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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 5TH, 2008

Jonathan Hickman's alternate history story delves deep into the minds of the men behind the guns, as a huge expedition of military men have volunteered for a one-way trip back to a couple of centuries past the turn of the millennium (the last one, not this one) with all the military might of the twenty first century.  What follows is mostly discussion -- told as a children's tale to a future emperor of the Rome that inherited this bloody legacy -- and it's fascinating ... if a little esoteric.  There's one minor battle, but when you put a modern fighting force (including satellite data, armor and assault helicopters) against guys in lame little skirts with spears and shields, it's not likely to amount to much.  High brow entertainment for certain, and the lengthy conversation pages don't really do much to differentiate the characters, but still quite interesting to see how this all leads to the child emperor.

Whoa.  The artist formerly known as Speedball has worked his way to Nitro for a final showdown, and Nitro has no idea what he's dealing with.  Y'see, for all Nitro's considerable power, he's not really much of a planner.  He blows stuff up and figures "that'll do."  However, not only does Penance have a comprehensive understanding of everything Nitro is capable of, he's had months of time to plan and prepare ... and it shows.  Paul Jenkins' script is very violent but very effectively packed with content, seriously considering the issues at the core of the Civil War with two simply poetic codas that bring everything wonderfully full circle, perfectly depicted by the moody and intense artwork of Paul Gulacy (with Rain Beredo on colors). This is a fantastic ending to the best mini in recent memory. 

This issue's title says it all: "F*** S**t Up."  Prodigal spy Zephyr Quinn is back at the E.M.P.I.R.E. moon base headquarters with disturbing agility, unerring aim and murder in her eyes.  Using the wonders of explosive decompression as a tactical tool, she dismantles scores of E.M.P.I.R.E. agents and effortlessly slices her way into the heart of the complex.  But what's her wild haired boyfriend doing?  Well, that's only to be discovered after the phantom menace makes its play.  A fun issue of kinetic mayhem and blowing stuff up, but the big gaspworthy scene (described in great detail by Fraction in his issue-ending commentary) goes by way too quickly in the space of two pages and some less-than-fascinating camera angles.  Given the reputations of the people involved, as well as their personal histories and animus towards one another, it just went by too fast.  No bitter admonitions, no dramatic twists of plot ... nothing, actually, to make E.M.P.I.R.E. look like it couldn't even handle Maxwell Smart, much less a seriously lethal operative.  The Larry Hama-esque silence of hash marked dialogue through most of the issue (it's in space suits, see, and there's no air to carry the sound -- clever) worked well.  If only that climax had been more ... well, climactic ...

Secret Invasion Saga One-Shot (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile.  This is the most effective comic of the week, not just because it's told interestingly and does some interesting character work for Marvel's most dangerous antagonist (Mister Tony Stark) but also because it's stark raving free.  Decried as "Skrull-a-ganda" by the store's hirsute late shift retail monkey, it actually tells readers virtually everything there is to know about Skrulls all the way back to Stan and Jack, taking into account weird stuff like that planet full of tommy gun gangster Skrulls and even explaining the intricacies of the Kree/Skrull conflict.  The things that aren't addressed are more strategic questions that the less-smart-than-advertised Stark doesn't even consider.  Why did the Skrulls not organize themselves for this sort of thing years ago?  More importantly, now that they have, who's the guiding intelligence behind this plan?  We now know that the machine mind that drove the whole "Annihilation: Conquest" storyline, in the fashion of Dick Cheney shaking hands with Saddam, was an Earth-born export ... so who got the Skrulls to clean up their act and show some ambition?  Stark doesn't even think to ask, too busy worrying about the fire on the ground and not the flamethrower up above, but it's fascinating source material, a decently told story and again, stark raving free.  Normally, Marvel puts out something free and it's one of those flimsy Daily Planet newsprint things with maybe a thousand words of new content in the whole thing.  Not this time, bucko -- this is a full fledged comic, featuring art from every era of Marvel history and a savvy throughline tying it all together.  Thanks, Marvel -- this is one of the best ideas you've had of late!

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Marvel showed up for the job in a major way, and even though Image made you work for it, it was all enjoyable nonetheless.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

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

"Omega One" #2 was again really good when it was intimate -- two characters playing cards on a train, or two others driving along in a car and revealing details about their personal history.  There were some copy editing problems ("Our covers was blown even before we left!") and the antagonists that were introduced had wholly two dimensional characterizations ("Black Russian?"  Seriously?), but the art's good and the banter's on a level that Bendis fans could appreciate.  A good way to make unfamiliar characters interesting, even if it could use some editing to balance out the pacing issues.

