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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 MAY 17TH, 2006

The good part is that the balls-to-the-wall action here is superb, with tableaus of slaughter that rival the kind of detail you could see from Gene Ha or Darick Robertson in his "Transmetropolitan" glory days. The title character fights with the deadly alien Ayoma in the gang-infested streets of New York, with Ayoma managing to stack up a healthy body count along the way. Meanwhile Ayoma's associates search for something hidden that could signal the end of the world, ending up in a donut shop. The rapid fire dialogue and dry wit is classic Giffen, and the only possible problems with this fun issue is that it's over way too fast and that the art from Rael Lyra is good in the stylized way that "Aeon Flux" cartoons on "Liquid Television" used to be, but when it's revealed that Ayoma's supposed to be attractive, the art simply doesn't convey that kind of information, making everything look distended and grotesque. Enjoyable nonetheless.

Like an "X-Files" episode with the Cigarette Smoking Man, this issue ratchets up the stakes considerably as the French nobility, the throne and the church all make big moves to secure power. As great as the work of Eric J, Jerony Cox and Jim Di Bartolo was, Juan Ferreyra's evocative facial expressions (love the lower panels on page three) and moody intimate interior shots simply soars. As well, his coloring choices to show the recovering Dr. Sauniere as warm and the halls of the Inquisition as cold blues -- very nice. A shocking transition issue to mark the end of the line at Image before making a move to Dark Horse with the next new issue in August.

Every Handbook that Marvel prints is an automatic Buy Pile title. That's a well known fact, because nothing endures like reference materials (arguments can still be arbitrated by a well-timed quote from "Who's Who in the DC Universe"). So instead of traditional reviews (given that this purchase is a given), we always note some of the most interesting entries. This issue is chock full of choices, but none is so deserving as Hellcow. First seen in "Giant-Size Man-Thing" #5 (that in itself hilarious), this undead bovine was bitten by Dracula himself (not Dr. Acula of "Scrubs" fame) and has spent much of its extended lifespan hunting the vampire in a search for vengeance. Yes, a vengeful cow. With a cape that allowed her to fly. How can you not own a book with this gem, hiding within? But to also get to laugh at the Mahkizmo, Hypno-Hustler, Tagak the Leopard Lord, Xorr the God-Jewel, Black Brother or Doctor Glitternight ... a true classic. Those were some extremely good drugs they had at Marvel in those days, boy howdy!

This issue is a great deal of fun. Dancing between dialogue delights, Detective Richard Fell takes on the interrogation of a murder suspect in a means that would make Law & Order: Criminal Intent character Detective Goren squeal with delight. Most of the wonder here is done in snippets of spoken chatter: "Lt. Beard not in yet? I don't hear any sobbing." "I can do things to men that poodles only dream of!" "Shooting people from hiding with your shiny metal d**k is a career?" Mostly flying at you in nine-panel grids, it's simply an entertaining and dazzling bit of interplay. The minimalist artwork of Ben Templesmith leaves no room for clutter or confusion in an issue that wholly masters the fundamentals on its way to a dazzling performance.

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

Ah, trust ... it's the biggest liability of all, according to the Ferengi. Anyway, young journalist Matty Roth is torn between trust and terror as he's tasked with bringing back his all-too-briefly erstwhile superior from the rebel lands of New Jersey. Brian Wood's able to flawlessly convey the tension and dread of being caught between two vastly powerful but largely myopic rivals, while dodging the everyday threat of a well-armed island of Manhattan, making Matty's plight almost leap off the page. A great examination of a man torn between competing agendas, only wanting to try and tell the truth.

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

Pulp-minded sci-fi madness in the best possible confectionary way. The titular Heath Huston finds himself propelled into the distant past and facing the most horrible menace of his day thousands of years before they ever even had any decent ideas. This leads to a wonderfully bizarre conflict between space cavemen and undead brains driving giant robot bodies ... one gets giddy just thinking about how kick ass this is. With no deeper creed than telling a rip-roaring yarn in the old EC Comics tradition, this issue keeps things humming pleasantly along with a serialized tale that satisfies.

Talent #1 (Boom! Studios)

Jump from the Read Pile. Do you watch "Lost?" Better yet, did you like "Fierce" from the Love Brothers on Dark Horse a few years back? If your answer to both is "yes," then this comic is right up your alley. A college professor mysteriously survives a plane crash and twelve hours underwater, and wakes up with the memories and talents of every other passenger ... and a mysterious voice in his head telling him how to stay out of trouble as well. That's the basic premise, and Paul Azaceta deftly draws the ideas of Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoski with a visual presence that echoes "Human Target" in composition if not detail. Fascinating, and well worth watching.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Despite store owner Steve LeClaire laughing at the sheer size of this week's stack, it was well worth the money and entertaining through and through.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

First shock of the week: "52" #2 was actually closer to being good, with a mysterious issue staying with Ralph Dibny and the Question, while having a fun little historical piece in the end showing just how crazy things once were. Second shock: "Captain America" #18 was actually not bad, with Cap getting his full espionage on alongside Spitfire and Union Jack (guess that Invaders thing didn't go well) with the kind of intriguing feel Greg Rucka used to evoke with "Queen & Country." Third shock: "Green Arrow" #62" shows Ollie Queen showing more brains than seen in recent memory, using both his spandex-clad abilities and his mayoral powers to outmaneuver a dangerous foe. What the heck? "Shadowpact" #1 was all right, but felt extraneous and had such vague antagonists (and protagonists, honestly, unless you were hip deep in "Days of Vengeance") as to not really have much emotional heft. The paradox loop at the center of "Majestic #17 (which felt like a last issue) was kind of interesting if somewhat sad. Not too sure what's happening with "Moon Knight" #2, showing how his last fight led him to his sad state, but the somber coloring was more melodramatic than meaningful.

No, just ... no ...

IN the running for "worst single issue of 2006," we will surely have to take "Superman/Batman #25" into consideration. In an issue that literally threw everything including the kitchen sink (gestalt superheroes, multiple incarnations, an Emperor Joker reference and Bat-Mite) while underhandedly claiming that virtually every heroic figure in the Marvel catalogue is derived in some way from Kal-El and Bruce. Appalling. The fighting in "Ultimate X-Men" #70 was not very clear and undercut the emotionally involving bits with Jean and Kurt. "Robin" #150 has a surprise that's just embarrassing for Bruce, while "Nova: Annihilation" #2 is whiny and corny save for Drax pulling a combination Han Solo/Thanos shtick that was kind of cool and a new spin for the character.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Despite Jeph Loeb turning in a real stinker (which is so annoying since he's so interesting and funny when you meet him in person, go to any con and see him on a panel, or chat him up, he's delightful), there was so much good stuff happening and so many pleasant surprises that even this reviewer can't be mad.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

With hugely successful purchases (many of them indies) and some mainstream books showing up for the job, this is a week that shows what comics can do, properly inspired.

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