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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 17TH, 2007

NOTE: Two things of importance: first, I love PDFs — I can read ’em on my iBook, no extra clutter for my apartment and I can read ’em before the very busy shipping day. So if you want me to review your stuff, the week it ships you can email me here at CBR with it attached, and I’ll take a gander. Try to do it more than a week in advance and I’ll forget, because I’m an airhead. Sorry, it’s true.

Also: I turn 34 years old on Saturday. I accept cash presents of all denominations, no matter how small, at my website. That is all.

The Nightly News #3 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. This mini series has not dropped the ball once, and is now buy-on-sight. This issue, the rhetoric is still flying hot and heavy, taking to task the educational establishment that cranks out happy little citizens every summer. “With an operating budget of 13 billion dollars, the undying support of the State and the complete backing of the judicial system, these are the best social programs money can buy. We call them programming facilities. You call them public schools.” The people in power are circling their wagons to fight terrorists that can’t be ethnic profiled, the Cult of the Voice shows some hard core indoctrination (“Believe it kid … we ain’t the good guys. We’re killers without conscience, bad men with big ideas. We’re the twilight holding off the night …” fantastic) as the murder of reporters continues and things remain delightfully kooky. A challenging, intellectual read — the sort of stuff you used to only get in Vertigo books — and a stellar debut for Jonathan Hickman (imagine a more plot-oriented, super-stylized David Mack) that never misses a beat.

Fantastic Four #542 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. This book was already at home before the name of the writer jumped out: “McDuffie.” You may have never really seen Reed Richards before this issue, but the real, kind of terrifying enormity of his intellect comes to bear as he impresses the hell out of the Mad Thinker, fails to convince Johnny of why he knows (“to a mathematical certainty”) that he’s right and Ben keeps doing ridiculous things in France. The Thinker gets some choice lines here and if you can see it, Reed spoils the end of the not-so-Civil War. This suspenseful issue is cloaked in throwaway lines and character development, and McDuffie’s work here is subtle and brilliant. Mike McKone (with Andy Lanning and Cam Smith on inks and Paul Mounts on colors) creates an intimate, personal and yet very kinetic world for the characters, and the whole issue is kind of … scary, honestly. You’ve always known Reed was smart. Now you see how smart he is, and why it’s such a problem. A very pleasant surprise.

The Helmet of Fate: Detective Chimp #1 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. This probably isn’t an example of the legendary gorilla cover doctrine but the sheer whimsicality of Detective Chimp is juxtaposed throughout this issue with his acerbic personality and skill as an investigator. Bill Willingham shows an obvious sense of affection for the character and Shawn McManus delivers a straight faced depiction of the script that nonetheless has some great laughs (check the first time the title character flies). A self-contained yarn that could inspire you to follow the helmet to its next host (is this all post-“52?” Did Ralph not make the cut?) or you could easily just enjoy on its own merits.

She-Hulk #15 (Marvel Comics)

Jen Walters, Agent of SHIELD. Yep, since Bruce is MIA, there’s a power vacuum in the gamma-powered, super strong category, and those rocket scientists at SHIELD (well, not the actual rocket scientists, perhaps, but the guys in charge) want She-Hulk on the job to bat clean-up. Which is a bit out of her weight class, but she’s determined to make it work. The art of Rick Burchett and Cliff Rathburn is just cartoony enough to keep the whimsical edge of the book while being just serious enough to make the action scenes work (the “Matrix” homage is great, and given the quote from “The Nightly News,” the second such reference this week). Fun with a hint of character-specific gravity (much like “Scrubs”).

Transformers Spotlight: Ultra Magnus (IDW Publishing)

Jump from the Read Pile. One mechanoid, apparently, is tasked that making sure that even warfare is subject to some kind of rules, that doing some things is just too much. That mechanoid is Ultra Magnus, armed to the teeth and relentlessly devoted to duty, a metalshod lawman hell bent on bringing renegades to justice like some hero from a spaghetti western. That he’s allowed to deliver a captured Decepticon “to the regional Decepticon command hub” means that he has a level of privilege that’s unusual at best, and the display of his “holomatter simulacrum” allows him to be humaniform, sized to fit local cultures and a better investigator — imagine the Doctor from “Star Trek: Voyager” with a ton of guns waiting right behind him. Bobby Musso’s art is simple and effective (a bit more “wow” might have worked on the combat scenes) and of course nobody knows these characters as well as writer Simon Furman. A fascinating character spotlight that gives an interesting look at how Cybertron takes its place as a citizen of a populated galaxy.

Wonder Man #2 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. There’s an interesting checkers metaphor used with Hank McCoy here, and the characterization on the virtual Eliza Dolittle called Huan is brutal but effective. The art from Andrew Currie and Drew Hennessy is serviceable, getting the job done without doing anything particularly endearing, but Peter David’s effective script handles everything concisely and with great skill.

