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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 ...

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THE BUY PILE FOR JUNE 11TH, 2008

Newuniversal Shockfront #2

Newuniversal Shockfront #2 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  The main reason to buy this issue is Charlotte Beck, who's working on piecing together some answers, realizing that there's an alternate history take involving nuclear weaponry and political backsliding.  That's interesting.  However, Phil Voight's handling of a crisis with football player Jack Magniconte is also delicious to watch (and handles questions about an ultimatized Kickers Inc) while Dr. Jennifer Swann finds out something she does not want to know.  There's a lot of moving parts here, and all of them are spun just right -- a bit of pop culture stylings homaging Bendis' influence on the industry here, a dash of disturbingly violent imagery appreciating the Jacen Burrows style of work there, a flourish of cop camaraderie from the culture's fixation with police procedurals and a really amazing ending.  It's hard to keep a cast this big moving, but like the better episodes of "Heroes," this issue manages it and in a way that keeps you thinking and flipping back through the pages, reflecting on what was said.  Goof stuff.

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Gamekeeper Series 2 #4

Gamekeeper Series 2 #4 (Virgin Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  This "season" of the Virgin Comics series has -- until now -- lacked the rough intensity of its predecessor.  The "big reveal" of last issue seemed a little facile, providing characterization by shorthand.  However, this issue accepts all of those problems and streamlines them into a narrative that starts to really move.  The dry wit of the "soccer club's" sponsor Volkes was the first sign that things were going well, while the Gamekeeper's cautious rapport with The Raven starts to take on the energy of a good buddy movie ... with lots of shooting and punching and what not.  The plot takes a few unexpected but enjoyable turns, the requisite amount of violence is on deck plus misdirections, possible betrayals and tension.  Everything started clicking here, and it's quite a joy to see.

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Salvation Run #7

Salvation Run #7 (DC Comics)

If you have been reading any previews or "Justice League of America," you know the punchline here, so it's not much of a spoiler to say that Amanda Waller's prison planet doesn't exactly work as planned.  Lots goes well here -- the Rogues in particular, working as a team (with plays even) is great, Lex Luthor enjoys what he does ("I know it's going to [work].  I have an advanced degree in teleportation from mad scientist school") even though his climactic monologue lacked punch (times like this are when Bill Willingham's influence is missed -- that man could write a monologue you'd be quoting for weeks after) and it was pretty enjoyable.  The only possible criticism?  It feels like it could have been more wicked, more unrepentant.  But it was a good ending to a pleasant diversion, even without really delivering anything you couldn't have expected.  

Doktor Sleepless #7

Doktor Sleepless #7 (Avatar Press)

Jump from the Read Pile.  Possibly the smartest book of the week, this series finally takes a step from the shadow of Ellis' "Transmetropolitan" this issue by doing instead of talking.  First up, the title character rocks a great monologue (don't discount the importance of a good rant) as a later point he makes ("The really tough thing is figuring out that no-one really gives a sh**.  That was the one thing I didn't allow for when I was sixteen.  You're allowed to be stupid at sixteen, right?") plays out in the actions of most of the other characters actions, weaving a set of seemingly random elements -- if you read closely, you see how well every element, almost every panel, works as a part of this issue's intent -- into a clever tapestry of activity leading towards ... well, something big.  "What can you do to bring around the real future?" Sleepless asks.  "Because you know that this isn't a future worth getting out of bed for.  What can you do to burn down the fake life we're trapped in?"  This title, finally, seems ready to bring it.

Secret Invasion: Who Do You Trust?

Secret Invasion: Who Do You Trust? (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  The week's biggest surprise.  The more recent anthology styled comics -- short stories compiled together -- have largely been less than satisfactory, especially in the realm of superhero comics.  Here?  Whew.  Brian Reed, Mike Carey, Christos Gage, Zeb Wells and Jeff Parker showed up for the job in a major way, delivering a quintet of short stories that illuminate the potentially retrograde Secret Invasion in ways that are creative and refreshing.  With Lee Weeks, Reed starts off sending the tyro Mar-Vell tris to pull a double blind.  Mike Carey gets Timothy Green the 3rd's help when he has the green-haired Agent Brand of SWORD (remember when they were an after thought? They're trying to be prime time now) taking a moment to think through some things that really end up being kind of revelatory (while using a wonderful framing device to make it all very immediate).  The Wonder Man/Beast story by Gage and Mike Perkins is surprisingly intimate and spotlights how effective the Skrulls plan is by illuminating how isolated even Earth's Mightiest Heroes can become.  Zeb Wells fairly invokes the Grant Morrison-inspired spirit (with none of his aimlessness or "what do I care where this fits in the rest of the line?" madness) with a Marvel Boy feature that recaptures a lot of what was fun about the character -- being smart and being determined (Steve Kurth and Drew Hennessey brought the very cinematic art on this one).  Finally, the Atlas Foundation gives the Skrull invasion some serious problems in a story that wonderfully handles all the characters (again using a very crafty framing device to make the story succinct and involving).  Literally every page of this is a shock, in the terms of "wow, why isn't the rest of the crossover this good?"    

