Ayn Rand's Anthem the Graphic Novel
Charles Santino and Joe Staton, New American Library, $15 (144p) ISBN 978-0-451-23217-5
In a future where misguided egalitarianism has reduced a once-vibrant civilization to a handful of doctrinaire serfs living in the rubble of what once was, Equality 7-2521 rejects the mindless collectivism of his people to embrace individuality. His curiosity about the mysteries of the past is anathema to those selected to rule; Equality's rejection of his assigned menial role is if anything an even greater affront to his master. Forced by the lesser men around him to flee, Equality and his lover, Liberty 5-3000, find refuge in a conveniently preserved chalet, free to rediscover eternal truths suppressed by their totalitarian forefathers. Adapted from Rand's 1938 novella, Staton's art is oddly crude for such a veteran artist, but oddly well suited for Rand's clumsy, hectoring story. The product of a time when authoritarian regimes seemed destined to prevail, written by a refugee from the Russian revolution, Anthem might have been a valuable reminder of what happens when ideology trumps humanitarian concerns, but sadly, Rand was not up to the task; Santino and Staton do what they can with this dismal tribute to egotism, but the result is still a hard slog. (Feb.)

The Cardboard Valise
Ben Katchor, Pantheon, $25.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-375-42114-3
In this winsomely haunting graphic novel from Katchor--whose weekly strips have been collected into The Jew of New York and Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, among others--an overstuffed suitcase becomes a ripe, comic metaphor for modern life. Set in a world tilted about 45 degrees away from reality, Katchor's story follows a number of characters through their quirky obsessions, each of which highlights a uniquely curious take on modernity. A hunt in the "Saccharine Mountains" turns a BLT into a tongue-in-cheek metaphor ("the lettuce symbolizes the cost of living"), while the citizens of "Outer Canthus" each undergo a symbolic funeral at the age of 47, after which they are "allowed to shed the burden of responsibility." In this slurry of sketchy and gray-tinged surrealism, the titular valise stands out with a certain haunting magic: a cheap and disposable thing (Katchor tracks its construction and sale with a curiously socioeconomic exactitude) that can contain multitudes. Once its contents are unleashed upon the hopelessly modernized island nation of Tensint (Katchor relentlessly skewers affected bourgeois quests for "authenticity"), things go downhill fast--it's the end of the world writ small. Rarely have books that made this little sense made so much sense. (Feb.)

Salvatore, Vol. 1: Transports of Love
Nicolas De Crécy, NBM (www.nbmpub.com), $14.99 (104p) ISBN 978-1-56163-593-1
In this charming, amusing, and sometimes unsettling tale, pigs, dogs, cows, and cats move through France in a state of longing. A tiny dog named Salvatore, who happens to be a mechanical genius, contrives to build an all-purpose vehicle that will allow him to seek out his true love, a rich canine beauty named Julie who has moved to South America. A sow pines for her lost piglet, even as she nurses the remaining 12. A heifer seeks revenge on the bull she believes betrayed her. Their adventures spill across De Crécy's lovely, muted watercolors, creating a magical world one longs to visit and making the animals' emotions seem all too human. He is particularly gifted at creating a sense of action on the page. A cliffhanger ending will leave readers awaiting the next volume from De Crécy's always surprising mind. (Jan.)

Warren Ellis, Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti, DC/Wildstorm, $19.95 (128p) ISBN 978-1-4012-2887-3
In an alternate London composed of theme parks, bored cam-girl Rosi Blades recognizes potential entertainment when she encounters self-declared "zen gunman" Tony Ling in hot pursuit of a dreadlocked man carrying a suggestively shaped case. Joining in the chase, she soon finds herself caught up in a madcap world of casual violence, vulgarity, and vendetta; as the Quarry gang dispatches perverse car fancier Dirty Ron to deal with the pair, Rosi and Tony face a fate worse than death. Two-Step's comedic mayhem recalls Ellis's Nextwave rather than his Planetary or even Transmetropolitan; his alternate London is a series of amusing backdrops rather than realized neighborhoods, Tony and Rosi are sketches, although complex compared to the one-note characters opposing them. The action is fast-paced, moving from absurdity to absurdity quickly enough to keep the reader amused. Although at best a light confection, Two-Step is an unpretentious and energetic display of Ellis, Connor, and Palmiotti's talents. Readers curious about the process of creation will be pleased to discover the page count has been increased with the inclusion of the original script for the comic. (Dec.)