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WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?

Every week Hannibal Tabu (journalist/blogger/novelist/poet/karaoke host/jackass) goes to a comic book store called Comics Ink in Culver City, CA (Overland and Braddock — hey Steve, Jason, Vince and Sally) and grabs a whole lotta comics. These periodicals are quickly sorted into two piles — the “buy” pile (a small pile most weeks, comprised of planned purchases) and the “read” pile (often huge, often including comics that are really crappy but have some value to stay abreast of).  Thursday afternoons (Diamond monopolistic practices willing, and yes, it used to be mornings, but management asked for it to slide back some), you’ll be able to get his thoughts (and they’re just the opinions of one guy, so calm down) about all of that … which goes something like this …

THE BUY PILE FOR NOVEMBER 26TH, 2008

NOTE: Oh, you thought some extra sleep and a day off work would stop The Buy Pile?  Don’t let the smooth taste fool you.  It’s on … sorry it wasn’t at 1:30 like normal, but whatever.  Let it rock like Kevin Rudolf …

Push #2 (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

Automatic Jump from the Read Pile.  Jot this down: if you see an announcement that Adam Freeman and Marc Bernardin are writing a Swanson’s frozen dinner commercial, Tivo the entire show to make sure you don’t miss it.  If Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman come out with an edition of the phone book, chances are it’ll have some surprising plot twists.  Like their brilliant “Highwaymen,” this issue again immerses you in a detailed, well thought out world — this time, the 1986 internal workings of an intelligence division filled with operatives using largely mental-based super powers.  Telekinetics, clairvoyants, people who melt through walls like the late Kitty Pryde, others who have high powered voices like Theresa Cassidy, they all work in concert on clandestine operations.  But there’s sometimes a hidden harmony line working behind their espionage melody, and the realization of this has the agency’s only shapeshifter in quite a pickle.  Using many of the tricks of a good cinematic thriller but paced perfectly for the comic book medium, this issue deftly manages a lot of disparate elements, gives just the right amount of panel time to characters needed to propel the narrative and — just for fun — features skillful visual storytelling by the art team of Bruno Redondo, Sergio Arino, Gabe Eltaeb and Aaron Minier.  Refreshing!

Transhuman #4 (Image Comics)

If you hate the mundane trappings of humanity, this issue will surely be the solid good times you’ve been looking for.  Well, a smidge of misanthropy and nihilism won’t hurt either.  The documentary-styled story following the creation of essential superhuman conditions in the open market has some fun surprises (the reveal on the last few pages is fantastic) and points out some of the foibles of the human condition as it manifests through the western mindstate.  Sure, artist JM Ringuet’s a little rough hewn on faces, but he gets some chances to shine on a great splash page and some fairly detailed panels alongside (perhaps he could really work well as part of an art team).  Fun stuff for the mean spirited.

Legion of Super-Heroes #48 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  Kick it old school — writer Jim Shooter takes it back with an ol’ fashioned tryout issue, introducing new (or in some cases lesser-known) characters into the team properly, focusing on powers and character elements, while still keeping the overarching storyline going with a balance that could almost only come from someone who’s been doing this as long as Shooter has.  Basically there are two stories here, both with just enough room to breathe and both succeeding on their own terms.  Together, they’re a great value at three bucks.  

Secret Invasion: Inhumans #4 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  A number of nice small surprises made this issue work, finely finishing up the mini-series in a way that the cover somewhat spoils.  Despite the overarching lack of characterization for the Skrulls (a problem throughout the crossover), the Inhumans all get a chance to really show off, with even Triton making it rock (and it’s hard to get down in a space opera when you’re the Aquaman guy).  Among the best scenes were Black Bolt’s means of “speaking” to his son, a crafty showing of Karnak’s powers and the look on the female Super Skrull’s face when she got a surprise.  

