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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 ...

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THE BUY PILE FOR MARCH 8TH, 2006

Yes, jealous sibling Neela Archer is rocketing off into an unknown fate in outer space, chaperoned by mysterious scientists willing to black out an entire continent (and boy, would there be good rioting and looting from that). There's no time to worry about all of that, as the Archers left behind have to confront the issues of a powerless high tech skyscraper in New York and the suburban madness of Freidrich Nickelhead and his surreal sidekick Eghad. At no fewer than six places in this issue are moments that can either induce open laughter or open wonder. It's almost as if Joe Casey bathed in peyote. Very little of the large amount of activity happening -- from the superpowered trio advancing on a helpless military base to the strange flying pyramid floating over Manhattan -- makes any sense at all, but much like "Shaolin Cowboy" or a night with someone really drunk and really hot, you just kind of enjoy the ride and hope it'll all work out in the end. Mad, hilarious, wonderful work.

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There's so little of any importance here involving the new Arabian Knight that even T'Challa wouldn't put his conversation on hold long enough to face him while kicking his butt. Deceptively facile and simply enchanting writing from BET's president of entertainment, Mister Reginald Hudlin, with Scott Eaton and Klaus Janson holding it down on the art chores. The final page was never even in question, but it was fun getting there. I would like for White and Isanove to not have the colors be so "X-Files" (have you seen Africa? It's bright as hell over there). I especially liked how many silent panels there, were, showing a real ability for artist and writer to trust one another to get the job done. To be honest, on some panels I wondered if MD Bright had snuck in (which is a compliment, given that veteran's sure hand and flawless pacing). All around good stuff that kind of sneaks up on you -- on first read it's okay, but on second and third reads it really shines.

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What Were They Thinking? Some People Never Learn (Boom Studios)

Ah, remix comics. Sure, one could say we're both cannibalizing the past while eschewing creativity in new works. Which would be wholly accurate. However, the one thing you can count on here is that the work will be funny, a virtual guarantee with the name "Keith Giffen" stamped on the cover. Now, true, Marshall Dillon's lettering (full disclosure: this reviewer has worked with Marshall as a letterer on a failed comic book proposal and generally thinks of him as a swell guy) captured both the hokeyness and sometimes challenging legibility of the era, which is in turns good and bad. The grainy art, likewise, reminds us of the old newsprint era and is not well served by modern paper and printing (nor is it "digitally remastered" like the Marvel remix comics to look zippy and fresh). These minor technical quibbles aside, once you read the likes of "Fan Boy" you'll see how much worse some prequels could have been and you'll howl at the mackalicious exploits of George Swami, Cocktail Party Hypnotist. Simply wrong, insane fun and well worth your time.

From one standpoint you could say this issue goes the long way around the mulberry bush, ultimately taking Layla Miller nowhere. On another hand, one could see the delicate mental melodrama (in a good way) of David, who's at the top of his form, both paints an ugly picture of real life in the Marvel universe while letting Layla have a complicated but relatively quiet character moment. The last page, with a suspicious Rictor, is so complicated that three reads can give you three different interpretations. The only possible complaint here is that Dennis Calero's art was a bit too Jae Lee for its own good in some spots. A minor quibble for a super showing of craft.

Normally, issues focused on the fallen cherub Gaudium are the less compelling ones, but here Carey explores the new godhead and a new way of looking at things in such delicate language as to make even the cigar chomping demon enlightening. Take for example this bit from new godhead Elaine Belloc: "I'm starting to understand why gods don't do much. There's too much power. It's like my will is the sun, my mind is a magnifying glass and the universe is an ant." That's good crazy. The bit with Spera's book is also quite clever, as was her argument for the new way of things. All too fascinating to leave in a comic book store, certainly. Dean Ormston's art has a way of blurring the edges of angel and demon, but in the context of the story that's probably just about right.

By now, everyone must know that Handbooks are Marvel's way of making this reviewer their b**ch. Wholly fine. Literally every Handbook they print will be on the Buy Pile, for the exact same reasons: facts are great, an abundance of information is a joy, and reading this can save literally hundreds of dollars in back issues. So let's just note some random whimsical facts about this volume that make it whimsical and fun. Like Elf With A Gun (seriously), time-traveling chronal agents of order, cleaning up continuity from the future with the advantage of knowing what will happen. Plus they look like elves, but carry guns, because in the future they thought that wouldn't weird anybody out. Delightful. Or finding out exactly how many times Eternity, the embodiment of time in the Marvel Universe, has gotten its butt kicked? That's fun to know. But best of all? Fight-Man. The logo on his super-durable chest says "Here To Hit." That's really all you need to know, and it's wonderful. Completely insane and too detailed for its own good, and that's a good thing.

