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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 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 planned purchases) 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 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 MARCH 30TH, 2008

Blue Beetle #26

Blue Beetle #26 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. First of all, don't panic -- yes, most of this issue is in Spanish, but if you have any ability to read context clues (or, honestly, a big and interesting family dynamic) you should be able to figure out much of what's happening before you even see the all-English script given a few cognates. Jaime is bringing his super-powered girlfriend to meet his relatives at a family reunion, and he's not regarded with the same interest and respect that his azure alter ego is (he catches a soccer ball to the head very early on, and gets whapped a number of times after that). An emergency involving the super villain on the cover (what's he doing so far from Metropolis?) draws Jaime away (he even kept speaking Spanish when he was by himself) and forces him to have an interesting confrontation, which is nothing compared to what he goes through dealing with his grandmother. Normally, when a guest writer steps in after a storyline as amazing as the one John Rogers concluded in issue #25, it can be expected to be fluff without ramifications for the status quo. However, guest writer Jai Nitz steps up to the plate big time and delivers an issue that has some solid emotional moments, good action and a plot that seems convenient but ultimately makes sense. Perhaps the only criticisms one could have is that a direction from the script (where Traci is supposed to be in an astral form talking to Jaime) didn't quite get translated that way in the issue (which you'd almost never have known if the script wasn't included), and why exactly Jaime and Traci are flying upside down on the opening splash page. Still guest artists Mike Norton and Trevor Scott do an admirable job of depicting the characters in an interesting fashion that's clear and effective. Solidly entertaining in more than one language -- and that's quite a feat!

Noble Causes #33

Noble Causes ##33 (Image Comics)

Frost finally gets the spotlight, even if he's wearing this goofy looking outfit and that weird Phil Jackson-wannabe soul patch. The Nobles bounce through their everyday lives -- battling aliens in frozen wastelands, accepting awards and flying between continents -- while talking about past relationships, discussing fashion and, oh yeah, walking around with an assassin in their midst. True, nine whole pages are taken up by a rather bad experience for Frost, which is a bit too much. But it's not a bad issue, for all that.

Jack of Fables #22

Jack of Fables #22 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

NOTE: The image seen here is not the cover that was available at retail. Remember the simple laughs and charming scoundrel nature of this issue? Forget that -- this issue examines a bloody and murderous period of Jack's life where he ran an outlaw gang in the wild west. Of course, a runaway Fable causing that much trouble amongst the "mundys" can't go on forever, and that means Bigby's headed out west to bring Jack home. There's not much to laugh at here (a fact even acknowledged by tacking on a Babe the Blue Ox post script), and it's not bad ... it's just very different from what this series has done in the past. Jack's not harmless by any stretch of the imagination, so this is an interesting new illumination of his centuries-old character, and it could certainly be more bloody and brutal (it's not a Max title), but it's not what some might have been expecting if they weren't looking ahead in their Previews.

Immortal Iron Fist #14

The Immortal Iron Fist #14 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. The best word to describe this issue's events would be "smackdown" -- in two dimensions, martial artists and warriors clash and batter one another with no quarter asked nor given. Exquisite Speed Release! Blood-Hunger's Blade! The Stabbing Newlywed! Vaulting Mantis Spine-Snap! Hell's Unfurling Hurricane! 88th Son of War! Mistress of All Agonies! These and many other arcane and fascinating martial arts techniques (maybe real, maybe created for this series) fly fast and furious amidst huge explosions, overthrowing a government, some remarkable twists and turns for a wayward son and a shocking revelation. Plus, Misty Knight gets a hilarious monologue, we find out the last of Wendell Rand's sad story and something cool happens to Fat Cobra. Who doesn't love that? Deeply enjoyable.

Legion of Super-Heroes #41

Legion of Super-Heroes #41 (DC Comics)

Taking a page from the Initiative, the United Planets fields its own team of super-powered teens while the regime of Lightning Lad continues to experience trouble with two Legionnaires finding legal troubles while political troubles close in on them at every turn. The stock-manipulating digression doesn't seem interesting or important now, but will likely be referred to down the line. There's also an informative extra bit about how flight rings work and what they do. The issue is a bit Kirkman-esque, in that lots of things happen in sequence but it's not exactly a narrative or a story, per se, but it's interesting if the characters are already important to you.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Two jumps, solid reading all around ... no problems there.

Before we move on, it's time for ...

