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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 23RD, 2007

She-Hulk #18 (Marvel Comics)

Jennifer Walters is not happy with Tony Stark. Then again, the line for that ride is getting pretty long. Seems — with some help — she’s finding out that her cousin isn’t just “missing,” but that her new military overlords at SHIELD had something to do with it … and that’s just not good for her mood. Continuing his turn as a de facto super villain (down to the wonderful “Mission Accomplished” scene and the super hero that Stark “permanently” neutralizes), Tony Stark cuts through the issues at hand with ruthless corporate efficiency and Jennifer finds that she longs for simpler times and simpler work. In the same way that “Fantastic Four” and the current “Outsiders”/”Checkmate” issues in some other titles are actually fragments of bigger stories, this actually goes back to explain events that led up to the “World War Hulk” preview issue but does so in a manner that includes every piece of information you’d need to understand what’s happening, essentially encapsulating all relevant data here for reader enjoyment. Dan Slott’s plot is so tight you could bounce a paper dollar off of it, and the espionage flavored whimsical art of Rick Burchett and Cliff Rathburn (with Avalon’s Andy Troy on colors) is a perfect fit (although facial depictions could be a smidge more consistent, the coloring and context of visual storytelling clear up any possible room for confusion). A great team effort.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #30 (DC Comics)

The war with the Dominators is going well for everybody’s favorite futuristic teens, but there’s one line left to cross that’s so brutal nobody expects the Legion to be able to handle it. But there’s a bit of a Kansas City Shuffle here that solves everything so neatly and so smartly that when you look to the front of the issue, you’re not surprised that it’s Mark Waid back at the reins of the future once more. Changing all of the rules from previous Legion incarnations, this takes the Ranzz siblings’ relationship in an all new direction, gives the Wanderers a whole new angle on life and generally runs roughshod over expectations by exceeding them. Quite an enjoyable read with excellent character turns by Braniac 5, Cosmic Boy, Mon-El, Dream Boy and Lightning Lad.

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #8 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Oh, now that’s good crazy — Marvel’s got a new scoundrel to pick up where Deadpool left off (maybe not as funny as the legendary Joe Kelly run, but of similar ethical and philosophical inclinations) and this issue establishes a new status quo for the less-than-heroic hero, getting him away from the frankly tedious “run from SHIELD on their own helicarrier,” which was making the organization look like a band of shmucks. With an entertaining recap page, clear if not overwhelmingly detailed artwork from Cory Walker (including a few very well rendered pauses for effect). With a big fight scene set before this week’s issue of “She-Hulk” (uncredited guest appearance — nice) and an equally fun bit of hustle, the newly dubbed “Slaying Mantis” is about as wrong a “super-hero” as you could be, and it’s freaking fantastic, dodging the registration law and hiding in plain sight. Fun, complete in and of itself (a real shocker for a Kirkman comic) and without loose ends to confuse casual readers.

G0dland #18 (Image Comics)

Strangely enough, the potboiler of being locked in their suddenly powerless high-tech headquarters really works as a plot element, drawing disparate storylines together and providing room for a big dance number that satisfies fans of fisticuffs. The only really weird thing is Adam’s sister Neela, who’s in all kinds of “WTH? craziness, but not in such a bad way as to detract from emotional world killers or Crashman’s bombasticity. The flying discs segment of the fight scene is particularly enjoyable visually, so kudos to Tom Scioli on that as this title — which had been dawdling a bit, with its lead moping around in a bathrobe like he was Arthur Dent — is back.

UVC #2 (Self-published)

Jump from the Read Pile. This magazine less jumped from the Read Pile than it was thrown — the creators have apparently left “comp” issues at Comics Ink for this column. So, why not? The subject matter is of interest, and the style is as breezy and enjoyable as the likes of Wizard … even though there are some concerns that are almost not the fault of the magazine. For example, there’s an interesting interview with attractive new talent Ashley Woods, followed by a preview of her indie title Millennia War … that has the name of a group of characters spelled differently three ways within two pages. Grrr. Add to that some strange pixellation on the scans of Kyle Baker’s art work, and some design over-enthusiasm on some pages (“Cage Watch” for example) that made stories look more like ads, and you can see that there’s still some fine tuning needed here. But the core concept — providing coverage and attention for talented indies making product from and for urban audiences — is solid, even if the execution stumbles a time or two. It’s probably better than most people would have on their second issue, with great photography from New York Comic-Con, great sections and writing and some real moments of humor and insight.

