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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 4TH, 2007

Runaways #25 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Also, the cover image seen here is not what was available at retail. “Runaways” has often been the bride’s maid of Marvel titles — interesting characters with almost interesting things happening. The problem was that plot wasn’t properly balanced with characterization — the latter almost always won out. Joss Whedon sees the proper balance, apparently, as he relocates the kids to New York (here’s a short story about why: who cares?) smack dab into the clutches of the Kingpin with another guest appearance that’s both funny and fascinating (way to use the customized captions). The internecine struggles that have always made this title interesting are here, where Xavin’s alien morality comes into play and Nico and Karolina have an interesting discussion over it. This time, however, stuff is happening — Whedon’s script keeps it moving and Michael Ryan’s picture perfect art frames the story perfectly. There’s just enough narrative here to satisfy with a nice spin on what’s to come.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #28 (DC Comics)

Two teams of teenaged heroes are on the ropes as the brutal Dominators have taken over thirty-first century earth. That’s the short of it. But any fans of history will recognize the tactics of Scipio (that bastard!) as there’s a wonderfully played moment of deception. Waid and Kitson have perfectly captured the balance between youthful enthusiasm and truly dangerous situations. It’s a tough balance to pull off, but Waid and Kitson make it look effortless with wide eyed gazes and drooling Dominator threats (what kind of advanced society can’t keep itself from dripping spit all over their own shirts?). High adventure.

Annihilation: Heralds of Galactus #2 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. The war is over, but Firelord isn’t exactly happy about the idea of Annihilus’ forces occupying planets in the positive matter universe. Haunted by the guilt of the endless billions that he put to the sword in order to assuage Galactus’ hunger, Firelord can’t abide the teeming populaces suddenly subjected to rulers that could be worse than anything they’ve seen before. This makes for strange bedfellows when some of Annihilus’ former centurions are hell bent on hunting the ones who would make themselves feudal lords in defiance of their mandate. This mean spirited story shows Firelord in a much more serious light than he was seen in before the death of the Air-Walker, and it’s riveting. But as good as this story is, when compared to the one that follows, with the Silver Surfer taking on the two renegade “proemial gods” Aegis of All Sorrows and Tenebrous of the Darkness. Andrea Divito’s detailed lines make this story literally fly off of the page, and Keith Giffen’s script makes events and vocabularies of grand scale seem immediate and important. A great surprise.

Jack of Fables #9 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

NOTE: The cover image seen here is not what was available at retail. Vertigo’s most effective bounder is amok in the City of SIn, suddenly a billionaire (again) and working the system at every angle. The problem comes when he runs across a renegade Fable who’s made Vegas her own playground, and she doesn’t take kindly to his influence. The mean humor here is played with a razor to your throat, and there are no rules except sheer lunacy at every turn. Wildly entertaining work from WIllingham and Sturges, with Tony Akins, Andrew Pepoy and Lee Loughridge delivering art that conveys the exasperation and thrill of consorting with Jack Trick, and his delight and indifference at the experience as well.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

A solid week of purchases.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

This week had its fair share of comics that preached to the choir. For example, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” #2 continues the trend of eschewing all but the core elements that die-hard fans enjoyed in a story that threatens the seemingly invincible title character while hitting an interesting balance of pop culture references, character moments and action. If you’re late to the party you’ll eventually catch on, if you want to badly enough.

Keeping it in the estrogenated camp (without any female writers, sadly), “Danger Girl: Body Shots” #1 was so confectionary that it can raise your blood sugar (and for some who love the boob-tastic art, blood pressure) with an espionage tale heavy on the style and light on the substance (don’t expect any of the desks and paperwork of “Queen & Country” or even “Checkmate” here) which is all kinds of good for people looking for light entertainment, like a croissant on paper.

“Iron Man: Hypervelocity” #4 followed a similar path, with technological jargon and hacked combat flying so fast at the reader that it could force a mental blue screen for people who aren’t exactly digiterati. But if you cried when they cancelled “Max Headroom,” this should be right up your alley.

For even manlier thrills, “Wolfskin” #3 is virtually dripping in blood and viscera as the protagonist communes with horrible, angry divinity to gain the ability to kill, kill, and kill some more … no matter who stands in his way. If you’re looking for some point beyond “badass with melee weaponry,” well, you’re outta luck pal. But if you’re in this for some killing, well, this comic could clearly make your day.

“Nightwing” #131 showed Dick Grayson pushing up against the line while searching for depraved killers … and given how well that’s worked for him in the past, one would think he’d learn. But the tension and detective action were solid (Marv Wolfman — don’t call it a comeback) in an issue that did no harm in hitting all the right notes.

