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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 FEBRUARY 21ST, 2007

Punisher War Journal #4 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. This issue is a trick: it’s a clever but ultimately predictable one if you think hard enough, but it’s rather subtle if you’re not directly looking for it. That said, this issue is very smart (even though the Gibbon never seemed so pathetic when he was teamed with Nekra and using his pheromone powers to control women — thanks OHOTMU!) with well handled dialogue (different color caption boxes mean someone else is talking, so don’t get mixed up), a great thought balloon from the Prowler, a perfectly quippy Spider-Man guest appearance and of course lots of murder. As it should be. This done-in-one issue has sealed it — as long as Matt Fraction is driving this bus, “Punisher War Journal” is a buy-on-site comic.

Checkmate #11 (DC Comics)

The best part of this issue are the tense moments of dialogue and the surprises upon which it turns. Super villains are getting into international politics, co-workers mistrust one another and that’s entertaining. Rucka scripts alongside Nunzio Defilippis and Christina Weir, but it never feels like too many cooks are in the kitchen. Steve Scott’s layouts are simple but effective (he handles the acrobatics Beatriz has to do with some skill) and this issue is full of things that no sensible, spoiler-free review can even talk about. But it’s good crazy.

Rex Mundi #4 (Dark Horse Comics)

Not very much happened in this issue, but there’s one rather quick fight scene, a fun discussion of magic with visual aids (imagine “A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alan Moore”) and of course great, crisp art from Juan Ferreyra (he’s so good, he’s like the new Jacen Burrows). The pace on this title has slowed down a smidge, with none of the old “newspaper” supplements in back and a sub plot that doesn’t seem important at all. But not bad by any stretch of the imagination, just losing a little steam and still plenty worth your bucks.

DMZ #16 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

In the penultimate chapter of the “Public Works” storyline (which could be subtitled “What You Won’t Do For Love”), Matty talks too much and runs a lot while Halliburton, er, Trustwell forces beat the hell out of anybody they feel like abusing. The story Matty’s chasing got very, very complicated in a way that’s fuel for cynicism, but his much bigger challenge is staying alive long enough to report it. Tensions run high in this issue, and Wood and Burchielli take material that could be humdrum and make it work. Still one of Vertigo’s brightest stars.

The Nightly News #4 (Image Comics)

The issue opens with an apology: “… this issue of ‘The Nightly News’ lacks the customary information graphics many of you have come to know and love. I apologize, but there was simply too much story to tell and not enough space.” For that lack of backdrop, this issue manages to deliver the edginess of ideas going to war, while keeping up the mocking looks inside of the boardrooms of corporate media. There is a strange flashback where it’s a bit hard to make out who’s supposed to be doing what or how they relate to the rest of the issue, in part due to the idiosyncratic art style, but the challenge is worth it as this issue reads like something Chuck Palahniuk would enjoy were he a comics fan. Hickman even breaks down the choices he made for colors with CMYK settings (well, CMY anyway). An uphill climb, but still good and its mean spirited core makes it a cruel delight.

Birds of Prey #103 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Everybody’s getting punked, as Babs has a troubling phone call from a college comrade (nice flashback opening), Manhunter shows her cards, Barda has body confidence issues and a rescue has a surprise outcome. Simone’s plot here is simply scrumptious, deftly playing characterization against action and never letting go of the bristling pace. A pleasant surprise for a title that’s often been close but rarely stretches its creative muscle far enough to be crucial.

She-Hulk #16 (Marvel Comics)

First of all, you should be warned: Shulkie tries to hit on Logan. Ew. That’s no good, and an interesting sign about her character. Second, she spends most of the issue pummeling (and getting pummeled) by the Wendigo while her rival Mallory Book takes in a troubling night of Shakespeare. Dan Slott does some very entertaining tricks of dialogue (the song bit was funny, as was Jen’s delusion) and the art from Burchett, Rathburn and Kemp is bright, accessible and fun, and this comic never fails to satisfy.

