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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 JULY 26TH, 2006

Jump from the Read Pile. The characterization of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones is the largest reason why this issue made the long, long jump to the promised land. A lot of the arguments against the Superhuman Registration Act that came across as ham fisted in other titles are done with grace and insight here, as Luke Cage makes a stand on principle. Iron Man and Ms. Marvel (or is she still Warbird? It's hard to remember) try to talk Luke and Jessica into registering on the eve of the act and get shot down with ... well, they say it best. "What about me, Mr. Stark?" Jessica asks. "Yeah, I have powers too ... and you know what? I don't want to use them, and I have no plans to use them. And I don't want to work for the United States of Corporate Sellouts. What about someone like me?" When Iron Man implies that SHIELD and then superheroes will be there to take 'em in if they won't sign, Cage responds, "Oh. Its it Mississippi in the 1950s now? ... Getting pulled out of your home in the middle of the night for being different is the same now as it was then." Iron Man: "This is about breaking the law." Cage: "Slavery used to be a law." What's best about this issue is how well Bendis and Leinil Yu use moments of relative silence, without dialogue, to carry the gravitas of the moment and the ideological gestures being made on both sides. This could be Luke Cage's finest, most dignified moment and surely is one of the finest moments in this entire crossover storyline. Smart (down to the videotaping), well told, tense and even at one point inspiring.

Oh boy ... this could possibly be the new standard bearer for the smug and the sly, as the storied Giant Killer and Beanstalk Climber (yes, his shirt says "ensemble books are for losers" as he flees the cast that brought him to the relative spotlight) hits the road and finds big trouble out in the wild world. Seriously, this issue has it all -- witty banter, car crashes, annotation-worthy in jokes and and a naked lady. Jack's in way over his head, and he doesn't even care, which makes this story simply delightful in its almost Remington Steele-esque charm. Bill Willingham strikes again (with some help from Matthew Sturges), and the art team of Tony Akins and Andrew Pepoy are perfect for the material.

The best (and apparently first completed) story from the Image Anniversary hardcover is finally available in a standalone issue, and it's so worth it. Serving as a prologue for the mysterious happenings in the now-legendary "Savage Dragon" #1, we find out just why our fin-headed hero is as tough as he is, why he has no memories before waking up in a flaming field, and just what kind of legacy he left behind. To say anything more would be to spoil a fascinating story, but at a buck ninety five, this is practically a steal. Such a great framing device that puts the Dragon's whole history in a much more complicated and interesting light.

The benefit of having a writer with bigger horizons than the comic book industry is apparent on page two -- how would you frame the biggest wedding in Marvel's recent history? When it's these two characters, you have BET cover it (writer Reginald Hudlin's "day job" is as president of entertainment at BET, FYI) -- not the staid suits of CNN or the spin-masters of Fox News. Starting with that as a framing device, the issue's already doing a great job, but when the tense guests start showing up from stateside, all still fresh from the battle lines of their "civil war" (and mostly in costume, which seemed an interesting choice) and a tie in to Captain America history, a set of great one-on-one meets (including the face off from the cover and a strangely ambulatory Patrick Stewart) ... oh, yeah, and Uatu the Watcher shows up, and doesn't even want any cake. There are so many great moments here, strung together in a fashion that's perfectly coherent and dramatically ascendant. Even the coloring choices for the spirit world were consistent with the spiritual beliefs of the relative cultures involved, Prince played the reception and a statuesque overture (looking just like the Randy Bowen version) from Latveria makes for interesting foreshadowing. A triumph, even though what's up with Arune of all CBR staffers being involved with this issue's finale? Kidding ... mostly ...

Bryan Hitch called, regarding some widescreen thing. His message: "whoa!" In true Kirby-tastic style, stuff gets blowed up real good in this exciting and mind-boggling issue. Just ... wow. It's kind of a spectacle, in a good way. The title of the issue wraps around the whole cover, which is a wonderfully interesting visual departure, and one fitting the wild events and earth-shaking fisticuffs taking place in this issue. Maybe a bit hard to grasp if you weren't already on board, but a great treat for regular readers.

Astro City: Samaritan Special #1 (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

In the last two years, Marvel did two interesting books regarding Dr. Doom, where the Latverian monarch sat down for dinner with (respectively) a female spy and Reed Richards. Given that most of those issues were meaningful glances and razor-sharp dialogue, they were nonetheless brilliant. This single issue stands among those easily, as Samaritan (short story: a Superman type) sits down for an annual dinner with his nemesis, this column's new favorite character, Infidel. An immortal in the Vandal Savage mold (although more closely resembling Octavia Butler's Doro) who's dedicated his life to a better world in his own image, who makes superstring editors as toys and whose gentility is only matched by his indifference at slaying billions at a time for nothing more than his own whims. Infidel is delightful, and these experiences all did more to make the villain seem all the more impressive and comprehensible as characters. Even after three reads today, still revealing layers -- fascinating.

