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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 JUNE 14TH, 2006

Jump from the Read Pile. This title is insidious in how it melds all of Rucka's strengths as a writer together. Between the cold-bloodedness of Amanda Waller to the superheroics of Alan Scott to subterfuge in the hinterlands of China, this title shows spycraft and metahumanity walking hand in hand with almost flawless harmony. Really hitting its stride now, the newly minted Stormwatch, er, Checkmate organization fights for its survival against the slings and arrows of national pride and metahuman terrorism. What was interesting is how the idea of grafted metahumanity -- giving normal people superpowers -- is making itself seen here and in other mainline DC books (Luthor is handing out powers in the Super books, while the Monsieur Mallah and the Brain are selling super powered clone operatives on, essentially, eBay). The art by Richards, Wiacek and Bird is adequate but unremarkable, which makes the cohesion of the script all the more impressive, not being able to rely on stunning visuals to carry the weight. A pleasant surprise in a OYL environment.

Ah, here's where this cover goes. Anyway, Heath gets a new lease on life (literally) and struggles to save the future from the horror of colonizing killer robots fueled by super intelligent snow gorilla brains (hell yeah) ... there's so much good pulp crazy here, it's hard to review. There's a wonderfully ironic time travel dilemma and a conflict about betrayal, making this issue a wonderfully entertaining treat. This title is a Buy Pile regular as of now, right until they day they screw up.

Speaking of Buy Pile regulars, this fascinating series from Brian Wood kicks up the intensity a notch, pushing neophyte journalist Matty Roth even closer to a place he surely would never wanna be, with the "Free States" making impossible demands and a succinct (two pages) but amazingly detailed history of how endless war came to the streets of everyday America. This comic just gets better every month, and between the wonderful nightmares to illustrate character and the political machinations of two essentially ruthless governments, this issue fires on every cylinder.

Jump from the Read Pile. It's a great week for complicated comics, with Cable taking over an eastern European country (or maybe it's a former Soviet republic, a map of Marvel's eastern hemisphere, with Symkaria and Latveria and this new-ish Rumekistan would be super helpful) and Domino spending the entire issue agonizing over whether or not to put a bullet in his head. All while Deadpool playfully serves as Cable's own personal Mara Jade, running down the dirty work while Cable makes geopolitical governance look easy. All that, and this issue has the nerve to be a tense and entertaining character study as well. Fabian Nicieza throws down on this issue, never showing his hand but keeping all the plates spinning effortlessly (while you get a seamlessly mixed metaphor, can't beat that). Add in the always-hilarious recap page, and you've got a solid winner that refused to be left at the store.

NOTE: The cover shown here is not what was sold at the store

There are only two words for this milestone issue: "hell" and "yeah." Bigby Wolf makes his comeback to the environs of the Fables with a daring deed of espionage (all the while showing off some brilliant bits of Fables-specific story logic) on a mission called "Operation: Israel" that makes Prince Charming look like a very, very serious person (and brings back a wonderful character we'd seen practically disappear). The best part is that a whole adventure like that one, which is big in every sense of the word, only takes up half the issue. The rest, a proposal that could move the stoniest heart and a wedding of such perfect symmetry (down to what looked like Boy Blue as best man and Rose Red as matron of honor) that it was story book perfect. A staggering show of craft and skill from Willingham, and even with the limited space provided, Buckingham and Leialoha made the big moments grand. Huzzah!

Toyfare #108 (Wizard Entertainment)

Jump from the Read Pile. The lead news story has Vehicle Voltron murdered, and an antagonized Lion Voltron investigating the crime, followed by a story of the Kool Aid Man getting sent to jail to the delight of the makers of brick walls. Twisted Toyfare Theatre has the Leader making a "De-Tard Ray" to rid the Hulk of the stupidity that makes people so tolerant of him. One of the consistently funniest things to read, period. Oh, and there's cool stuff about toys too, if you care about all that.

