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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 OCTOBER 18TH, 2006

X-Factor #12 (Marvel Comics)

In the words of Xzibit, “So it all comes down to this …” Damian Tryp (in more than one way) reveals his powers and his purpose, monologuing the X-Factor team about how he’s a much less gun-toting version of Cable and inadvertently releasing Jamie’s most dangerous dupe, one we last saw pushing Rictor off of a building. There’s a pretty sizable dance number (action scenes skillfully rendered by Renato Arlem, who also does a lot of interesting photorealistic stuff here) and possibly the smartest use of Layla Miller to date (and it’s really, really rather clever when you think about it) and she gets a fun finale page. This comic book is “smart” in all the ways that it should be while still providing an interesting look at another possible future and delivering the “biff” and the “pow” that makes comics fans delighted.

Casanova #5 (Image Comics)

This issue is both brilliant and repulsive, inspirational and insulting, all in the same breath. At the core of this issue is an island filled with (as described here) “the last tribe of pre-neolithic man on the planet,” who are also described by a particularly loathsome character at another point as “ooga booga bone nose n***** savage mother f***ers” (and no, it’s still gonna be weird if you try and use that word, no matter how much Dave Chappelle you’ve watched or how sensitive you think you are). However, this group of “savages” have a secret. A secret that could almost be said to resemble a certain nation in the 616, or even the homeland of Tyroc (yeah, go on and Google that bad boy). Which could be cool on its own. But they’re not the origin of their secret, no, they didn’t do anything particularly impressive to get that secret going (working rather hard not to spoil a fairly large plot element here) other than being advantageously placed geographically and not killing a certain guy. It’s both a tribute and an insult — the key to their happiness is an external invader/savior, much like Venus in the most recent issue of “Agents of Atlas.” At the end of the issue, Fraction talks about his inspiration for this story in some detail because he’s “as sensitive to race issues as the next middle-class white guy.” Which, essentially, says it all about that core teleological concern. The story itself — fairly basic bait and switch spy romps, with a dash of extraordinarily socially aware violence — is good as other gambits in earlier issues of “Casanova.” It was also weird that artist Gabriel Ba didn’t draw the title character’s face at least twice. But that one central nagging thing … it sours the issue on rereads, but the comic is still fun and clever and harmless if you don’t look at it very closely. Still worth reading, and worth buying.

Checkmate #7 (DC Comics)

There are deaths and everybody doesn’t make it home as a would-be Suicide Squad invades Myanmar (Peterman: “But it’ll always be Burma to me …”) to liberate a disturbingly adolescent metahuman captive. Layering on the existing political climates of these areas alongside the natural progressions of what metahuman presences would mean makes this story a fascinating look at what could be, and allows both media coverage, backdoor politicking and “aggressive negotiations” all to take an appealing moment on the stage (or on the panel, if you prefer). It also re-establishes Amanda Waller as one of the big players behind the scenes and dupes half of the others who should know better. Good crazy and smarter than it has a right to be.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #35 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. There are two names said here that will raise the eyebrows of any longtime Marvel reader, and once you realize that this is an Ultimate take, you’ll see we’ve strayed from the “scenic route” of storytelling that we have seen so often in the past few years into legitimately new territory. Or at least new-ish — there’s an argument that we’ve just found our way to Ultimate Apokolips, but why quibble such a point now (given that there’s no opposite number to worry about, and we’ve cast off a lot of other story baggage). Suffice it to say that Reed and the gang have found themselves in another dimension (again) and over their heads against insanely powerful entities. This time, however, they have a group of teens with powers of their own, and a chance to do battle in ways that are outside the norm. For example, Ben wonderfully says, “Let’s land, and start breaking things.” But when he tries, something … unusual happens, and it gives him quite a surprise. Sue and Johnny again prove their mettle, as Sue surprises the scion of the power behind it all (and even saying that name will get you going, so let’s not) with a very smart play, all on board a space ship made out of a giant space dragon. How cool is that? An alien specie so badass that they captured a giant flying firebreathing lizard and made a space ship out of it while it was still alive. Mike Carey’s imagination is lapping many, while Pascual Ferry keeps all the visuals crisp and filled with glory. With this storyline only half over, this storyline is now “buy on sight” until this conclusion, just because it succeeds so magnificently where, say, “The Next” fails so badly.

Noble Causes #24 (Image Comics)

Doc’s little secret finally comes out (it seemed fairly obvious three issues ago) while Rusty rots in jail, there’s more girl-on-girl kissing and Race battles powerlessness and marital strife. Yep, that’s plenty soapy, and it’s delightful. Filled with eye candy and tossing in the random fight scene for kicks, the confectionary goodness of this series doesn’t let up, continuing Gaia’s shrewish persona (nary a moment of tenderness from her) and giving a cliffhanger that throws Liz back into the spotlight of the series for the big retrospective issue due next. Fun stuff.

