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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 11TH, 2006

Fables #55 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

The discussion on the table is war — in the last issue, Lumi the Snow Queen outlined a plan to completely destroy the “mundane” world which shelters the Fables-in-exile. This issue, Pinocchio tells her why it won’t work … and it’s messy. The meat of the story could be considered mere litany — piling on the horrors of war in manners that could only be seen as realistic — with the last page as a lethal capstone, with a few minor sublot nuggets tossed in for flavoring. The struggle between The Adversary and the Fables we’ve come to know has never been as desperate, and this grim storytelling is still very engaging. To lighten the mood, Willingham has a whimsical back up story about the Three Blind Mice seeking fortune and finding … well, that would be telling. But it’s a cute story, and one that happens in the unseen corners of the main narrative, giving the issue a feeling of wholeness. Good stuff, and reliably so.

Dr. Strange: The Oath #2 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. The good doctor is quick wth the quips (and with “Lost” style flashbacks, he’s well fleshed out as a character) and this fasp-paced issue is most noticeable for Brian K. Vaughan’s enchanting dialogue (some of the interplay between the Night Nurse, Wong and Doctor Strange is classic, such as this bit while wandering through “the most uncharted and foreboding realm of them all” — the Bronx: NN: “You sure you know where we’re going? I think we’ve passed this bodega twice.” DS: “I was roaming the streets of New York City when Spider-Man was in diapers.” W: (whispering) “But he still gets confused in the outer boroughs”). The deft melding of everyday experience, memory and mystical realities weave a tapestry of magical realism that surely must keep fans of the Doctor delighted. Marcos Martin’s artwork is evocative of Javier Pulido (in a good way) and Javier Rodriguez’ colors are both vivid in the styles of today and nostalgic at the same time. Fun stuff, and now a Buy-On-Sight title. Seriously, can we get this as an ongoing?

DMZ #13 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

The protagonist Matty Roth goes undercover to expose a company which resembles a real world company whose name rhymes with “Galliburton.” During the tentative “peace,” this Trustwell company is doing reconstruction in the DMZ under the watch of UN peacekeepers (oh, the delicious irony) while suicide bombers gum up the works. Trustwell has all the trappings of your traditional evil multinational corporation — heavily armed paramilitary “security” forces, making day laborers work in dangerous and possibly toxic locales (Ground Zero, for example, or the Empire State Building here), armies of protesters, secret beatings of suspected problem people and even their own fleet of “black helicopters.” Yeah, they’re pretty bad. But through the simple act of indifference, Matty tries to make a way into the underbelly of the real story, and that’s when things get interesting. Every issue of this series has progressively revealed more of this battered world, and while the going gets rougher, the story gets better. Major kudos for Wood and Burchirelli, now entering their second year “in country” and aiming every word and every image like a sniper’s bullet.

Marvel Legacy: The 1980s Handbook (Marvel Comics)

Climbing into the Wayback Machine, this entire book is written with information that was available prior to December 31st, 1989. True, it has none of the modern day’s definitive measures of power (how much “superhuman strength” do you have, Monica Rambeau? Captain Hero? Dark-Crawler?). But it quite expertly recounts most of the New Universe’s stories of the time (saving a bundle of time in bin-diving), outlines some of the weirder moments of the era (“Hercules of the 24th Century” — seriously) and has interesting profiles on names that the revamp-minded writers of tomorrow might throw at you (Necromon? Holly-Ann Ember? Oh yeah, there’s at least a crossover in either of those two). Plus, how cool is it to see the original New Mutants in all of their badly-dressed glory (what was with that vest, Cypher?)? Entries on The Generic Super Hero, Rom’s Spaceknights and a “where are they now” page in back makes this a solid buy.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

One jump, three really entertaining titles … pretty good so far.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

The undercover Chaykin-tastic adventures of “JLA Classified” #29 was very close to the mark, with (best of all) an evil mega-corporation using as its headquarters a huge tanker ship. That just reeks of evil! Sadly, despite the fascinating espionage (great use of Supes, Bats and the Flash) it was just a bit too procedural to really make it work — perhaps better collected. “Annihilation” #4 took a look back at Earth’s woes while trying to fend of the real nihilism of the Wave’s master, plus Drax tries to fulfill his destiny all too soon, Thanos is curious and so much more crazy goes on. Just a smidge too much crazy, in the end analysis, as the emotional confrontation between Nova and the erstwhile Star Lord got short sheeted, Thanos’ machinations were all too brief and so on. “Superman” #657 could have been billed as “days of future Metropolis” as Kurt Busiek tells a really interesting tale of Lex Luthor as the last hero of Metropolis (and loved the pathos of the Parasite). But the pompous framing device threw the immediacy of it away, and that kept it on the shelf. Despite the really ugly cover, more magical realism made “Eternals” #5 come close as well, with the Deviants developing a really interesting personality, the Dreaming Celestial depicted gorgeously and the matter-of-factness of Ikaris stealing the show, all with the amazing John Romita Jr. bringing the art. The problem was that there’s just too much story to tell — like “Annihilation” this could have used easily eight to twelve more pages. Too much clone madness was all that kept the action packed “Firestorm” #31 at the store, which had a wonderful betrayal in mid stream and a smart mix of old and new business. Also, “Green Arrow” #68 was a smidge melodramatic in Ollie’s final confrontation with an army of assassins, but it tweaked the cliches just enough to pull it off. But cliches are still cliches, and this wasn’t a “must have.” Everything else was just in the “okay” category, with “Star Wars: Dark Times” #1 being far too procedural and had way too little Vader, the evil robot madness of “52” #27 (the Waverider bit was cold), the symmetry of “Teen Titans” #40 was a bit predictable (but seriously, another white Martian?), “Bullet Points” #1 with Iron Cap and Spidey-Hulk just kind of floated in the “eh,” “Tales of the Unexpected” #2 was good pulp but nothing generally enthralling, “Toyfare” #113 just barely brought the funny (“How drunk were we?”) with Ramjet the Robo Pope and a confounding five-Constructicon version of Devastator (no more dump truck). The corny dialogue sapped “Civil War: Young Avengers” #4 of its strength, but at least Noh-Varr is now amok in the 616. Seeing Ultimate X-Force in “Ultimate X-Men” #76 was kind of cute for fans of the scenic route. “CSI: Dying in the Gutters” made some minor turns of plot, but still the only characters are the ones from the show, as the comics creators all seem to be unidimensional, including the arguable star, Joe Quesada.

No, just … no …

“Green Lantern” #14 — Hal charged with war crimes? That lame last page? Seriously? Plus, how can a title with so many Superman-level powers be so boring? What’s up with that, “Martian Manhunter” #4? “Gen 13” #2 was kind of child-porn icky, and the predictable break out didn’t help.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

More good than bad, so that’s also good.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

One book did jump and four more almost made it, so that’s a good week by any standard.

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