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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 1ST, 2006

Hero Squared #1 (Boom Studios)

The first thing you should be prepared for is the amount of talking in this issue. It's predominant. Most of this issue is talk. However, it's rapid fire dialogue in a David Mamet/Aaron Sorkin kind of way. Which is great, and nobody does it in comics as well as Giffen and DeMatteis. The second thing is that there's only one person in this entire book who's thinking things through, and that person is openly having more fun than everybody else. Which is amazingly entertaining to watch. Third, every guy in this book is a lot dumber than they would tell themselves. When you add all these things up, you get one of the most engrossing reads of the last few weeks, a simply fascinating character study which pokes holes in the concept of "hero" and "villain" with the template of a romantic relationship as the backdrop.

This was the first of a string of surprisingly poignant comics this week. But Mike Carey has shown his capacity for this kind of depth before, so it should come as no surprise that Elaine Belloc's girls' night out starts off with a sense of whimsy and ends with a kind of cosmic ennui. With a crowd that includes the newborn Morningstar, the goddess of hedgehogs and a fallen cherub Elaine soaks in the atmosphere of interesting people with free flowing booze. This nice done-in-one issue tells a whole lot of story with amazingly few brush strokes, and it took two times reading it to realize that the title character is nowhere in these pages. Fantastic.

Jump from the Read Pile. Wow. When Warren Ellis gets his "crazy ideas" folder going, he really knows how to rock the party. Michael Bay wishes he could blow things up on this scale. You probably know the basics -- Gah Lak Tus is coming and he's hell bent on stomping life out on Earth. The masked and caped and gun wielding inhabitants (at least the ones who speak English, there's no involvement from anybody who isn't American outside of Ultimate Captain Marvel) are -- predictably -- against that idea. Between the Ultimates, the Ultimate X-Men and the Ultimate FF ... well, suffice it to say that there will be Ultimate comics published next month, because the solicitations are already out. So it's no surprise that Ultimate Galactus doesn't actually, you know, eat Earth. But to see what Reed and Chuck do to Galactus ... plus the sheer spectacle of Brandon Peterson literally blowing you away with every inch of every panel. The appropriate word is "wow." Even better, the only possibly unclear element (the clones) doesn't even matter when you really think about it. Riveting comics that (sadly) don't even require the previous four issues to enjoy (although there were some fun ideas before, this issue really did the heavy lifting all by itself).

Speaking of good crazy, Joe Casey keeps throwing new and messier challenges at his cosmic powered protagonist, who continues to be probably the least compelling character in the entire book (which is not a bad thing). Plus, how much fun is Eghad? He's very Phil Ken Sebben. This title, it seems, is best done when its villains run amok, because King Janus gets one of the issue's best lines ("I love him like a second cousin") and it might be interesting to see Maxim kick some ass. The ending came just too quickly, but it's still fun and still worth having.

Continuing our tour of Crazy Things In The Marvel Universe, this month we have "Cockroach" Hamilton (and his six barreled shot gun ... seriously), "Mad Jim" Jaspers (who looks more fey than threatening), Reed Richards' scantily clad sister Huntara (really, what the hell happened with that family) ... and really, how did the Jester get a two page entry? H.E.R.B.I.E. gets one page and the Jester gets two? Seriously? Come on! It's also sad, reading along, to see how powerful that the High Evolutionary was, how little he ever accomplished. More good crazy from the House of Ideas in a summer where they're kicking butt.

Battlestar Galactica #0 (Dynamite Entertainment)

Jump from the Read Pile. Greg Pak does a great job handling the dialogue styles of Commander Adama and Starbuck in particular, delivering a product that's less-than-compelling as a comic book (giving precious little information on what's happening and who anybody is) and fantastic as a supplement to the show. Which brings up an interesting argument -- if a property is well-referenced enough on websites and that sort of secondary source, is that good enough? The answer is "sometimes" -- if one is creating an epic work like a "Transmetropolitan" or a "Star Wars," then perhaps certain fragments can be more driven by pure plot and not deal with certain expository concerns for neophytes. However, in both of those examples, the material within is exceptionally compelling and could withstand the withering of critical analysis through the sheer content density and wonder (respectively) conveyed within. This issue does not capture that well, and if you're not a fan of the show, the last page revelation is interesting but not jaw dropping. If you watch the show, you're dazzled. So it is, as they say, what it is.