Once upon a time, the She-Hulk actively knew she was a comic book character and often commented on the sheer lunacy of her life. Kara Zor-El's belief that the thirty first century is all an expanded Kryptonian dream state as part of her rites of passage comes close to that, but with the added twist of all the background madness of the W/KRP (Waid/Kitson Reboot Period) going on as well. Waid and Kitson really are not getting enough credit for this wildly successful redrafting of the future, doing what "Legionnaires" failed to do and what clench-jawed visions of the future couldn't even imagine. The best thing of all is that in turning each page, there's simply no telling what's going to happen next, and that anticipation is electric. The Legion hasn't been this compelling since two guys named Giffen and Levitz were involved. From the digital villain to Cosmic Boy's analysis of Kara's mental potential, this is simply a masterpiece being created a page at a time. Bravo.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

A better batch of books we haven't seen in some time.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

The stellar street justice of "Ronan the Accuser: Annihilation" #1 had a kind of grim charm reminiscent of "Justice" from the New Universe, but it just barely missed the mark (partially due to the weird last page surprise). "Villains United Infinite Crisis Special" #1 wasn't bad, with Catman (*snicker*) and his bunch staying out of a big struggle between all the heroes DC can muster with Alexander Luthor's Society marching on Metropolis with a virtually unbeatable force ... for what real purpose? The grittiness of Wolverine #41 was reminiscent of the old energy of "Queen and Country," with Logan on the run in sub-equatorial Africa, but come on, another Wolverine-centric book? No need to buy that. "Checkmate" #1 almost made it home, deftly balancing the political intrigue with metahuman conflict and even tossing in some believable and familiar characters ... but the lackluster art job from Jesus Saiz (something of a shock) failed to compel. "American Way" #3 has a smidge of the spirit of Chaykin in it, a decently told story with decent art that's taking a long time to get where it's going. "Avengers Annual" #1 was an expensive bit of confection with one of the quickest superhero weddings ever, a good fight scene and the always solid banter of this team dynamic. "Astonishing X-Men" #14, "Invincible" #31 and "Daughters of the Dragon" #4 all felt like they were puffed up ten page segments of longer stories that are missing the parts where the "ooomph" was supposed to be. "Blue Beetle" #2 just missed the mark, despite its obvious charm, with a jumbled plot and antagonists right out of Central Casting. "Thing" #6 was a very sweet and tongue-in-cheek finale for the storyline, with shout outs to ABC's "Lost" and Hercules working for Damage Control, but it tried to accomplish too much too fast, and that was a detriment. Finally, the only word for "Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein" #4 is "huh?"

No, just ... no ...

The biggest and least satisfying tease of the week was "Fantastic Four" #537, with Victor explaining how he escaped hell (dumb) and going for Mjolnir (dumber). Speaking of surprise appearances (as we were a bit ago), the "major" surprise of "Battle for Bludhaven" #2 would be more annoying if you didn't see his opposite number later on doing the exact same shtick again. "Runaways" #15 was mean but empty inside, with both unclear art and plot elements that jumbled together while turning the team internecine. The best thing about "Storm" #3 was how smug and self-righteous the young T'Challa was, a common thread through virtually all depictions of him at that age -- the banter between the young "lovers" was stilted at best. "Ion" #1 showed Kyle Rayner still not dealing with anything, running from his problems and trying to power through them when that doesn't work, rolling back literally years of character development on the character. "Four" #29 rolled back all the great characterization of the last issue with Reed lying to his wife for no reason available in the issue, while "Hulk" #94 was futile with fodder that have given no real room nor motivation for readers to care about their clearly doomed fates. Oh, and "Tron" #1 was too reliant on characterizations and events not in evidence in the issue, too vague about what was actually happening there, and colored too dimly to see any of it anyway.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Kind of brutal.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Great but pricey buys versus largely brutal and disappointing reads makes this week a wash.

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