"JL/Avengers: The End," er, rather Dark Horse's "End League" #2 was also quite close to the mark, with its Batman, Superman, Thor and Lex Luthor analogues putting on quote a show.  However the same concern of balancing the great action sequences and the solid emotional content with a consistent pace of plot (drags in some spots, goes too fast in others) would help it a great deal.  

"Nightwing" #142 was an excellent example of how to work in a unified universe, as the young hero called on the assistance of Dr. Mid-Nite, his replacement in the bright costume and even borrowed his "father's" plane.  The lead made for a determined detective in a story that was as simple and genre-friendly as a CBS sitcom.  Which isn't a bad thing, per se, but it's not like reinventing the wheel or writing the industry's next masterpiece either.

"Invincible Presents: Atom Eve" #2 was great for the one liners of its federal agent antagonist ("Kill who? Terrorists?  Hippies? Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper? You're going to have to be more specific" and "Doc knows full well that treason is the reason for the season, and that season is Death Christmas!") but the tragic tale did little to make much of the title character's teen angst at being a government science project gone AWOL.  Not bad, but not great.

"Punisher War Journal" #17 took a long time to get where it was going in a somewhat tangential tale of sex and revenge as Frank's new tech support partner had some old business to deal with involving lost Stark technology and long lost colleagues.  Once it got there, the ending was quite satisfying, but there was a considerable drag in getting through the partially ponderous plot in the first place.

"Justice League: The New Frontier" special was best in its lead story, featuring DC's trinity working things out in the good ol' days (and again Superman proving not to be all that smart) but effectively tugging at your heartstrings.  The Robin/Kid Flash story kind of just sat there and the Wonder Woman/Black Canary invasion of Gotham's Playboy Club was needlessly treacly.  

Lots of fans will find "The Sisterhood" #1 interesting for its "Magdalena"-meets-"Exorcist" stylings and its beautiful, effective artwork (the fight scenes are superb).  However, the drab dialogue and general dourness of the coloring may not keep them.  

Speaking of fight scenes that get your adrenaline pumping, "The Ride: Die, Valkyrie" #3 was just plain exciting, centering on a car-hopping chase scene that was a work of beauty.  However, again the ending came on too quick, as if all the sturm und drang got out of control and the makers of the issue suddenly realized, "crap, we're outta pages in a bit!  Gah!"  A fun ride, but not much of a destination.  

Having a destination at all would have been an improvement for "The Twelve" #3, which was effective in showing how haunted the time-lost heroes of yesteryear are as they pad around the modern world like ghosts, lost looks in their eyes no matter how they try to cover it up (the Blue Blade with bluster, Dynamic Man with feats of heroism, and so on).  "Creepy" would be the best adjective for this, as nobody is at ease and everybody's a powder keg. As interesting as the moments in this issue are, it still sort of stood in place instead of getting anywhere, mostly covering ground handled in the previous issue.

Another case of "close but spinning its wheels" was "Scalped" #15, which had some great scenes of emotion between Bad Horse and the man he's assigned to take down and did some (maybe too much) building of a rapport with the orphan Sheldon over guns and beer. 

"Dominion" #5 had the same problem as "The Ride," as its big climax wasn't very big artistically nor did it take any time to have resonance.  Great mini overall, but it was over way too fast -- could have benefitted from an extra six pages or so, maybe ten. 

If you liked "The Twelve," the methodical stylings of "New Dynamix" #1 will probably work for you, heavy on ambiance and vanity with little actually happening and even less being clear to the reader as to why.  The art, however, is quite sumptuous but the story's merely "eh," even though there's plenty of latter-day deconstructionist room for it to get up and do something.

"Young Liars" #1 is for anybody who ever dated somebody really hot but really, seriously crazy.  The heiress to a retail chain has a bullet lodged in her brain turning off the parts that make you have inhibitions and common sense.  She may also be bullet proof.  Hard to know.  This issue was all set up but it created the beer-soaked and nicotine-scented realities of a particular bar scene and its regular inhabitants with loving care.  But the last few pages hinted at a wildly different direction (changing directions in mid issue? Risky) as sub plots spun unpredictably around.  

Remember the "Star Trek" episode "Mirror, Mirror" (or even the "Enterprise" episode In A Mirror, Darkly")?  Well, "Transformers Spotlight: Mirage" plays with similar concepts, showing a little bit of what it'd be like if the race car had gone bad instead of good.  Which has a number of interesting points ... but does nothing to explain why Mirage has such ambivalence in his CPU, regardless of his allegiance.  The file card on the back of the toy did more for his character than this issue, which was well drawn and heavy on Elseworlds-styled plot but short on motivations for anybody.

