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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 MAY 31ST, 2007

The Ride: Die Valkyrie #1 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. When you pick up a comic book, and turning the pages is a pleasure because it means you’ll get more of what you’re reading, and at the end of it you have a kind of sated, pleased feeling … well, chances are you should probably own that comic book. This comic, the first of a three-issue mini series, is not technically a confection (under sheer technical considerations, it’s perhaps closest to a “crime” comic, given the guns and excitement) but it also doesn’t strive to solve the ills of the world. It takes a simple story and complicates it just the right amount, telling it in two tableaus that of course seem destined to intersect, showcasing some of the best things — girls, guns and of course fast cars. Brian Stelfreeze’s art is revelatory, so evocative and well conceived in its storytelling, even in its stylized moments (the page with Becca’s dad is surely not what they taught about anatomy, but it works). Perhaps the only significant problem is that it will apparently take until July to get the second issue. Confounding in its addictiveness, but you know you love it.

Shaolin Cowboy #7 (Burlyman Entertainment)

First of all, abandon all hope if you’re looking for something coherent. This comic book is a thrill ride — the insanity is a means and an end in and of itself. If you want to open up a comic (one that still smells funny, seriously, every single issue of this comic book has had an unusual smell, like it was printed with ink that held some archaic magic or maybe ate a bad pimento loaf for lunch) which will have one strange, crazy and entertaining thing happen on each and every single page … well, you’re in luck. A chi-swiping baby. A chainsaw on a stick. Buying the bones of serial killers on eBay. Plus some dialogue laced with snark and wit so sharp that Matt Fraction would probably non appreciatively about it. A joyful experience all by itself.

Silent War #5 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Mighty Avengers, huh? The cover of the issue tells (or is it spoils?) a lot of what happens here, as the Inhumans know exactly what they’re in for, as the Sentry and Black Bolt stand passively by while the rest of their compatriots combat each other, two weapons of mass destruction trying to decide whether or not — or when — to get involved, while there’s big trouble brewing on Attilan. Fascinatingly taut script, with Frazier Irving’s creepy art work setting a mood that’s part acid trip and part psychological thriller. Oh yeah, this is the good stuff.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

A fantastic week of purchases, plus getting into Guy Ritchie’s “Game Keeper” through back issues.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

“Daredevil” #97 was really rather good, showcasing the Gladiator going nuts and including a really enjoyable scene in a restaurant (and the events leading up to and following that scene connect so deliciously that it’s really a pleasure). The sole problem with this, and the only reason it wasn’t purchased, is the cipher-esque nature of the antagonist, amok for amok’s sake (thus far) like Doomsday plowing his way through the countryside. Very close, and in better economic times, worth it due to the places where it did succeed.

It’s a bit of a surprise to say “Justice Society of America” #6 was as good as it is, using nostalgia as a red herring and a plot element so tangible that it almost reaches off of the page and gives you a hug. From the Legion of Doom-esque imagery to the identity of the hidden Legionnaire (and to use a Legion so specifically written out of history, especially with Wildfire and this much maligned character in question, continues to be a compelling and vexing choice). Suffice it to say that this issue revels in the newly reborn multiverse (Star Boy got stuck in Kingdom Come, which is Earth 22, for your future reference). That same strength in remixing what’s been done like a power-mad Puff Daddy is the largest detriment as well — with all of the misdirection, there’s little understanding of what actually is happening … or not happening … or supposed to happen … grrr.

“Fallen Angel” #16 has a very interesting turn of events with the current title character learning about her predecessor and a bit more of an explanation about why Bete Noire is so important. Doctor Juris takes a bad meeting, a crime lord ends up unarmed and it’s all interesting, but kind of had the airy taste of those old Taco Bell cinnamon crisps — you know you’re eating something, and you’re enjoying that well enough, but it doesn’t really seem to be doing much for you. Good, but too pricey for the level of quality it presents.

