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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 DECEMBER 20TH, 2006

Fables #56 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

It’s time to get into the yuletide spirit, and Bill Willingham takes you on a ride with possibly the best known Fable of all. Bigby Wolf and Snow White get their kids ready for a holiday celebration, somebody else is getting ready for a long night of work. This simple tale takes a break from all of the central struggles in this title for a happy holiday for everybody. Well, sort of. There’s some ominous overtones near the end, but the story works well for even people who find Christmas abhorrent, with the always steady hands of Buckingham and Leialoha on art duties.

Code #1 (Guardian Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Not many people paid attention to Michael Davis’ nascent line of Christian-minded comics at San Diego or Chicago, because the traditional direct market audience is not exactly known for their piety. But with a script by veteran writer Mike Baron and detailed and dynamic art from Howard Simpson. The central thesis — a protagonist reminiscent of “Memento” finds himself divinely inspired to fight for right in a city called Crystal Hills — is developed with a surprising amount of atmosphere and nuance. There’s action, character development, smartly framed exposition … it’s entertaining, despite its clear and heavy handed religious overtones. A very pleasant surprise.

Civil War: War Crimes One-Shot (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. This reviewer has had a lot of negative things to say about the work of this comic’s writer, Frank Tieri. This? This is something different. The Kingpin makes a deal with Tony Stark (who more clearly made himself out to be a super villain this week than ever before) which … well, that’s the crux of things, isn’t it? There’s a very poetic tying together of things, using the narration of a subordinate as a framing device in an issue that doesn’t require a great deal of knowledge of the big crossover but shows all the characters in question in a fascinating light. Despite a few grammar errors (punctuation goes inside of quotation marks, children) the characterization on even throwaway supporting characters shines. and Staz Johnson’s art leans a bit on the Bart Sears school of over-rendering but ultimately works with smart story angles, even playing with a fascinating and little-known historical anecdote. The week’s biggest surprise.

G.I. Joe Special Missions: Antarctica (Devil’s Due Publishing)

Jump from the Read Pile. Back in the day, fans of the property could turn to the “Special Missions” title for stripped down soldier stories with a bit of an edge but no real threat, like a satisfying hourlong episode of “The Unit.” This is a return to those halcyon days, with the Joes’ snowbound troopers teaming with three series regulars to take on a nefarious plot at the south pole spearheaded by Tomax and Xamot. Toss in some really detailed file card pages and a backup story and you’ve got your five dollars worth. Fun stuff for nostalgic fans of the genre and harmless shoot-’em-up stuff for everybody else.

Testament #13 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Entering our more challenging reads, this issue brings forth a presence that terrifies both man and divinity, as Yahweh releases the ancient god Marduk from a primordial imprisonment as a desperate effort to tip the scales in their dispute with the other godly cabal. Meanwhile, powerful forces jockey for positions, through senate hearings and backroom politicking, debating the acceptance of a global currency model manifested through a mark on each person’s arm. Dangerously close to the realities we live in while laying over that a complex backdrop of spiritual conflicts between competing philosophies. A major uphill climb but worth it every step of the way.

Rex Mundi #3 (Dark Horse Comics)

Staying in the “brainy comic book” realm, France marches to war on two fronts as the Duke of Lorraine pursues what he feels is a divinely inspired path to power. Juan Ferreyra’s crisp artwork makes the historical fiction move and breathe as even an issue where mostly people just talk to one another is made vibrant. This issue seems to go by a bit quickly, but even down to the standard supplemental “newspaper page” at the end is jam packed with story elements and references to earlier issues. Also challenging but also rewarding.

She-Hulk #14 (Marvel Comics)

Not exactly lightening things up completely, this issue tells the amazing origin of Awesome Andy, showing how the Mad Thinker’s Super-Adaptoid found himself in the employ of one of Marvel’s most prestigious law firms. With a surprisingly effective amount of pathos and tragedy, Andy wrestles with the events of his life and makes a critical decision as changes abound for many of the firm’s familiar faces. Despite not having any facial expressions to work with, Rick Burchett takes Dan Slott’s effective script and makes Awesome Andy an evocative figure, desperate for some kind of direction in his life. Well done comics work all around.

Transformers: Escalation #2 (Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. The big climax from last issue turns out to be a red herring, driving the story as Megatron foments chaos amongst human societies without ever showing his hand. The Autobots are on the ropes against foes carbon-based and metallic while the Decepticons operate with impunity. E.J. Su’s art works well with the stiffer faces of the Autobots’ humaniform holographic visages, and Simon Furman is at the top of his game, proving again that he is the name in G1 Transformers storytelling. This mini is now a Buy Pile regular.

Checkmate #9 (DC Comics)

Sarge Steel is the central thorn in your side here (even though he’s not clearly identified until mid-issue, so you’d best know what you’re getting into here) as Checkmate has some inter-agency rivalry issues with the Department of Metahuman Affairs. One regular character will not make it out of this issue alive and Shadowpact makes an unbilled guest appearance. Not as good as some issues, but not bad.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

A big week of great comics, especially looking at the very surprising jumps.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

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

“Criminal” #3 kind of treads water this week, but the character interaction rings true and the dialogue works, even if the plot seems to stand still.

A final showdown with Vandal Savage stands at the center of the not-bad “Secret Six” #6, but the story doesn’t hold together very well at the beginning and despite some very fun character work from the Mad Hatter (plus quips about and by Deadshot that were quite amusing), it just barely missed the cut.

“Transformers Spotlight: Six Shot” would have been a clear winner with its brutal Simon Furman script … but the compelling story is hamstrung by art that’s incapable of depicting the grandeur and viciousness of the story.

“Shadowpact” #8 was very close to making it home, focusing on Ragman’s struggle, but fell down on the job by using the very stupidest of tactics by the issue’s Madrox-like antagonist. Alas.

“Civil War: Front Line” #9 was most interesting for how Stark showed his cards and essentially declared himself a kind of king, but the issue mismanaged the journalist plot thread.

Again, “Elephantmen” #5 had lots of interesting ideas … they just disappeared too quickly in this all-too-brief comic that probably costs more than it should.

“Union Jack” #4 was a bit naive and optimistic, but maintained a very solid Jack Bauer vibe through its jingoistic politics.

Speaking of politics, “Avengers: Illuminati” #1 had a lot of the bravado of a hegemonic superpower in a fun adventure yarn that makes a lot of Marvel’s big names not look so smart.

The well played Kansas City Shuffle in “Birds of Prey” #101 showed Babs not being the smartest girl in the room and had some fun misdirection and action pieces, but still not congealing into a whole story well enough.

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

The scattered holiday stylings of “52” #33? Here’s a short story about that: no.

Let’s say the same about “New Avengers” #26.

After “Iron Man/Captain America: Casualties of War,” Tony and Steve should just go get a room. All of that drama for a lot of chatter and flashbacks filtered through a fight scene? Eh.

While we’re on the subject of such parley, doesn’t the whole previous comic happen again in microcosm for “Iron Man” #14? Repetitive.

It also felt like Wade and Nate were breaking up in the least entertaining possible fashion in the very self-indulgent “Cable/Deadpool” #35 (so much so that Cable watches “The View” for Rosie … wha?).

Lots of whiny comics today, like “Ms. Marvel” #10 (how do you fight for a whole issue and still be whiny?) “Teen Titans” #42, “Thunderbolts” #109 (what’s up with that, Fabian?), “Ion” #9 and “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Volume 2” #4.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Close to a tie.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

The multiple jumps make the week solid, despite more whining and easy writing choices than needed in the reads.

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