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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 21TH, 2007

Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #10 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. This is a major leap for any issue, since it’s hard to remember an issue of “The Flash” making it to the Buy Pile since … spirit, maybe since Mark Waid was on the title. Seriously. But this deceptively simple issue which shows Bart trying to adjust to live in Los Angeles and working his way through the police academy (judging from the construction, it looks like it’s the one by Dodger Stadium, not the one on Manchester). The title of this installment is a play on the ultimate antagonist brought into play, as Bart investigates a five-year-old murder with a missing head, all while the latest Professor Zoom is recruited to attack him. The book is thick with cop show jargon most people should be familiar with as Bart actually uses his brain for one of the very rare times in his career, only to get a less-than-pleasant visit from the yellow-clad speedster and an even more surprising visit from a ghost from his past for a cliffhanger ending. Well put together, complete story here while serving the needs of the ongoing serialization, smart and witty by turns. Paco Diaz and Art Thibert deliver crisp, smartly realized visuals that are as accurate in their detail as they are in depicting the action. Lee Loughridge’s colors are a perfect palette for the oppressive sunshine of Los Angeles (switching to darker tones for Keystone and Central Cities), and Marc Guggenheim’s script is spot on. Who knew?

X-Factor #17 (Marvel Comics)

Madrox’s randomly variant duplicates are the least of his problems as Rictor and Rahne jump to the wrong conclusion, Guido doesn’t get to finish his ice cream and Pietro stays in the deep end of trouble. Sticking with the noir theme, David’s script has twists and turns that brush up against this post Civil War era drama, focused on a set of former mutants who lost their powers in M-Day (House of ATM? Wow, that’s old business) who’ve taken some time to get organized and strike at the government they believe robbed them of their powers. Clearly none of them has Google, since they didn’t check out the global drop in mutants, but that’s neither here nor there — US-bred terrorists don’t tend to be well read. Gunfire, helicopters, subterfuge and Jamie Madrox trying to stumble his way through it all. That’s good entertainment.

Testament #16 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

The “As above so below” rule gets all muddled as the actions of mortals are powerful enough to fell divinities, as the Bible Gods (that’s how solicitation copy referred to ’em, let’s go with that) are undone by their alliance with the Babylonian god of cities Marduk, himself all rage and expectations. His manifestation has allowed the global currency to take root and for virtually all of humanity to speak one language, the Globo becoming a virtual Tower of Babel. However, most of us know how well that story worked out, this time the act of sabotage coming from below instead of above. Challenging allegory, densely informative storytelling and not for the easily distracted or dissuaded, but quite a reward if you can grasp it.

Noble Causes #28 (Image Comics)

In the realm of the much more simple to understand, Zephyr and Slate get all Capulets and Montagues as they concoct a plan to save Kitty Blackthorne from herself. Which was going well, until the Blackthornes dropped the ball and Celeste gets involved in a big way. The ins and outs of this are tricky and Shakespearean, but done so in a very open and accessible way, Yildfiray Cinar’s art work has come to be the perfect match for the Nobles’ family foibles, and Ron Riley’s always solid coloring sets every mood without error. The crucial events of this issue can do nothing to slow down the blood feud between the two prominent families, despite the overtures and exercises in trust shown early in the issue, and that in and of it self will leave you waiting for the next issue to come winging your way.

Checkmate #12 (DC Comics)

The sins and fates of fathers hang heavy over the heads of two King’s Knights in the field, as the surprisingly well-characterized Thomas Jagger resists the urge for revenge and former superheroine Beatriz Da Costa struggles with the truth she’s concealed for so long. Rucka — as he did in his classic run on “Detective Comics” makes the powers and costumes a sideline for the real drama of human beings working through extraordinary challenges in their lives. Checkmate is far from the unified organization that their counterparts in Marvel have at SHIELD, and the struggles within are as compelling as the struggles against external forces. Tense and riveting.

Civil War Damage Report (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Let’s say that you skipped the entirety of Civil War, but you’d still like to know what happened, but don’t have the desire to spend on all the back issues nor the patience to read through ’em all. Well, screw all that — in the voice of Tony Stark, a guy who was there for most of it (but oddly doesn’t know that the Punisher whacked a lot of guys like Armadillo and the Gibbon — a villain whose identity vexed this column some weeks ago — at a wake for Stilt Man) recounts everything he knows to the President in one sweeping summary. Most interesting to note are the off-panel things we didn’t see, like conferences held by European and African rulers respectively to discuss the relevance of the SHRA. Princess Zanda, T’Challa, M’Baku and Moses Magnum all sitting across a table from one another? Where’s that one shot? Le Peregrine punching US expatriates from the skies for trying to hide in France? Really? Despite a few typos (perhaps this was a smidge late getting to press, as it was solicited for a February release) you can get caught up on everything from war profiteering to interdimensional snafus, all presented in Stark’s smug but knowledgeable diction. There are some weird moments — Class 10 strength, for example, is listed as being three and seven tons at different points, and even the comic admits that characters like Doc Samson and Luke Cage have had wildly varying strength levels over the years. The more you read about decisions like Osborn and the Thunderbolts or literally losing scores of mildly dangerous anti-reg types, or even thinking Jericho Drumm could even stand in the same zip code as Stephen Strange … maybe Stark’s not that smart. Fascinating stuff.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

All good, even with teensy mistakes like the typos in Stark’s report.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

“52” #46 almost made it home just because Black Adam has never been so terrifying, but his chronic inability to never heed the Wisdom of Zehuti once again proves too much of a problem, and the issue’s conclusion comes much too fast.