Testament #11 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

The retelling of biblical tales with a twist (one made very clear in the last panel of this issue) is a bit forced this time, just brushing against our established modern day characters as the axiological ethical paradigm (if one of your best friends had a master’s in sociology, terms like that would start to leak into your vocabulary too) making one “team” of “divinities” bad (and setting them up to lose) while giving the more “traditional” “divinities” of the last two thousand years home field advantage. Not bad, but after eleven issues, is this gag ever gonna develop any new tricks?

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Only two minor road bumps, and both were more philosophical in nature than issues of craft or technique. That’s good stuff.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

The twists in “Runaways” #21, with a betrayal looming and nobody really knowing the full story, were almost Whedon-esque, and it was very close to making it home. However, it essentially did too much — the Chase story alone deserved an issue, and a sixty foot monster rampaged through Los Angeles while Iron Man and Captain America traded soundbites and punches on the other side of the country, all while the media wondered why. Way too much for one issue. “Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall” looked interesting, but it was also polybagged and looked expensive. The only problem with “CSI: Dying In The Gutters” #3 was the idea of Chuck Dixon and Beau Smith trying to run away from the police — seriously? The characterization is done by shorthand, but if you recognize the names and know who they’re meant to be and what they’re like, this comic is solid gold, like seeing your friends on TV. The action in “Birds of Prey” #99 was great, and the banter as always was precise and authentic, but it fell apart like a late-run WB hourlong drama, and the new Batgirl felt like a very pointless interlude. “Union Jack” #2 was an “all right” set of costumed fisticuffs making for anarchy in the UK, but didn’t really go anywhere for all its punching and flying cars (why are flying cars always convertibles? Never sedans or station wagons or even SUVs, hm). “Shadowpact” #6 was adequate but not vital, doing more discussions of living arrangements than much else, even with the Phantom Stranger’s doomsayings. “Wildcats” #1 was a teasing delight, bringing the madness of the “3.0” version back with the “superhero corporation,” but with the “soft reset” happening on panel, it was more tease than talent, despite being beautiful and having Morrison-esque whimsy and madness all over it. It may disturb you to know that Anaconda listens to showtunes, but it’s true, and it’s among a few surprises in “Cable/Deadpool” #33 that got it so close to going home it was ridiculous. The PR war against Cable escalating and getting personal was all fine, but the actual causes and actions seemed a smidge muddy — again, perhaps to make it all fit in 22 pages. “52” #24 had the honor of having the best quote of the month, from the mouth of Ambush Bug, who snatched a JLA communicator from Firestorm and said, “Room service? Send up a plot and three pages of dialogue right away! The weekly grind is tearin’ me apart! Fifty-two!” Hilarious. But again too much tried to happen too fast, with something cooling down Black Adam’s international coalition, J’onn J’onnz taking up sculpting, Skeets acting very strangely and more. “Elephantmen” #4 was finally one whole issue on a narrative thread, but not exactly one whole story, with wonderful ambiance and grit and visuals in a story where ultimately nothing happened. “Blade” #2 was very good, and it was quite close to making it home, with Doom at his pompous best, Doom’s mom even more so and Blade managing some pretty good quips. But the central action scenes fell apart and took with them the narrative’s momentum, leaving the ending somewhat pat and empty. Ambiance also worked for “Omega Men” #1, which founded a religious war in space and tossed Starfire’s brother amongst the long-suffering wanderers, leaving Vril Dox to mug at the reader like he was David Caruso on one of those “CSI” shows. But there’s not enough characterization in this issue to fill one chamber of a hummingbird’s heart, and that lack took anything resembling emotional resonance or consequence from the book. The great dialogue and action of “Wolverine” #47 is bogged down by the baggage of a tedious crossover (Wolverine is registered so arresting him for violating the act is stupid), which was a weird disappointment.

No, just … no …

“Authority” #1 totally didn’t do the job, with none of the main characters even making appearances (apparently) and so much character work done on a seemingly pointless character, this Brit named Kenny, it seemed like that much foreplay should require a nice dinner first. “Ms. Marvel” #8 continued its “Ann Coulter in a unitard” shtick, really getting into the grayest of areas with the Registration Act and ultimately saying “it’s hard to be a fascist, but it’s okay.” Screw that. “Creeper” #3 had the nerve to be dull and have art that bordered on the gooey (but somehow Batman managed to look good … even while he did nothing). As “Casanova” almost did for indigenous people, “Hellstorm” #1 shows a more-than-laughable comprehension of ancient Egyptian spiritual lore, which made a lot of of the basis for the story not make much sense. Oh, and it heavily rips off Keanu’s Constantine performance, and not in a good way. Books that were boring and just passed by without a memory being left: “Flash: The Fastest Man Alive” #5, “X-Men: Civil War #4.” Oh, and why was the title character goofy and confused most of “Ghost Rider” #4, with that totally deus ex machina exposition machine popping up? A comic with both Daniel Way and Mark Texeira on it shouldn’t be this bad. It just shouldn’t!

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Kind of brutal, even in the good stuff.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

The needle tips to 51% bad, 49% good, so we have to call the week a very, very narrow loss. Two in a row now, huh? Urf.

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