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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 APRIL 23RD, 2008

Checkmate #25

Checkmate #25 (DC Comics)

There are a lot of characters in the DC universe.  Over a number of decades, any decent combined continuity will develop hundreds of characters, primary and ancilliary, and many times some of them will get cast aside and forgotten.  It’s particularly wonderful when someone finds one of these perfectly functional old toys and gives it a new life.  For example, Checkmate is an organization based on chess pieces, with The Rule of Two (one extrahumans for every normal human) for every “position.”  But until last issue, all that had ever been seen was bishops, pawns, knights, a king here, a queen here.  Any chess player knows that rooks are very powerful and very carefully played pieces, only brought out in the most dire of situations and not to be used lightly.  So Checkmate finally has to use its rooks for the last chapter of the story “Castling” (if you play chess, you know that “castling” is a move a player can do to protect his king by having a rook move between him and danger).  The rooks — a lethal chief warrant officer, the magical scion of a super villain, a new G.I. Robot and a sassy western-themed bounty hunter — are sent in when all of the forces Checkmate can marshal are stretched thin, fighting a Kobra-conceived outbreak of mutates in cities around the world.  What makes this issue so amazing is how Rucka and Trautmann’s script (with no need to slight the communicative visual storytelling from Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson, Travis Lanham and Santiago Arcas on colors) make these four characters so alive, so dangerous and so fascinating in such a small amount of space.  There was still room for the Checkmate royals to have appropriate panel time, for Batman to glare his way through some interrogation and even for a pair of bishops to fit in some exposition.  Really good as craft and entertainment, all around.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #53

Ultimate Fantastic Four #53 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  Now this is the way to show that Reed Richards is really, really smart.  Things look bad, as Ultimate Thanos wields the power of the Ultimate Cosmic Cube, sending the forces of the Ultimates out as his personal shock troopers to conquer the troubling world that’s so eluded him all while keeping Johnny and Sue as pets.  Of course, this comic isn’t called “Ultimate Thanos,” so the idea of his ultimate inability to keep the team down isn’t much of a surprise.  But the means through which the struggle is consummated is a wonderful piece of written origami, folding in on itself and making itself possible in the way that only a story with a McGuffin as wacky as a Cosmic Cube could pull off.  Along the way, Ben Grimm’s banter with Ultimate Thanos’ petulant daughter Atrea is amusing and fleshes out their characters.  The simple determination of Ben, the focused brilliance of Reed, it’s all here and it’s great.  This take on the character of Thanos grounds the concept in myth and lore, making it so much more than its conflicted 616 counterpart.  Really rather remarkable.

Secret History of the Authority: Hawksmoor #2

Secret History of the Authority: Hawksmoor #2 (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  A posthuman detective story with noirish touches wrestling with the personality of San Francisco as a virtual character, where the last issue levitated, this one soars.  Jack leaps across rooftops, chasing down scant clues about a mysterious murder, all while hearing the harrowing history of an unheralded woman with powers of her own.  The language here is particularly enthralling, with lines like “Her eyes sparkle like diamonds and I can feel her trying to stab me with a look. Her voice has steel in it … but it’s not cold” and “outside in the city, the night presses up against the glass, as if we’re being watched.”  To say much more would be to spoil the story elements — sparse, but intense — so suffice it to say that this script by Mike Costa does so much more than show up for work.  Fiona Staples’ artwork is moody and rough hewn, much like the energy of the story itself and a perfect fit, its effects and tricks doing a great job in conveying the sometimes altered reality in which the protagonist inhabits.  Great work.

G0dland #22

G0dland #22 (Image Comics)

Much of this issue is taken up by exposition and a story that’s essentially Ben Kenobi on the first Death Star (“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine …”) played out on a Galactus, Beyonder level.  Which is cool, in a way.  Adam Archer also cries and whines a bit.  What happens in the last quarter of the issue is almost the textbook definition of deus ex machina (almost never a good thing) while lunatic super villains monologue on a rooftop overlooking Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.  Not one of the series’ highest points, but still interesting.  

Fables #72

Fables #72 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Everything that happened last issue serves as groundwork for more of Cinderella’s impressive spy showing, struggling against the insidious influence of Ambassador Hansel and his hirelings.  What’s weird here is how indistinct Leialoha and Buckingham’s artwork is in places, as a character named Alben looks like he was partially carved and then left unfinished (he’s human, not a wooden soldier, which could have cut him some slack), but still they nimbly depict car chases and gunfire on two continents and lets Cindy kick butt in a really relentless fashion.  One character has a really stupid speech that’s like talking Hamburglar into cutting back on sugar (really, what’s with his face? He looks like James Cagney’s identity threw up).  Still, a good thrill ride for anyone and still plenty entertaining for longtime fans.  

Thor #8

Thor #8 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  Thor has one of those really good sit down talks with the spirit of his father, Odin.  Of course, since they’re Viking gods, that honest emotional communication requires bloodshed and killing and swinging of massive instruments of war.  As it should.  Meanwhile, Donald Blake makes a trip back to New York for an interesting but sadly myopic visit with Jane Foster and you get a fresh look at why Loki is in Asgard at all.  Deceptively simple where it moves its emotional resonance just below the surface.  Also, the art from Marko Djurdjevic, Danny Miki and Crimelab Studios is epic and keen — its bit with Don Blake’s exodus from New York is spot on, and the big battle splash page is a poster waiting to happen.  

