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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 NOVEMBER 15TH, 2006

Astro City: The Dark Age (Book Two) #1 (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

The year is 1976. In the words of Wu-Tang Clan, “the glorious days are gone, and everybody’s doing bad.” This issue catches up with the brothers Royal and Charles Williams who haven’t spoken in three years. Astro City is sinking deeper into a malaise of spirit and its brightest lights, its heroic community, is not immune. This issue maintains an interesting diptych and tells each brother’s story in parallel as they are forced into much more complicated situations than they would prefer. Busiek, as always, delivers the goods with mood and dialogue, and Brent Anderson’s storytelling has never been better. The only possible complaint is that “Astro City” should be a much less infrequent treat.

Blade #3 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Many people don’t appreciate how hard it is for a comic book to make the grandiose leap from “something read” to “something bought.” The comic, in hand, can be examined in its entirety at the reviewing point in the store, but on sheer quality, it has to overcome both a hugely jaded body of intellectual property knocking around inside the reviewer’s head as well as the economic realities of trying to spend as little as possible for as much really good material as can be found. Sometimes — last week’s “Dr. Strange: The Oath” #2, for example — within a few pages it’s apparent that this is too good to be left in the store, and it immediately gets tossed into the promised land. But projects are often assisted by early press, marketing support, buzz on the street, or even a prediction towards the character, or what have you. Sometimes an issue has to work harder, to climb the hill through sheer grit and determination. This issue did that — with a clever premise at its heart (Blade on a date that goes really, amazingly wrong) and a plot that’s both plausible and fascinating (it has everything from a funny interrogation to pulse pounding action, all depicted by the sure hand of Mister Howard Chaykin), every page kept saying, “I’m gonna make it!” And it did — a witty, tense, unpredictable and entertaining product that’s worth your money and wins you over in every panel.

Testament #12 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

NOTE: The cover shown here is not what was available at retail. In a much more esoteric vein, this issue of “Testament” is all about changing the rules. The central conceit of this title is a war amongst divine energies — Jehovah and Elijah teamed up with Krishna pitted against Astarte and Moloch and Atum-Ra. Their battle is waged through modern and biblical stories that “occur in real time.” But the complication here, as Krishna said, is “Humans must never learn that the text keeps changing …” So when Krishna and Astarte go off the reservation and have sex with each other it throws traditional readings into an improvisational mode, with details smudging and “characters” making new decisions not guided by some otherworldly plan. Easily as challenging as “Rex Mundi” and completely worth it.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #26 (Image Comics)

Ultimate Thanos is coming, and he … well, he’s something else entirely. Mike Carey’s take on Ultimate Marvel’s first … teens? Right … anyway, his take on the mythos has taken Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben into graphically uncharted territory. Thanos, who periodically “communes” with death (like being dead for tax purposes, one would suppose) and doesn’t bother traveling to other world, simply manifesting wherever he chooses, using a mortal “vessel” to contain “the presence” before burning that body out. Which in and of itself leads to a very interesting last page, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Pasqual Ferry’s moody, ethereal artwork (combined with perfect coloring of Justin Ponsor for the muted world of Pyx and the dreamy and beleaguered planet of Halcyon) hits every right note here in helping Mike Carey do something with the FF that used to be commonplace — instill a sense of wonder, a glimpse at possibilities beyond our own framed in the familiar perspectives of four archetypical characters struggling to make things work. From Ben’s outburst to Sue’s irritation, the characters breathe and think and decide and experience, and we’re along for one magnificent ride.

Checkmate #8 (DC Comics)

Perhaps not a metahuman-minded “Donnie Brasco,” Checkmate’s undercover op in trying to infiltrate the Kali Yuga cult of Kobra is complicated by rival agencies not coordinating properly and less-than-competent perpetrators paving the road to the mission objective. A deft mix of the kind of plotting you might enjoy on shows like “The Unit” or “Law & Order: SVU,” all of the personal conflicts and internal pressures don’t distract from the central plot, they frame it in a smart way. Really interesting work from Rucka and Saiz, making the DCU a much more interesting place.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Five for five — rock solid.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

“Civil War” #5 was only worth looking at for its tiny moments — a battered Captain America staring at Frank Castle and wondering how far to go, Daredevil delivering a “thirty first” piece of silver to Tony Stark in a wonderful metaphor. The story, centering on who’s switching sides (Someone should have said, “hold up, they get Invisible Girl and the Human Torch, and we get a Young Avenger and this wanna be Moon Knight? What’s up with that?”) is less interesting than the symbolism behind it.

