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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 14TH, 2007

Punisher War Journal #5 (Marvel Comics)

First of all, like last issue, there’s very little actual Punisher in this comic book. Brace yourself for that. A central character in this particular periodical observes a story arc similar to Michael Douglas’ in “Falling Down,” and you really get a sense of emotional involvement with his struggle. However, something much more sinister is going on here (more on that when we get into the last section of our reviews) that even Frank Castle thinks is going too far. Finishing up with a shocked reaction to last week’s press-saturated big event (still met by disbelief in the aisles of comic stores), this is an all-around solid issue that eschews the gallows humor of earlier issues for a straight-faced narrative. Fraction and Olivetti are a perfectly matched team here, and while this issue isn’t spectacular, it’s solid.

JLA Classified #36 (DC Comics)

Given that almost as many disparate parallel realities bit the dust in this storyline as the whole of the classic Crisis, the flat finale for this dimension-spanning storyline is something of a let down. The details of the Red King’s fate are not to be spoiled by the likes of this review (although the idea of him defeating the JLA in their own title seems a smidge difficult to believe), but Darren Profitt, wielding more super powers than you can shake a stick at, finally met an opponent he considered challenging and yet the climactic battle misses “epic” and lands in “mundane.” The last third of the issue is conspicuous and underdone, despite a heroic visual effort by Dan Jurgens, Trevor Scott and ILL to make the story have some grandeur. A great ride getting here, but a less than impressive first showing for DC’s newest major level villain.

Thunderbolts #112 (Marvel Comics)

When you want villains run right, you’ve got to look at a team run by Normal Osborn, who’s so clearly stark raving batsh** crazy here that it’s a delight to watch. From the mediagenic slant to the personalized interludes (with Radioactive Man’s moment being the most elucidating, including Osborn’s classic quote, “Educate them? See, that’s foreigners’ talk”), it’s a dialogue heavy issue that will appeal best to people who have a certain … moral flexibility, or enjoy people who do. Casting Osborn visually as Tommy Lee Jones makes it all the funnier and more wicked, and the fascinating psychology of characters like Gargan and Bullseye will delight fans of creepy films and thrillers. Really evil … and loving every panel of it.

Fables #58 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

The Mike Allred guest art storyline concludes as the children of Snow White and Bigby Wolf confront a challenge they can barely imagine, bringing the ages old conflict between Bigby and his father, the North Wind, to a tense climax. The family relationship will never be the same after this, and the only possible complaint here could be that the last third of the issue seemed to fly by. The scene between Bigby and his father could have been a lot more dramatic with some larger images and some more pointed dialogue, but this surely did the job.

What Were They Thinking? Go West Young Man #1 (Boom! Studios)

There are four stories here, and the two by Chris Ward will have your face scrunched up like Robert Deniro asking, “what just happened?” Kevin Church’s pointedly political short stories are clearly indicting the people and ideas behind manifest destiny (even in its modern forms) and if you can keep count of all of the pop culture references (the “Eye-Kee-Ah” tribe bit is a classic) you’re surely holding on to a lot of spare time. Remix comics can be hit or miss, and this set is strange and wonderful but (in Ward’s case) sometimes a bit hard to follow and in Church’s case a bit heavy handed. Still, darned entertaining.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Kind of rough for the actual purchases this week.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

The margin of error that left “Blade” #7 at the store was so thin you’d think it was anorexic. Guggenheim’s script was solid, even with a tricky time twisting diptych, but Chaykin’s fight scenes left something to be desired (for example: a bullet dodging panel that looked like an art error instead of an amazing feat).

The return of Joss Whedon to the continuity that made him a legend in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” #1 is just what his die-hard fans wanted. Picking up the threads left after the last season’s finale, this shows a still conflicted Buffy fighting her war with a virtual army of Slayers while Xander keeps up the same pop culture zingers and Dawn, mysteriously, is stuck at the size of Giant-Man. Lots of interesting developments but it’s a really insular high — if you’re already a fan, you’ll feel right at home, but for even the casual fan it doesn’t offer much to hang on to.

