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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 JANUARY 24TH, 2007

Noble Causes #26 (Image Comics)

“Normal girl” Liz has amnesia, and possibly super powers as well (she may have lost them time jumping … long story). Her “husband” Race has lost his powers and is limping by as a normal person himself. Distracted Doc Noble is (as always) puttering around, bad girl Zephyr is trying to make a secret identity work (unknowingly helping rival Slate Blackthorne try to do the same) with goofy results, while family matriarch Gaia … well, her hunger for publicity and public adoration drives the main thrust of this story (and only element worthy of the name “spoiler” and thus not mentioned here) as cars get thrown and Liz’s nondescript parents hang around and the confectionary (and kooky — Jack Bauer’s life makes more sense than this) plot twists are just as sweet as they ever were. Even when dealing with potentially grim subject matter, the light tone (helped of course by Tim Kane’s accessible art work and coloring by Kane and Ron Riley that’s bright and breezy) never lets this book become navel gazing. It’s just crazy, and that’s just fine, so enjoy the whimsy.

All-New Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z Update #1 (Marvel Comics)

Oh, Marvel — you saucy publishing company. You just complete a trivia fan’s dream with twelve issues of Handbooks, and already you’re back at it with a four issue “update?” Delightful. Confused by what happens in “Eternals?” Just check the Ikaris entry here. Whatever happened to Graviton or Puck? Skip the back issues — this has got you covered. Missed the M-11 developments in “Agents of Atlas?” Your spoilers are all waiting for you. Like a delightful primer of many of the developments of the last several months (and in some cases farther back than that — In-Betweener? Seriously?), this handbook can save the average fan hundreds of dollars and tons of time in back issues.

Checkmate #10 (DC Comics)

Last issue’s drama with the Department of Metahuman Affairs left Checkmate in a pretty pickle. Y’see, their undercover operative has to prove himself to Kobra in a way that Checkmate doesn’t know how to fake, and therefore they have to call in Shadowpact for some magical whamma jamma to make things work. The results are perhaps more “Sleeper” than the Black Queen may have intended (she’s not really Black — funny though, both the White King and Queen are). To say much more about this briskly plotted treat would spoil it, but suffice it to say that everything you loved about Rucka’s run on “Detective Comics” and his best work on “Queen and Country” will get an interesting synthesis of it here.

Official Handbook of the Invincible Universe #2 (Image Comics)

Like the Marvel handbook from a few paragraphs ago, this clears up and simplifies all the developments in the life of Mark Grayson, one of the more successful heroes created in the last decade. Patterned after the classic Marvel handbooks (while borrowing a smidge from the more vague “Who’s Who” format), you’ll quickly see the shorthand elements Kirkman cribbed from existing universes (Martian Man? Red Rush? Seriously?) but the whimsy and creativity in characters like Rex Splode or Angstrom Levy make it worth while.

Silent War #1 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Black Bolt is unhappy, and that’s not good for anybody. When a simple exercise in aggressive negotiation gets a little bloodier than expected, the Fantastic Four (clearly before Civil War) step in and provide some beatdown, further complicating the situation. The elephant in the room remains — how long before Black Bolt himself steps down from Attilan and has a few harsh words to deliver? The conflict increases dissension amongst the moon-side community, while the US government has their mad scientists and rebel thinkers confident that they can defeat this threat from the lunar surface while using the politics of fear as their vocabulary. Tense and mean, and writer David Hine delivers the goods. One might wish Frazer Irving’s art was a little more precise and a little less Tim Burton-esque (some of that could be coloring), it’s working.

Fables #57 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Mike Allred’s signature style comes to play as Snow White and Bigby Wolf take a long, cold trip to visit his deadly father, the North Wind. There’s an interesting interlude with the ever-threatening Adversary (or at least his puppet master) that doesn’t affect the main plot, as Bigby and his father try to come to terms and Snow tries to stay warm, while the kids try to enjoy a simple hunt that gets complicated. Allred’s art is the variable factor here, solid in its sense of pacing and visual storytelling, but weird in some of the faces (the “cubs” especially) and detail work. The story keeps it going, which is why Bill Willingham has made this series such a delight.

