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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 SEPTEMBER 27TH, 2006

Daredevil #89 (Marvel)

Jump from the Read Pile. The notes written before this issue demanded it come home had only one word: “espionage-tastic.” Perhaps that’s not a real word. Whatever. Matt Murdock becomes an international man of mystery, chasing down a lead on Foggy’s killer to the high-stakes casinos of Monaco. Which, of course, leads to mountains of poker chips, an exclusive party at the party of an international crime boss, gladiatorial combat for the entertainment of the bored rich, murder, costumed conflict and more madness. Brubaker’s pacing is perfect, with the right amount of mystery and tension punctuated by sudden and remarkable outbursts of action — even the speedy entry into the elite doesn’t seem forced or facile, as it easily could have. Murdock says in voice over, “I never even look at my cards, and I win every hand.” That’s hilarious. This material lets Michael Lark and Stafano Gaudiano really soar — spirit forbid they ever end up on a title with real spy-nastics, like “Queen & Country” or “Checkmate.” Matt Hollingsworth’s matte coloring is absolutely perfect, and this entire issue zooms along like a finely crafted timepiece. Outstanding.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #22 (DC Comics)

“It’s that sproggin’ little skirt, isn’t it?” Kara Zor-El’s presence in the thirty first century is rubbing lots of people the wrong way, and this issue explores how and why she brings out the competitive edge in Ultra Boy, the jealousy in Shadow Lass, throws off the magnetic resonance of Cosmic Boy and confounds everybody else. Sun Boy’s little Terror Firma outcast group tries to be heroic in the galaxy’s backwaters, with less than stellar results. With an degree of skill and creativity that seems almost effortless, Waid and Kitson (with Tony Bedard’s help, of course) continue fleshing out the future with nuance and character. Karate Kid’s strategic thinking is reminiscent of Jordan McDeere’s nonplussed determination on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” Very enjoyable.

Black Panther #20 (Marvel Comics)

“This is not how a diplomatic mission is supposed to go!” The exasperated attitude of T’Challa as another simple dinner meeting goes pear shaped due to events wholly unrelated to him is the stuff of great entertainment as Wakanda’s royal couple takes a session with the Royal Family of Attilan on the moon. Seems Pietro’s theft of terrigen crystals and the subsequent acquisition of same by the very active US government has the Inhumans considering whether this means war with the United States or humanity as a whole. The Panther was allegedly there to provide perspective, but all manner of other madness happened to be going on at the same time, and much hilarity ensues. As it should. Complicated ideas boiled down to punching and kicking, with the menace and majesty of Black Bolt as a background, and a question only the Panther could answer as the kicker. This book is so good — in different ways than its predecessor, but equal in quality.

Blue Beetle #7 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Jamie recounts what happened while he had his transorbital adventures with the Justice League. Moreover, John Rogers’ characterization of the Bat is an excellent depiction of how badly Bruce plays with others (“The floors hose clean. I have people.”), and the Green Arrow/Black Canary banter is a great characterization bit, showing their comfort with one another even while being chased by an army of killer robots (her: “This from the guy who fights everything from robots to aliens by shooting them with tiny sticks.” him: “Very fast sticks. Fast and pointy!“). A simple misunderstanding, lost in translation by Jamie’s sometimes too-helpful scarab-powered armor led to him losing a year from his life in the space of a few moments, now fully explained. The central story is compelling enough, but when you add the fascinating bits of character interplay, it’s really kicking.

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z #9 (Marvel Comics)

When reading some of these, one is forced to wonder just how stupid people are. For example, the first entry is The Puppet Master, who managed to squabble with the Fantastic Four (or some members therein) no fewer than fifteen times … for what? The most he ever accomplished was murdering a string of young women and getting his daughter Alicia Masters the ability to see for a few days. Plus, his addictive radioactive clay drove him stark raving batsh*t mad. Seriously, why doesn’t somebody whack this guy, he’s massively defective? These kinds of mysteries can only be illuminated in Handbook form, where you can quickly see, oh, sweet spirit singing, the Sentry is dangerous to be around, or that Nathaniel Richards also being Kang is one of the funniest yet stupidest ironies in Marvel, and that Sabra’s not as lame as many believe, since she can lift fifty tons and has a cape that flies 300 miles per hour. Better than a long box full of back issues, and simply absorbing reading that can eat up an hour of your time easily. That’s bang for your entertainment buck.

Trials of Shazam #2 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Whereas the curve at the end of the last issue felt like a betrayal, all is made right as Billy Batson finally magicks up and takes the next step in the vaunted Shazam cycle. What Shazam cycle? Man-hero-wizard-god. Sure, this reviewer might have preferred Adam do it first, but whadda ya gonna do, you know? Sure, the old wizard is gone, but as the new and vastly improved Billy Batson said, “His absence has created a vacuum. All the power he controlled and so much of the dark forces he kept at bay, discharged … another must fill the voice left by Shazam.” So Billy’s got a new job, which leaves him looking for a champion, but it’s not so easy in the new rules post Day of Judgement. Nuh uh. Freddy Freeman gets sent on a set of trials to be tested by the gods of magic signified by the name. What? But the Olympians buggered off, you say? The issue handles that with Freddy Freeman’s dreadlocked guide Zared Babak, who said, “The gods of Olympus are terra-based and hold dominion over an entirely different realm of power … you, my friend, are dealing with the Lords of Magic. The only thing they have in common with those cats are their ‘titles.’ The great god Zeus isn’t so much the big fella’s name as his station.” Zany! Which also clears up why Black Adam isn’t having the same issues as his depowered former adversaries — he works with a whole different set of divinities. Handy that. A very smart approach to the problem of making this franchise work in the new century.