Jump from the Read Pile. The Buy Pile reviews have had a lot of bad things to say about this series, but this issue -- plotted by the late Sam Loeb, son of comics and TV writer Jeph Loeb, and completed by a literal phalanx of creative titans -- telling a good ol' fashioned team up story within a framing device that's simply gripping. By now, most readers know exactly what's up with Connor Kent, and here Tim Drake tells a story about one of their adventures together. What's amazing is how seamlessly each scripter (working from Sam Loeb's plot) kept the back-and-forth banter between Robin and Superboy going and believable. There's also the matter of the artwork -- John Cassaday's pages are stunning, Jim Lee of course features footwear, Ed McGuinness does a surprisingly emotive bit with closeups, Art Adams could clearly give Ed Benes a lesson in how to do cheesecake ... this is a fantastic tribute to the life of a creator taken all too soon framed in a tribute to a hero fallen in the line of duty. When you get to the special backup story, inserting a page into the life of young Clark Kent ... well, if it doesn't at least tug at your heartstrings, then you might be Karl Rove. An issue worth keeping, and a bittersweet joy to re-read.

Jump from the Read Pile. This issue roars past the problem with the previous four -- it just never stops. Misty Knight climbs out of bed (and off of a willing partner) and sets herself on the road to KickAssVille, and she ain't stoppin' for gas or snacks. The facial expressions seem a little off, and Colleen Wing's more whimsical take to the work seems less unusual on the second and third reads, but overall this is a fun comic book that works in the revenge film tradition of the set up before the take down. Great one-liners all around, some great visual gags, and even Mole Man comes off as less creepy than normal. Any book that can accomplish that deserves notice all by itself.

Jump from the Read Pile. The second story is more silly than effective, but the tender tale of the Skywitch, framing the story of Neopolis as a whole, is a super enjoyable tale that fleshes out the story with great skill and care. As always, the joy is in the details, as you can see Gruenwald's Squadron Supreme, The Scarlet Witch, Lucifer from the 1978 "Battlestar Galactica" series and even the Constructicons across the street from the precinct house. Finding these wonderful easter eggs -- and nobody does them better than Gene Ha and Zander Cannon, at their peak here -- is half the joy of this issue, and will reward multiple readings over and over again.

Jump from the Read Pile. Another great done-in-one which makes a great historical joke, shows Reed and Sue being surprisingly un-uptight, and shows Hercules in his classically drunk and rowdy glory (even letting it be understood how everybody can talk in ancient Greece). A sweet, fun story which is perfectly confectionary.

Queen & Country #30 (Oni Press)

Queen & Country is back in a major way, as Tara Chace is avoiding dealing with her remorse over the death of her friend and romantic interest, her boss is pressured to do something wrong for what appear to be the right reasons, and her co-workers have no idea what's going on. Action, politics, drama, intrigue ... everything that you want from a comic about spies, and done in a much more realistic fashion than Jennifer Garner could ever do. Add in the backdrop of a current, violent Baghdad and you've got one compelling issue.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Holy crap, what an amazing week of comics. Sure, it cost more than forty bucks, but so?

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

"Transformers: Infiltration" #5 almost made it home on the strength of almost everybody losing their lubricant when Megatron said "boo." But it still felt like it didn't have the nerve to trust its real central element -- giant freaking robots. "War of the Worlds: Second Wave" was also a close call, an issue that perfectly managed tension and fear in creating an atmosphere. The characters just don't have any meat to 'em, save the lead. "52" #4 explained Alan Scott's eye but just kind of ran in place otherwise. "Savage Dragon" #126 was kind of fun, with Mr. Glum having a hilarious fight scene. CBR alumna Gail Simone's "JLA Classified" #21 was going great, with an suit of armor made of dead super villains and a holistic cure for Starro, but the ending was just plain limp. "Books of Doom" #6 was pretty good, even with its brutal ending, but the OHOTMU entry is much more effective. "Crisis Aftermath: Spectre" #1 was another close call by manipulating Crispus Allen with guilt, but it kind of wandered around a bit too long to be effective. Johnny Storm has something in common with Trip Tucker in "Ultimate Fantastic Four" #30, and while it's funny, it just doesn't seem enough, even with Zombie Reed still yammering about busting out.

No, just ... no ...

Only Black Bolt shined in "Son of M" #6, which not only had very little Pietro but when he was on panel, he didn't seem too coherent. "G.I. Joe vs. Transformers" Vol. 3 #3 was a sad pastiche of ideas, with the "Son of Megatron" running amok in an almost predictable fashion. "Runaways" #16 only had one good part, the broken relationship, while the "bad guys" bit seemed disjointed and a praying robot is just plain weird.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

So much jumped that there was barely anything left to read, but no significant complaints with this week.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

A stellar week of comic books all around.

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