Dr. Strange: The Oath #4 (Marvel Comics)

The Doctor and his intrepid companions come back to the Night Nurse’s hospice to find it beset by “The Marrakant Hellguard,” a creature that has “incinerated every Sorcerer Supreme who’s confronted it since the 1500s.” The fight is just the start of things, giving Strange room to be both inspirationally heroic and wittily amusing. It also, strangely enough (hah) gives just enough of a romantic overtone to give the story some “oomph” without becoming all maudlin and sentimental. The morals get complicated as the true author of these maladies becomes clear, and the last page is a shocker. Such a good series, surely even Neilalien must be happy.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #26 (DC Comics)

Robot rebellion! Yeah, it’s back like a bad urinary infection, and Mekt Ranzz is here to save the day. Long time Legion fans know that such a sentence can’t lead to anything good, and that’s revealed in the course of this issue as well (it’s no huge surprise, and there’s no need to talk about the things that are, like the really great splash page scene here). But the Ranzz Family Reunion stands at the center of events that will shake earth with fury from the stars while the Legion itself never loses its youthful glow and exuberance (like the halcyon days, but much prettier thanks to the W/KRP), and that’s just good reading.

Punisher War Journal #3 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. If you don’t understand anything else, you will learn of the respect Frank Castle has for Captain America … and has since before US troops landed in Vietnam. This respect, however, has nothing to do with who or what the Punisher really is, and that effectively takes him out of the Civil War (at least fighting for Cap, and he surely won’t deal with Stark), but gives him a new and heretofore unknown freedom to blow the hell out of super villains. The transition is a bit hinkety, but the effects — Frank Castle vs. the Rhino, and neither one is even worried — are well worth it. The last page seemed a smidge superfluous, especially given the powerful impact (pun intended) of the panel before it, but despite some minor speed bumps this is a fun issue showing the animal that is the title character, and that’s just what we wanted.

The Savage Brothers #3 (Boom! Studios)

Jump from the Read Pile. This fun and goofy mini finds itself at an end as the boys fight cannibal bikers, evil megacorporations and each other. Of course, the old “getting talked into heroism because a hot girl wants you to” shtick is sadly predictable (especially because it works even in real life) but the story is neatly tied up and has tons of room for a sequel. The great throwaway lines — “I need a Home Depot. Fast,” or “You were using a computer as a coaster?” — help further create the charm of this comic, and the zombie action is kept pleasantly at just-past-arm’s-length (as it should be). Good crazy.

DMZ #15 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Speaking of doing dumb things for girls, rogue journalist Matty Roth’s undercover with a terrorist cell aiming for Halliburton, er, Trustwell as they try to do some war profiteering, er, rebuild inside the war zone. Problem is, nobody on either side is what anybody expects, and that complicates Matty’s life but good. There’s a lot to spoil here, so let’s just say this thrilling issue (there’s so much motion) keeps up the fine tradition being built by Wood and Burchielli in what could be the most politically charged book on the stands.

X-Factor #15 (Marvel Comics)

Jamie Madrox, Agent of Hydra? Well, sort of. After being told that he makes “Bruce Banner look like the mental health poster boy,” Jamie undergoes the same kind of treatment that made Wolverine work for Hydra (hero brainwashing, it’s all the rage these days) while Theresa and Monet make a stand in France for a political point. Jamie’s getting to know himself, and he’s not too sure he likes what he’s finding, but Peter David is making it a fascinating trip for us to watch. A loose end gets tied up, a lotta people end up dead and Jamie just watches it all. Fascinating.