"Fear Agent" writer Rick Remender takes over on "All-New Atom" #21, showing a much more scienc-y Ryan Choi (while not abandoning the madness of Head and his pal Panda), taking a page from the Reed Richards playbook ... but little of the actual genius.  Choi's a decent enough scientist, but he surely isn't ready for half of what he runs into, and that's entertaining and saddening in turns (but never at the same time).  

In "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" #12, there's one of the most awkward post-sex conversations in all history, and that's hilarious.  To say more would spoil too much, but Buffy's not as smart as she needs to be and gets caught with her pants down in a way that has nothing to do with the aforementioned sex.  Which is okay, but nothing special.  If it was for free on TV, it'd be great, but for money? Eh.

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

Two issues this week had covers that had to be seen to be believed.  Sandy, can we roll that clip?

The first one, as you could probably guess, is for "Cable" #1, which ... well, let's start with the cover and work our way in.  First of all, the child strapped to Cable's chest (the baby from "Messiah Complex") is barely the size of one of his hands.  Which, at best, is probably not healthy.  Second, this cover prompted screams of "YOU CAN HAVE YUIR COMICS -- I'LL TAKE YUIR BABY!  GET IN MAH BELLY!"  Which was funny, but probably not what Marvel intended.  Then we get into the actual comic itself, and hoo boy ... a while ago, they did a comic where Vandal Savage and the Immortal Man fought each other endlessly over tens of thousands of millennia.  This felt like the opening round of that, as Cable's hiding in the future (2143 to be exact, but which timeline and which "earth" it is could be anybody's guess) and he gets chased down by the X-universe's newest stick-up-his-butt candidate (also a major player from Messiah Complex, but who cares).  The "story" here (and that term is used loosely) didn't have enough meat on its bones to feed Lara Flynn Boyle.  

The cover text, for some reason, isn't on the image you see here from "DC Special: Raven" #1, which said (and this is not an embellishment) "Now in her own emo title."  As if they'd said, "Well, we were gonna give you a 'hippie' title or one of the 'cheerleader' titles, but we decided to stick with 'emo' after all ..."  For the lead in an "emo" title, her high school alter ego dresses in some bright colors, and the prescient teen angst bit with not fitting in and a technological slant on a Marv Wolfman-era Crisis artifact just fell flat all around.  Emo titles and malformed midget babies.  Urf.

The same way that "Casanova" got an issue-long fight right, "Midnighter" #17 got it wrong as the protagonist fought ... uh, a guy in a tie?  Who is that guy?  The solicitation said he's "Assasin8, a hitman genetically designed to mimic the Authority's heroes."  Uh, okay.  You'd be hard pressed to find that data anywhere in here.  Plus, if he can mimic the Authority, why not, oh, be like Apollo and fly?  Or be like the Doctor or Jenny or the Engineer and use distance attacks?  Why spend so much time getting kicked in the face?  Was he genetically designed to waste time?  Way too little going on here for it to be worth the money.

In "Dynamo 5" #11, the team proves themselves to be dangerously stupid in their sheer lack of having a clue, setting themselves up as federal criminals and probably leaving room to get killed as well.  If you like seeing the people in a comic run around without a clue and walk headlong into needless danger, well, this has it for you.  If you like smart stories, you should move along ...

"Green Lantern" #28 was embarrassingly rote as you see the starts of Red and Orange Lanterns (that's not a joke), a very Maximus the Inhuman/Irina Derevko styled cellhouse monologue from Sinestro that bordered on the ominous and an almost predictable showing of incompetence from the Guardians (Manhunters, Hal as Parallax, Sinestro ... have they ever gotten anything right?) who essentially let all of this happen.  Oh, and nobody's impressed at seeing the Controllers back. 

BRRRRING!  BRRRRING!  Hello?  What's that?  All right, hang on, let's see ... is there an "X-Force" #2 here?  There's a call from "Annihilation: Conquest," they say you're poaching their "big bad" as a plot element?  They sound pretty mad ... oh and something about the "bloodying up the variant cover is lame" ... no idea what that's about ...

"Supergirl" #27 has done it -- "Superman/Batman" is no longer the worst monthly title on the stands, this is.  Wow.  In a digression even said to be pointless within the pages of this comic, Kara again wanders into the future (four hundred years this time) and looks dumbly as people talk at her and she consistently fails to comprehend ... or use her powers to get more information ... or generally be less of a doofus.  

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Oh, it wasn't that bad.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Fantastic freebie, solid buys, tolerable reads and even some laughs in the worst of it ... that's a good week by anybody's standards, especially with "Highwaymen" and "Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall" both out in softcover this week.

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