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WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?

Every week Hannibal Tabu (journalist/novelist/poet/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 books that are too good to not own) 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 thoughts about all of that … something like this …

THE BUY PILE FOR JANUARY 4TH, 2007

NOTE: Due to the Kwanzaa holiday and being drunk in a football-tinted haze for New Year’s, two weeks worth of purchases are lumped together. Enjoy.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #9 (Marvel Comics)

Twelve pages of this comic book are filled with splash pages of the Nextwave team fighting their way through … well, it’s hard to really say, but they move inexorably right (pagewise) like an aggressive offensive strategy on a “Street Fighter” game. The things you’ll see … well, they’ll haunt you. Homicidal Wolver-monkeys of varying sizes. Laser eyed Stephen Hawkings. Elvis heads on MODOK bodies. Aliens and helmeted tigers and … you might wake up screaming for weeks, especially with parenthetical captions like “Nextwave are in your room and touching your stuff.” But you’ll love every insane moment of it. The very definition of “good crazy,” this is a spectacle without sense and we’re all the better for having it.

Punisher War Journal #2 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. “Sweet Christmas” indeed. If you took the anemic plot of “Civil War” #6 and actually had some fun with it, it might look a lot like this very interesting comic book which places Frank Castle and Steve Rogers side by side fighting against the pro-registration forces … without killing anybody. The tension between these two drives the issue, as does Matt Fraction’s brutally funny off-the-cuff narration for the title character. From the condescending “interview” that opens the issue (“My ways stopped Hitler, boy!” “No, sir, the Russians stopped Hitler, but I see your point.” Fantastic) to the chaperoning Cap has for Punisher in the field, the fact that Punisher actually admires the living legend shines through even as Cap is too myopic to see how he could actually affect Castle. The matter of factness here takes the gallows humor of Ennis’ original “Welcome Back, Frank” storyline and ratchets it up into sheer homicidal bemusement … and that’s just about right, tonally. Fantastically entertaining even after multiple reads.

Justice #9 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Billy Batson has a bad day as the machinations of Braniac and Luthor become even clearer. Mostly focused on the Earth’s Mightiest Mortal, the forces of evil have developed a way to turn the heroes, and it’s up to some mad science to help develop a fix. A lot of interesting story in a small space, all with Alex Ross’ evocative artwork (“This is my greatest enemy” being a surprisingly nuanced panel that says a great deal) and some interesting combinations of multiple villainous techniques. Plus, the Black Adam entry in the back is really interesting, seeing the character through the eyes of the Bat. Good stuff.

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A to Z #12 (Marvel Comics)

Does all this talk of a Winter Soldier have you wondering, but not enough to dig through a bunch of back issues? Screw that — you can have the whole deal on him right here, alongside the true danger inside Marvel’s cockroaches, the working class roots of the latest Union Jack, the fact that Christopher Priest’s “Black Panther” materials might still be in continuity despite the “rebooting” of the current series and the full 411 on Reed Richards’ dangerous little brother. So much value in such a small space.

Public Enemy #2 (AME Entertainment)

Jump from the Read Pile. The biggest detraction is the tendency for some of the faces to look identical after a while. However, with solid action and an intriguing plot, this action adventure based loosely on the historic rap group is surprisingly engrossing with an interesting take on the super soldier concept and oh yeah, blowing up the White House. Always fun — even all that drama with the Ultimates only actually poked holes in it. If Adam Wallenta and Komikers Studio had a smidge more art chops, this would be a sterling accomplishment. As it is, it’s still well worth the effort to get.

Black Panther #23 (Image Comics)

Warning: The cover image shown from original solicitation is not the one that was available at retail. There’s surely no pomp or circumstance in the funeral for Bill Foster, while T’Challa gets a bit of nagging from home, the US political machine fights a media campaign against the Lord of the Wakandas and Captain America does things the hard way, continuing characterization from “Frontline,” “War Journal” and other titles. Leaning closer to the old Priest “West Wing”-influenced energies but with greater transparency, this is very involved and very smart material, plopping the chief of the Panther Clan in the very middle of things. One of the best reads of the stack.

Jack of Fables #6 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Always on hand to solve any lack of scoundrel you may have in your life, we get a first hint at how the brutal and murderous Lumi the Snow Queen became that way, looking back at her sweet and welcoming youth. Sure, the virtually monochrome cover does little to hook you, as Jack and some escapees blow some time with a story, but given the skill and deftness of the digressions alone, this is one deeply funny comic book with a clever and enthralling narrative. See, once upon a time our dear title character — who has already been Jack the dragon slayer and the Jack of beanstalk fame — was also Jack Frost, and the means he used to get that title … well, it’s complicated. In a good way. Bill Willingham’s balance of moods in the story and managing of characters is simply masterful, and the Aragones-level of detail that Matthew Sturges and Steve Leialoha bring to this work, along side Daniel Vozzo’s “just right” coloring … simply wonderful.