Black Adam is angry in “52” #45, creating “casualties in the millions” as he starts his quest for vengeance and brutal justice, with powers around the world looking on in horror (including his former Chinese allies) but the issue itself felt like only half of the story, providing no resolutions even at the single comic level.

Speaking of stopping in mid-thought, “Grifter/Midnighter” #1 showed the Authority’s bad man frustrated by his lot in life and Grifter showing some interesting new talents … but little else, and no reason why they’d be in the same comic book.

“New Avengers” #28 was close to the mark, from the joke about “that is so fetch” to closing last week’s loophole with a trick that, like Bridge’s low blow in “War Journal,” shows that the lies the “winners” of the Civil War are willing to tell knows no limits (and truthfully, Quesada said as much). Why no buy? Well, first Doctor Strange got schnackered in far too simple a fashion (Wolvie’s senses are more accurate? Interesting …) maybe a third of the issue was swallowed up by a fascinating but ultimately difficult-to-connect flashback and many unexplained things happened that were difficult to reconcile. The parts were greater than the whole here.

“Wonder Woman” #5 was a harmless done-in-one about the peripheral effect of Wonder Woman on women around the country, a mildly inspirational tale of people taking responsibility for their lives after seeing Diana as some kind of sign that they could do better (and yes, the idea they couldn’t come up with that on their own is sad but probably true). It didn’t really pull at heartstrings so much as just brush up against them.

Comics that happened but weren’t bad enough to really insult nor good enough to buy included: “Detective Comics” #829, “Battlestar Galactica: Cylon Apocalypse” #1, “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Volume Two” #7, “Green Lantern Corps” #10 (what happened in the last half of that issue?), “The Irredeemable Ant-Man” #6, “Green Arrow” #72 (which could have been better if it’d have stuck ewith either Ollie or Mia instead of trying to do too much), “Gen 13” #6 (dull end to a fight for freedom that didn’t even work in “Defex”), “Teen Titans” #44 and “Stormwatch: PHD” #5 (why restart your continuity just to mire the comic in such old, >i>old business?).

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

“Civil War: The Confession” had so much whine in it that it should be served with gouda, or a light brie. The gloating post script — which makes more of a case that Stark is so a super villain — was ugly too but the ridiculous “I saw it coming” lunacy that Iron Man tried to gibber … it was just insulting.

“Martian Manhunter” #8 had such a last-minute hail mary with so little resolution (especially that dumb meeting at the end) that it really gave “Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters” a run for its money as worst mini in recent memory.

“Moon Knight” #8 — this is still being published? Looking back in time, Cap comes to visit and chew out Marc Spector while … well, whatever else happened wasn’t very compelling. Just … no.

“Superman” #660 would have worked better as a much briefer back up story which could have done with a lot less of Big Blue. The Prankster couldn’t get out of his own way to really make himself impressive, or even interesting.

“Thunderbolts: Zemo — Born Better” #2 was a mess, with a story that leapt epochs like they were subway turnstiles. Nobody but the title character ever gets any moments to be fleshed out, and he’s leaning on stuff that happened outside of these issues. As for the researcher, what’s his deal?

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Despite good dialogue in many books, it was not a good week to read comics, either.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A screw up at Diamond shorted Comics Ink on all copies of “Sam Noir: Ronin Holiday” #2, and the store didn’t order “Roach” #3, so there’s no telling how they might have swayed the week, but based on what we have here … it would have been better to stay in bed.

OH, AND JUST ONE MORE THING …

First, an apology: we’ve been getting a lot of mail (including a lot of hate mail, finally, as it seemed like this wasn’t doing it’s job for a while) that has not been responded to. Sorry. Duncan Watson, Russell Burlingame, Sam Kite, Duke RItenhouse, Dave Parker, Jason Alvarez, Sigil, Jim Loder, Ron Lake, Luke Cash, Ken Kadet, J. Caleb Mozzocco, Mel Valentin, Scott Isaacs, Ian, John Feil — so sorry there has not been time to respond to your missives. Consider this a public apology and a pledge to answer all of you within the next fourteen days. Hopefully. *smirk*

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