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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 AUGUST 16TH, 2006

When you find yourself finding delight in reading a comic more than three times on the day you buy it, that's a good comic book. When you chuckle over a line of dialogue and make plans to start using it as a catchphrase, that's a good damned comic book. This issue right here? One good damned comic book. From the always outre primer (one question was never answered, and nobody even cares) to the ridiculous lord of the "Dank Dimension" (wonder if Snoop Dogg has ever visited there) to the hilarious quotables from pretty much every cast member, this issue is just fun to read. True, the plotting is falling into a kind of rhythm -- rant, fly to threat, smack threat, Dirk Anger follows with insane rant, more smacking things around -- with some vague variations on the theme ... but one could say the same of sex, and very few people are complaining about that either. Fantastic pop comics.

While staying in the realm of the deeply bonkers, this issue both succeeds mightily (the scene between Casanova and his dad is just freaking great) and falls down on the job (the torture scenes are a bit unclear ... just what is Zeph doing? Do we want to know?) in a way that sums up as entertaining nonetheless. A "mirror universe" version of Agent Casanova Quinn comes to grips with who he is in this world and whether or not he cares while keeping up with his Sydney Bristowe-styled double life, all played out with a Bay Area backdrop behind it, echoing a trip where writer Matt Fraction contemplated murdering his friends Laurenn McCubbin and her boyfriend Alex. Delightful. Not as crisp as its start, but still damned fun.

Rex Mundi #1 (Dark Horse Comics)

Don't call it a comeback -- it's vive la revolucion as the probably Merovingian Duke of Lorraine leads troops right into Versailles, all while Winston Churchchill is elected across the Channel. Arvid Nelson's alternative history tale churns the intensity way up as artist/colorist Juan Ferreyra gets so evocative in details -- a soldier's profile, Lorraine's lunatic grin switching to a scowl and so on -- that the interiors are as lush and well conceived as the project itself. This issue moves all too fast, and admittedly doesn't do much to ramp up the new reader, but the entire story thus far has proven worth the uphill climb needed to get involved. possibly the only complaint could be the dull J. H. Williams III cover, which doesn't do much to inspire or address the action contained within.

Anyone who's grown up in a western society will probably have at least a decent grasp on your average biblical tale -- your beliefs notwithstanding, they're an amazingly well put together body of myths and morality tales. WIth that kind of lingua franca already in place, one might suspect that the gag of paralleling tales of the bible with modern narratives would grow tedious. Nothing could be further from the truth -- the clever turns that writer Douglas Rushkoff takes to tie in the overarching storylines with their source material is a feat of creative contortionism worthy of circus accolades. Sure, one could question the idea of a fugitive stopping in a burlesque club of ill repute, but the comeuppance is so delicious that such a plot hiccup flies by, and the ishtar/Krishna meeting casts a fascinating light on both the "as above, so below" nature of the title's core argument as well as anthropomorphizing the divine energies in conflict -- in a good way. Well worth watching.

Jump from the Read Pile. The only appropriate phrase for what writer Fabian Nicieza is doing with the characterization of Helmut Zemo is "haul ass." Using his newfound moonstone powers, Zemo dispatches Hercules, Daredevil and the Falcon in less than three pages before monologuing Captain America within an inch of his life. While his team chases down rogue super villains (there's a nice Bendis-esque moment between Mach IV and Techno that actually ties in to the story), Zemo knows all that's headed his way and stands ready to accept it, like a samurai appreciating the wind singing from the sword that will chop his head off. The whole shtick with the Grandmaster remains suitably mysterious (there's little room for it with everything else going on, but as a "B" plot it simmers nicely) and the Radioactive Man delivers the most incredulous and fascinating assessment of events that has been seen yet: "As a Chinese national with a long history of opposing this country's government, I find it rather ironic that the brightest minds of the United States ... their elected leaders ... are creating a social climate so similar to the ones you have so long railed against ... Captain America. You intend to apprehend and incarcerate Captain America. Say those words aloud ... consider their true implication ... and claim my words have no merit." There it is, right there. Framed by Zemo verbally boxing in that self same Captain America, this is a watershed issue that even makes the ridiculous elements of this crossover seem important.

Jump from the Read Pile. In a standalone issue that ties up loose ends from the opening story arc, a new Black Queen's Knight is chosen through a selection process that'd make Worf proud, while romance and politics jockey for position and Amanda Waller keeps manipulating and backroom dealing, as she should. With all the deft skill he brought to the classic period of "Queen & Country," Greg Rucka is able to wield much more familiar characters with a deft hand, all while building up newer characters with great care, even digging up a chestnut of DC continuity while doing it. A refreshing bit of subterfuge and simmering frustrations. This title is now a Buy Pile regular.