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Four amazing issues that continue to succeed on rereads, two solid ones that don’t let you down.  Great start.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

While last issue made it home, “Number of the Beast” #2 just missed the mark despite an interestingly complicated story focused on character dynamics.  The problem is that this super-team takes a long time to figure out anything (really? Sending people out for a bible? You have a scrying pool but not the internet?) and a super villain enjoying some “Crazy Dr. Baltar” time to rant to himself.  It worked in places but not as a whole, but still is well worth watching.

“Hulk vs. Hercules: When Titans Clash” had some moments of interest as it used a framing device involving Athena telling Amadeus Cho a story while they sat in a restaurant.  In the story, the Hulk and Hercules fight pointlessly and then team up, which is very predictable, while the spectator-esque nature of everyone around them is harder to grasp (and, fun fact, Hulk is apparently stronger than some actual gods).  This story relies heavily on the cyclical nature of many European pantheons, meaning that no story is ever over, they all just take pauses.  Plus, is it that hard to see Ares as a super villain again?  As with the previous comic, better in its moments than as a coherent whole.

“Justice League of America” #20 was very close to making it home, a cute done-in-one story about the stress of balancing the life of a hero against the demands of life as a man, husband and father.  Featuring the Flash (taking a lot of ribbing) and Wonder Woman, the cover deceives in that what it depicts never actually happens (although it has happened to virtually every other opponent of Zazzala).  Wally West’s sense of humor and narrative voice serves this issue well, making the characters easier to relate to.  Had it not cost $52.79 to fill the tank, this would have been a no-brainer to take home.

“Star Wars Legacy” #22 wasn’t bad, a fast paced issue with saber-swinging struggles between Sith and Imperial Knights (imagine neutral Jedis serving the descendant of Baron Fel) in an issue featuring genocide and forced frenemies.  The characters are a little hard to get a grasp on, but the plot’s solid. 

“1001 Arabian Nights: Adventures of Sinbad” #0 was good in quality and bad in quantity, featuring almost enough swashbuckling story to work, making pirates and ninjas work without their normal cadre of cliches by diving headlong into bombasticity.  

The teen tension in “Young Avengers Presents” #4 was pretty good, as the new Vision makes his own decisions, considering questions of identity and origins while dealing with a very boring and banal incursion from AIM.

The three teams were mildly interesting in “Shadowpact” #24 as versions of the team from three eras chased down the Sun King, a simple but effective antagonist with equal parts Solaris, Darth Vader and Mordru in his machinations.  Shame there wasn’t more time to flesh out the characters, particularly the ones from the future.  

“Transformers Spotlight Grimlock” apparently didn’t run a spell check, as “strenght” made it to print (proper spelling: “strength” — even Grimlock would know that) but still managed to tell an all-right tale of a shipwrecked mechanoid who’s in over his head, battling old enemies with new masters.  It showed none of the modern cunning the character’s Cybertronian version has showcased nor none of the goofy malevolence of the older, cartoon-influenced version.  

“Birds of Prey” #117 went by a bit too quickly, with Misfit finally not making a complete ass of herself and Babs thinking too hard for her own good. 

Surprisingly, “Supernatural: Rising Son” #1 wasn’t bad, with a haunted father struggling with his Fox Mulder-esque quest all while trying to be a strong figure in the lives of his two sons.  With some help on the pacing (too scatter shot) and a more detailed art team, this really coulda been something.

“Dynamo 5” #12 was okay.  It wasn’t bad, with a challenging rescue and being confused and all, but it wasn’t great either.

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

“Death of the New Gods” #8 was stupid, as it just served as a set up for that previous Darkseid issue of “Countdown to Final Crisis,” and Superman could not have been more ineffective and insipid.  Seriously, Darkseid went on for what felt like four pages of chatter.  Back before editors were this overworked, such a barrage of blather would never have made it to the shelves.  However, the first page regarding New Genesis and Apokolips was cool, even though it led to something stupid.  

“Hulk” #3 was dumb just because it was so vacuous, with the blue Abomination not being much of a character (stealing his whole shtick from the classic Jade Jaws) all to manufacture a fight scene.  Information is almost given out in this vapid script, but not quite.  At least the art’s nice.

The long national nightmare is almost over with “Countdown to Infinite Crisis” #1, which featured more of Mary Marvel’s completely uncharacteristic yelling and fighting, an old school Omac look (is that an alternate future?), a whiny Jimmy Olsen relationship moment (sweet spirit singing, who could possibly care?) and a general feeling that things are slowing down enough to allow Grant Morrison time to load up all the drugs it will take him to write the next installment of this fiasco.  

Despite a fun surprise about Agent Sum and more craziness from Aaron Stack, “Ms. Marvel” #26 is still just pondering and punching with Skrull misdirection and SHIELD doing their Keystone Cops routine.  Really, who’s buying this?  Why?  Seriously!

A very pointless character is once again resurrected in “Superman/Batman” #47, which finds a lot of Kryptonite in the hands of people happy to use it, plus Amanda Waller makes another teflon appearance and it looks like somebody’s still using the Ultramarines handbook, or making a Kryptonian-focused Bizarro Dynamo 5.  Neither of which seems like that effective an idea.  

Remember when Jen Walters was smart?  “She-Hulk” #28 has her whiny, tricked and — best of all — tossed in jail.  Here’s a short story about the title’s direction and the surly state of its protagonist: no.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

More good than bad, again.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

All signs point to “yes,” as three jumps and several close calls make this week feel like it was fun to read comics.  

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