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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 APRIL 11TH, 2007

She-Hulk #17 (Marvel Comics)

First of all, yes, She-Hulk has sex in this issue and then parades around in her underwear. There’s a large segment of the demographic that are into that sort of thing. So there you go, there’s your recommendation. Second of all, seriously, could Tony Stark be more of a super villain? He has a nefarious lair, he commands shadowy and powerful forces. If he starts stroking a cat, it’ll be a wrap. Third, the Ghostbusters parallel is both funny and effective. Fourth of all, Jen’s recounting of recent Marvel history and how many helicarriers have gone down in flames (really, where are they when all these crash landings happen — are there flattened apartment buildings up and down the eastern seaboard?) in a manner that’s speedy, funny and makes sense in the story. Fourth, the Timely Plaza interlude and subsequent subplot, complete with Zix’s very funny panel, is an amusing but not diverting side trip that can percolate up to a main plot in due time (even though it sucks the joy out of a recent issue of “Punisher War Journal”). Even Tony Stark’s lame attempt at making a bon mot is salvaged by the wonderful army of Nick Fury LMD quotes (including the pivotal one that provides the cliffhanger), dancing happily through years of SHIELD hilarity. Another fantastic issue from Dan Slott’s fertile mind, with Rick Burchett, Cliff Rathburn and Andy Troy providing a perfectly wacky tableau for the script to inhabit.

The Trials of Shazam #12 (DC Comics)

NOTE: The cover shown here, from solicitations, is not what was available at retail. Less of a trial and more of a rescue, Hercules had a bit of a misunderstanding involving Yakuza, Medusa, explosives and some inconveniently dead civilians. So he’s in jail. Problem is, unlike the earlier gods of magic that Fred Freeman had to coordinate with, that makes him a stationary target, and that means the Council of Merlin can send their halter-topped magical minion Sabina to do some damage. This issue moves a bit too quickly with a fairly good number of large panels from Howard Porter that are pretty but less than communicative in moving the story ahead. A wholly complicated ethical argument about the protocols of magic gets short shrifted in a couple of panels. Interesting, but less enthralling than previous issues. Next issue promises a big fight, though, so you’ve got that to look forward to.

Thunderbolts #113 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. NOTE: The cover shown here, from solicitations, is not what was available at retail. Also, Bullseye does not appear anywhere in this issue. This issue made it by the barest scraping of its fingernails, with some fun machinations by Dr. Karla Sofen, some very strange ideas from Andreas Strucker, and a few more moody panels set in Arizona than were probably needed. Despite a wonderfully creepy phone call, a nice splash page and some fun yelling from Osborn, this issue is actually pretty talky. Not in a bad way, but talky is talky. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

All-Star Superman #7 (DC Comics)

Bizarro. Written by Grant Morrison. Drawn by Frank Quietly. If the very concept of those things going together doesn’t make you giggle giddily like a school girl on ecstasy, well, you need more whimsy in your life, pal. Sure, the issue was solicited for, what, four months ago. You can’t put this kind of crazy on a time schedule. Well, not with Quietly involved anyway. Regardless, Bizarro World is ambitious (if short sighted, as the last page reveals) and a plague of Bizarros (not like the one on “Sealab 2021”) threatens to consume Metropolis. It allows for some perfectly handled exposition from the mad moon colony P.R.O.J.E.C.T. (Morrison’s best new crazy idea in years, and the fact that it may be their fault actually makes it funnier) and of course fine pugilism and science wackiness from the Man of Tomorrow (the guy in the regular books if the Man of Steel, apparently, this one is awesome) and despite being clearly the work of a deranged mind, the story itself is beautifully crafted in word and image and has a nice cliff hanger to hook you for more. Yet another virtually perfect Superman comic book.

Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe: Spider-Man, Back In Black (Marvel Comics)

After just a few pages of reading this wildly useful tome — which, by the way, saves you from reading literally pounds of Spider-Man related comics — any normal reader will come to one inescapable conclusion. Lots of things in Spider-Man comics are dumb. For example, this passage from the entry on Slyde: “Turning 40, undergoing a mid-life crisis and desperate to feel cool, Jalome redesigned his costume with a black, ninjaesque look, and carried out a very public bank robbery. Spider-Man tried to stop him, confused by Slyde’s claims that they were great nemeses. Slyde told nearby reporters that super heroes had murdered his parents when he was a child, and that he had gained his powers after being bitten by an African sliding snake.” Seriously. Then there’s the Walrus entry, which is so surreal that it’s hard to believe that it didn’t spring from the minds of the makers of “Twisted Toyfare Theatre.” Here we go, this helps settle it: “… Walrus was contacted by the White Rabbit who recruited him to form the Terrible Two, dedicated to killing their mutual nemesis, Frog-Man.” Wow. Look, if you wake up in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror, and can honestly say that your nemesis is Frog-Man, well you really need to re-examine your whole freakin’ life. What the hell? There’s so much more, from the clone craziness (much deeper than any of us could ever have imagined, and not in a good way — Spidercide?), to Uncle Ben from the future (gaaaah!), to Iguana (really, a killer lab animal that has Kurt Connors powers but hides in his cage during the day like he was an escapee from “Wonder Pets”) to Videoman … really, there’s more than enough laughs in these pages to be worth the four bucks, and to top it off you can catch up on virtually every single factor in Peter Parker’s life without having to shell out a mountain of cash. Can’t beat that,

Fables #60 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Despite the storyline’s title “The Good Prince,” and his prominence in this issue — threatening, obfuscating, and so on — Prince Charming isn’t even the focus of this issue. No, Ambrose the Flycatcher is the focus here, suddenly in possession of all of his memories like Logan strolling out of the House of M. There’s also a subtle but unsettling bit with Frau Tottenkinder, but the focused horrible anguish of Ambrose drives the issue and frames it in a poignancy and depth that’s gripping. Do we really even need to say anything about Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha and Lee Loughridge, such an efficient pencils/inks/colors tandem that they could virtually be mechanical (in the “good, reliable” way, not the “stomp Tokyo in a rage and fight Godzilla” way) in their efficiency and skill? Compelling material.