Testament #15 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Back in the “challenging” category, somehow the Babylonian god Marduk has scared the pee out of the other divinities (many of whom are never named, though we got Melchizadek, Moloch, Atum-Ra, Astarte and Krishna) while the beleaguered Miriam Al-Ghafoor undergoes some aggressive interrogation while the one world currency gains steam and the best laid plans of gods and men invariably hit some snags along the way. This issue was a smidge more impenetrable than past ones, but the spectacle of Marduk is worth seeing.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

A lot of work to read, but not bad, given the jumps. We’ll call it a tie.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

It’s worth noting that Ralph Dibny makes some very interesting choices in “52” #42, and those parts dominate this issue (there’s some throwaway panels with Renee Montoya). A surprise for a major force in the DC universe, but the pacing was off.

Reed sure does wake up cranky in “Ultimate Fantastic Four” #39 as they come to face Ultimate Diablo, who’s a lot smarter (and better informed) than you’d expect somebody from the fourteenth century to be (maybe he’s been reading up on Mordru too), but the middle of this issue drags and Ben’s pathos seemed a little too easy, leaning on what many fans would already know from 616 experience.

“Battle Pope” #13 was very funny, just goofy and wrong fun as a jealous divinity goes to fisticuffs (which isn’t as immediate as you might expect) while Santa and Jesus talk a giant robot into shutting up. Seriously. Very close to making it on sheer audacity.

Black Bolt doesn’t make for much of a monarch in “Silent War” #2, as the child Luna shows how to kick butt and the conflict slows to pissy negotiations. Too much going on for so little to have happened.

The banter between Hal and Bruce made “Brave and the Bold” #1 work as well as it did, but its cookie-cutter antagonists were a bit too facile in their depiction.

Also entertaining but not quite making it was “Cable/Deadpool” #37 (Cable barely shows up) which showed The Rhino (before his appearance in “Punisher War Journal” clearly) and some good times with bad people, but the premise (and a guy named “Foot of Doom”) just made this a bit too much.

The length was finally right for “Elephantmen” #7, but to throw that away on a clearly out of continuity story that offered answers (possibly) only through layers of obfuscating meta fiction was infuriating.

New Avengers: Illuminati #2 showed Reed’s Infinity Watch, and kind of makes the outcome of “Civil War” a foregone conclusion, if you look at the end closely. Reed’s crazy, and that’s a bit weird here.

The first date in “Robin” #159 had some cliche moments but was not bad overall, showing the teen hero doing his best to do all things while Batman does what he does best — property damage. Far from a must-buy, however.

If “Iron Fist” #2 had been the debut issue, it would be a better series, as this is an improvement in establishing everything of consequence and focusing on the actual character’s and what they wanted. But the core premise still defies logic and the actual writing is a smidge stiff, so that’s why it’s not coming home.

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

Despite the fantastic Hercules/Thor Agent of SHIELD fight and some great quips (the “Bing Crosby” line was hilarious) did a lot for “Civil War” #7, but the core problem here is the Captain America of Earth 616, who is, essentially, a pansy. Before Ultimate Captain America existed to show how an instrument of policy could also be cool while still being an anachronism, it was less glaring of a problem. But here, Cap makes a fateful (and frankly, stupid) decision that (of course) ends the war … in the dumbest possible way. They were right — this will change things in the Marvel universe in ways that House of ATM could not dream, but it does so without resolving any of the actual issues and leaving the United States in conflict with no fewer than three metahuman powered foreign nations. Infuriating even as it entertains.

“Superman” #659 shows even more the impotence of Superman to effect any change, which he agonizes over after hearing Arion’s tale of armageddon future. The crazy Black lady at the core of the narrative? Here’s a short story about that: no.

The backup in “Legion of Monsters: Warewolf by Night” was the problem, as it didn’t entertain as much and its art was sub par. Add that to a good but all-too-quick lead (it could have worked well as a webcomic) and it’s like “argh.”

The secret of “52” continues to creep into continuity via “Ion” #11, as Grayven intimidates and Donna bedazzles. Kyle’s anger seems mercurial, and the action here is nothing special.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Not great.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

With things not going well for reads and the purchases kind of slogging along, the week loses by a thin margin (aww).

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