THIS WEEK'S DIAMOND SCREW UPS

According to retailer Steve LeClaire, this week Diamond saw fit to not ship him $2,500 worth of hard cover books he ordered. Anything that was a hard cover didn't show up at Comics Ink, which is a major pain in the butt for Steve on a week already light when it comes to comics available. The wonders of a monopoly ... moving on ...

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

While the Liberal Avengers, er, Luke Cage's team never actually appear in "New Avengers" #40, this issue has some merit in clearly telling the reader things that are widely suspected. The exact causes of and reasons for the Skrull's secrecy and selections are shown, with one hidden character revealed. The problem is, seriously, who are these Skrulls with such a beef? The Marvel Universe has had years to get to know the likes of Ronan and Lilandra and other stellar dignitaries ... but the Skrulls presented here as the great powers in the shapeshifter empire are as much of a cipher as their endless legions. Moreover, there hasn't been enough made out about the culture of the species to figure out why this was the path they chose. We know the Badoon and the Brood are naturally hostile, we know that the Shi'ar have an imperial bent and an ultimately aristocratic stance, and so on. Who are the Skrulls? Despite a full issue worth of focus, the only answer a reader could get here is "an enemy." Good to refer to, but likely well chronicled online and therefore not a must-buy.

"Elephantmen: War Toys" #3 was extremely close to making the jump as it showed the relentless force of Mappo's genetically engineered soldiers being stymied by a bred insurrectionist of a form they'd never have expected. However, the horrible realizations of the issue get very little room to breathe, as these stories almost always seem just a bit too short to really have the appropriate amount of impact.

A printing error on the opening splash page of "Action Comics" #864 didn't detract from this okay issue, where Batman shows disdain for time travelers and the legacies of multiple Legions come to bear on the present day. The framing device could only be done in the newly refounded multiverse, and while the attempt at having a moment between Garth Ranzz and Superman didn't fall flat, it didn't do much to support the issue, which worked more as a trailer for another story than as a story itself.

As always, "Black Summer" #6 brings the pain with fighting and more fighting and just in case you missed it, a healthy dose of fighting. It also implied some backstory with Frank Blacksmith and Tom Noir that's interesting but not given much room to breathe between the shooting and dying and what have you. This will probably play much stronger in the collected edition.

It's never a good sign when super geniuses (genii?) act dumb, but Ultimate Hulk makes the narrative work as Ultimate Stark goes all McGyver and Ultimate Pete Wisdom takes a page from the Max Lord playbook. Not bad in its wonderful little moments but all over the map as a whole.

"Wildguard: Insider" #1 collects a lot of the online materials and adds some guidebook styled data ... but all of it feels very scant and rushed. The red Rover story, for example, implies facts not in evidence and relationships that aren't very well fleshed out. The characters and personalities all sparkle and still entice, but again it doesn't carry out as a coherent whole with a smidge too much fluff.

"Thor: Ages of Thunder" was another "trailer comic," giving the Odinson a harder edge than readers may be used to (probably before the Don Blake days) and also making Amora the Enchantress much less of a jerk than she's been depicted (and maybe the root causes are here). But it essentially showed dead frost giants and displays the Asgardians as shmucks ... but in a big, mythic way. Not bad.

The villains in "Youngblood" #3 work well -- much more distinctive and determined than, say, the Blackthornes of "Noble Causes" fame -- and the focus tested guilt was clever. However, the big switcheroo for the last page had little resonance and the titular characters had little real impact either.

Los Angeles burns once again as a son of a Stane takes on Stark's pet project in "The Order" #10. Sadly, again a clear narrative focus is missing as the team runs this way and that, gets distracted and watches as the bodies stack up. There's almost enough room for the characters to shine, but not quite.

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

This column would have been happy to review "Helen Killer" #1 and "Green Lama: Man of Strength" #1, but they were not ordered at all by Comics Ink, which is a review in and of itself, actually.

The return of the "WTH?" award goes to the widely spoiled (even here at CBR) "DC Universe Zero," which couldn't really pull together an actual coherent thought. Batman plays Clarice Starling, Supes spends more time with his thirty-first century pals and Wonder Woman gets a bad job evaluation. It doesn't matter if Marv Wolfman wrote in this back door two decades ago. It ain't right.

"Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters" #8 was a "WTH?" runner up, with a fight scene that was so anonymous that you'll wish for the much better depiction of it from the first twelve issues of "The Authority."

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Unfocused but not abominable.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

This is a good week of comics, and even the things that didn't go right did so in an interesting fashion.

Tags: blue beetle, iron fist, jack of fables, legion of super-heroes comic, noble causes comic

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