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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 12TH, 2006

Hero Squared #2 (Boom! Studios)

If the idea of three characters talking for an entire issue sounds problematic for you, then you might not enjoy this wildly funny and quick witted issue of Giffen and DeMatteis' latest foray into folly. However, if you've found hilarity in "bwa-ha-ha"-ing, this issue is solid gold, with all the belly laughs and surprising emotional turns of a great episode of "Scrubs." The story? Milo and Captain Valor go to see a therapist. All hell conveniently breaks loose, including a great segment with Milo and a flock of penguins. Yes, penguins. Too strange to explain, you'll have to see it for yourself. There's a lot of information covered here, and a lot of laughs ... overall, there's just a lot of words in general (blowing apart the Dark Horse recommendation of 25 words per balloon and 50 words per panel) but it's all worth the read. Fans of Bendis-style banter will love this as well, with the added benefit of every digression and every thought driving the central issues of story and characterization forward instead of just adding pop culture notes for kicks. Oh, and just for fun, a new reader would be totally caught up because the therapist (new to the situation) gets recap data sprinkled in between the insults and personal revelations. A virtual masterpiece of craft, despite the fact that the only thing that gets hit is a large mass of ice (and yes, that sort of relates to the penguins). Good crazy, all around.

Matty Roth is dead -- or so everyone keeps telling him, after seeing this "fact" announced on the news. The insurgent Free States of America is suddenly staring down the barrel of a whole world of hurt, spurred on by the inadvertent media gift of a riled United States military machine. Which leaves Matty on the run and the truth MIA. This issue is a collection of striking moments, living in the moment before the bullet hits the bone. It's hard to say more without spoiling the plot elements, but Matty continues his grim determination to be true and not just be employed, and this resolve has gained him some talented and supportive friends in a place where friendship is a huge liability. A smart and revealing read, paces just right by Wood and Burchielli.

Shaolin Cowboy #6 (Burlyman Entertainment)

Let's clear up any misconceptions: there is no "story" per se here. Insane things try to kill the title character -- this time, a school of sharks instructed by the decapitated, ranting head of a villain from last issue. Said title character then proceeds to kick butt in an understated and relentless fashion. WIth a chainsaw. On a stick. Really, that's all you need to know. You never get bogged down in cliches, like an average issue of "Wolverine," because the darned thing never slows down throwing crazy at you long enough for anything to become familiar. Geofrey Darrow, doing everything but coloring (provided in gory detail by Lovern Kindzierski) simply piles on the madness like a partially sober Grant Morrison (read: in a more linear fashion) and blood and severed arms and beer cans and flotsam all land where they may. If you read a few issues together a kind of narrative begins to emerge, but it doesn't seem terribly important. Shaolin Cowboy kicks butt. Really, that's all you need to know to have a blast with this issue.

Cinderella has a job to do, and her relentless drive to get it done pushes this issue into overdrive as the much-better-prepared-than-anyone-expected Prince Charming gets his ducks in a row to be ready for anything from his enemies in the "old country." Watching Cinderella -- who describes herself as "a lovely spy and a halfway decent assassin ... but ... absolutely one crappy politician" -- will herself into making things happen with all of the hoop-jumping of a game by Rockstar North, is a pleasure. The former princess apparently has a number of skeletons in her metaphorical closet, and in voiceover brushes past some of them to amusing effect. She gets the job done like Big Daddy Kane and it's a fun done-in-one that serves the bigger picture as well. More fantastic work from Willingham, assisted on art by Shawn McManus (a great match for the material).

Toyfare #109 (Wizard Entertainment

Surprisingly not as funny as some issue. It's no secret that "Toyfare" has quietly become one of the best humor magazines in print while doing nothing to sacrifice its role as a fairly decent authority on all things toy/statue/etc. related. But misguided weirdness like the lead article comparing Japan to anime films, heavily "Civil War" inspired classified (the real thing is laughable already, mocking it is overkill) overshadow clever but merely adequate ideas like "freshman reboots continuity for a bold new era," not helped along by a limp cartoon mash-up like "Kill Dilbert." Still, the Transformers Classics are simply jaw-dropping in coolness, and a hilarious Cobra-themed Twisted Toyfare Theatre makes it work (Cobra Commander: "Raptor! You're my accountant ... tell me I have ssstock i thisss place to fall back on!" Raptor: "Nope. That's what you get for hiring an accountant who dresses like this") due to the inherent nostalgic goofiness of the characters in the first place (the "secret sauce" joke is extra icky, but the menu is worth the price of admission alone with the likes of "Cobra La-La-Lasange" and the "Cobra Commandwich"). Not bad ...

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Since it's summer, let's go with a baseball metaphor -- four base hits and a bunt. Nothing wrong with that.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

"Thunderbolts" #104 almost made its way home, with Baron Zemo playing the role of chessman, working three moves ahead of the legislatively challenged heroes he's mocked for so many years. "G.I. Joe" #13 had a really great twist which almost made it work as well, putting the fox in the henhouse but not staying focused enough to make it work as a story. "Iron Man" #10 didn't have Tony Stark be smart enough to get out of the way of a truly inevitable conclusion. "52" #10 would have worked better as an all Black Adam story, as his "magic word" has no power but he does in a solitary but effective stance while Clark uses Lois' tactics to get the job done. "Silver Surfer: Annihilation" #4 was all about Power Cosmic Smackdown, as Norrin and Galen are back together again and it's all about smackdown and spacefaring angst ... again (at least Thanos was cool). "Transformers: Infiltration" #6 finally features a big dance number and some big names showing up for the party, but its artistic choices -- like "Sentinel Squad ONE" -- show no grandeur, opting for the "kid and his toys" perspective when the "Marvels" one would be better suited. "Civil War: Frontline" #3 manages to be adequate despite the pompous tone and the inclusion of Typeface (if he ever beats anybody up, they're getting shipped to Archie Comics) partially because of the information shed here and partially because Speedball takes a stand (yes, it's hard to type that with a straight face). "Next" #1 had Grant Morrison ambitions but Chuck Austen skills, and the work is merely "eh," like recent issues of "Wolverine." "Ultimate Fantastic Four" #31 shows the zombie FF running amok, Doom outsmarting Reed and all hell breaking loose in a fashion so entertaining that it was almost good enough to buy. The banter in "Green Arrow" #64 was good, but there was only about thirty seconds worth of actual story there. "Squadron Supreme" #5's brutal take on metahuman-vs-normal warfare made the last page recruitment make sense, but it still is all flash and pomp without any substance (Mark's secretive, as is Zarda, as is Ledger, as is Burbank, and so on). "Superman" #654 was a solid done-in-one with a special anniversary and the first mention of "the Science Police," as well as some great super smashing and one interesting almost "Smallville"-worthy plot twist.

No, just ... no ...

Seriously, why did they even bother putting out "Ms. Marvel" #5? Her dull antagonist was only made half interesting when Dr. Strange showed up to get all "sign of the devil" and making with the magic. As with virtually every issue, "Green Lantern" #12 was a crime against continuity, humanity and good taste. "Super Skrull: Annihilation" #4 was tedious (and the art so didn't work for this, alongside that "I am ..." litany shtick), "Firestorm" #27 was lame (another costume? Another "merge?" Bah), and "Ghost Rider" #1 seemed to pick up on the disappointing dullness of the mini ... and keep spinning its wheels.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Way more good than bad, so we'll call it good.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Eclipsing the dreck, this week won.

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