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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 16TH, 2007

Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #12 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Let’s just say it — Marc Guggenheim is writing his ass off on this title. The problem — how do you make a super fast man have a real challenge — is being handled deftly as Bart struggles with his secret identity and nascent career as a Los Angeles policeman, Abra Kadabra makes an impressive show of himself (for a few seconds), Iris Allen teleports around, Mirror Master shows the right way to punch a speedster and the script transforms a threat of one level to a challenge of Herculean proportions with a plot that perfectly spins every plate, choosing just the right number to balance at once. The craft with which this issue is put together (including great fight and action scenes and splash pages from Tony Daniel, Art Thibert an Jonathan Glapion, with Tanya and Richard Horie on colors) is as impressive as its entertainment value, holding up well on multiple reads. Bart makes a solid antagonist, trading on his “impulsive” past but showing growth. Until Guggenheim makes a misstep, this title has been upgraded to Buy On Sight.

Painkiller Jane #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)

Jump from the Read Pile. Speaking of fine craft, the script for this issue of “Painkiller Jane” should be used as instruction for neophyte comics writers. Whether or not you know any of the backstory of the lead character (the issue starts in the middle of events, not slowing down even a little), every possible relevant piece of information is revealed without lengthy captions or plodding exposition, all while giving the titular character a chance to reveal her personality in deft strokes. The issue has action, a smart plot, interesting characters that form an emotional connection for the reader and solid if not remarkable art (Lee Moder’s eyes sometimes are a bit off-putting, but his visual storytelling is excellent, matched perfectly by Chris Garcia’s virtually flawless coloring). Plus, just for fun, two half-naked girls make out with each other. Seriously. You can’t beat that. Fantastic comics-making here, and thanks go out to the reader who suggested this issue be reviewed.

Hero Squared #6 (Boom! Studios)

Have you ever seen the sitcom “Scrubs?” With the exception of some episodes this season (it’s hard when your lead just plain does not care), the show has an amazing gift for balancing bowling you over with laughter alongside poignant character moments. This issue of “Hero Squared” is a lot like that, showing both sides of the Caliginous/Captain Valor conflict while making their parallel Milo and Stephie really examine what they’re doing in their own lives, seeing their personas played out to extremes. Sex, betrayal, super powers, more sex, naked ancient ATlantean wizard kings, and shouting, oh all the wonderful shouting. This is another excellent example of skilled craftsmen enjoying what they do and making the audience enjoy it too. Plus, how much good can you say about Joe Abraham’s artwork, handling grand tableaus and intimate scenes with the same degree of deftness.

X-Factor #19 (Marvel Comics)

The biggest possible complaint that one could make about this very enjoyable issue is that Fred J. Dukes is gross to look at. However, that’s a minor quibble and an actually relevant plot element as the dysfunctional members of the X-Factor Investigations family fail to communicate with one another and stumble through the dangerous and complicated events of their lives. A group of disenfranchised mutants are making New York’s Alphabet City the focus of federal investigators, which causes fighting and yelling and a creepy visit from Pietro Maximoff (as well as a fun page with Layla Miller). Perhaps not as dazzling an accomplishment as some of the other works this week, but damned entertaining nonetheless.

Fables #61 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

The drums are sounding for an all-out war, as Flycatcher wrestles with rage and Boy Blue is the voice of reason. Prince Charming makes himself a much less foppish than many would have expected, showing a gift for strategy and subterfuge while enlisting the always dangerous skills of Frau Tottenkinder, who reveals a number of quite helpful secrets of her own. The series gets more and more intricate while still remaining accessible, keeping all the information of relevance close at hand to explain what’s what in such minute moments. Each familiar name has a twist or a surprise about them which makes them fascinating to watch, much less see interact with one another. Plus, flying monkey on the cover — who doesn’t love that?

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

What a dazzling show of skill and entertainment!

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

The title that came closest to making the mark is the very charming “The Plain Janes,” an original graphic novel on Vertigo’s new Minx sublabel. Using the same sort of open charm from the “My Faith In Frankie” mini series some time ago, author Cecil Castellucci (surprise: that’s the name of a female writer) and “Street Angel” artist Jim Rugg create a story that’d make Chynna Clugston-Major proud. The odd certainly worked hard enough to get even in a story about finding wonder in every day life, and it’s a delight for its demographic. Why not buy? It’s cute and endearing … but even at ten bucks, it’s not something most comics fans will glom to and will make a better gift for girlfriends and nieces than a title most fans would enjoy on a regular basis. It’ll probably do well in the book store market.

The week’s biggest disappointment is the “unjumping” of “Checkmate” #14, which fell from the Buy Pile. Leaving all the details about what’s actually happening in the last issue of “Outsiders,” this recap-less issue is disconnected while managing to keep the dialogue entertaining (highlights: Katana and Count Vertigo, Fire and Jagger, the secrets shared by Sasha Bordeaux and Nightwing). This whole storyline will work better as a collection, ignoring the weaknesses in trying to jam all of this into four 22 page increments.

