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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 APRIL 12TH, 2006

DMZ #6 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Another issue that flies by, but has meat in all the right places. Matty gets a little shell shocked (which takes way more of this issue than it should) and stressed out dealing with the every day carnage that exists on this dystopian island of Manhattan, and gets an interview request that holds a huge surprise for the struggling journalist. I love the immersion that Woods and Burchielli are able to give the reader, never relenting in putting us into this place and this story, but the pacing of this issue left a bit to be desired, spreading things a smidge too thin.

Shaolin Cowboy #5 (Burlyman Entertainment)

Sometimes you go to a party, and there’s a girl dancing, and she’s just wild — she’s all over the place and grinding up against any hard surface she finds, and she’s clearly drunk or high or something, and when you catch her eye there’s no telling what can happen. Pretty much every issue of “Shaolin Cowboy” is like that, and this one is no exception, featuring one of the most surreal splash pages in history, one that would make even Bryan Hitch or John Cassaday scratch their head with wonder. The title character does a weird McGuyver thing with chainsaws, a disembodied skull simply will not shut up, and it’s possible to know exactly what’s going on here, from elements in previous issues, but it honestly would do you little good. Just hold on and enjoy the ride with this wholly insane — and strangely smelling (every issue of this book has had a funny scent, something in the ink, maybe) — comic book.

Fables #48 (Vertigo/DC Comics)

The opening page says it all: “Wolves (Part 1 of 2), in which Mowgli drinks in a Russian bar, runs into one dead end after another, and practices a deadly form of politics.” Not so much as a spoiler as a flawlessly crafted blurb for yet another enticing issue of what will have to be considered Bill Willingham’s master work. The comic bit with Snow White’s six children made for an amusing side trip in a gritty but engaging story about the search for Bigby Wolf, who’s gone so far off the reservation as to not even be on the same continent. Literally. Mowgli’s a smart and determined hunter, and watching him work is a delight. There’s not much more that can be said without spoiling plot elements, but a really solid issue in a string of them so long as to seem endless.

Noble Causes #19 (Image Comics)

The villainous Blackthorne family is still beating the Nobles in the one arena where all bets are off — the court of public opinion. Race struggles with deceptions in his past and powerlessness in his present as his “normal” wife can’t understand his plight, his mother wants to milk his grief and his father simply finds the data fascinating. New artist Jon Bosco has some really amazing moments — a page showing Liz agonizing, alone in bed is simply breathtaking — and some weak ones. He falls into a common artist’s plight and has many male faces looking virtually identical. His action scenes work well, showing good kinetic movement and balance of images and storytelling. A good issue for a series that’s like an always highly satisfying confection.

Green Arrow #61 (DC Comics)

Jump from the Read Pile. Ultimately it may have been a mistake. The criticism of recent issues of Ex Machina (which this new take on Green Arrow owes a great ideological debt to) is that the talking heads have lost their way. No such problem here — arrows fly and action and suspense have equal footing with political maneuvering as (apparently) nobody knows that Oliver Queen = Green Arrow. Sure, okay — earths have been tossed around, why not? So Mayor Oliver Queen and Green Arrow — despite being the same person — operate independently to accomplish the same goals, a better life for the downtrodden of Star City. Kind of a fascinating exercise, but it could all fall apart just as quickly with the man who appears on the last page (depending on how feisty he’s feeling) and even with a staff complicit with the double life, it’s quite a tight rope to walk. Worth watching for now.

Toyfare #106 (Wizard Entertainment)

Jump from the Read Pile. This magazine is consistently entertaining, and its coverage of toys is almost just a framing device for the jokes. But this month’s “Twisted Toyfare Theatre” showing a day in the life of Wolverine makes it so worth owning. The jokes are too visual and goofy to translate in a review, but there’s no fewer than seven solid belly laughs and sixteen giggles throughout it (with some rather pointed jabs — one at Judd Winick, one at Mark Millar and a completely non sequitur but classic one at Alan Moore). Plus, how cool is it to see a Speedball action figure? Classic.

WHAT’S THE PROGNOSIS?

A bit more expensive than normal, but no significant complaints overall.

THIS WEEK’S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions:

“Thunderbolts” #101 almost made it home, with plans within plans and betrayals within betrayals, making it almost as soap-opera-esque as “Noble Causes” — ultimately it was just too labyrinthine in and of itself. The heavy handed criticism of the Bush Administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina is thinly veiled in “Crisis Aftermath: Battle for Bludhaven” featuring the heroes formerly known as the Force of July, Freedom’s Ring and some experiments that’d make the well-known scientists at Tuskeegee cringe — not bad, but not great. Fabian Nicieza doubled up on Ouroboros-like logic, and in “Cable/Deadpool” #27 Cable plays a role in his own undoing … and doing … and maybe some other stuff. It’s hard to know, but at least Deadpool’s funny. “Superman” #651 is interesting as Clark and Lois have some really nice moments with the metahuman world whizzing by, but watching Luthor get back to his old crazy science villain roots was marred by the likes of Toyman being around (the “Operation” table? Ew …). There were some nice moments in “Ultimate Extinction” #4, as both Reed and Chuck Xavier get ideas on how to save the world, and Captains Marvel and America trade bon mots. The action is good in “Transformers: Infiltration” #4, but the attempts at building suspense falls flat due to less-than-compelling humaniform characters. Also, the personal stories are more interesting than the superheroics in “Firestorm #24,” with Jason Rusch’s girlfriend getting the most spit take-inducing line in many moons.

No, just … no …

Despite being very well drawn, “Ms. Marvel” #2 was way too slow and way too boring a conflict, the “new guy” in “Nightwing” #119 just seems to make the whole Bat-family look sloppy, Pietro whines like a brokenhearted broad on prom night in “Son of M #5” as his plan goes in some unexpected directions, and it’s hard to tell if Jack Hawksmoor is serious or jealous in “Captain Atom #7,” but the good Captain has a bad day nonetheless even as he outsmarts the Wildstorm Universe’s finest (with some help from Grifter). “Super Skrull: Annihilation” #1 had some cutesy moments (that’s not good) and a ton of exposition but just wasn’t very compelling at the end of the day. Nothing could be worth reading another issue of “Super Bad James Dynomite,” so we didn’t even bother.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Just a hair under the mid point.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

The week was a bit if a loss, overall, but not a big one — an “affectionate thumbs down” as Roger Ebert might say, with ambition and drive but some considerable stumbles along the way.

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