“Avengers: Initiative” #1 borrowed a page from Xavier’s in showing neophyte characters getting put through their paces by experienced extrahumans (maybe Gauntlet is new, maybe not, all those OHOTMUs melt together after a while) as Henry Peter Gyrich is on hand to be the Bad Government Dude and everybody doesn’t make the cut. No villains to take on, very few faces you’d recognize, but stuff worth watching here that just hasn’t made it yet.

A few more issues just kind of “happened” without being good enough to praise nor bad enough to excoriate: “Immortal Iron Fist” #4 (a team up against Hydra that sounds better as a pitch than it was executed as a comic), “Atom” #10 (zombies were a bit of a twist, but distracted by the equivalent to the Red Headed Girl is not), “Fallen Angel” #14 (which plays on the DC comics origins of the property alongside a pre-emptive snarking with a “Buffy” riff but is ultimately sabotaged by art trying too hard to emulate David Mack and a narrative big on ambiance and short on coherence), “Ms. Marvel” #14 (which crept up from “boring” into the realm of “adequate” with a personal tale of family drama with an AIM chaser), “Madman Atomic Comics” #1 (a crazy end of the world story told largely in recap), “Hulk” #105 (which follows up on the Eagle Awards nomination of Tony Stark as “Favorite Comics Villain” with Banner’s dream of peace denied and a whole empire full of vengeance at his side — you could essentially skip all the earlier issues because of the excellence of this summation), “Superman” #661 (which was so Silver Age in its execution — a villainess from myth being bombastic and forcing a team up with Diana and jealousy from Lois — that you’d almost expect it to cost less than a buck), “Omega Flight” #1 (which inspired many to ask what US Agent was doing fighting for Canadia, a place that doesn’t even really exist, but the actual story, such as it was, just showed Sasquatch in over his hairy head).

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

On reader suggestions, this column has been checking out Peter Parker’s forest of titles, and it’s a good thing we did, because “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” #19 could be one of the year’s worst individual issues, with a recap page that practically deterred more reading with talk of multiple zombie Uncle Bens and future incarnations of Spidey come to … gah, just typing about it is headache inducing.

As bad as that was, the core stupidity in “Superman/Batman” #33 was worse due to areas of concentration. The core antagonist escaped imprisonment on Oa … and those smarmy little blue bastards didn’t think to text message anybody and say, “woops, omega level threat on his way to your planet, our bad?” With the alarmingly saccharine climax, reading this comic book was like plugging up your butt with a quart of smegma — no good can come of it.

“Thunderbolts Zemo: Born Better” #3 — okay, fine, Zemo is hurtling through his family history on the way back to 616, big whoop. Why do this extended travelogue again? How is this interesting? Shame, too, since the art is rather good.

“Supergirl” #16 featured one of the year’s most inane retcons, taking a page from “Smallville” (not a good one) and giving Kara Zor-El a set of big bads to chase (making them interesting is another thing altogether) which also takes time to make Jor-El look like a dummy. Fantastically bad.

“Civil War Fallen Son: Wolverine” … nice art but next to nothing happened in this whiny, overly long piece of melodrama.

“Tranquility” #5 managed to get more obscure and less decipherable, which was no mean feat, with characters that work hard to fail to leave an impression on the reader’s mind. Perhaps it plays better in trades …

It’s official — given the splash pages and the TV show-cribbed ideas (one reader in the store asked, “Damn, is Dwayne McDuffie getting any royalties off of that?”) plus ideas cribbed from either recent “Thunderbolts” or 1980s “Legion of Super-Heroes” (it’s hard to know), “Justice League of America” was bankrupt of creativity, all soapy sentimentality and dazzling with sizzle, not steak. Here’s a short story about that: no.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

The bad stuff was so bad that it outweighed what accomplishments were made.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Despite two jumps, with that “Superman/Batman” fiasco and that “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” atrocity, this week took one on the chin and didn’t get up.

… JUST ONE MORE THING

The Buy Pile does not bit torrent comics — largely because of a lack of knowledge on sources and a schedule that would make it impractical to wait that long. But a mail item in this week’s Permanent Damage had a point so indicative of the viewpoints of this column that it bears quoting:

“Marvel and DC publish so many books that meet the minimum standard of quality, but fail to exceed it. I like to get my regular superhero fix, but since so few books step up and exceed the bare minimum there’s really no reason for me to choose one book over another. And if there’s no reason for that, why is there a reason to pay? But, by law of averages, some of those books have to be, to my tastes, worth buying. Problem is, knowing is very difficult.”

As Stan might say, ’nuff said.

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