Transformers: Escalation #3 (IDW Publishing)

Jump from the Read Pile. The first and most fun thing to remember here is that the Decepticons can make fake humans and send ’em out to do stuff. That’s crazy and the key to Megatron’s delightfully well-thought-out plan. The bad guys are also very, very sneaky and that’s bad news for a lot of people. Using an oil pipeline and an impoverished former eastern bloc nation as fuel for his fire, Megatron engineers a war just to further his own goals — cool — and Optimus and his team faithfully blunder their way in to try and stop him. Stuff gets blown up, and even more stuff promises to get blown up next issue. Simon Furman’s writing is at its best here, and E.J. Su faithfully handles both humaniform and mechanoid life with clarity and deftness. Let’s call this a regular purchase from now on.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Jumps aplenty and great regular buys make this expensive week worth having.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

“Helmet of Fate: Ibis” was close to the mark, doing one of the most faithful renderings of Set ever done in comics while acknowledging the ibis-headed god’s malleable nature depending on pantheons. There’s some historical dispute as to exactly whose ancestors are at play here, but that’s a bigger argument than we need to address. It also plants a new Ibis in the DCU, with a nicely diverse background and the neophyte hipness that’s made “Blue Beetle” work so well.

“Occult Crimes Taskforce” #3 also almost made the jump, with interesting photorealistic artwork, a duotone coloring scheme that’s starting to gel and some really well thought out implications of a world with magic. Problem is photorealism breaks down when you deal with demonic or magical inferences — “one of these things is not like the other” — and the pace was just too slow to go along with. Collected, this will probably work better, despite the cliched Skywalker/Neo/et cetera influence.

“Eternals” #6 was another near-miss, with huge (another fantastic Romita splash page worthy of posters) and crazy (the wildness of the cosmic ideas fly about half the speed of “G0dland”) as an Eternal makes the most cogent argument about the Civil War yet … but the plot is all over the place, and that flaw is big enough to leave it at the store.

“Tag” #3 had the same problem, all mean and gooey and taking two or three passes to fully grasp, using the “X-Files” school of lighting to inform its coloring decisions.

The last page of “Invincible” is a shocker, after Mark Grayson has a great day as a hero and a boyfriend, with the regular peripheral madness going on. This was more of an actual narrative than the normal vignette stylings of Kirkman, but still not compelling enough to buy.

Ed Brubaker’s “Criminal” #4 was a good one, but honestly could have used some of the art from “Occult Crimes Task Force” (Phillips is just not the right choice for this title, his faces don’t convey enough emotion) and the pacing needs to be picked up so more actually happens.

“Heroes for Hire” #6 was fun, with a renegade piece of old tech making like that manga-influenced “Sentinel” series and the rest of the team fighting terrorism in the form of people in dumb costumes (one of whom should already be dead, but it’s hard to even know anymore).

“Connor Hawke” #3 just kind of happened. It didn’t hurt anybody, but some of us have actually watched kung fu movies since Bruce Lee died. Adding bows and arrows doesn’t make old ideas fresh.

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

“Wolverine” #50 had the twelve-teenth gajillionth fight between Sabretooth and Wolvie, where ‘Tooth gives Logan something to think about (not important enough to say what) and later the Canucklehead gives an “actor’s commentary” take on his first fight with the Hulk. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.

“52” #38 had way too much of Renee Montoya slogging around in the snow to be entertaining.

“Civil War: The Return” was an insult to fans and an early entrant in the “worst issue of the year” rankings, a navel-gazing look at the man who runs Reed and Tony’s shadow prison, with a limp Sentry back up story with Crusher Creel.

Yeah yeah, “Superboy punch,” things are different now, but if the title character takes down three major crises in the brief space of “Flash: Fastest Man Alive” #8, well, clearly he needs more to do. Oddly enough, the non-action stuff was the most effective, as his main adversary is borrowing pages from the Cable (Summers, not from your TV) playbook.

“Moon Knight” #7 was talky as it circled the periphery of the Civil War without ever actually doing … well, much of anything. Even the fight that happened was kind of a disposable scene.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Too much good to let the crap bug ya.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A good week, even at a premium price.

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