Why do characters keep saying “52” in “52?” This week’s 28th issue was fairly meta, featuring a wild Red Tornado that’d make Cassandra Nova proud and the almost-not-laughable origin of Catman.

“Union Jack” #3 is Brit-spy-tastic with clever punching and snappy dialogue, making it almost as good as the high points of the “Mystique” series from a few years ago, but with less compelling characters (although Sabra is kind of making a name for herself).

The tight plot of “Birds of Prey” #100 mostly made up for some missteps in clarity early on, trying to maintain some mystery (which was better maintained by the “undercover” identities of some of her newly chosen ad hoc operatives) with Barbara as Charlie with lots of Angels and Canary settling in to the mommy role elsewhere.

“Cable/Deadpool” #34 played a fun time-travel gag (once again infuriating G.W. Bridge) but ended very weakly.

The “holy Madrox” tint on the main antagonist of “Shadowpact” #7 was likewise less interesting than the goings on in the bar around Detective Chimp.

There was a lot to like about the script of “Thunderbolts #108,” which had a story so big it could have easily been its own crossover, but for the first time Tom Grummett and Gary Erskine couldn’t fulfill Fabian Nicieza’s ambitions artistically.

“Green Lantern Corps” #6 was not bad, carried largely on the charm of Kilowog (how did he get so pink and undead and un-energy form again?) and Guy Gardner, but it’s still a long way from being good.

“New Avengers” #25 was a fairly fun thriller, with a disgruntled former employee bringing Tony Stark (and Avengers Tower) to a standstill and SHIELD’s Maria Hill getting a clue while setting up the big Rich Johnston-revealed spoiler from a few weeks ago. But a reader paying even a little bit of attention could see the story beats coming like a slow-moving haymaker.

You have to love the gags and the banter of “Invincible” #36, but there’s nothing that could be even loosely referred to as a story here, as some stuff happens, then some other stuff happens, and then more stuff happens. It’s less coherent than the pitch for “Seinfeld.” It is fun to say it with a bad French accent: “On-vohn-see-bluh!” That’s fun.

“Squadron Supreme” #7 is very well drawn, with the evil Redstone putting up quite a fight, Zarda getting a nasty surprise, but it really takes forever to get anywhere, doesn’t it?

No, just … no …

“White Tiger” #1 was dull and used none of the advantaged of the art form in storytelling. It might have worked better as a prose piece, but there’s no way of knowing now.

There’s a literal shark inside of “Supergirl” #11 for convenient jumping as a new (?) character makes a super un-masculine debut in a story that tries to get the youth-inspired tension of a title like “Outsiders” or “Runaways,” but you can’t really sing the words if you’re off beat.

“Moon Knight” #6 shows, essentially, why Taskmaster has never really become anybody despite his truly impressive array of skills and powers. He’s a pansy. Meanwhile, Khonsu borrows a page from “My Faith In Frankie” and Marc Spector finally stops whining for about twelve seconds.

In “Omega Men” #2, Vril Dox got deterred as the title characters got un-framed … but so?

“Ghost Rider” #5 is evidence that this project is simply not the best use of Mark Texeira’s vast abilities, in that the whole issue is just dull and Tex is so good at so many things, as is writer Daniel Way, that it has to be chemistry that’s tanking this title.

This just in from “OMAC” #5 — if you don’t like a cybernetic infection along the lines of what happened to Cable, don’t have sex with an OMAC. It seems like common sense, but one has to say these things. Seriously.

“Daredevil: Father” #6 … this is what we waited for? Kind of a long way to go for such a sappy last page that was, oh, summed up much better in “Daredevil: Yellow.”

If the essential twist from “Transformers Spotlight: Hot Rod” wasn’t reminiscent of the “G.I. Joe” second season episode “Computer Complications” (and the toy line wasn’t so well documented), the switcheroo here might have worked in an issue that showed the attempts at heroism behind the bravado. But “Banzaitron?” No.

“Ms. Marvel” #9 continues this title’s run for “worst of 2006” with a whiny alternate universe version of the title character (which looked like the Ultimate version for a split second) and a lame moment of self-realization amidst massive property damage. Seriously, who’s buying this? By show of hands, c’mon …

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Close to 50/50 on crap/tolerable ratio.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

We’ll give this week a win, allowing for the jump and the fact that 11 books that are “okay” beat out nine that should not be bought.

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