Red Mass for Mars #1

Red Mass for Mars #1 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  Let's make it official: virtually everything Jonathan Hickman does is worth buying.  You say Jonathan Hickman's writing a comic book about pies?  Sold.  Jonathan Hickman's gonna take on a twelve-part maxi-series centering on the letters Q-T from the Wichita phone book?  Place that on a pull list.  He's the real thing, and this latest idea showcases his brilliance once again.  Admittedly, there's some confusing elements here -- what exactly is going on with Earth-834? -- but it works due to the through line of the Benefactor's take on tomorrow and the imminent threat to a human race already teetering after a host of plagues that border on the biblical.  Ryan Bodenheim's artwork is a pleasant surprise, merging Hickman's existing sense of visual style with both grandeur and intimacy, detail and grand scale.  Where did this guy come from?  Wow.

Chuck #1

Chuck #1 (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  Translating a property from one art form to another is tricky, and when the media are so disparate -- moving with sound to static and silent -- that can compound the complications.  Somehow, the team of Peter Johnson and Zev Borow (with amazingly accurate and entertaining art from Jeremy Haun) managed to capture the charm, the dry humor, the whimsy and the kinetic kick of the NBC series in this issue.  The title character's having weird dreams, few people are even interested in listening to him, and that leads to a confrontation with many of the people he's put away.  Admittedly, it would help if you were really well versed in the show, but even if you know next to nothing about who Chuck Bartowski is and why he's at the center of the activity of spies (and you don't, say, follow his Twitter) this issue's fairly open in showing what's going on.  Sure, some supporting characters -- Morgan for example, or Chuck's sister -- get short sheeted here, but there's two words that make it worthwhile, two words that you can safely say in the same way you'd say "Fat Cobra."  What are those words?  Captain Awesome.  For example: "Frequent travel to new and interesting places is one of my stalwart tips for being awesome."  Can we get this guy in a team book with Fat Cobra?  What would it take to make that happen?  

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Can that be right?  Six jumps?  Could this be the Best Week Ever ... for comics?  

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

Given how many books were so good that they demanded to be bought, the week's biggest emotional tug that didn't get 'er done was "The Twelve" #6, which centered on Rockman, telling a tragic tale that really gets you where it counts.  The problem is, there was more blah blah about the Phantom Reporter (least dramatic climax ever?), weirdness with the goth-inspiring Black Widow (no Soviet influence there), The Blue Blade's bad reviews, the arrest of the Laughing Mask and the problems Captain Wonder and Dynamic Man have in adjusting to the relative weirdness of the modern world.  Rockman worked, but the rest was kind of just retreading material this series has already covered.

"Drafted" #8 also worked well with the emotion as the invasion earth has prepared for happens a lot sooner than they expected.  This leads to mistakes and loss and carries a lot of the resonance and gravitas of "Battlestar Galactica," but does so in such a limited space that you can't really absorb the effect of the work.  Not bad, though.

The week's second biggest surprise is "Action Comics" #866, which got old school, seventies style, with Cat Grant and Steve Lombard (can we blame the All Star Superman influence for this?) in a Daily Planet editorial meeting that -- while being a bit small for a "major metropolitan newspaper" -- was one of the best Daily Planet scenes in years.  Now, as for what's up with the 35-years-ago flashback to Zod on Krypton and the considerably less chatty brain-jacking Braniac, well, that's less clear.  But Clark Kent handled his business even if his alter ego didn't.  

Another surprise was "Maglalena/Daredevil," which got its forced fight out of the way fast and led the two characters to fight on the same side, taking on a quest that no hero could argue with against an enemy that's unmistakably evil.  Sure, the story casts some dirt on the Catholic traditions, but some people consider that fashionable these days.  

Things went a little slow in "Huntress Year One" #3 where she talked about money and found a long lost relative (who had one of the week's best quotes: "Love isn't a feeling, it's a choice you make.  It's sacrifice. It's loyalty") but ultimately takes forever to do anything.  The dialogue was good, evoking some of the atmosphere of a good mobster movie, but this series could use a dose of pep.  Or maybe just lots more shooting.

Speaking of crime, "Punisher Max: Little Black Book" was not bad as Frank manipulates a high-powered courtesan (part Mayflower Madame, part Super Head ... look it up) into giving him access to a guy who's part Puff Daddy (yes, he's Puff Daddy again, so changing your ID3 tags was a waste of time) and part John Gotti.  Whatever could the Punisher want with a criminal cloaked in legitimacy?  Not bad, but fairly familiar.

