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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 20TH, 2006

Blade #1 (Marvel Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. With the deft hand of Howard Chaykin to convey every moment (although the big multi-vampire fight scene could have been a smidge more clear), writer Marc Guggenheim pulls of a very neat trick — the Daywalker manages to fight a vampire-infected Spider-Man (who Blade knows by name) as well as more bloodsuckers than one could shake a wooden stake at … all while being cool. When was the last time you could say Blade, in a comic, was cool? Exactly. Chaykin’s contribution to this can’t be minimized, but Blade’s terse but snappy patter is a big player in that success as well. Admittedly, Dracula went down a little easily (given that his cinematic version needed the Nightstalkers to help, and the biggest name in nosferatu was handled within a page by a trick) and the key issue is never really addressed. When vampires fight Blade, what do they hope to accomplish? Short of beheading him, how do you kill him? Beating won’t work. Can’t drain him. Limbs grow back. He’s effectively immortal. Seriously, why even bother? Why not run, like Matrix rebels did from agents? The reason this issue is entertaining is that Blade seems to realize that, and finds it funny. Add to that some nicely done flashback scenes to Blade’s newly-created history (it doesn’t seem like what’s in the most recent handbook, but who’s got the energy to dig for it) and a Big Bad established in the halls of power (chubbier than Marcus Van Sciver, but in the same neighborhood) and you’ve got a good little chunk of comics right here. Nicely done.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #8 (Marvel Comics)

Stuff blows up. That’s all good. You get an interesting look into the head of Elsa Bloodstone by way of her brutal childhood, while Mindless Ones from the Dim Dimension (apparently the Beyond Corporation couldn’t get to the real thing or something) hilariously replace the citizens of a small midwestern town (even the issue’s text admits forgetting the name, so feel free) amidst ranting and bile and laughs. Even funnier, Tabitha can’t spell her own name. How great is that? Dirk Anger’s repeatedly interrupted suicide attempts are finally starting to wear a little thin (he was more fun when he yelled), but there’s beating and demons in dresses and … well, that’s just good crazy. Yes, little actually happened, but it happened in a goofy and explosive way. So we’re calling that wonderful.

Checkmate #6 (DC Comics)

The White Queen Amanda Waller has made a lot of enemies in her career of government service, and this time some of her former Suicide Squad members take on the theft of an illegal power source (without the approval of the still-active Society) while her Checkmate co-workers stew in their own juices. This issue takes the camera off the central characters — Mr. Terrific’s best moment is saying nothing at all — and manages tensions with a skillful hand, and character motivations and behaviors are revealed in “aaaah” sorts of ways. A really smart and engaging title that rewards paying close attention, hitting many of the same notes it looked like “Outsiders” could have handled, before it degenerated into monkey business.

X-Factor #10 (Marvel Comics)

Apparently, an exciting new issue of “X-Factor” came out on Wednesday. Somehow — fit of drunken pique, absent minded buffoonery, who can say — this issue was passed by as this column’s writer instead accidentally picked up a copy of “X-Factor” #10 (which was already bought, and reviewed). Which is a massively embarrassing thing to have happened. So, perhaps we’ll be able to post an updated review, perhaps we won’t — it’s hard to know. So, well, uh, sorry. Right. Moving on …

Ultimate Fantastic Four #34 (Marvel Comics)

The first half of this issue, combined with the previous, are somewhat similar in content and tone to what’s being done in DC’s “Next.” There are two very important distinctions. First of all, with the arrival of Gallowglass, everything changes and all the stakes become much juicier. Second, this is really well done while “Next” is an embarrassing Grant Morrison impersonation. If you beat Grant Morrison about the head and shoulders with a shovel for an hour, and then broke six of his fingers, he still would write something better than “Next.” Maybe no more coherent, but at least more interesting. Mike Carey, on the other hand, evidences an elegance and delicacy in creating these characters (and how cool is his Reed? “I don’t have a heart anymore, and I don’t use oxygen” — awesome). Just a hair too quick, with every one of Pasqual Ferry’s imaginative panels an interesting world of surprise, but still a blast nonetheless.