Jump from the Read Pile. A fairly on-the-nose idea is played out far better than in the first issue, where machines and meat conflict in a messy way, but (as George Costanza once said), "You can't stop modern science. Can't stop it, you can't stop it. Can't stop science. Can't be stopped, no way, no how." Which is kind of a foregone conclusion in this prequel book since the protagonist goes on to be mayor in the real series, but still, the thrill of the combat remains as things are presented in such a verite fashion that it feels like anything can happen. As for what does happen, it shows a defining moment in the forming of Mitchell Hundred's character, and the last five pages are simply a triumph. Good crazy, and possessed of a tenacity that the regular series has missed for some time.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Jump! Jump! Jump! Fantastic week of comic purchases, and just a hair over twenty bucks.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

The last copy of Public Enemy #0 was sold just as this reporter got to the store, and it was slated for purchase, but whadda ya gonna do? "52" #6 was interesting, with Black Adam acting less like a super-anything and more like a world leader and Rip Hunter pointing the finger at Booster Gold. "Squadron Supreme" #4 almost made it home, but fell down on the job dividing its focus between the super interesting "rise to power" conversation and the less-riveting personal subplot. "Green Arrow" #63 also made a run for the cash register, with Ollie Queen using his money, his political status and his fists/arrows to get the job done in a much more concerted way than previously seen, falling just short of the mark due to a slight bit of slack in the story's pacing. "Thunderbolts" #103 (which will be somewhat confusing if read before "Civil War" #2) was also a contender, with things clearly going pear shaped if (in the words of store-troll Adam) "you got Tony Stark shaking hands with a Nazi," which symbolizes both the great and goofy parts of this book (are we sure Stark, Pym and Reed are that smart, or is it just specific to certain areas?) with Zemo characterizing the E-Roc (from The Coup) lyric, "you never worked for the mob, you got a government job!" "Superman" #653 managed to make Lex Luthor a real physical challenge for the Man of Steel, who finally realized some smarter ways to use his power (sort of) and framed the conflict between them in interesting terms. Finally, the all-new character Magician is making a good impression in "Ultimate X-Men" #71, with subterfuge around the Phoenix Force and some serious danger from Jean, who buys a bill of sale that's no good. There's nothing wrong with "JLA Classified" #22, but there's nothing right about it either since, come on, it's the Detroit team! Aquaman in Lake Erie? Come on! Ditto for Dan Slott playing it straight (read: boring) in "Marvel Westerns: Two-Gun Kid" #1, which would be a must-have for fans of western comics (anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) but did nothing for anybody else. "Four" #30 was merely an Elseworlds (sorry, "What If?") story trying to reach for Alan Moore-esque emotion and falling way short.

No, just ... no ...

"Captain Atom: Armageddon" #9 had the most disappointing last few pages (and universe-shaking ramifications) of any book of the year (right up there with "Superboy PUNCH!"), and should be listed as one of the year's five worst single issues. "Civil War" #2 was dull and talky with Spider-Man reversing course on a sticking point of his through this entire hullaballoo with no explanation (perhaps you have to read Spider-Man titles to find out "why" -- screw that). "Green Lantern Corps" #1 had simply awful artwork and wildly cliched moments of rookie fever and pep talks straight out of General Casting. "Supermarket" #3 also dipped into the cliche pool, making some good atmosphere and dialogue but in a ponderous fashion that's taking forever to get anywhere. While we're there, how can so much stuff get smashed and blown up while "Super Skrull: Annihilation" #3 remains tedious? How does that happen?

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

The good stuff outshone the bad, so that's all right.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Another winning week, with DC actually posting a good number of buy-worthy books after letting Marvel run the tables for a bit.

A SPECIAL EDITORIAL NOTE:

*Your faithful Buy Pile reviewer steps into a first person perspective for the duration*

This week, I ran into writer Marc Guggenheim at my store -- apparently, he shops there. Well, a guy who claimed he was the writer of recent issues of "Wolverine," how would I know? Anyway, he was arguing with the retail troll Adam (who, when I speak to him, I call him exclusively little girl's names a la Dr. Cox on Scrubs) about Namor and Logan going toe to toe in a future issue. I didn't care -- I never criticize a book until it hits the stand, and the only time I criticized the marketing of a book was with the insulting campaign around Azzarello's "Cage" book -- but I found a funny in to the conversation and tossed off a quip. Adam points out who I am to the guy, and when he finds out I'm CBR's latest reviewer, he acts like I said he wrote "Monarchy" or something.

