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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 7TH, 2007

Shazam: Monster Society of Evil #1 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. With just the right mix of wide-eyed “aw shucks” wonder and modern cynicism, Jeff Smith’s long awaited take on Earth’s Mightiest Mortal does not disappoint, offering a slightly different take on the Billy/Marvel dichotomy (a slightly de-aged Billy plays “host” to Marvel instead of being the same person with different perspectives) and using this fresh dichotomy to both create some fun scenes (the hot dog cart) and introduce a plot struggle of epic proportions through the most innocuous of circumstances. Engaging and delicately balanced between light storyteling and that with more gravitas.

Squadron Supreme: Hyperion vs. Nighthawk #2 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Turn the camera around — last issue, we saw how Hyperion ended up in Darfur, this time we see that Nighthawk laid every inch of the road with meticulous care. This issue shows where Nighthawk varies from the Batman motif, relentlessly filling Janjaweed militiamen with 9MM ammunition. No problem with using guns (and even rocket launchers) here. Another thing that’s crystal clear — in the most entertaining of ways — is that Kyle Richmond is stark raving bats**t crazy, shown repeatedly breaking the bones in his fingers to give them greater resiliency and effect and admitting to spending millions of dollars to break into Burbank’s lab (he buys the companies that make the things that Burbank makes the locks out of — this is how he thinks). A fascinating character study with a great “Rashamon” styled take on the story thus far … but that ending, whoo! Leaving more questions than it answered, and that’s a deeply intriguing thing.

Astro City: The Dark Ages, Book Two #2 (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

Originally solicited for last November, this issue forces the two brothers on opposite sides of the law to look to the skies as the every day mundane facts of life intersect with the cosmic and spectacular with such regularity that it fails to impress virtually anyone, superhuman or not. With shades of Marvel’s Celestials (and Gaiman’s “Eternals”) at work, Busiek’s story nonetheless stays close to the ground, tracking two lives intimately shadowed by powers beyond their ken. Intimate, thoughtful storytelling and worth the wait. Mostly.

Fell #7 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. NOTE: The cover shown here is not what was available at retail. Originally solicited for last August (meaning it was advertised … what, in May 2006?), this very crafty procedural takes you inside a Snowtown interrogation room with the titular detective, a former colleague, a snaky defense attorney and one twisted little man. Sure, it’s all talk (except the memory scenes, which work well) but what talk it is. The plot twist here is very “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (which is a good thing — a bad twist would be “Law & Order: Trial by Jury”)

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Three jumps is never a bad thing.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

After all the hype, all the anticipation, “Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born” #1 was just too little information to come home, despite being gorgeous, despite having a great deal of the atmosphere from scenes in the novel “Dark Tower: Wolves of the Calla.” So as an illustrated sidebar, it’s fine. However the work does nothing to really expand on the appeal of why Roland Deschain is such an interesting character, or why a prequel would matter at all. Interesting supplement for fans, though.

“Scalped” #2 was interesting, in that the former flame provided some very pointed banter, but it seemed to spin its wheels a bit, not really pushing forward, and that was enough to stay in the store.

“Sam Noir: Ronin Holiday” #1 was mostly marred by the presence of the Island Detective, a character with less appeal and less clarity than the lead. The single minded brutal focus of the last mini series has devolved into a buddy movie, but Noir’s grim but funny voice over (think Fraction’s “Punisher War Journal” but with swords) still works when it’s on panel.

Watching Cassandra Cain try to kill Kara Zor-El (and it not being over in less than a second) was almost enough to make “Supergirl” #14 work, but the lingering romance subplot and the sheer blinking stupidness of the title character soured it. If someone more interesting had the same powers, perhaps the issue — and the series — would work better.

Those wacky ninjas in the Hand — “New Avengers” #27 finds Echo/Maya Lopez out in the cold since the men who left her in Japan to keep an eye on things (Cap, Iron Man) are now at each other’s throats. So she takes a page from the Bruce Wayne handbook and hides in plain site, which is fine until it attracts Elektra’s attention … yadda yadda yadda. The plot is solid, the banter always works (Spider Man should work with Wolverine more often) but the characters are not well developed, so it’s like “who cares?”

“Outsiders” #45 makes an interesting case for Black Lightning, who’s having a devil of a time in this OYL world, but the actual story seemed incomplete and everyone grimacing out from every panel. There was a chick-on-chick kiss, which almost everybody loves.

“Newuniversal” #3 was much like the first issue — good ambiance, interesting ideas, great Ellis-styled mean edge (especially in the characters visually reminiscent of James Cromwell and Bruce Willis) in this “What If Warren Ellis Wrote ‘Heroes?'” styled issue, but as a narrative it doesn’t exactly get anywhere.

The Mon-El story pulled all the right strings, but the rest of “Action Comics Annual” #10 felt like a padded out “Secret Files & Origins” issue, all aiming at some plan Luthor will concoct in the actual series.

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

Five issues in, and nobody’s dead yet — “Fantastic Four: The End” #5 seemed interminable, with “big” fights that have no stakes.

“Nightwing” #129 showed that Dick Grayson really needs stuff to do, but little else of importance. Ignore the cover — it refers to a parenthetical sub plot that takes a page or two at most.

As near as this column could tell, there is no Ghost Rider in “Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears” #1, so watch out for that.

Seriously — somebody has getting really high when the editorial and creative staff gets together to plot out issues like “Atom” #8, right? Not that good stuff Morrison gets, either, but garden variety, got-it-at-a-local-college stuff.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Eh.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Three jumps beats a big shrug, so call this one a “yay” sort of week.

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