Savage Brothers #1 (Boom! Studios)

Jump from the Read Pile. A surprisingly enchanting opening shot showing a zombiefied post-apocalyptic future (why zombified? Do you really care? Seriously?) and two good ol' boys who've found a mostly honest way to make a living amongst the undead. The two leads are greedy, violent, ambitious and intriguing as they negotiate a Georgia that looks nothing like you'd expect and encounter a "virgin stripper" who intones, "So far ... the apocalypse blows." With just the right mix of random violence, humor and creative tension, every page was a pleasant surprise -- and this from a review column well known for being bored spitless by zombie stories. A real accomplishment. To sum up, this wonder of dialogue. Dale: "Rainin' frogs." Otis: "Yup." Dale: "Must be Wednesday." Otis. "Yup." Dale: "Wednesdays are never good." Otis: "And this one ain't gonna be no exception." Writers Andrew Cosby and Johanna Stokes (another CBR fave) showed up for the job, and Rafael Albuquerque's art melds perfectly with Cris Peter's perfectly dingy coloring (just right for the milieu).

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

The more these issue get read, the better they get, and that's just plain good crazy.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

"Phonogram" #1 was so close to making the jump that the Buy Pile still has marks from its fingernails as it slipped over the edge. But for all of its Warren Ellis-esque bastard charm and crisp, delightful artwork, the storytelling was just not clear enough, the jumps in time too abrupt. Too much chatter and not enough clarity, but certainly promising and worth keeping an eye on. "Ultimate Fantastic Four" #32 was a close call as well, as Doom's mistake got short sheeted (especially given the passing over of Thor for the Latverian). The art was top notch, and the hilarity factor was high with some fantastic dialogue (no pun intended), but it just wasn't enough. "Paper Museum" Volume 3 was close as well, with a really great adventure tale called "Saxon the Swordsman" (not Storm Saxon, luckily) and a bitter cute animal story called "The Woods" (both written by "The Hustler" Jai Nitz), but it's just short of the mark, partially due to Mark Smith's somewhat predictable middle story "Devil In The Gears" and partially due to Jim Pezzetti's unfinished-looking art on the same. "The Boys" #1 tries very, very hard to shock and awe but is mostly comprised of adolescent giggles and artist Darick Robertson getting to use the primary colors from his "Transmetropolitan" toolbox. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but not innovative. The same could be said for Vertigo's "Deadman" #1 (which felt like Boom! Studio's "Talent" for a page or two) or "Claws" #1, a Marvel Knights moment that's clearly out-of-continuity and harmless confectionary fun, but not compellingly so. Blue Devil's long day makes for a cute story in "Shadowpact" #4, but if cute is all this issue has to offer, that's not gonna be enough. "Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual" #2 takes a fairly cute route to get where it's going, giving Ultimate Mole Man some characterization (creepy as it is) and building a rival brain trust (while cheesing off Ultimate Thunderbolt Ross, always a plus). "Robin" #153 was likewise "cute," with Tim Drake channeling the Bat in his team up with the son of Captain Boomerang (not as skillfully handled as Dini's Riddler issue of "Detective Comics," though, which is why it didn't make the cut). "Family Guy" #2 had a lot of the energy of the series (and definitely the look) but reading the jokes took some of the kinetic punch of them out of the way, like you'd have to go even farther to accomplish the same effect as the show.

No, just ... no ...

Hold up, what happened to Tony Stark's brain in "Iron Man" #11? With another case of old business in a Thomas Elliot way (and that ain't good), this promising storyline went very quickly down the embankment. Moreover, the events of "52" #15 (which are mostly revealed on the cover) are upsetting and felt capricious. Mister Carter, you deserved better. The emotional content is solid, but the plot is not in "Runaways" #19 (although the revenge moment was pretty well done). "Ion" #5 was plain awful, with a wholly cardboard fight that would have taken half an issue back when Kyle Rayner only had a ring to sling, and a faux chumminess with Jordan that rang false. "Ghost Rider" #2 took a long time to get to its house call, and the art was so messy in "Green Lantern Corps" #3 that by the time you get to the lizard in love, the equally jumbled plot almost falls apart from its own weight. There was nothing ostensibly wrong with "Civil War: X-Men" #2, but there was nothing right about it either, showing how dull and pointless this crossover can be in a conflict with no clear consequences. On the other hand, the slo[[y visual storytelling of "Nightwing" #123 was a big "oooh, no."

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Despite some really not-so-good titles, there was enough promise, alongside the jumps, to not be mad.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

It was a week that bloomed late, and the more its examined, the better it seems.

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