Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One
Adam Hines, AdHouse (www.adhousebooks.com), $24.95 trade paper (392p) ISBN 978-0-9770304-9-1
Can this massive, brilliant graphic novel--supposedly the first of a nine-volume series--really be its creator's first published work? Apparently so, and Hines has instantly established himself as a cartoonist to be reckoned with. Duncan is set in a world almost exactly like ours, except that all animals can talk. Humans still have dominion over everything, and a lot of animals aren't too happy about it; they also see the world in very different ways from each other, and from people. The central plot of this volume is what happens after an animal-rights organization run by a deranged, bloodthirsty macaque detonates a bomb at a human college, but that's just a springboard for Hines to show off what he can do. Nearly every page has some kind of stunning visual set piece; Hines' range of black-and-white drawing styles incorporate clean-lined "bigfoot" cartooning, hyper-stylized abstract landscapes and near-photorealism, often on the same page. The book is an overwhelming assemblage of stories within stories, stories on top of stories (sometimes literally), and meticulously crafted anecdotes that aren't directly related to each other but add up to a portrait of a world whose desperate cruelties are more vivid when all its inhabitants can communicate with one another. (Nov.)

North 40
Aaron Williams and Fiona Staples, DC/Wildstorm, $17.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-4012-2849-1
There is a school of thought that argues that if you put two sets of clichés together, you can get something fun out of it. In the case of this graphic novel, one set belongs to "everybody's turning into Lovecraftian monsters" horror stories, and the other set belongs to "hayseeds are wacky" comedy; putting them together yields a story about a plague of hideous transformations that hits backwoodsy Conover County until a scrappy, skinny blond fellow and an irritable young woman with a big scythe dispatch it. Unfortunately, Williams' story is top-heavy with overwrought narration ("If'n a clan can be said t' be tied to a patch of ground, the Atterhulls' patch is th' one with double-wides an' beer cans") and far too many characters, and never quite finds its plot, pace or tone--is it Grand Guignol horror about the county's sins finding it out? Ghostbusters-style comedy about reluctant champions beating back the supernatural? An adventure story about a by-the-book heroic journey? Fortunately, Staples' artwork is consistently eye-catching; she steps up to the plate with some effectively grotesque zombies and tentacle-beasts, and keeps the story moving even when it doesn't make much sense. (Nov.)

Madwoman Of the Sacred Heart
Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius, Humanoids (www.humanoids.com), $29.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-59465-098-7
Avant-garde filmmaker Jodorowsky (The Holy Mountain) and internationally renowned illustrator Moebius have crafted a graphic tour de force that perfectly fuses their particular sensibilities. Mining Jodorowsky's fascination with religion, mysticism and philosophy, the story follows Alan Mangel, a sixty-year-old professor of philosophy at La Sorbonne, whose world upended when his wife leaves him for another man. Along with Mangel's very public cuckolding comes the loss of the respect of his cult-like cadre of students, all save Elizabeth, a young beauty who claims a vision from God told her she would be impregnated by Mangel and their union would result in the second coming of John the Baptist. Following that statement, Mangel embarks on a spiritually and sexually-charged journey through farcical adventures with Elizabeth, a fellow believer named Muhammad, and the spectacularly-endowed and seemingly insane daughter of a Columbian drug lord, whom Elizabeth and Muhammad believe to be the earthly incarnation of Mary (though hardly virginal), but who comes to believe herself to be Jesusa, the self-proclaimed "androgynous Christ." Loaded with Jodorowsky's signature tropes, the story evolves into a full-blown hyperkinetic self-parody, fully aided and abetted by the loosest, most breezy work Moebius has done in years. (Nov.)

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard
David Petersen et al, Archaia (www.aspcomics.com), $19.95 (144p) ISBN 978-1-932386-94-3
Creator Petersen turns to the tested and reliable bar story as a framing device to allow other writers and artists to play in his Mouse Guard universe, where heroic mice heroes are set in a world of epic fantasy. The June Alley Inn attracts a colorful and varied clientele. One night barkeep June decides to take advantage of this and stages a story-telling contest. What follows are thirteen tales of danger and adventure, as protagonists contend against the predators around them and the flaws that divide mouse from mouse. Armed with medieval technology but vulnerable due to their tiny size, the mice are as daring as any human, and as determined as any full sized protagonist. Petersen's selection is skillful and apt; each writer and artist brings skill and respect for the source material to the individual stories, illuminating Petersen's world rather than using it as a mere palimpsest on which to indulge their own obsessions. Legends is an example to other creators interested in shared worlds. (Dec.)