Testament #10 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

The warring stories of divine beings hit a snag when the modern counterpart of the biblical Joseph won’t play along with the script. The historical inaccuracies of what’s being portrayed as history notwithstanding, the craftily managed double narrative twists and spins with some real shocks, while one of the characters gets a chance to speak to one of the divinities directly, breaking all kinds of craziness out of the box. The more you read it, the more questions this deceptively simple story reveals, ending (from a certain point of view) one storyline and setting up all kinds of chaos for a new one. Interesting work.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Aside from this columnist’s own idiocy, good reading all around.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

Guggenheim is on a roll this week — his “Wolverine” #46 would have made it home if only this reviewer didn’t hate the character. It’s that sneaky. Bringing up the issue of war profiteering and giving Marvel it’s very own Halliburton analogue (shame it had to do so in McDuffie territory, but still, makes a lotta sense), Logan gets a great monologue where he reads Emma and Scott the riot act, and just generally doing a lot of cool stuff. A real surprise. Rosario Dawson’s “Occult Crimes Taskforce” #2 was also surprisingly good, with photorealistic art making some fantastic and potentially gross things look crisp and well-rendered (despite lacking motion in spots) with a story that tried to do just a bit too much to fit into this one issue. Still, an ambitious venture worth watching. Despite the involvement of Batroc (who doesn’t make a complete idiot of himself for a change), “Union Jack” #1 had a nice dollop of “Queen & Country” tension dressed up in Brubaker-esque action, so “not bad.” “Shadowpact” #5 worked better on dialogue than plot, but wasn’t bad for all that. The same could be said for “Astonishing X-Men” #17, which showed a SHIELD mole in the mansion and breaks out with bits of Whedon-esque patter that could have been cribbed from the last season of “Angel.” “52” #20 posits an interesting origin for the Emerald Eye while breaking a lot of stuff and making Lobo just sit and watch, while “Iron Man” #12 takes a break from his latest Armor Wars (which is sad that he’s still fighting his own tech after all these years — you’d think he’s just build a backdoor failsafe instead of making with all the property damage, but even he said he’d been irresponsible in “Civil War Files”) to justify his newfound need for law and order. Meanwhile, “Runaways” #20 has a big dance number and an interesting shift in tone for one major character, but again worked as moments and not a whole.

No, just … no …

The long-awaited “Civil War” #4 has arrived … and it’s so wrong in so many ways, that it echoes the atrocities of “Superman/Batman” #6 or “Spider-Man: House of M” in sheer gall and shocking idiocy. It’s so bad it deserves its own paragraph here. There’s no need to overtly spoil the Ben Reilly-esque secret around Thor: Agent of SHIELD (as noted in last week’s Civil War Files … had we only known … and we’re sorry if you know enough comics history to catch that reference), nor the death of a big character, nor the high-profile character who switches sides. No, what’s most annoying here is Tony Stark. In Rosemont, Marvel swore that Tony Stark’s side would finally be presented in a light that doesn’t make him seem like a total douchebag. However, with his “Tower of Babel”-esque plotting, for years and years behind the backs of his “friends” (and shut up about the T’Challa spying on the Avengers, he had a nation to defend, Tony Stark is just an opportunistic robber baron), it’s a loooong way from these pages. The core spoiler/development was so galling, so much of a bad idea, that it made even retailer Steve LeClare (who was enjoying “Civil War”) recoil in disgust. As a story, it was weak and uneven. As an element of a larger tale, it is a black eye. As a single issue, it’s a contender for year’s worst. This is the sort of sick development that could bring a smile to hearts as frozen and brutal as Randall Dowling or Dick Cheney. It’s just not right. It’s just not. A pox on this comic book. A pox.

Whew … anyway … “Ghost Rider” #3 managed to make a mystic fight with Stephen Strange dull and uninterestingly displayed, both “Flash” #4 and “Robin” #154 show idiotic rookies screwing up in brash and egregious ways (and “Robin” writer Beechen doesn’t know that Tim won’t inherit squat, as Grayson was named heir and Tim’s people are already rich, which was an irritating note in mid issue) in a likewise yawn-worthy fashion. “X-Men: First Class” #1 is a duller attempt at doing “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” while Kurt Busiek spends most of an issue building up a broken Soviet-era super soldier forged from an uglier Red Son analogue, only to shoehorn in a “wha?” ending. “X-Men: Civil War” #3 has a guy who borrows Puppet Master’s shtick involved in a largely pointless fight scene that leads up to a wholly unrelated ending. “Ion” #6 spends a lot of panel time and talking blue heads to essentially name Oan Special Forces (yawn). “Moon Knight” #5 shows The Knight Cave (Moon Cave?) and Taskmaster’s most embarrassing defeat (not Squirrel Girl bad, but still) before borrowing a page from 9/11. Yeah, no. The ugly art on “Se7en: Gluttony” didn’t help a story that just needed to try harder.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Thor: Agent of SHIELD. Hell no. Despite some real ambition, the stinky just overcomes the week of reads.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A wash, because it’s hard to overcome something as crappy as Thor: Agent of SHIELD.

