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WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?

Every week Hannibal Tabu (journalist/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 MARCH 28TH, 2007

Black Panther #26 (Marvel Comics)

Why is this issue here? By even the standards of this series, this isn’t the strongest issue. It’s certainly ambitious, including all brands of combat in the Negative Zone, political wrangling in the halls of power and on the airwaves, buying out Tavern on the Green, international saber rattling and interior decorating. But as a story, it’s certainly not making the grade, and only two moments — Ororo’s tete-a-tete with OPEC and T’Challa’s showdown with his advisors — that can compare to the normal fast-moving, hip chatter that this volume of the series has come to be known for. However, if you sit back and look at the sheer scale of things — space ships to TV pundits, threats of invasion to actual invasions — you have to appreciate the gall at even trying to do so hard in a week where Darkseid is singing the same old song and a lunatic so old and tired vexes Peter Parker. Sure, it’s not the heights of brilliantly labyrinthine plots and quips that the last volume turned in on a regular basis, but it’s still doing so much more than so many other titles while showing more of the scope of the Marvel universe that it deserves to find its way home.

Fables #59 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Speaking of titles that somewhat rested on their laurels, this issue of the almost eternally brilliant series by Bill WIllingham features several vignettes that answer “burning questions” submitted by readers and fans. So it’s not a “story,” per se — on its first page it says “we take a break from our gathering storm of troubles, tumults and dangers to dwell for just a small time on a modest cluster of heretofore unanswered, albeit humble, mysteries.” So if you were losing sleep over how a flying monkey manages to get drunk, what was up with those new three little pigs or what Frau Totenkinder is knitting, finally you’ll be able to relax and put those vexing topics to rest. However, if you’re antsy to figure out what the Adversary will do, or how Snow and Bigby’s behind-the-scenes work affects Prince Charming’s administration of Fabletown, or even how Hansel is making out as a spy … or even what the hell any of this means, for that matter, well, you’re outta luck, pal. This digression would have been fantastic “DVD extra” material for a collected edition, but is a speed bump for regular readers and a road block for neophytes.

Transformers: Escalation #5 (IDW Publishing)

There’s a five page fight scene between Optimus Prime and Megatron that opens this issue, and there’s really only one word to describe it: wow. If you’ve gotten used to E.J. Su’s artwork, you’re in for a shocker, because he finds an all-new gear and takes off with some giant robot smackdown that is among the best ever shown in comics. Add to that Ironhide driving through the front of a building, and Prime and Megs going hand to hand and you have the most action packed sequence in IDW’s run with the property. Fantastic work with a delightful twist at the end that nods to the original series (and really early in the original series, like #5 or so) and humans looking gape-jawed at every step of the action, as they should.

G0dland #17 (Image Comics)

You’d think that an issue starting with the lead character shlepping around in a bath robe and watching “Deal Or No Deal” would not be so good, but as always Joe Casey’s disturbing brain — imagine Grant Morrison without the plot-weakening effects of drugs — keeps piling on the turns of phrase and huge Kirby-esque imagery (great on splash pages, not so good watching TV on the couch). But with an eye-rolling last page reveal and literally every panel showing Basil Discordia guaranteed for at least a smirk (he should have a talk show like Space Ghost), this is another brick in the wall of lunatic wit that’s become one of Image’s most consistent thrill rides.

Scarface: Scarred For Life #4 (IDW Publishing)

If you’ve ever played “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” you get to a certain point where you’ve been killing people for a while and you’re suddenly not scrambling for ammunition and money and you start to feel like you’re getting somewhere. This issue is like that for Tony Montana, who’s literally clawed his way back from the dead and who’s enjoying (as the issue notes) “new wheels, new digs, new crew, new operation, new cash flow, old habits.” It focuses also on the corrupt federal agents who think they can control him (hahahahaha) and ends with an “oh, no!” moment that you can enjoy even if you’ve never seen the movie. As a matter of fact, even if you’ve never seen any of the other issues, this one is such a “here we go” that you could just pick this up and totally enjoy what’s happening (but oh, the mayhem and debauchery you’d have missed). Great fun in a way that’s so wrong it’s right.

DMZ #17 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Matty Roth has worked himself into a very dangerous place, trapped between the militaristic forces of Halliburton, er, Trustwell and the tricky “help” of the Free States of America, scrambling for a foothold on the essentially unclaimable island of Manhattan. But like Michael Scoffield, Matty has to use his will and his cleverness to not only get the story, but save the lives of people who risked theirs to help him. The ending is not as shiny and happy as some might like, but it’s raw and real and everything this series promises, and it’s a fantastic ending to a fantastic storyline.