JLA Classified #32 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. NOTE: The image seen is from an interior page, and the cover available at retailed looked drastically different. There’s a new super villain in town, and he’s figured a much smarter use for a previous villain’s weaponry, finally making good on a reference from a “Secret Files and Origins” from two years ago. Dan Slott writes him into being impressive, outshining “just okay” artwork by Dan Jurgens and Trevor Scott (perhaps a more expressive inker — Palmiotti leaps to mind — might have made Jurgens’ pencils work better). But the Red King has all the potential to be the next Prometheus (the “scare everybody” one from Morrison’s “JLA,” not the sniveling loser who got beaten by one hero and had his key jacked), and gets most of the panel time like this was an issue of “Law & Order: Super Criminal Intent.” The “what if” scenarios from earlier look even more interesting on second and third reads (ironic if you’ve read the issue) and there’s great character moments with Wally and Clark. Nicely done and tightly plotted.

Cable/Deadpool #36 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. First of all, there’s no Cable in this issue, so that’s what it is. The set up is that ‘Pool wants to fight (and beat) Taskmaster … except for the fact that he’d already done this in the classic Joe Kelly run of his solo title (in front of Tasky’s entire “crime school”). This time, however, it’s on camera for a huge cast of people who hire mercenaries … and somehow he’s talked his former tech supplier Weasel into helping (they didn’t part well — think Micro and the Punisher) as well as his former housemate/hostage Blind Al (ditto on the “how they ended”). Since Taskmaster has lost before (badly) and doesn’t have his own title, it’s not much of a spoiler to guess how things go. Add to the great fight scenes some hilarious meta references (hitting George Perez, the Legion of Super Heroes, and gunplay at the offices of Marvel Comics) and this issue is a winner, one to enjoy again and again.

Testament #14 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

As above, so below: in the heavens, Yahweh leads a group of divinities in a socio-martial conflict with Atum-Re (spelled wrong, I know, they didn’t know, there are no vowels in ancient Egyptian and they probably used the standard goofy British translations) and an older group of spirit powers in an argument over how the history of the world will be told. On earth, a man has maneuvered himself into a position to create a global currency with only himself at the reins. The stories start to mix together when that man calls on the power of Marduk (considered scary even by people who worshipped that pantheon) to work on both levels, weirding out everybody. Still with us? It gets deeper than that, as a rebel cabal seeks to stop the global currency from GPS-tracking everybody in the world, Marduk’s ex is with Yahweh and also slept with one of her enemies … whoo! Heady stuff, ambitious and lofty, with edgy art that is perfectly suited for this pastiche of ideas.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

How many books jumped? That can only be called one thing: fantastic.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

The disappearance of the Roanoake colony due to supernatural causes? Maybe — the new graphic novel “First Moon” posits it, with a nice garnish of historical nonfiction to add to the fun and make it feel all textured like a great episode of “The X-Files.” If that period of history bores you, the “Lost”-style flashbacks won’t help, but it’s a well drawn and well written work.

“The Spirit” #2 is okay. Cooke knows his business about the era, the art is also very apropos. But it’s an acquired taste, like Greg Kinnear’s acting.

“White Tiger” #3 is starting to find a groove, with a good balance between exposition, action and character development. The central character, however, is still something of a cipher despite the development of a richly conceived and well depicted supporting cast.

“52” #37 plays a wonderful trick with time travel, but had a lot of extraneous stuff going on with Lobo and everything else, and that didn’t make it work too well.

“Phonogram” #4 is like the pretty girl with an accent who’s happy to go out with you but you two end up having nothing to talk about. She’s still attractive, she still likes you, but it’s just not working. If you have a fairly encyclopedic knowledge of British pop music, this is probably like Shazam’s thunderbolt. But if you don’t, it’s a fairly insular work that sounds good and looks fun but can’t offer you much more than some rushed making out in the front seat of your car.

If “Phonogram” is the cute girl, “Wisdom” #2 is its less attractive cousin with the wandering eye — the attempt to make dream realities was not shown to be significantly different artistically from “reality,” making certain segments require more than one read to grasp. Context clues? Sort of. A big of a trek for not much at the end of it.

Babs gets the “quote of the week” award in “Birds of Prey” #102 as she tells the tenacious Lois Lane “Favors are the currency of genuine power.” Nice. The two impressive ladies have a showdown over secrets, and it’s kind of nice to see.

The big death in “Ultimate X-Men” #78 is a shocker, and Ultimate Cable and his future-formed Six Pack get to fight the legends they grew up admiring. It actually has a start, middle and a finish — unusual for Kirkman these days — but so minimizes the actual big moments (Scott’s jealousy, the Jean reveal, et cetera) so much as to not seem worth it.

Etrigan’s getting demoted, meaning an opening for a new rhyming demon (it’s apparently impressive to be one) and the first among the fallen has plans, big plans, which the title team of “Shadowpact” #9 are ill equipped to handle. Not bad, but not great (especially with that “Detective Chimp” one shot on the stands to compare it to).

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

“Ghost Rider” #7 has similar themes, as the Devil wants Johnny Blaze to do … something. He seems bearish on the idea, though, and looks frustrated and confused … and that’s not entertaining.

Did the whole JLA have to make a pointless guest appearance in “Green Lantern” #16? Between the Russian politics (seriously, does anybody see Rocket Reds coming and not start laughing?) and the overwrought revenge of a son (why now? Where has this guy been?) it just didn’t work.

Hank Pym goes nuts in “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Volume 2” #5, and not in a fun, whimsical or even readable way … but in a sad, drunk uncle, “ooh, this is awkward” kind of way.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Not bad.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A huge win with a phalanx of Read Pile titles marching across the counter and into the bag to come home. Huzzah!

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