Winter Soldier: Winter Kills One Shot (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. One of the biggest surprises of the season. A ghost of Christmas past gets an unwelcome reminder of his own history on one of the loneliest nights of the year, and ends up smacking Hydra around with Nick Fury pulling the strings. Brubaker pulls some really nice surprises out of his sack, and without needing a lot of editor note boxes this leans heavily on continuity points to impress the fanboys but that don’t leave the neophytes out in the snow, metaphorically speaking. A really fine piece of work.

Scarface #1 (IDW Publishing)

Jump from the Read Pile. The end? Yeah, that wasn’t the end — Tony Montana is back, and he’s not happy. Tossed back down to the bottom, he’s reliant on the kindness of federal agents and bereft of power and fortune. But he’s still got his balls and his word, and more importantly he’s still got an indomitable will that makes virtually anybody in his way no more of an impediment than a stiff breeze. John Layman perfectly captures the frustration and the ruthlessness of the character, and his “Puffed” collaborator Dave Crosland is picture perfect in depicting the madness of the movie’s Miami in this post “Grand Theft Auto” world. A great leap down the rabbit hole.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #2 (Marvel Comics)

Big ideas and big threats collide as Ultimate Thanos shows himself to be Somebody Serious. Reed’s catching up, but all too slowly, as Ultimate Ronan (who, again, is Thanos’ son here) closes in mercilessly and things build towards … something. Something big. Saying much more would be considerably too big of a spoiler, but again strength of will (in the case of Ultimate Ben Grimm) helps save the day and while the world of Pyx is supposed to be oppressive and grim, a bit less muddiness in Justin Ponsor’s colors would make this stand out even more than it already does.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #25 (DC Comics)

The W/KRP Legion adds another legendary name to its roster, a certain red-costumed Daxamite whose name has echoed through history. Borrowing snippets of the future’s legacies, the Legion finds its opposite number in the Wanderers (although fans online are already using the acronym “LSV” for what they will probably end up being called) and ends up breaking a lot of their own headquarters while looking for solutions, all while tossing around quips and banter that would make Peter Parker (the real one, not Tobey’s boring self) proud. The true accomplishment of Waid’s take on this — taking already interesting concepts and characters and adding a dash of this or a pinch of that and making them compelling — works wonders on the Wanderer’s warlord. Fun, funny, smart and interesting … one can only hope Duplicate Boy and Tyroc have something this interesting in store.

Newuniversal #2 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. All right, now it’s all coming together. Project Spitfire is made out as a countermeasure while hints of the Bleed and Ellis’ work on “Planetary” leak in as the universe is trying to tell us something really rather important, if only we’ll learn how to listen. Again, everything old is much smarter now, as this issue manages to get the disparate concepts — Justice, Star Brand, Night Mask — to make sense as a whole. DP7? Psi-Force? Kickers, Inc? Not yet. But so far is definitely so good, and in two issues a whole new continuity is looking … interesting.

Wolfskin #2 (Avatar Press)

Jump from the Read Pile. Ellis strikes again, going from a glimpse of the future to a mean-spirited look at the past. Trapped in something of a logic puzzle, a wandering barbarian who’s smarter than anyone wants to admit finds himself stuck in a sort of “Red Harvest” puzzle, but simply does not want to play a game he considers futile. Lies, betrayal, bloodshed, threats, honor … yes, sometimes the old ways were best.

All Star Superman #6 (DC Comics)

A refreshingly emotional tale that still uses the whimsy and awe available to the character, Clark Kent faces one of his last seasons in Smallville as a wholly impossible threat comes to Smallville to take the one thing even Superman can never get back. The central conceit of the story is a bit of Kansas City Shuffle that may be obvious to some, but still has a certain charm that makes this a very good issue. Quietly depicts a lot of it in big action shots and intimate close ups, but Morrison is at the lead with Lana Lang saving the universe and Clark literally talking to himself. Can we make sure this series never stops? Please?

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Here’s a short story about these comics: wow.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

NOTE: Due to the fact that stuff really piled up with Kwanzaa, we’re just gonna list titles here this week. Back to more explanations of the “why” next week, honest.

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

Close but no cigar: “Atom” #7, “Flash” #7, “JSA Classified” #31, “JLA Classified” #20, “CSI: Dying In The Gutters” #5, “Ultimate Vision” #2, “Boys” #6, “Scalped” #1, “Supergirl” #13, “Blue Beetle” #10, “Heroes for Hire” #5, “Ultimate Power” #3.

Not great but not awful: “52” #34 and #35, “Superman” #658, “Justice League of America” #5, “Nightwing” #128, “Superman Confidential” #3, Ms. Marvel #11, “Civil War” #6, “X-Isle” #4, “Midnighter” #3, “Detective Comics” #827, “Connor Hawke” #2, “Daredevil” #92, “Iron Fist” #2, “Onslaught Reborn” #2 (really), “Annihilation” #5, “Astonishing X-Men” #19, “Fear Agent” #10.

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

“Superman/Batman” #31, “Uncle Sam & The Freedom Fighters” #6, “Fantastic Four: The End” #4

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

A great gift — so few comics that sucked.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A fantastic holiday season filled with great entertainment. Happy Kwanzaa to us, every one!

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