Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth
Jay Hosler, Kevin Cannon, and Zander Cannon, Hill and Wang, $18.95 (160p) ISBN 978-0-8090-9476-9
Featuring the same amusing characters as those found in Mark Schultz's The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA, Hosler's sequel does for natural selection what its predecessor did for human genetics. The intrepid Glargalian scientist, Bloort 183, has returned and serves as the book's principal narrator. This time he has invited King Floorsh 727 and Prince Floorsh 418 on a tour of the newly opened Glargalian Holographic Museum of Earth Evolution. Hosler (Clan Apis; Sandwalk Adventures) is also a professor of biology and provides readers with much more than a simple graphic primer on evolution. With the Cannons' wonderful illustrations providing a visual anchor, Hosler discusses everything from the atomic to the planetary, from endosymbiosis to mass extinction. The book, like its predecessor, may be too dense with information--for instance, the 54 million years of the Cambrian period is covered in a mere six panels. However, readers should find at the end of their journey through Bloort's Holographic Museum that they've learned a tremendous amount about earth's evolution, and have had more than their fair share of amusement in doing so. (Jan.)

Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence--A True Story in Black and White
Geoffrey Canada and Jamar Nicholas, Beacon, $14 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-8070-4449-0
Canada, a legendary educator and crusader for inner-city-youth, first published in 1995 his revelatory account of the daunting push toward violent behavior that was a part of his Bronx childhood. This graphic adaptation by Nicholas works as a kind of youth-friendly summary of that book's conclusions. Canada's thoughtful, no-nonsense narrative begins in the Bronx in the late 1950s, after his father left him, his mother, and two brothers to fend for themselves. The spine of the story is not so much the broad array of violence on display in a neighborhood suffering from postwar white flight and increases in crime, but Canada's surgical analysis of the stages of violence and the strictly codified strata that reigned on his street and in his school. Helped by Nicholas's dramatic but low-key illustrations, Canada describes how he graduated from one level of violence to the next in a sort of ladder of self-protection. This inexorable evolution is dismaying enough before Canada moves ahead to show how those codes of violence eventually collapsed under an influx of guns. This is exactly the sort of broadly appealing and gripping nonfiction graphic novel that librarians need to be adding to their shelves. (Oct.)

American Vampire, Vol. 1
Scott Snyder, Stephen King, and Raphael Albuquerque, DC/Vertigo, $24.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-4012-2830-9
Early 20th-century America is a fitting setting for this horror drama about confronting old traditions. Two linked stories follow a woman and a man. Snyder's tale centers on Pearl Jones, an aspiring actress in 1925 Los Angeles. When Pearl chases what she believes could be her big break, it results in her being left for dead in the desert. King's piece involves antihero Skinner Sweet, a notorious outlaw in 1880 Colorado. Under arrest and en route to his execution, Skinner's escape attempt is foiled by the unexpected presence of a vampire robber baron. Both Pearl and Skinner find themselves afflicted with a vampiric curse, but one that's been altered by their native soil. The two make quick enemies of the older, jealous European bloodlines of vampires that have carved up the spoils of the American west. Violent retribution follows as each refuses to be a pawn of the established order. Albuquerque's art holds back the horror and grotesque elements until the moments when they're most needed, making those scenes shocking and effective. The pacing is slowed by presenting two simultaneous introductory stories. But seeing how Pearl and Skinner deal differently with the monsters they've become and the monsters out to destroy them makes compelling reading. (Oct.)

You'll Never Know: A Graphic Memoir--Book Two: Collateral Damage
Carol Tyler, Fantagraphics, $29.99 (104p) ISBN 978-1-60699-418-4
In the first volume of Tyler's planned trilogy of graphic memoirs, she dug into the eruptive, violent memories of her father's WWII experiences while simultaneously dealing with a husband who decided to go find himself and leave her with a daughter to raise. This second volume is no less rich and overwhelming. Tyler gets back to the business of detailing her father's war stories--difficult given that he is "one of those guys who closed it off and never talked about it"--as well as coming to terms with her already touchy parents' increasingly ornery attitudes. Closing the circle somewhat is Tyler's concern over her daughter's troubled nature, which seems to mirror her own wild past. While the language of Chicago-raised and Cincinnati-based Tyler has a winningly self-deprecating Midwestern spareness to it, her art is a lavishly prepared kaleidoscope of watercolors and finely etched drawings, all composed to look like the greatest family photo album of all time. The story's honest self-revelations and humane evocations of family dramas are tremendously moving. Tyler's book could well leave readers simultaneously eager to see the third volume, but also nervous about the traumas, home front and war front, that it might contain. (Sept.)

Daniel Quantz, R.J. Ryan, Blake Leibel, and David Marquez, Archaia (www.aspcomics.com), $19.95 (112p) ISBN 978-1-932386-99-8
What if science one day discovered that all evil behavior has a biological cause? What if thieves and murderers were "fixable" with a few minor adjustments to their brain chemistry? Author Quantz asks these big questions and more in a daring if too brief graphic novel. Dr. Wolfe is an obsessed neuroscientist seeking to discover the root of evil in the human brain. With the help of a genius movie set designer and a voluptuous actress, he concocts an elaborate false reality to experiment on a convicted serial killer. Think of it as The Truman Show meets Natural Born Killers. The explicit discussion of morality gives the story a Greek tragedy feel, and the intriguing cast makes for a surprisingly character-driven story. But when the author is still introducing these people in the story's second act, the book feels about 50 pages too short. It's a shame, too, since Marquez's artwork is so enjoyable. The illustrations have a visceral and sensual quality that becomes most apparent in the depiction of women and violence, bolstering the weighty themes of self-control, animal instinct, and human nature without being exploitative. The rushed ending doesn't do justice to what is otherwise a beautifully drawn and fearlessly written work of fiction. (Sept.)