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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 MARCH 8TH, 2006

Lex Luthor is front and center here, appearing as both the smartest man in the world and simultaneously the dumbest. Because confronted with his most hated enemy, he merely sees Clark Kent, come to give him a jailhouse interview from Death Row. But when an unshielded Parasite siphons off a fraction of Superman's newly-juiced up powers from afar, things go pear shaped in a fashion that's both amusing and creative. The plot -- slapstick moments of Superman hiding himself from Lex while saving them both from the rampage, Luthor's dry asides, and panel walls crumbling to particulate matter as Luthor's mad ranting never stops ... deeply entertaining. Hilarious and sad and back to hilarious. A reliable gem.

It's time for a world tour. Why? After a perfect (and violence free) honeymoon, courtesy of Namor, T'Challa said, "Behind the smiles and the gifts lurks fear. People look at us as a couple and quiver. Too much power, too much wealth, too well connected. They think we might take over the world." Storm replies, "So you want to do a goodwill tour to assuage their fears ... and if we can't assuage their fears?" T'challa replies, "That would be unfortunate ... because then we'd have to take over the world." Then the laugh. Because they're kidding. Of course. That kind of delightful tension, alongside Hudlin's amazing gift for hip, snappy dialogue ("I am Wakandan, not a Keebler elf") propel this wonderful look at the current state of Marvel, through Doom's megalomaniacal eyes, tries diplomacy but ends up with a big dance number (as even T'Challa knew it probably would, despite his attempts at a mature dialogue) and even shows the complexity of the marriage with interesting brush strokes and always laughter. Really a delight to read, and one of the best paced and plotted comic books on the stand. Sure, faces may look different here and there, but Scot Eaton and Andrew Hennessy do good action in small spaces, and keep things going at an enjoyable pace.

We may as well look to Chinua Achebe for the way things fall apart here, as plots and plans from many issues back tie together neatly and relationships end. The really brilliant developments here are all essentially spoilers, but John Jameson stays furry and that fur flies in manners that are difficult to predict and fascinating to observe. Dan Slott manages a careful balance of whimsy and action, as the Two-Gun Kid shows how much a man with a pistol can do, Jen's rival Mallory finds out everything, and that propels the plot into really interesting places. Another great issue in a virtually unblemished line of them.

Speaking of tying things in, the surprise on the last page is well worth waiting for, and only gets better the more you think about it. Plus, Jamie finally uses his powers in a way that all of would in his place, some of the dastardly work of the rival firm Singularity Investigations comes to light, Pietro explains himself (sort of) ... it's just a wonderful potpourri of snapshot moments that make the mad melange that is "X-Factor," and as always, it's riveting to read.

Jump from the Read Pile. Lots of comics have done a lot to try and introduce new characters of massive power. None in recent memory have done it so effectively as this issue. A set of apparent adolescents from a much more advanced alternate universe land in a department store while Sue is trying to teach Reed to be normal for a day. Mike Carey creates an entire syntax and ideological backdrop for them, expressing it in so few brief passages as to take your breath away. Then they drop something wildly important, which Reed predictably grabs, and forces an invasion of the most adorable methods, penetrating the Baxter Building. Pasqual Ferry's fanciful art and the delicate coloring of Dave McCaig and Justin Ponsor make everything just perfectly poised between dream and stark reality, like a really well rendered and conceived video game. Too good to leave at the store, and rewarding on multiple reads.

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z #8: (Marvel Comics)

All Handbooks go on the Buy Pile. You know that. So the Buy Pile can know things that happen in stories and not get confused or bogged down. So what's whacky in this one? The zanily manipulative albino Nekra gets an expanded entry (that doesn't make her any less ridiculous, but a Leonardo Manco piece at least makes her kind of alluring). There's a complete run down of the High Evolutionary's New Men, Nighthawk gets updated to recent issues, as does Nova. Number Nine and Ogre gets more play than they perhaps ever have. Onslaught, Phantom Rider, Prester John ... there's a whole lotta good crazy here, even breaking down the origins of books like "Runaways." Goofy and informative -- a winning combination.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Every page was entertaining, so that's all brands of good.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

It was very, very challenging to leave "Justice" #7 at the store, which hit virtually every character's iconic ideals at just the right angle. With Alex Ross' evocative paintings as a guide, ironically that very iconic slant was what made it fall juuuuuust shy of the mark: the character ideas were shorthand, not actual developments, so it was a litany and not a narrative. Still good, though. Similar things could be said for "Trials of Shazam" #1, which showed a whimsical Billy Batson batting clean up on amok magic in the world, until "something goes awry" (tm) near the end and throws him out of his comfortable routine. Maybe it'll read more solidly when collected with whatever follows, but the jarring ending seemed too much (and this cliche is intentional for those who read the issue) of a bolt from the blue. If you know the names -- and more importantly the personalities -- behind "CSI: Dying In The Gutters" #1 (written by fellow CBR columnist Steven Grant), you'll have a hard time putting this issue back. Far from their handshaking convention personas, you get to see Quesada in a sort of Hugh Hefner mold (nice), comics writers slogging through their day and get some actually rather interesting insights into the regular CSI characters. Great if you're into all that, but woefully insular if you're not already mostly in on the gag. The creepy behavior of one of their own stands at the center of "Ultimate X-Men Annual" #2, and it's not exactly Michael Keaton in "Pacific Heights" but it does pinpoint a particular pathos and manages to get Ultimate Rogue some panel time too. The large scale adventure of "Action Comics" #842 was positively post modern, a fun romp with a ridiculous antagonist and Superman forced to team up with a motley band of characters (when did the Veteran become so goofy? Wouldn't General Glory have made more sense there?) and pull off a classic inspirational Superman moment. The race conflict at the core of "American Way" #7 was more action than significance, but entertained in its fashion (but it's not for sensitive readers at all). The mean streak continues unabated in "Boys" #2 as Butcher gets his message through to Wee Hughie, still moping over the death of his girlfriend. The Chaykin-fried steak that is "JLA Classified" #26 hearkens back to the good moments of "JL Elite," as the team finds its way through internal disagreements and a volatile political environment to reteam with Faith and address metahuman proliferation (also noted in recent issues of "Outsiders") and terrorism. Speaking of dissent, Red Star's strident stance in "Teen Titans" #38 worked well, and showed a little-seen corner of the DCU (love the new shtick for the old Russian hero), and "Uncle Sam & The Freedom Fighters" could have made it home, with Uncle Sam's brilliant oratory, if the sudden nature of the team's change of heart had been played out with any drama and not glossed over. Even a great bit with the Phantom Lady couldn't fix the over all cop out of a straw man antagonist that is a convenient -- and beatable -- scapegoat for the larger issues brought up here.

No, just ... no ...

Okay, "Hannibal Bates" in "52" #17? Funny. While Luthor's slickness was on point, there wasn't much story here, just gloss. The return of Noh-Varr was much ado about nothing in "Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways" #2, which at least had good banter to recommend it. The art was no good on "Battlestar Galactica" #1, but the potboiler-styled story was at least serviceable. "Snakes On A Plane" #1 was a note-by-note adaptation of the film, which even more shows why the movie is so hilariously brilliant as the comic can't come close to capturing the manic glee of the celluloid version. Cable trying to speak truth to power in "Cable/Deadpool" #31 fell flat, drawn between the lines of other issues, and for some unknown reason, "Superman/Batman" #29 was published, an affront to good taste with a story that drags on less effectively than that Supergirl-In-Kandor gag.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Lots of really ambitious works, and on a more financially solid week, two or three more books could have made the jump.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

With a week so charged with excitement, we can only call this a win.

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