Fantastic Four #544 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. This issue just barely made it, with a zippily-paced story brushing past the intimate details from “Black Panther” above and getting right into the theft of young hero Gravity’s corpse (fun fact: Gravity bit the big one in the mini-series “Beyond,” also written by Dwayne McDuffie and also a Buy Pile regular), a fascinating chat with the “I just can’t stop talking” Uatu (finding out why he attended the wedding, as well, and it wasn’t “merely for the shrimp cocktail”) and develops an opening for one of this summer’s biggest movie stars to show up on the last page. The biggest surprise here is that Ben Grimm gets to be the smartest guy on panel at least twice, but this is solid work in the tradition of the FF with big ideas wrestling with high adventure.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Pretty good.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

While Dwayne McDuffie’s work on “Fantastic Four” was enough to make the jump, his “Action Comics” #847 had a lot of the right elements — an “All-Star Superman” worthy scope as well as a solid emotional core — but was just a bit too shmaltzy to make the cut. Had the story been told straight and not as a flashback, that might have helped a great deal.

Where has Trench the zebra-headed gunman been all this time? His appearance in “Elephantmen” #8 was all-too-brief and the whole iFrog appearance was wholly pointless and an unsettling departure in tone. With that steely resolve, Trench could almost float 22 pages on his own, and didn’t deserve to get shorted this way.

It wasn’t easy to leave “Silent War” #3 behind, as Layla Miller takes center stage to manipulate events in a fashion so careful and calculated as to make her a probably fierce chess player. Continuing the “X-Factor” guest appearances, Pietro and his ex-wife have a meeting that doesn’t quite go the way either of them plan, and Black Bolt bursts into action while even putting a healthy dose of fear into the Multiple Man. The war looks like it’s about to take another step forward, thanks to Pietro’s time traveling prescience (and if he were a little smarter, he’d really be dangerous) and this is well worth keeping an eye on.

Speaking of chess, Jaime gets outmaneuvered in “Blue Beetle” #13, learning a lot about the source of his (and Dan Garrett’s) powers while engaging in another fight he barely understands. Good character work, but so many characters are here and so few (mostly just Jaime and the new Peacemaker) are interesting.

If you can ignore the ending of “Nextwave,” “Heroes for Hire” #8 showcases Shang Chi unleashed and romantic within the space of a few pages (he’s so suave) while a member dies, a member recovers and Paladin shows up after selling the team out during the Civil War. That ain’t bad …

Another issue that was hard to leave behind was “Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood” #5, as the seemingly simple storyline manages to get much more complex even through an issue that’s mostly chasing and violence. The last page leaves room for a final issue cliffhanger … and in retrospect, this issue actually should have made the jump. Dammit.

The surprise at the end of “Star Wars: Legacy” #10 played well, camouflaged in the twists and turns of wartime politics on a galactic scale and the traditional business risks of working with a Sith. This series continues to improve.

After fan requests, this column is taking a look at Peter Parker-related titles, and a seemingly tired wall crawler struggles with a simply stupid experiment and some interesting character moments (loved the police detectives, very good “Sam & Twitch” vibe there, and the lunch with Reed was excellent in its awkwardness), but the pieces worked better individually than as a whole.

Books that happened and were harmless include “Fathom: Kiani” #1 (Vince Hernandez’ writing is actually refreshing, with things working out in dialogue instead of as a deluge of voiceovers), “Texas Strangers” #1 (a magical wild west story that seemed very “JLA Adventures”), “Wonder Woman” #6 (not sure why Diana would be a fish out of water after all these years — she doesn’t know how to pump gas? — but it was well depicted), “Daredevil” #95 (yadda yadda yadda)

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

Seriously, what the heck is going on in “Batman” #664? Morrison made the Bat such a force in his “JLA” run, and here … he’s just kooky. The banter with whores and the pimp were good in terms of atmosphere, and the art’s solid, but Bruce didn’t seem to be terribly impressive. More disappointing than anything else.

For that matter, what happened in “52” #47? After a string of issues that were coherent and moving towards getting good enough to buy, this issue’s a shotgun blast of crazy, with Black Adam captured but never on panel, strangeness with Bats of the female and male persuasion (the whole Church of Crime conversation was disjointed). Too many cooks in the kitchen on this one?

Ultimate Reed just didn’t seem very smart, as he lost control of every possible thing in challenging Ultimate Diablo on his home turf in “Ultimate Fantastic Four” #40. There’s a visual moment that is pretty but takes a little bit of concentration to decipher, ill-considered reactions and plans, and proof that things considerably outside of the experience of even a genius can befuddle them.

Never let the back up feature be better than the main event, which is just what happened in “Green Lantern” #18, a tedious possession and obsession story with Star Sapphire that was followed by a positively wicked story of how a Sinestro Corps “soldier” (and that whole idea got a lot less annoying here) turned the tables around. That would have made a better all-around issue by itself, but it sure wouldn’t work well for the heroes …

Speaking of not going well, Darkseid must have poor pattern recognition because his plan as revealed in “Firestorm” #34 is just dumb and, oh yeah, it hasn’t worked before. Decent fight scenes, but the spinning plates don’t look so steady.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Not so bad.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

In the words of Jim’s Journal, “I went to the comic book store, and it was okay.”

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