Shadowpact #13 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Is it bad that the best issue since the Ragman story doesn’t even include the actual titular team in all but one of the pages here? Featuring a truly star turn from Kid Karnevil (just eight really fantastic pages), an almost Warren Ellis-esque chat with Doctor Gotham, and Zauriel appears in all his power and glory, all framed by the Phantom Stranger doing his best Rod Serling impersonation. Literally riveting from cover to cover, Bill Willingham is on fire here, with Scott Hampton’s remorseless art and Chris Chuckay’s dark but discernible coloring making a mood that’s tense and thrilling. In final analysis, it’s just set up — almost like trailers — for future issues, but what a fascinating ride it is.

Criminal #6 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Like the first issue of the previous “Coward” storyline, Ed Brubaker jumps up and slaps you in the face with an engrossing introduction into a revenge tale, filled with murder and secrets and guilt. Tracy Lawless was bad news before a judge gave him the choice of military service or jail, and being trained as a professional killer has done nothing but hone his criminal instincts. After sitting in a military jail cell, he escapes to hunt down the people responsible for the death of his younger brother Rick, and this leads to lying and drinking and everyone’s inevitable favorite, killing people. Unrelenting and laser-focused, this is Brubaker and Sean Phillips at their best, in their element, and it’s a sight to behold.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Good googa mooga, with all those jumps and all these eminently re-readable comics, it’s looking really good so far.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

The closest to making the jump was the very richly textured “Spirit” #6, which would have been flawless save one possibly unclear sequence of panels on a page near the end, which requires the reader to assume facts not in evidence. Otherwise, from its characterizations to its flashbacked framing device, this is a brilliantly well-done comic.

“Cover Girl” #2 was interesting in its very well-depicted tale of Hollywood hubris and diamond-covered deceptions. But for all of its quips and action, the plot never gelled into anything that demanded purchase due to the inaccessibility and lack of charm from the comic’s characters.

Another issue that was better in pieces than as a whole was “Fantastic Four” #546, which is essentially the second half of the story started last issue (in a bad way) showing Black Panther’s plan for dealing with Galactus (which was actually quite clever). Some good dialogue, the return of a dead hero (who someone invariably had to be missing, despite the low numbers of fans for the character in question) but like many Robert Kirkman stories, didn’t contain enough of the story to be a must-have.

“Testament” #18 wasn’t bad, but it’s fallen from its Buy Pile perch because despite essentially forging history from the past and the present, the plot delivers no sense of urgency and many of the characters are so unrealized that their lines bring only a furrowed brow of confusion instead of pushing the story forward.

“Newuniversal” #6 explains things to you like you’re a five year old, and was close purely for its White House briefing scene, which allowed Warren Ellis to weave that savage verbal magic that he does so well, always considering how the future will look back at us here in the present. Interesting, though.

“Wonder Woman” #9 showed that Circe is definitely hip and with it, firing off bon mots about Chicago Cubs fans and the Spice Girls while watching a mother-daughter struggle that leaves the US capitol in relative ruins. Again, better in individual moments (the Sarge Steel interrogation was fantastic) than as a whole. Circe’s actual plan seems to be too much work when simple larceny and spellcasting are tried and true methods that you can get better at doing with time.

“Heroes for Hire” #10 brought big changes for Humbug, a surprising health condition for Devil Dinosaur and Shang-Chi having post-coital guilt. Fast moving, intimate in the right spots and with a smirk on its face the whole way (which is a good thing), but couldn’t quite settle on making the mission important plot wise (which it wasn’t) or focusing on smaller character moments (which is did, and well, but took away from the issue as a whole).

“Birds of Prey” #106 was mostly one big, enjoyable fight scene which Oracle could only watch in horror as it meant her op was completely out of control, but the big JLI-sized question at the core here was nowhere near being answered and without that, it’s just people punching each other because they’re there. The cover-teased Barda vs. Knockout fight wasn’t even a central element, as interesting as it was.

“Dynamo 5” #3 had one rather weird surprise in it, but otherwise read like “Battle of the Planets” with the young teens responding to their signal watches and fleeing normal lives (relatively speaking).

Another “parts greater than the sum of the whole” issue was “Captain America” #26, which had a nice moment of resolve for the Winter Soldier, a strange wake for Steve Rogers, a look at his very unusual corpse and the end of Cap’s gal Sharon Carter at SHIELD (again: Stark is a villain). All good in pieces, but that Arnim Zola part was weird and the whole issue felt like much tears about essentially anything.

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

Could “Star Wars Legacy” #12 have been more whiny? “Wah, my father died protecting a galaxy too dumb to appreciate him, wah wah wah.” Plus, like Worf on “The Next Generation,” it’s weird to see the bitter enemies of yesteryear sitting down for a polite meal.

Ignoring the facts from the tail end of that “World War Three” special, Mary Marvel runs into somebody she wasn’t ready to see, Jimmy Olsen has a surprise and this sudden and never-before Watchers, er, Monitors are arguing and blah blah blah let’s just move on.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Far more good than bad.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A really rather great week for comics.

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