Jack of Fables #28 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

If you just type it down, it sounds silly: Jack waltzes into the place that imprisoned him and takes over.  But if you read it, with Bill Willingham’s inimitable style of scoundrel-ishness and the grandiose artwork of Tony Akins, Jose Marzan Jr. and Daniel Vozzo, then it’s just this hilarious, rollicking ride with a wink and a grin as its accompaniment.  Jack shrugs as people call him out on his caddish behavior, Mister Revise has some challenges with his family and their enemy the Bookburner makes his move in a big, big way.  Well paced, well told, well depicted, funny and smart.  What else could you want?

Body Bags One Shot (Image Comics)

Automatic Jump from the Read Pile.  Best comic of the week, hands down.  Jason Pearson really, really needs to be doing this more regularly — with only a few panels to make it right, he introduces the lead characters Panda and Clownface while setting up the scenario for … well, what’s actually happening here is kind of weird as well, but it does cast a whole new light on the assassin-filled world, especially in a post-“Wanted” industry.  Given that Pearson’s a self-contained one stop shop, providing story and art (with really good coloring from Dave Stewart), this is an even bigger accomplishment — essentially a killer action movie in your hand, a thick and substantial 44 pages of pulse-pounding, gun-toting action for six bucks.  The wonderful callbacks that Pearson uses, stringing in elements from earlier into the work at a later point, even to the point of poeticism, is excellent, and a treasure like this comic is really something to be thankful for.      

Blue Beetle #33 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  How many teen heroes would you need to protect El Paso on “A Day Without Immigrants?”  Apparently, that number is four, as Wonder Girl, Robin and Red Devil join Peacemaker and the titular hero for breakfast tacos (“It’s like they took everything that’s good in life and wrapped it in a tortilla,” said Red Devil) and punching.  Meanwhile, Peacemaker explains his relationship to The Vanguard (think Minutemen along the border, but dumber), Jaime’s friends Brenda and Paco have some tense moments, Robin makes a friend and Dr. Polaris shows up big time.  A lot of fun and interesting stuff happens in this issue, which goes further to cement Jaime Reyes as the new Peter Parker (the kid’s funny, “Monopoles? What are monopoles? Do I go for the ‘monocle’ pun or the board game pun?”) with his light hearted banter and hapless luck leading to steely determination.  This title often makes it home, and this issue is an excellent example of why.   

incredible Hercules #123 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  The Amazons have kidnapped Poseidon! They seek to steal ancient powers of gods!  One of them makes out with Amadeus Cho, teen genius!  From the recap (Amadeus remixes a Homeric hymn) to the great scene changes (the corporate nature of the Olympians is fascinating) and the bickering between Namor and Hercules, this issue hits on every cylinder, flowing well with humor and action.  Admittedly, the title character’s something of an afterthought, but whatever.  Clayton Henry, Salva Espin and Raul Trevino turned in an all-star art performance (loved the flashback), and the Greg Pak/Fred Van Lente script is smartly done.  

DMZ #36 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Old friends argue over the barrels of guns as the mystery of Staten Island, as a vial of death goes missing and an improbable party comes to a crashing end.  With gallows humor and simple honesty, men of war try to work out an impossible situation with bad ideas and even worse consequences.  This was one of the series’ better issues, tense and complicated and thought provoking and the art of Kristian Donaldson and Jeromy Cox worked well. 

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Wow — this was a fantastic week to love comics, one to certainly be thankful for!

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

“JSA Kingdom Come Special: Gog” was slow and wasted way too much time on Damage as a faithful pretty boy, but that last page was enough to make you really stroke your chin and think about some things. A logical escalation, a set up for conflict, a secret motivation … nice!  Shame it took so long to get there.

“Secret Invasion: X-Men” #4 was pretty clever with Scott Summers going all “Saul Tigh on New Caprica,” smartly bringing the fight to the Skrulls in a way that’s hard to beat.  Honestly, it was a little too easy, with Cyclops seeming like a member of the G.I. Joe team in his steely grit and determination.  