She-Hulk #12 (Marvel Comics)

Starfox is brought before Titanian telepathic justice to settle, once and for all, his fate … and a surprise witness at the end gives testimony that literally casts a lot of Marvel history in a different light and makes Eros of Titan have to really look at himself. To say more would be a spoiler of ridiculous, even cosmic, proportions, but suffice it to say with a dollop of whimsy (as Pip the Troll rushes under She-Hulk’s legs on his way to testify, he said, “Goin’ commando, huh? Brave choice.” That’s just good crazy) the grandiose is made comprehensible and the storytelling is handled superbly. Again, there’s not much more detail that can be given without spoiling, but this is a very informative and entertaining issue all around.

Jack of Fables #3 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Cad. Bounder. Rogue. Scoundrel. Rascal. Jack of Fables not only wallows in these concepts, he bathes in them up to his hairline, and loves every second of it. “” So when you add this hilarious approach to caged fairies who consider them their long-lost hero (except one, who’s all “All will howl. All will bleed. The door-knob turn in the twilight. Pain! Then … the emptiness.” What’s that all about?), secret planning and exposition hidden in plots, a very funny slapstick accident scene that’s not funny unless the victim is effectively immortal, all done with Tony Akins and Andrew Pepoy’s matter-of-fact artwork and Daniel Vozzo’s high-definition-worthy coloring. The hoopla is so much fun that the sparse backgrounds and talking-head-centric art is actually a benefit. Kooky good times.

The Ultimates 2 #12 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Many times, children will spend their mental energies trying to one-up each other. One has a dad who’s a doctor, the next will say his is a scientist, the next a corporate raider and so on. Mark Millar is an expert at one-upsmanship, and nobody can make it more ridiculously graphic than Bryan Hitch. Between the graphic super-soldier combat of the Colonel and Cap, the Hulk and the Abomination going toe to toe (Hulk: “What’s the square root of six million, two hundred and eleventy? What’s the capital of Texas? How many legs has spiders got? Can you tell Hulk the formula for Coca-Cola? Ho ho ho. NOT SO CLEVER NOW, EH?” all while smashing and throwing broken Crimson Dynamoes at the guy — fantastic). By the time Iron Man Six shows up … well, it’s just so over-the-top that even Michael Bay would be embarrassed. Which is a good thing! The last two pages, bringing it to Wagnerian levels, well, it’s just delightful. The only problem now is waiting the fifty-leven years it’ll take for the final capstone issue to show.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Expensive, but oh so worth it. An outstanding week of purchases.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

Started off good with all the jumps, but one of the week’s biggest surprises was “Supergirl” #10 being so close, with a story about failing at being normal that was steeped in the brutalities of teenaged life that outcasts and popular types alike can relate to. A real surprise. “Heroes for Hire” #2 was also kind of close, with Paladin showing up for the job and Misty talking tough for an issue that hits all the high points and keeps making Stark look like a totalitarian in training. “Spike: Asylum” #1 was all right, leaning so heavily on the character’s platitudes and stereotypes (flippancy, hating Angel, weakness for hot girls) that it makes some of the plot a smidge contrived, but whadda ya gonna do? “Eat your Grundy” almost made “Secret Six” #4 worth having, alongside some mean but funny bits, but it was ultimately like walking past your little brother playing some violent video game — seeing the activity could be chuckle-worthy and brutal, but you’re not attached to the people it’s happening to. “Eternals” #4 had a really nice little surprise to it, as the series finally accomplishes something half way through (the first three issues could have been done in eight pages and had the same impact). An author’s hidden secrets provide a nice punchline for “Invincible” #35, which spent a lot of time on a relatively uninteresting conversation (admitting that it was important character work, just boring). “Action Comics” #843 actually wasn’t bad, with Kal-El pouring on the inspiration and working well with a mismatched mob of crassly-clad collaborators. “Captain America” #22 was good until it wasn’t, building well and falling apart in its last few pages. The atmosphere and comfort Matt Wagner has with the characters in “Batman & the Mad Monk” #2 was cool, but the antagonist is dodging calls from Brother Blood, looking for much of his shtick back. “CSI: Dying In The Gutters” #2 was sold out at this retail outlet, so no telling what happened there. “Cable/Deadpool” #32 was an elaborate answer for both characters as to what side they’re on and why. Books that just kind of happened and left no significant impact: “Teen Titans” #39, “Civil War: Young Avengers and Runaways” #3, “52” #21, “Civil War: Front Line” #6, “Justice League of America” #2 and “American Way” #8.

No, just … no …

With the wholly insulting take on the Black Condor’s raison d’etre, “Uncle Sam and The Freedom Fighters” #3 jumped a Red Lobster. Once again a government is shown using short term thinking as this storyline backs away from possible purchasing. “JSA Classified” #17 had a ludicrous premise surrounding antagonist Bane which made everything else seem silly.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Really rather bloody entertaining, overall, for books not good enough to be bought.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

One of the biggest winning weeks in some time, with very little crappiness, lots of jumps and several also-rans jockeying for position.

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