A more esoteric grouping of characters without any of the normal "hahahaha, look at that loser" types. The information on both Mandarins is revelatory, especially with Jon Favreau's plans forthcoming. Three pages of Mister Sinister is an excellent resource to have, and a lot more understandable than some of the issues in question, as was the comprehensive Morlocks entry (okay, some of them are kind of laughable). This is a drier, more reference minded collection of entries than previous issues, which have all had at least one ridiculous profile, but still good to know.

Jump from the Read Pile. Black Adam ... wow. Aside from being the Hugo Chavez of the DC Universe (what, you don't read the news?), now he's gone and made a goddess. One who, even he believes, would be more powerful than himself, and one who openly disagrees with him about tons of stuff. Insane? Perhaps ... but Adam's a planner these days, and that makes for riveting storytelling. But watching a manic Billy Batson in the Rock of Eternity (way crazier and scarier than the quiet menace of Batson in "Kingdom Come" because this one is twitchy) is almost worth the price of admission in and of itself. The Shazam-related revelations are what got this book home, but the sad surrender of Ralph Dibny is also effective. Kahndaq is where it's at in the DCU -- it's the new Bialya, and hipper than Zandia -- and everybody else is just playing catch up.

NOTE: Again, this cover shown isn't what was available on shelves, so consider yourself warned. With a bit of overwrought pathos, Heath Huston continues his fight against brain-robots and evil super yetis. To be honest, this story has been dragged out a bit too long, whereas the pulp poppiness of earlier issues hit you in the face and made a run for it -- in a good way. Not bad, but not as compelling ... and if it wasn't already on the Buy Pile, it might have gotten left at the store, especially on an already expensive week like this.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Mostly stellar, with only a yawn in "OHOTMU" and "Fear Agent" to speak against any of it.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

The general energy of "Blue Beetle" #5 was okay, but only the female characters showed any spunk as most of the male supporting cast is visually and in every other way virtually interchangeable, and therefore uninteresting. "Jeremiah Harm" #4 was rocking your world until it let go just a little too early, but it was still quite good. "Wolverine" #44 was entertaining largely because Logan spent most of the issue naked and still kicking people's butts, the "undercover" characters were a nice choice, given their leader and the issue stayed on target without leaning too heavily on cliche. Wish the art was a little less stilted, though. "Birds of Prey" #96 almost made it home on a number of counts -- it probably should have had the spot held by "Fear Agent" -- as Dinah has some great moments with Sin, Babs admits to cyber sex with another mask and the remnants of the Society trick the girls but good. "American Way" #6 is a bit chatty as the battle lines for a kind of "civil war" are drawn (ha ha, parallel). "Civil War: Frontline" #4 tries very hard, with Speedball as a cell block tough guy (seriously, he's pulling it off), the brutal styles of Typeface (hahahahahahahahaha), and how long has Ben Urich been married? The galactic auctioneer in "Action Comics" #841 was interesting as Supes struggled with public perception (didn't he see Brandon Routh, people lose faith).

No, just ... no ...

Things finally get explained in "Supergirl" #8, sort of, but they're not interesting and probably wouldn't have been before all the mix ups with alternate universe characters and futuristic telepaths. Somehow, "Ronan: Annihilation" #4 left no impression whatsoever. "Crisis Aftermath: Spectre" #3 finally stopped whining, sort of, but by this point even the ironic sacrifice is just sad. When the best part of "Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways" #1 was the technical terms SHIELD used in combat, you know something's wrong, with pointless fisticuffs and none of the smart dialogue we've come to expect from both titles. Had the villains not been so milquetoast and the bit with the supposed-to-be-dead sidekick not been so gross, "Nightwing" #122 might have been better, but as it was it was just unnerving. Somehow, "Captain America" #20 is still fighting Nazis (in a blimp for the love of pie) while the Winter Soldier navel gazes. Both "JLA Classified" #25 and "JSA Classified" centered on (in the words of Vixen), "the biggest fiasco in superhero history" in Detroit, and in both cases it's just as dull (mainly because both teams ran through some of this with Roulette a year or two ago, and that fat guy in the Royal Flush gang is just embarrassing). Oh, and the last page of "Daredevil" #87 can make you throw up in your mouth (although this issue did prove that Rich Johnston was right).

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Kind of tough going, honestly.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Despite so many Read Pile titles tanking, both jumps were impressive and Ananda and Toure made their comic book debuts, so we'll call the week a thin win.

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