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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 13TH, 2006

DMZ #11 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

The character Zee has essentially served as an avenue for the lead, Matty, to survive in post-insurgency Manhattan. But what’s up with her? This issue tells all in a downbeat but determined done-in-one story. An overworked med student who found the abandoning of less fortunate people in New York unconscionable, and shows how she came to her grim existence in a city literally cast aside by both the federal government and the rebellious forces aligned against it. You see, no matter how messed up a situation or part of the world is, normal people are there, just trying to live their lives and get through it. This issue centers on just that ideal, and the motivations and heartbreaks of people who sacrifice themselves to just try and keep people alive around them in a place they’ve come to love. Riveting.

Sam Noir: Samurai Detective #1 (Shadowline/Image Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Many recent comics — “Mystery In Space” leaps to mind — have tried genre-blending in attempts to spark freshness for a jaded and ever more conservative audience. Noir with outer space, noir with superheroes, et cetera. This wonderful bit of pop comics goes a slightly different direction — inserting the simplistic joy of martial arts movie moralities into the Chandler-esque detective drama. In doing so, it strips all the core elements to the iconic and essential elements — masterless samurai, doomed love, senseless murder, brutal retribution — and sets them in a blender on “puree.” Much like the potboilers that built the genre one bullet at a time, the terse characterization and sparse geography of concepts actually accentuates, instead of deprives. Cast in shadows and the sudden drawings of swords, this is like an Asianized version of Mel Gibson’s “Payback” — in a good way. It didn’t work with “Frankenstein Mobster” and other mash ups, but here? Fascinating.

Talent #3 (Boom! Studios)

Mean. Really mean, and really careful and really, really rather interesting. The reasons behind the downing of our protagonist’s plane are explained, from multiple angles so you don’t have a chance of missing it, and the conflict between a militaristic Judaeo-Christian theocratic organization and vague spiritual energies beyond their ken are cast as the backdrop of a man pressed into the service of dead people he never even met. Paul Azaceta’s unadorned and plainspoken artwork is picture perfect for Golden and Sniegoski’s television-ready script. This is very reminiscent in tone to the brilliant “Human Target” series, with less snarky humor and more of an enticing air of mystery. The washed out flashback scenes work perfectly, and if this book had a smidge more polish (perhaps if Azaceta didn’t have to ink himself) it could practically take over the world, easily comparable to the storytelling of some of network TV’s finest accomplishments in drama. Solid.

Civil War Files (Marvel Comics)

Marvel’s guidebooks can be brilliant — the “Planet Hulk” book was more compelling than the actual comics it supplemented — or pitiable (let’s never speak of that western guidebook again). But this … written entirely in the voice of Tony Stark (and never once cracking character, from asides to personal details) it essentially serves as a primer to the modern Marvel universe. One might expect it to cast the pro-registration side in a more appealing light, but Tony Stark is a merciless corporate raider clothed in the raiments of an altruist, and every assessment is strategic, every appraisal for good or ill speaks of vulnerabilities and areas ripe for exploitation. Like the enthralling “Secret War” guidebook, literally every word is worth examining, for a look into the mind of one of Marvel’s most brilliant men and for the hundreds of dollars in comics you can avoid buying (or even reading) due to getting caught up on years of stories in just these pages. Excellent.

Fables #53 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

“This is how the world ends.” The gripping opening of the issue, set at a conclave between the greatest powers of the forces of the “Adversary,” rolls out the implacable Snow Queen’s plan to not only defeat the renegade Fables who struck a lethal blow in issue #50, but to conquer the entire “mundy” world. Sides are chosen for and against this plan, with the everyday lives of the Fables we know and love carrying on unaware. Fun stuff with an undercurrent of sheer menace, with a very cute and very tricky backup story that’s just for kicks. Nice.

Casanova #4 (Image Comics)

Remixing some of the most prevalent ideas in our cultural head — the showiness of David Blaine, the serenity and power of eastern traditions, a goofy heist caper and the pride of dangerous, talented people — this issue is less muddled than its predecessor and gets back to the simple charms that made both this series and early episodes of “Alias” (the spy one, not the Marvel comics one) so sinfully enjoyable. Matt Fraction focuses the crazy into a well-formed laser of storytelling for an enjoyable issue that’s both clear and convoluted in the best possible way. Whimsical.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

Goal of ending each review with one single word? Done. Plus, a really interesting week of comics that are worth re-reading almost instantly.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

Again, “Phonogram” #2 comes so close to making it (“retromancer?” Aw, why did we have to just brush past that?) but again settles for gloss and style where it could hone in — on the ghost girl, on the happy guy, on any real detail — and provide meat and substance. Alas. “Annihilation” was doing well until it simply overwhelmed all sense of comprehension with a deluge of characters, each one cheapening the impact of the one before, hitting the same “mass of bodies” problem that “Rann/Thanagar War” had. Nobody in the issue knows what to make of what happened in “Ultimate X-Men” #74, and neither does this column, with a character powered by unchecked desire that leaves nothing resolved and everything possible in a bewildering reset button incident. “Batman Strikes” #25 showed up in the mail from “The Hustler” Jai Nitz, and it’s a really well done piece of craft work with Killer Croc characterized extremely well, but then falls down by dropping the ball on a really smart plan by having a pat and oversimplified resolution (which may play better for kid audiences than adults, as this is from the juvenile line of books). “Thunderbolts” #106 does a lot of big things in a very small and somewhat complicated space, and each gasp-worthy shock is followed by a bigger one, which gets hard to keep up with sans more character work along the way. “Ex Machina” #23 showed some signs of life, as the Mayor struggles with an unusual city crisis while (again) being haunted by aspects of his old life. There was a bunch of books — “Green Lantern Corps” #4, “Green Arrow” #66, “Ms. Marvel” #7, “GI Joe” #15, “Firestorm” #29, “52” #19 — that just kind of happened, with nothing overly good nor bad to recommend them. The spy-busting “Captain America” #21 shows Cap winning but still getting outsmarted in the end, a sadly accurate stance on Earth-616’s most tarnished icon.

No, just … no …

To even get into “Suprema #1/Supreme Sacrifice #0” would dirty and compromise you as a reader and this column as a body of work. Let’s just move on. The sheer un-specialness of J’onn Jonzz in “Martian Manhunter” #2 makes the core concepts not work, therefore giving the tedious pathos no credibility. Plus, what was up with nothing outside of a few panels of TTT being funny in “Toyfare” #111?

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Way more good than bad.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Thumbs up at a 45 degree angle. Okay, well, maybe a 75 degree angle. Yeah, let’s go with that.

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