“After the Cape” #1 was *this* close to making the cut, with an enthralling story of a former super hero felled by addiction and making desperate choices. However, unlike Tony Stark’s well-chronicled struggle with alcoholism, it’s never clear why this man became a drunk, the supporting characters are barely even there at all, and the art looks as though it was intended to be colored but was left as pencils and inks for budgetary reasons.

On the suggestion of a reader, this columnist picked up Mike Carey’s “X-Men” #197 … and it wasn’t bad. A return to the soap opera-ish tones of Claremont and Byrne (before they both jumped their respective sharks), a wild idea is presented near the end while Rogue is taken to Providence for medical treatment. There’s great characterization for people who already know the personalities involved, and this is worth watching.

“Birds of Prey” #104 was just about to make the jump — with some great guest star reveals and a crossover with the Secret Six in a mission that would have made Sydney Bristowe proud — but a wholly insipid and ill-considered last page reveal (that will send anyone who read the last Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League book screaming in rage) that just ruined everything, despite the great dialogue (and a line from Barda that alluded to Morrison’s “JLA”) just messed it up.

“Transformers Spotlight: Soundwave” was shorted by Diamond (the store ordered 20 and received two — gotta love a monopoly), but a fan let his copy be read for review purposes … and it would have made the jump if it was available for sale. In a chattier Soundwave than anyone would have ever seen, the story takes place mostly in 1984 (allowing a smart work around for his less-than-modern transformed mode) and revealing a stealthy, smart and wholly ruthless mechanoid that lives up to the almost Boba Fett-esque legend of the character. Quite a pleasant surprise.

“Wonder Man: My Fair Super Hero” #4 was also close to making it, with a very abrupt exercise in trust and laying the ground work for future story elements … and that strength is also a weakness, since it feels like telegraphing the punch.

“Shrugged” #5 had nothing to do with its variant cover, but the story shows all three main protagonists split up and desperately searching for solutions, with the teen lead forced into an uneasy alliance with his own personal Flash Thompson and the characters as befuddled as readers could be, but with a smidgen more information in the hands of the person flipping the pages. This series seems built for trades, alas, as each issue gives tantalizing teases of the story but never enough to satisfy.

The challenging and mature storyline in “Detective #830” also ended too quickly and with too much cliche, but the build up and the ingenuity of the Dynamic Duo almost made the trip worthwhile. Almost.

“Bob, Agent of Hydra” was one of the really great elements in “Cable/Deadpool” #38 (warning: there is no Cable in the issue — he’s over in “X-Men”) which spent a lot of the issue being crass in that Deadpool way that some people find so charming. The last page, again, led to the problem as the person who showed up is a familiar face to anybody who enjoyed the classic Joe Kelly run on the book (which produced one of the funniest single issues of all time, “Deadpool” #11) but is just some weirdo to, well, everybody else. Close, though.

“Brave & The Bold” #2 was close, with Hal Jordan and Kara Zor-El teamed up to visit a casino planet, still chasing Destiny’s book (where are the Endless on this misappropriation, by the way?). A really smart misdirection of attention helps drive the story, and Hal’s discomfort with Kara’s crush was funny as well, but honestly the Batman/Blue Beetle team up was more intriguing, and that was barely a part of the issue.

“Ultimate Power” #4 had some fun with Parker and Fury, but mostly was an interdimensional road trip bracketed by possible government corruption (no, that un-possible!) and Reed again being too smart for almost anybody’s good. the new Zarda plays Mark Milton like an accordion, and the art is remarkable, but it’s not exactly a story yet, is it?

“Spirit” #4 was so close to making it, a really nice spy-smasher tale with the requisite crafty con man, the plucky romantic foil and the hero catching a bad experience like Sean Connery in an old Bond flick. That over-familiarity of territory — John Rhys-Davies must have looked up and expected a royalty over the slickster character, so like him with Indy — was its sole downfall.

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

“Runaways Saga” was just a clip show. Here’s s a short story about that: no.

“Supergirl” #15 had a bit more “abusive relationship” than was comfortable, and her responses were way too cliche and unemotional, but the art was good. Yeah.

Does Carol Danvers realize that every idea she had in “Ms. Marvel” #13 has been done, better, in other comic books? Less crappy than previous issues, as you’ll actually recognize some of the characters (and the publicist gets some pre-emptive snarking as Peter David calls it) but not the business.

“Ion” #12? Grayven may as well have twirled his mustache and worn a top hat, he was so two-dimensional in his villainy. The issue also spent the last third whining. Okay. Sorry. Let’s move on.

Alan Scott’s speech alone made “Justice Society of America” too maudlin and sentimental to respect, despite some almost interesting stuff from Vandal Savage (who’s clearly not as impressive as he wants to believe) and somebody getting hit by a fire truck.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Rather good, for reads, with lots of titles stretching to reach beyond mere adequacy.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A win with a decent margin, given the jumps, the would-be jumps and the near-jumps.

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