“Unknown Soldier” #2 was challenging, riveting work, and truthfully is probably good enough to buy … if you’re okay with the overwhelmingly depressing facts framing the story, focused through the hard decisions the title character has to make as he takes up the mantle of a formerly US-specific concern.  Still, taking a “Grendel spirit” approach to the property is fresh and worth watching.

“Thor: Man of War” #1 brought an interesting — and possibly tragic — element to the story of Thor, one that echoes ideas brought up in Alan Moore’s “Top 10” when he dealt with Norse gods.  Run amok with rage and frustration, the Thunder God spills blood on nine worlds just to get his father’s attention.  It’s not really attention you’d want, especially when it involves the Destroyer armor and the Odinsword to spank with.  Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow.  Took a while to pick up some speed, but not bad once it got there.

Speaking of interesting ideas, in “Superman” #682 Kal-El’s aunt and some others from Kandor get a bright idea … that just gets a little messy.  It also proves problematic for an old DCU favorite, Superman gets disturbed by the superiority complex of many of his fellow Kryptonians and Supergirl (freshly cured of the whinies … we hope) is torn between the perspectives.  This issue didn’t so much pull its punches as tie together fan questions (Superman rarely addresses why he doesn’t do the same thing) and elements from “Smallville” … not in a bad way, though, in an okay way.

“Daredevil” #113 could have spent way more time with Master Izo and Tarantula (there’s another buddy book waiting to be born, right along side Captain Awesome and Fat Cobra) as their chemistry stole the scene (with Tarantula as the flabbergasted straight man and Izo hitting the punch line).  Then, you could have had more of the Daredevil and Dakota challenge, which isn’t resolved at all.  All together at once, it felt like this issue was trying too hard to make everything fit.  Decompression concerns aside, this issue feels like 8 more pages would have been just about perfect.

The “Meh” Pile  Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title

“Birds of Prey” #124, “Teen Titans” #65, “Reign In Hell” #5 (treading water, oddly enough), “Wonder Woman” #26, “Runaways Season 3” #4, She-Hulk #35 (this must be a different Crimson Dynamo than the one we saw in “Iron Man: Director of SHIELD” recently), “True Believers” #4,  “New Warriors” #18 (what’s with the switcheroo?), “Umbrella Academy: Dallas” #1 (an ambitious attempt, though, with great atmosphere and little story, asking too much from the reader), “Nova” #19 (borrowing a page from the Geoff Johns Book of Interstellar Police Expansion, working with the new characters but sagging at the end).

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

“Batman RIP” ended in “Batman” #681 … but the climax was easier to get out of than jury duty (the key: cosplay and funny voices, according to Liz Lemon) and the whole effect was pretty much “WTH?” Let’s never speak of this again.

Bring back Joe Fixit just to swap him out a few pages later?  Now, what sense did that make, “Hulk” #8?  What were you thinking?  Are you trying to be the new “Superman/Batman?”  Okay, that wasn’t fair, you’re not that stupid, but still …

Remember when Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were actually in “Trinity?”  Issue #26 does not.  How long is this tedious Elseworlds stuff gonna go on, exactly?

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Only three really sucked, many maintained mediocrity and some close calls could have had a trip home had one or two things gone their way … still a good week of comics.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

There’s a lot to be thankful for in a winning week of comics like this.

THE BUSINESS

Got a comic you think should be reviewed in The Buy Pile?  If we get a PDF of a fairly normal length comic (i.e. “less than 64 pages”) by no later than 24 hours before the actual issue arrives in stores (and sorry, we can only review comics people can go to stores and buy), we guarantee the work will get reviewed, if remembered.  Physical comics?  Geddouttahere.  Too much drama to store with diminishing resources.  If you send it in more than two days before comics come out, the possibility of it being forgotten increases exponentially.

Furthermore, as if this reviewer here wasn’t obnoxious enough with his opinions, he’s part of an effort to teach writers about how to do the work at The Hundred and Four, where this week there’s the first of two reviews by Ritch Hall 2.  New content is posted every Wednesday.

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