A VERY SPECIAL EPISODE …

While we have a moment, last week’s dismissal of “Supreme Sacrifice” #0/”Suprema” #1 seemed to have hit a discordant note with some fans. One wrote in, and we had an interesting conversation on exactly why this column was so dismissive. As a matter of fact, let’s just look at the initial response:

Let’s start with the multiple incarnations of Suprema. This was a riff on the Supremacy gag from the earlier issues of Supreme, positing a series of manifestations for him and all of his supporting characters. Brilliant then because it was fully explained. Here, in a story too short for such a big idea, there’s a sky full of Supremas, and it doesn’t make sense. Not in the internal narrative, as the “why” they’re all there is not made clear, and not as a larger work because somebody who’s never read any Awesome titles will have no idea what the hell is going on. The rule for literature is that it has to stand the test of time, and stand as a singular work. This, at best, is an unfinished chapter of a larger work. At worst, it’s a bad vignette.

There’s a lot going on with Supreme’s character here that even I, as somebody who’s read almost everything about the character post Alan Moore, had no idea about. Bad writing. Note that I have not mentioned “art” nor “Liefeld” anywhere in this critique. Why didn’t I say any of this in the reviews? Because explaining the details of this issue’s sucktitude wouldn’t make it any more worth dodging to people who would hate it or more worth buying for people who have to have it, such as yourself. This is a book that sells — or does not sell — on prejudice more than press.

We chatted it out intelligently, like grown ups with some sense of propriety and no need for invective, and it was absolutely delightful to have an honest exchange of ideas, coming to accept that we could agree to have different opinions, and that not be a bad thing. He came to understand — shocker — that I have no built in prejudices against Rob Liefeld, even going as far as admitting that I still own a complete run of his “X-Force.” It was a great thing to deal with somebody maturely, so thanks go to Superhornet34 — good talk, man.

Another reader wrote in to point out a message board filled with personal attacks and vitriol, claiming “jealousy” and other unverified motives for the review. The wonderful tendency of some to respond emotionally without data. Look — if you’ve got a beef with the reviews, there’s a handy email link right here. If they got your goat and you think they were unfair, say why. These reviews have changed based on reader responses — “Testament” wasn’t on the Buy Pile’s radar until a reader sent in a note about it. If what somebody says makes sense, there’s never a problem admitting fault and resetting personal calibrations. Fighting logic virtually never works out.

Before going on, seriously, how stupid are people that they can’t accurately spell the name of a guy after reading it on the page. T-A-B-U. It’s not like it’s a grillion letters. Sheesh. That’s as tedious as growing up to hate George Peppard (and then Anthony Hopkins). Anyway …

If you’ve got a personal beef, because you feel some kind of attachment or proprietary protectiveness over properties you don’t even freaking own, well, you can shut it. CBR contracted this writer to do these reviews, as did UGO before this, as did SpinnerRack and NPO, just in the realm of what we laughingly refer to as “comics journalism.” You have a different opinion? In the words of Mos Def, “there’s a city fulla walls you can post complaints at.” Start a blog. Go post on message boards. Write something other than a groundless insult. Contribute to the conversation, or you’re just a blowing hot HTML, contributing to the stereotypes about comics fans instead of engaging in intelligent discourse.

Better yet, don’t do any of that. If you get worked up enough to have a personal beef with a skinny Black guy living in Los Angeles, over a review of a comic book you didn’t even help create … it’s not even that big. Seriously. It would help me a lot of that kind of person could just, I dunno, be less stupid.

While checking the links, I noticed that the writer of the book in question actually chimed in, saying (and this is a quote, spelling errors maintained), “Who cares about what a guy named Hannibal has to say….. Nototrious-jealous-I-can’t-do-comics-so-I’ll-review-’em- guy.” Wow. Seriously? Wow. “Nototrious,” huh? Okay. Wow.

In any case, thanks for reading this far.

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