Another surprise is a fairly interesting turn by writer Frank Tieri in “JSA Classified” #26, where Wildcat delves into the pathetic life of Sportsmaster and discovers underground betting on “super sports.” How long will it take Superman to beat Parasite today? What’s the over/under on Joker’s next spree body count? Et cetera, and so on. Interesting enough, and told with a decent level of craft, except it borrows heavily from ideas already presented specifically by the JSA regarding Roulette and uses some less than compelling cardboard characterizations (look for two brothers). Still, surprisingly good for being that derivative.

Reed’s supposed to be smart, right? So clearly his emotional turmoil given what happened to his sister in previous issues and the family fallout there must be affecting him, given the big effects that happen when Reed and Sue try to catch a falling star while the rest of the quarantined group (largely relatives, including Ben’s poker-playing mom) stew in their own juices in an interesting fashion.

There was nothing wrong with “Action Comics” #850, a nice primer on the current state of the Man of Steel, which had some nice emotional plot turns that again gleefully wallows in the new soup of 52 parallel earths. But there’s nothing compelling about it either, especially if you’ve read a Superman comic book in the last four or five years.

Likewise, if you haven’t read a comic with Logan since approximately 2000, “Wolverine” #54 might be amazing to you, but outside of the weirdness with Wild Child, this reads like greatest hits all the way down to Creed and Weapon X. Plus Sasquatch looks like Chewbacca. if that’s your bag, fine, and it wasn’t bad, it’s just very Sunshine Anderson: “heard it all before.”

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

“The Boys” #7 isn’t falling under this section because it was bad nor because it wasn’t entertaining. This issue was told skillfully and kept reader attention. No, it’s here because it goes seriously too far — from its note on the hero of Hell’s Kitchen to a comment about someone who has an award named after them, this is mean, mean, wrong stuff in the kind of uncomfortable way that The Landlord is. This could never, ever have been published at any AOL/Time Warner subsidiary, and Comics Ink owner Steve LeClaire shook his head after reading it, saying “it’s too small an industry for this …” People will be offended … and that’s what it is.

If you’ve got a huge movie coming out and you’re the most interesting visual in the cultural zeitgeist right now, why in the name of Gwen Stacy would Marvel make a comic like “Silver Surfer: Requiem” #1, positing a Mar-Vell problem for Galactus’ first herald. Moreover, when Reed hit a wall on this (really, did Reed Richards get dumber somewhere along the line, and it spread out to all of his incarnations?), why didn’t he pick up a phone and call Mentor on Titan, or even consult with somebody else? Why didn’t Norrin Radd ask his boss, who’s “restored” him so many times before? As grim and moody as this is, it also makes zero sense once you look at it objectively.

Speaking of “WTH?” even the Amazons themselves are questioning their actions in “Amazons Attack” #2, with Hippolyta’s blood thirst shocking everyone who comes into contact with her and with Diana gets questioned about where she stands. Exactly why Batman has all the real big guns holding back while Amazons kill people (and really brutally sometimes) is not only unclear, but illogical. Frustrating in its befuddlement.

Speaking of frustrating, “New Avengers: Illuminati” #3 adds retcon to loose end by complicating the history of the Beyonder (and making a lot of things not make sense if this is true) in a story that read more like a “what if?” It also casts people like Chuck Xavier as considerably less “heroic” than we may have wanted to think of them.

“Countdown” #48 was okay, even though the Jimmy Olsen stuff is confusing and despite some reader emails about Black Adam’s involvement (fun fact: he’s killing people inside the Khandaq consulate after scaring the planet … seriously?) little of this is coming together … even though killing any New God is interesting.

Superman’s guest appearance in “Blue Beetle” #15 was also dumb, a saccharine moment in a chatty issue that didn’t do much. On the other hand, it wasn’t as bad as “Green Lantern” #20, which was all over the map in a really bad, really ill-conceived way.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Kind of rough, honestly.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Tie game, y’all — if a few issues hadn’t have been so egregious in their badness (yes, we’re looking at “Green Lantern” and “Countdown” — DC had really lost it since I-Cri) it could have gone well.

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