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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 2ND, 2007

World War Hulk Prologue: World Breaker (marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Would it help if you read this week’s issue of “The Incredible Hulk” first? Maybe — that would give you some background on what exactly is happening with Jen Walters (and no, there’s only the seeds of it in her own title). But it’s not necessary — the Peter David-crafted narrative delivers all the relevant data about virtually every important player in this summer’s “smash” hit event. Y’see, everybody thinks things are settling down. Tony and Reed and Hank and their fancy fifty states initiative. But Hulk’s cousin is something of a stickler for the letter of the law, and she points out the “casus belli” (“cause of war” in Latin) that will inevitably reap the whirlwind. Meanwhile, we also get a nice look at the inner workings of the Hulk’s Warbound compatriots as they prepare to bring the pain to planet earth. Fascinating read and a compelling way to draw people in for the crossover.

Transformers: Escalation #6 (IDW Publishing)

The flexibility of digital life forms is on display here as Prime goes way beyond the call of duty to stand against a hyper-powered Megatron, who’s shrugging off the best firepower the rest of the Autobots can throw at him. At first Prime’s out of body experience was a little iffy, but it pulled together within a page and the circuit-pounding action kept moving. The last few pages, though, are more of a trailer for the next mini-series than anything else, tying in a Spotlight (here comes Sixshot), Sunstreaker makes a very surprising appearance and Ravage and Laserbeak get some down time. Things move pretty fast — almost too fast — one the shooting stops, and as an ending this wasn’t exactly satisfying, but it was a solid issue nonetheless.

Checkmate #13 (DC Comics)

The Outsiders have something of a public relations problem, in that they’re now essentially wanted criminals. Okay. Fair enough. But when Checkmate decides to do something about it, well, imagine the craftiness of an international spy agency combined with the tactical and intellectual acumen of Mister Terrific and the Thinker, with Sasha Bordeaux and Amanda Waller along to consult. Yeah, that means the Outsiders are in trouble. Using every trick in the book from cheesecake to misdirection to sheer overwhelming force, the Outsiders are hunted with clinical efficiency. Nice cliffhanger ending, solid if not amazing art (better storytelling than eye candy), a gripping comic to enjoy.

Scarface: Scarred for Life #5 (IDW Publishing)

For four and a half issues, Tony Montana essentially played “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,” murdering and laughing his way back to prominence in the Miami criminal world. The unrepentant decadence and sheer scale of the mayhem, lovingly crafted by the hand of Mister Dave Crosland, kept building and building … until an ending comes that’s so abrupt, so inconclusive … gah. Writer John Layman had readers firmly by the throat up until virtually the last five pages, and then just let go. Frustrating.

All-Mew Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z Update: Adam 2 to Zodiak (Marvel Comics)

There’s eight pages of Captain America in this handbook. Seriously. You may never need to read a back issue involving Steve Rogers again. That alone is worth having, but when you throw in three pages about AIM, three more about Felicia Hardy (does that say AIM hasn’t made enough of themselves?), three more detailing tons of info about the Crimson Dynamo, and the normal “what the?” wackiness of the All-American, White Rabbit and the Pitiful One and you can literally spend hours poring over this material, enjoying thrills and laughs alike.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Not so pleased with some of those mini conclusions, but not furious about cracking up at the Living Totem and seeing Mister Terrific get hard core.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

“Shazam: Monster Society of Evil” #3 was very close to the mark, a great mix of whimsy and modernity with Sivana practically stealing the show, but had just a little too many plates spinning at once, with plot elements overlapping too quickly for some of them to be given their just due.

“Avengers: The Initiative” #2 was also a close call, with Henry Peter Gyrich being delightfully Henry Peter Gyrich-esque, Hank Pym transforming whining into some real action (but really, why does Hydra do things like this? They need a mission statement — maybe Obadiah Stane can do for them what Stark did for SHIELD). The dialogue is good, the plot was okay, but only when Pym’s crotch straddled a huge ship did the issue reach for anything beyond the ordinary.

“Incredible Hulk” #106 almost made it on the strength of Amadeus Cho alone, “the world’s seventh smartest person,” who charms and forces his way through the issue like Layla Miller with a grudge. The element that was missing here was tension — it was all that quiet moment before the rain starts, when the wind doesn’t move and even ambient noise seems silent, knowing no consequence can come until the storm is ready to rage. Still, not bad.

Two comics from Joss Whedon accomplished pretty much the same thing. “Astonishing X-Men” #21 had flawless pacing, good banter between characters and of course the entrancing art of Mister John Cassaday … but in a somewhat Kirkmanesque tone plops the reader in the middle of things and leaves them the same way, never properly executing even a chapter story arc.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” #3 did the same — dedicated fans no doubt easily deciphered the legacied characters from the artwork, but casual or new readers might not know who Amy is, what her beef is, how she rocks the party like that or more importantly why they should care. If either of these comics were on television, they’d be season pass classics and Must See … but to pay actual money for ’em? Close, but not close enough. Watching things you like is less of a stretch than paying for things you like, and the bar is (or should be) set a bit higher.

