahuman power into the political and social dramas of the present day. But while Rob Williams’ work on the late ComX series was solid, Juan Jose Ryp’s work here (with all-too-vibrant colors from Mark Sweeney) virtually levitates off the page with its immediacy. In a word: wow.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Even the weakest book has real pizzazz — this is one great week of purchases!

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

A shaky storyline and a questionable resurrection all came together in “Birds of Prey” #107, which showed all that should have happened in the overlong crossover with the Secret Six finally taking place and even the most worrisome characters finally getting a sense of poise and rationality (apologies to Panic! At The Disco), but sweet spirit singing it took forever to get here. Better than some preceding issues, but tiresome when you consider the journey.

“Ms. Marvel” #16 continues the surprising ascent from mediocrity into the alarmingly unpopulated land of adequacy, as Carol and Simon share an unusual moment during a fight scene, MODOK celebrates a holiday you’d never expect (don’t think about it too hard) and the title character’s special task force has security about as solid as that at CTU (hint: that’s not good). Not really there yet, but you can see it inching closer and closer with almost every passing panel.

Another surprise was the plot twists and soupcon of sass in “Danger Girl: Body Shots” #3, which featured the normal espionage tropes but also had some surprises and even a twinge of characterization, which is like having Three Six Mafia break into a brisk rendition of a Mozart tune.

“Dynamo 5” #4 was okay, but assumes facts not in interest as the tyro heroes face their own demons on their first Father’s Day after learning the truth about their lineage while struggling with the idea that their father may still be alive.

Fans of gritty street-level comics will likely find something to enjoy in “Daredevil: Battlin’ Jack Murdock” #1 which spends much of its time in flashbacks but still shows some fight. But it’s just a bit dull due to a lack of snap in its pacing, and in this day and age, that’s a fatal flaw.

“All New Atom” #12 was kooky in a much more linear fashion than previous issues, which was a good thing, as the frustrated Ryan Choi returns to the United States grappling with his own failures on his trip home. However, its manipulations rang hollow and its last page reveal was nothing special.

“Fear Agent: Last Goodbye” #1 had a similar problem in looking back at the fall of planet Earth, feeling really “Smallville” one minute (the dull parts) and “War of the Worlds” the next (the not so bad parts).

“Outsiders” #48 hit near the mark with more trouble in Big China and an interesting team dynamic (this mini-crossover is a hair better than the one in “Birds of Prey,” but suffers from too much of one of its major pluses, the snappy banter between competing characters).

“Midnighter” #8 was a cute done-in-one, and funny in a mild smirk sort of way, but not exactly necessary.

A lot of comics this week just happened, with nothing particular to recommend them as “better” than anything else nor nothing worth condemning them as “sucky” happened either. Among that number includes “Loners” #3 (great arguing, but so?), “Strange Embrace” #1 (great atmosphere, opaque plot), “Nightwing” #133 (he should read “The All-New Atom” on how to approach a former flame), “Invincible” #42 (the motivations are presented as strongly as possible and still seem a bit insubstantial), “Iron Man” #18 (SHIELD really doesn’t know what they’re doing), “Superman” #663 (really? A field trip? How could that be a good idea?) and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” #4 (which had a cute trick and was really best on its last page).

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

“Countdown” #47 is infuriating for its scenes with Teth Adam and Mary Batson, while three complicated characters are seen to be the root of all ills and the Monitors take a vote that doesn’t bode well. The whole Adam thing .. it’s … grrr.

Speaking of Monitors, “Supergirl” #18 doesn’t play fair and comes off all after school special when Kara tries to assert herself.

Thanks to a reader request, we saw that “Uncanny X-Men” #487 was still singing some similar songs about mutant ascendancy while a really gross kidnapping scene plays out some similar ideas as we’ve seen in Peter David’s “X-Factor,” but in a less interesting fashion.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Only three books actually were overcome by stupitron particles, so that’s not bad.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Three jumps and only three actual stinkers? What is it, Christmas? A winnah!

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