www.cbr.com

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 9TH, 2006

Ah, the lies people weave for love and revenge. This fun, fun issue shows the honeymoon period for Mr. and Mrs. John Jameson while their roommate Pug does some investigative work. Secrets are revealed, confessions are made, disguises are taken off and all manner of craziness takes place in a fashion that's highly entertaining. Even more so, Rick Burchett and Nelson's art is super crisp and smartly managed, while Dan Slott keeps all cylinders firing in the way we've come to love. Plus, Awesome Andy lays his mack down, and a meta-internal reference to stun the ages? How can you beat that? Solid and fulfilling.

Jump from the Read Pile. Everything that you used to get from the now overly-talky "Ex Machina" is being done much more deftly here. While talking heads debate the maverick mayoral stylings of Oliver Queen, the Emerald Archer and his less-goofy-by-the-day sidekick take the fight to the street, beating down artificially mutated citizens before they can run amok (well, more amok than could be written off, anyway). However, the issue brings up an interesting point: if the DCU's US government wrote off both Gotham and Star City, really, does their FEMA even bother to have offices? Anyway, many fans will enjoy a verdant guest appearance while the title character reveals the method behind his madness, playing every side against themselves with both of his roles, all while missing his son. The Slade-in-prison subplot seems like it could have been accomplished in an easier fashion, but that's a minor smudge on a remarkably interesting issue that holds up even after the third read.

From a severe beat down delivered courtesy of Medusa (who had any idea hair could be so dangerous?) to a nice last-page reveal, this latter-day "Secret Wars" treatment has far more grit and fascination than the original, propelled by the skillful script from Dwayne McDuffie and Scott Kolins' spot-on artwork. The colors from Paul Mounts are a smidge on the "dour" side, but it's not worth being upset about. The character interactions -- from the foolish bravado of The Hood to the guilt-driven protectiveness of Hank Pym to the imperiousness of Medusa, are all played deftly. Speaking of Pym, it's amusing to see McDuffie bring over a trick from his Milestone character Iota in service to the scientist, and the "digging in the crates" characters that keep popping up are sheer treasure for any "OHOTMU" fans. High caliber comics, right here.

Despite two vignettes about hair (one empowering, one bittersweet), this issue rattles sabers and pounds the drums of conflict as the great powers behind the Adversary's empire meet to discuss the response to issue #50's brilliant surgical strike. The menace and power represented here is comparable to the bounty hunters scene in "Empire Strikes Back," where the possibility of all hell breaking loose stood so close you could feel the heat of it on your skin. There's also a very subtle ad for an Image comic book on the last page, which is a super cool Easter egg from Gene Ha, who fills in the last epilogue. For more than four years, this comic has been so consistently good that it shames the competition, and this issue keeps up that tradition with the smooth efficiency of professionals.

It's well known that every reference tome of sufficient factual heft will go on the Buy Pile. All due apologies to Stephen Colbert, facts are a good thing. So despite the dry narrating style of the Nova Corps Worldmind (which serves as the guide for the "stellar" cast) and the apparent congruency of many powers (durability, space flight, strength, energy blasts -- somebody was handing those four powers out like those Chick-Fil-A samples on toothpicks, because most people got 'em), this is an acceptable entry into Marvel's growing body of reference materials on their characters. Using the standard power scale would have made it a bit better, but oh well.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

One crafty jump, some solid choices, no real problems ... that's all good so far.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

The fine guys at Aspen Comics handed your humble reviewer all the standing issues of "Shrugged," and today's #2 was very, very close to making it to the top. The zero issue and the premiere should be read alongside the second, because it takes until mid issue here for the story to really take off, despite the eye-pleasing artwork we're accustomed to from those guys. "Annihilation" #1 was also very close to coming home (and had "Green Arrow" not done it so well, it probably would have), with a very gritty ground-level war tale set in fantastic terms, accomplishing the kind of energy that could have saved the dull "Rann/Thanagar War." Even the nameless foot soldiers seem interesting and important, partially credited to Giffen's script and partially due to Andrea Di Vito making it happen on the art side. "Firestorm" #28 was kind of good, with a very smart method of using the title characters powers in a combat situation (and yes, it's good to have the Professor back, despite the wackiness of how it happened). The family and relationship drama played well, but the "old business" angle (which plagued the earlier writer before Stuart Moore as well) did not. "Ultimate X-Men" #73 was pretty much an issue-long fight, despite the last page implications and the mystery exposed (what's up with Ultimate Cyke being such a hot head, though?). "Buckaroo Banzai" #2 had enough material for two issues jammed in to its pages, and that led to a breakdown of coherency and dilution of the cool factor -- a big musical moment with a guitar solo got so little space that it barely registered. It's not really clear why the DCU is now so untrusting of its metahumans (and aliens in this case), but the strident tone of "Martian Manhunter" #1 rings false, with a militant J'onn J'onzz seeming like ... well, Wayne Brady ready to choke a b***h. Just weird. The twists and turns in "Ms. Marvel" #6 were a little bit interesting, but she's just so flat as a character that even Arachne seems fascinating by comparison, and that's no good to lead a comic. The character interaction is more fascinating than the actual plot of "Secret Six" #3, as Scandal Savage's family business endangers the team. "Squadron Supreme" #6 was close to making the move, with Nighthawk's insistence on working alone clashing with his speedster friend's optimism, Hyperion getting an on-camera challenge worth his powers, a fantastic scene with Dr. Burbank and the rest of the team enjoying R&R while the camera pans from one to another. Finally, the fey pomposity of Arion in "Superman" #655 was cute, but didn't meld well with the rest of the issue, which was bland at best.

No, just ... no ...

"Next" #2 really, really tries hard to achieve Grant Morrison's level of outrageousness, but manages only a thin brand of whimsy that doesn't feel like a threat or engage a sense of wonder. "Civil War: Front Line" #5 is back to making ham-fisted analogies with "Fantasy Island," Jonah making more personnel changes and the drafting of Wonder Man. "Toyfare" was polybagged, so no telling what was in that. The vagueness and lack of characterization for the supporting cast made "Hulk" #97 stay in place, despite a lot of interest being piqued by that recent guidebook (somehow, none of the interesting characteristics from most of those players, including the new Emperor, made it here, and a taciturn Hulk just seems to be meandering). If your theme has anything to do with metal, you had a bad week in "52" #14, while T.O. Morrow escapes off panel and seems to take any interesting content with him, especially after last week's impressively weird issue. It would have been nice to get into "Fathom" #10, but the vagueness and lack of explanation of what anybody does, combined with the old-fashioned Silver Surfer-styled navel-gazing voice over just made this issue impenetrable.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Rather good, actually, and even the failures were ambitious.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

We'll go with "yay!"

Oh, but while we're here, there's an interesting blog about somebody who hates these reviews here ...

EXCLUSIVE: Peter David, Dale Keown Reunite for Incredible Hulk: Last Call

More in CBR Exclusives