Nightly News #5 (Image Comics)

A bit more concentrated on a few characters but visually confusing in spots, this penultimate issue draws close to endgame, introducing some powerful characters only to brush them away in a page or so. The linearity of the narrative is a bit of a mess, and requires at least two reads to even start to grasp, but the Timothy Leary-esque trip is interesting nonetheless and the asides (what’s with the “Rome” reference and the love for Clemson University?), but if the conclusion works out, this will all make sense … maybe.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

The Walrus, for the love of pie. On that book alone, the purchases are worth it, but with “All-Star Superman” in the mix, it’s even better.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

“After The Cape” #2 missed making the jump by a margin so thin that it probably could feel the rush of purchasing blow by. If only its plot were a little less color-by-the numbers, or the artwork a little less washed-out looking (it’s kind of hard to focus on the page, honestly), it could have pulled it off. Alas …

In one of the extremely rare “un-jumps,” “Punisher War Journal” #6 lost its spot on the Buy Pile after being read by Comics Ink staffers and pooh poohed, which called for an in-store read and review, and indeed it was sub-par. Swastikas and explosions south of the Rio Grande, with a narrative timeline that jumps around like a huffing spastic … Fraction is normally so solid, and the art’s just as pretty as ever. Oh well, everybody can have an off issue, straying from the gallows humor and specific point of view that has been the strength of this title. Given the Minutemen-minded theme, one has to wonder if Herr Gropenfuhrer is somehow involved …

The JSA and China’s Great 10 are staring each other down over Oolong Island in “52” #49, with some of the political maneuvering from “Checkmate” without any of the gravitas or tension, since anybody who can read ads knows what’s gonna happen. Not bad, though, and a nice bit with Atom-Smasher.

Too much emotional yammer and too little of Luke Cage’s very interesting tactical ploy made “New Avengers” #29 stay on the stands. The dialogue is great, though, including Spider-Man’s quip about fighting Brother Voodoo (who, one would think, would have ditched Stark since he’s so tight with T’Challa and Blade … and really, “Haiti’s Houngan Supreme” — how many people a day would laugh at you with a title like that?) to tie it all together.

The best slice of registration kookiness this week came from “Toyfare” #118, the industry’s premiere comedy publication (seriously) with a fun take on “Civil War” in “Twisted Toyfare Theatre” (nice bit about the spider-armor, and rehab was almost enough to push this into purchase territory). Shame so many of the other jokes fell flat — it’s like they use all the good stuff in “TTT” and don’t have anything left.

Also close to the mark but narrowly missing it was “Newuniversal” #5, introducing Ultimate Emmett Proudhawk (let’s all just quit pretending “Supreme Power” and this aren’t Ultimizations because they’re self-contained) and adding a nice time travel wrinkle but not connecting in any other places.

Lots of “adequate” books this week, including “Nova” #1 (space first responder running on fumes, not bad), “Dynamo 5” #2 (lost focus from last issue, even repeating a gag and swinging and missing on spy stuff), “Iron Man” #16 (nice ending on a “CSI” minded investigative piece), “Grifter/Midnighter” #2 (for two such compelling characters, they kind of talk a lot and don’t do much of visual interest), “Loners” #1 (eh) and “Blade” #8 (weird ending with actual climax done off panel).

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

Notes on “JLA Classified” #37: “Kid Amazo, existential navel gazer.” Here’s a short story about that: no.

Wait a sec, Chuck Xavier’s alive again? That’s not even the most mixed up thing in the very jumbled “Uncanny X-Men” #485. A reader in the store said, “These X-Men storylines are getting too weird and soap opera-ish.” Another quipped, “What’s that quote from, 1979?”

Okay, Wonder Woman has no idea how to pump gas, but she knows where to go to rip an alarm system out of a wall? Seriously? oh “Wonder Woman” #7 — between Circe’s never ending variance of powers (Mirror Master called, he wants his shtick back) and the loser-ishness of the knockoff Bar With No Name, there’s little outside of cheesecake to recommend this issue.

Then again, the same could be said for the Frank Cho-inspired “Gen 13” #7, which puts busty Caitlin in an animal-skin bikini for reasons that are barely comprehensible for next to no reason. Naked Grunge — also, no.

What in the name of G’nort is wrong with “Green Lantern Corps” #11? This issue was so scattered that it could be confused for Will o’ the Wisp (that’s the effect of that Spider-Man handbook already). Plus, really, Kilowog? bad usage of Mogo as a therapeutic retreat — Mogo doesn’t socialize, why would it coddle stressed out ring slingers? Argh.

Barely worth mentioning: “Green Arrow” #73 (Mayor Whiny while Brick makes alliances) and “Spider-Man/Fantastic Four” #1 (at least there’s the bit with Impossible Man to cheer about).

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Dead heat, really, despite a slight numerical advantage for the average.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Mid life crisis costume redesign. How can you be mad at a week with that? Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

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