True, I did not buy his book. I did not, however, say that other people should not (as he so adamantly claimed). As far as criticism from me goes, I figured he got off light. I wrote, "Finally, 'Wolverine' #42 doesn't do anything special as Logan centers himself on vengeful justice, hell bent on chasing down the spark that ignited the Civil War and relying so heavily on the built in cliches of the character that it could have been written via Madlibs." Generous? Forgiving? Complimentary? No. Admittedly not.

However, how about this one, from my June 22, 2005 review of "Spider-Man: House of M" #1: "But what was worst was when a guy at the counter said, 'I just buy Spider-Man books, I'll just read it. It can't be that bad.' I went nuts. I screamed, 'see, that's what they rely on, your slavish devotion to the property that makes you unwilling to stop buying no matter how ridiculous the content! You buy that book, the terrorists win, another newborn is tossed into the fire, another innocent kitty is sodomized somewhere in America! If you buy that book, Jesus will frown at you!' I don't even know why I was so suddenly incensed at yet another big publisher crossover dreck issue, but to see it in front of me just set me off, somehow. Oh well. The issue, itself, is just mediocre. The idea behind it is downright depressing."

Now that's mean. Even I think I was walking the line on that one (and my sense of the line is waaaaaay past what normal people think is "too far"). Compared to that, or stuff I said about "Superman/Batman" (where I wrote of issue #6 in February of 2004: "I am writing this review first, of all the things I'm doing this week, because it's important to communicate how truly, staggeringly awful this issue is. When i sat it down, I turned to Steve the Comics Pusher and said, 'That was appalling. It's an atrocity. Like a war crime. Like things that are prevented by the Geneva Convention. Someone call the Hague.' There's so much wrong with this book, when I was asked what's become the seminal question -- 'is this Monarchy bad?' -- I was forced to answer in the affirmative ... In the short months already passed, this is already the front runner for worst single issue of any comic published this year. It's simply heinous, and not for lack of trying, as McGuinness was clearly busting his butt to at least make sure it would look good, even though it made no sense. It could drive a man to drink ...") ... I don't think I got that ill.

At 'cons and in comic stores, I've run into people who make comics. Smart people, interesting people, good friends and loyal sons, yadda yadda yadda. Some of them have had work criticized by my reviews. Two New York area creators are openly antagonistic towards me, and once a guy told a web site he wouldn't work with them because they had me there (we straightened that one out, though, he's super cool). But I am writing this stuff because of three reasons: first, it's my opinion about somebody's work, not about them as a person. Second, it allows me to have my own writing seen by people, who may go out and buy stuff I've written. Third, of course, because people pay me to (in the words of Eminem) "just blurt this berserk and bizarre sh** that works." If you don't like it, go read somebody else's reviews. I'm not holding you at gunpoint. Moreover, I'm just a guy -- a college educated writer, admittedly, published poet and novelist, and professional (read: paid to do stuff) journalist for more than a decade, but still. Sometimes I agree with Roger Ebert, and sometimes I don't. I never feel the need to get worked up about it.

All of that to say that most things I review don't get carpet bombed. People get sensitive because it's their specific book, but seriously? I'm not mad at you, dawg. It's why I had to separate the Read Pile into two sections, because if gas prices weren't so high and money wasn't as tight as it is, I'd probably have bought "Green Arrow" and "Squadron Supreme" and more stuff on the "Honorable Mentions" list. But in the world we live in now, this week's issues just weren't good enough (again, by my admittedly idiosyncratic and personalized standards). If you're a fan of the property, most times the review I wrote was as good as a recommendation. If you hate the property, you weren't gonna buy it anyway. If you're relying on critics to sway undecideds, then you either need to completely throw down on some all new stuff or work the marketing harder, because that's how the game is played. No blood, no foul.

This public service announcement has been brought to you, as always, by people trying to give a damn.

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