Speaking of things watched and not paid for, the writers of “Lost” must be taking notes from Boom! Studio’s “X-Isle,” which delivers lots of answers, deaths, weirdness, fun and killer robots in its fifth issue. If they had even the finished artistic likes of a Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson (the creative team from this week’s “Checkmate”) this book would look as good as it reads and be worthy of coming home. But the art work is really a detriment, muddy and inconclusive.

Another confectionary delight that’s too sweet to be good for you is “Danger Girl: Body Shots” #2, a nuclear thriller that’s more Austin Powers than Jack Bauer. Stuff blows up, T&A is on display and there’s an almost laudable show of actual heroism, but even Chinese food is more filling as you’ll strain to remember story related details moments after you’re done.

“Ultimate Fantastic Four” #41 was adequate, with Ultimate Diablo getting a number of surprises by the same thing that caused this issue to ultimately not make it — too much happening at once. The ambition of it is admirable, but it seems like it worked better in conception than execution.

Also ambitious but flawed was “All-New Atom” #11, which has a plot twist so cruel that one would think they were watching the tail end of “The Inkwell” or “Edward Scissorhands” (and that’s not entertaining, it’s painful) That said, Ryan Choi is coming into his role as a thinking man’s superhero, facing off against the undead with research and aplomb.

“Runaways” #26 had some interesting moments with the kids, Punisher and Kingpin only to be ruined by a sucker punch ending that robbed the rest of relevance.

“Midnighter” #7 was an interesting “done-in-one” that — for reasons that are never explained — is told completely in reverse. If you read it from the last page to the first, you’ll get a fairly linear story that’s nothing special. Read in page order, it’s an interesting glimpse, “Memento” style apparently, at how Midnighter sees the world … but a bit harder to follow.

“Wonder Man” #5 turned a corner fast and tried to make it to the finish line with its super villain Eliza Doolittle story (pre-emptive snarking indeed) and came in for a landing that was a bit more crash than finesse, only succeeding by almost killing all of the Avengers (but if this is in the future, and Cap’s dead, and it’s post Civil War … oh never mind).

On reader request, this column checked out “Exterminators” #17 and found it interesting but not gripping, an issue showing a Zen cowboy ex-exterminator wrapped up in the insular niche of that industry’s convention culture in a book that was like a stock Honda Accord — perfectly okay, it’ll get you where you’re going, but there’s not really anything special about it.

Come to think about it, there was nothing special about “Omega Flight” #2 despite the last page histrionics and the tension and dislike apparent with the team members. Interesting that the Wrecking Crew has that kind of sadism in ’em, but they sure don’t mind traveling to cause a ruckus.

The surprise of the week was how close “Ms. Marvel” #15 came to actually being good, which it accomplished by barely slowing down and hitting just the right balance of plot elements and pacing. If the lead character were less boring, it would have been a purchase.

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

For sheer muleheaded dumbness, “52” #52 leaps into contention for Worst Single Issue of 2007. All works of fiction have an arbitrary nature to them, but the idiosyncratic tie in of this series with madness of hyper-flies (here’s a short story about that: no), a sudden confusion about what any story means (so, the Freedom Fighters didn’t work in the Bludhaven where Nightwing used to hang, but in some parallel? Did the “Earth 2” JLA book take place recently? How low has Wildstorm sank to be relegated into just a vassal dimension, given that it had its own multiverse with the Bleed?) and a snapshot approach to everything since page counts were rapidly running out … reading this issue will make many fans feel like their brain is trying to escape by crawling out of their ear. When “eating the Phantom Zone” is a throwaway plot point, you may be going too far. Seriously. Let’s just move on.

“I’m just trying to be a better person. My name is Zemo.” Or so it seemed in “Thunderbolts Presents Zemo: Born Better” #4. Finally returned from his time traveling trip down genetics lane, Helmut Zemo confronts his Nazi roots and his familial megalomania to find some real character development that took way, way too long to happen.

DC was trying to corner the market on “wow, that was dumb” comics this week, with the whiny and unsure “Superman” #662 (art was nice, though) and the wildly dumb origin of the Zamaron Corps in “Green Lantern” #19 (don’t say it — Superboy Punch!).

The ethical arguments at the core of “Iron Man” #17 played better than the limp fight scenes, but not by much. As far as applying pressure goes, the Feds have done better, and for somebody so smart and so focused on the future, Tony Stark doesn’t seem to know what’s gonna happen. Shmuck.

Oh, and “Loners” #2 was also dull, more of a Lifetime Original Movie than a comic book for all its prevaricating and navel gazing.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Not great, and when it was dumb it worked overtime at it.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Given that Comics Ink employee Jason allegedly almost burned down the store, we should consider that the week happened at all a plus. But with the disappointments from the IDW purchases and the sheer annoyance of “52,” this week couldn’t even find the mustard, much less cut it.

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