"Narcopolis" #3 was considerably closer to being coherent (either that or its internal dialect just becomes more comprehensible with time) as it delved into secrets and drugs and deviant behavior.  "What's feeding on fear?"  A good question, and one that's starting to be examined smartly.  

The legacy and hype outshine the actual material in "Eternals" #1, which was solid with mystery and shows of power but is too scattered in its storytelling.  It fails to learn what this week's "Newuniversal Stormfront" does so well, and that makes its characters -- unfamiliar names in unusual situations, re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic in the face of the Secret Invasion -- not connect.

Tony Stark's old-school stylings (he's still the "bodyguard" here) are still working fairly well in "Iron Man: Legacy of Doom" #3, with a chase for old magical weapons driving him and Dr. Doom to fight it out in England (and with the relics in question, it's pretty weird not to see Captain Britain involved).  Not bad, but not good enough to spend money on.

Is Joe Casey enrolling in the [CREATOR NAME REDACTED FOR POLITICAL REASONS BUT YOU KNOW WHO HE IS] School of Drug Influenced Comics?  "Charlatan Ball" #1 is, to say the least, kooky, showcasing a fifth rate stage magician who gets dragged into a "Running Man" (the movie, not the book) styled magical conflict between relative equals.  It's interesting ... but confusing.  The art's a bit muddy too, but wow, these are some wild ideas flying around here.

Yes, there's still teenaged white furred gorilla commandos.  Aside from that, "Wonder Woman" #21 was pretty good with DIana enjoying a smidgen of the Kurt Busiek "Conan" approach, as she battles -- sans powers and praying to new gods (not like Darkseid and Highfather, just new to her) -- alongside Beowulf, who's playing his cards close to the vest.  

Things really happened in "Invincible" #50, which was a complete narrative and shakes up the status quo of this title (and a lot of the Kirkmanverse) in terms of business and pleasure.  This was much closer to the heights of the series than we've seen in some time, and that's almost good enough to buy.  

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

Don't blame this column -- "Night and Fog" #1 was not ordered by Comics Ink.  Some say "it's cruel to say that's a review in and of itself," but when a comics retailer who's never had a day without profit, largely done by understanding what his demographic will buy, it is a statement that doesn't need any real editorializing.  Sorry.  

"Skaar, Son of Hulk" #1 was too quick -- okay, he's the Hulk's son, that's not characterization, it's a note in his bio -- and too nondescript to recommend.

The High is exasperated at the "I'm not in the Matrix" mule-headedness of the heroes in "Number of the Beast" #5, but with each issue, this mini-series has gotten farther away from the focused characterization and tight plotting that made the first issue shine so brightly.  A wholly complicated character with politics and grudges, the High is just a random Superman analogue here.  That's sad.

"Hulk: Raging Thunder" is, in a word, stupid.  If you've watched "Boston Legal" this season, you'll recognize what happened in Thundra's time traveling tactics, but for all the build up of a gender-based war world you get so little actual story and development of ideas that it's not worth it.

"Lazarus: Immortal Coils" #1 could have gone either way, but with transitions that were way too jarring and a plot that couldn't settle on what it wanted to be (we're "Supernatural" here, no, wait, we're a bible story on ABC Family, oh, sorry, we're a rerun of "Blade" on Spike), the really interesting parts here -- that the biblical Lazarus is still alive and kicking ass -- got buried in fanfare and melodramatics.  In the spirit of full disclosure, it should be mentioned that friend of this column Vincent S. Moore is the script editor on this title.  So, you know, sorry.

If you're gonna try to snag interest, "Pilot Season: Lady Pendragon" #1, you probably shouldn't have started off with tons of continuity from an old series that many won't remember.  Your post-apocalyptic magical refugee camp (finding people from "Charlatan Ball?") could be interesting, but not with all this baggage.  

Didn't we almost have it all, "Last Defenders" #4?  Kyle Richmond dies the death of a thousand paper cuts as administrative kerfluffle from SHIELD slows him down in his quest for justice.  Interesting?  No.  On a good note, the Son of Satan seems ready to step up to the "A" plot, which could be more compelling.  This, however, ain't it.

"Booster Gold" #10 has lots of clues to the DCU's developments on a chalkboard, but it's just sad in every other way, how far this title has fallen.  The almost inevitable development they've been putting off is like a telegraphed punch, and that's not gonna do.  No, sweetie.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Eleven to eight still makes things work out.  That's not bad.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A near-unprecedented six jumps, the math indicating a week that was more good than bad, this is a winner in a big way.  Which hopefully will quiet some critics who say that this column -- and its writer -- hate everything.

... JUST TWO MORE THINGS

First, this columnist would write a monthly Fat Cobra/Captain Awesome title for free.  That's a fact.  Tell your friends.

Oh, right ... what is The Hundred and Four?

Tags: newuniversal shockfront, gamekeeper comic, salvation run comic

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