Several customers at Comics Ink were certain that this week heralded the apocalypse, seeing both “Ultimate Batman & Robin” (we’ll get back to that soon enough) and the end of Millar’s “Ultimates” saga after such a delay that many people could only be more shocked by seeing a new issue of “Battle Chasers.” Once arrived, the issue was quick and shmaltzy (despite the increased page count) with only the all-too-brief Loki/Thor/Norse battle providing any real gaspworthy moments (remember: Ultimate Cap versus Ultimate Hank Pym took the better part of an issue once upon a time). Still the heroic music swelled and the credits rolled and yeah yeah okay, let’s move on. Fun but unfulfilling.

Despite the unadulterated hatred of Comics Ink owner Steve Leclaire, “Army @ Love” #3 was actually not bad, with a misdirection story centering around a flamboyant stage magician who was shown in very different terms (well, not that different) in combat. A pleasant surprise and improving with every panel.

“After The Cape” #3 was very, very close to making the mark, but the washed out artwork made it too hard to figure out just who was yelling at whom. But the writing was very solid, showing a hero fallen low and his struggle to survive. Surprisingly effective.

“Justice League of America” #9 was pretty good, with a great line from Red Arrow (“… that’s your best retort? Where’d you steal that, season three of ‘Mama’s Family?'”) and a lot of cryptic but interesting things from the time lost Legionnaires (are they sleepers?) but Meltzler’s annoying tendency to go for a big moment without building it up to be relevant outside of the story (i.e. “What the hell turned Despero’s head fin back fan-ways? Didn’t that big ape get beaten up in the pages of another DC book recently?”) torpedoed all the pomp and circumstance.

“Civil War Fallen Son: Captain America” was the best of the one shots so far, with a resurrected Hawkeye (who even himself doesn’t wanna talk about it) addressing an interesting offer from Marvel’s most impressive super villain, Tony Stark. The scene with the Patriot and the new Hawkeye was very effective, but in that nothing essentially happened (don’t you dare call the capture of that R-list villain an act of consequence) even as the question of who would bear the shield was answered in most people’s minds probably long before this issue saw print, apologies to Frank Castle’s recent wardrobe ideas.

The finale of “Occult Crimes Taskforce” with issue #4 was its strongest of the mini, using action and magic and emotion all with equal force to make a great ending to the complicated police procedural. The spells list in back was almost worth buying all by itself, as fascinating as the “protocols” from “Red Star,” but not quite.

“Ex Machina” #28 was okay. So was “Countdown” #50 (Mary Marvel’s quest might make an interesting title in and of itself, judging from what’s happening with Freddy Freeman), “Mighty Avengers” #3 (interrupting a booty call from Tigra? That just ain’t right! But way to be commanding, Natasha).

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

Despite the fact that his version of Wonder Woman has a certain charm and prudence (save her way of ending an argument), “Ultimate” … er, “All-Star Batman and Robin” #5 was just plain not good. “It’s entertaining,” Comics Ink owner Steve kept saying when asked. “I’m not saying it’s good, but it’s entertaining. With a very different interpretation of Robin’s introduction to crime fighting (and a retcon of JLA history that boggles the … oh, right, never mind, 52 earths …), the aforementioned shock that is Miller’s Wonder Woman (“Out of my way, sperm bank!”) and the fact that as of Thursday, it has been exactly one year since “All-Star Batman & Robin” #4 hit the stands (according to Steve — who else would remember that?) … just … no

Hands up, anybody who knows what in the name of Robert McKee is going on in “Moon Knight” #10? Or in any issue, come to think of it? The Punisher sequence made sense, mostly, even if nothing really happened, but the rest … what is this supposed to be, anyway, performance art?

Here’s a short story about “Action Comics” #849: no. Clark Kent is the only guy in the whole freaking Daily Planet with a typewriter. Seriously. A typewriter? What the hell is he supposed to do with that? If he did type stuff up, somebody would have to either re-input it for publication or use OCR software to make the text digital (not always so accurate), unless he planned to do all that at super speed, and wouldn’t that make a secret identity hard to keep up? Bah. Once you get by that glaringly dumb element, this saccharine story deals with a religious themed extrahuman who borrows a page from Gladiator of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, but instead has as much power as people believe in him. Sort of. Anyway, Supes is all “blah blah blah,” and this issue’s a snooze.

Nathan Dayspring Askani’son literally whines through the entire issue of “Cable/Deadpool” #40, which covers the thrilling tale of Cable walking a few feet down a corridor in a paused moment from some X-Men book. At least Deadpool was cool enough to be playing strip poker during all of this.

With the Phantom Zone as the big bad (argh, damn you “Smallville”) Kara whines and flies around and looks at you with those ingenue blue eyes and … the last page is so annoying you don’t even wanna know. Let’s just move on.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Wow. That was actually a little painful

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Two jumps still beat one fall, eleven honorable mentions beat five vomit inducing experiences … let’s call it a win. Oh, and thanks for the worry, but I wasn’t home when the fire happened, and all of my neighbors are home safe, and the guy’s locked up … it’s all in a blog somewhere on my MySpace …

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