Saga, Vol. 1

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Image (Diamond, dist.), $9.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-60706-601-9

Eisner-winner Vaughan (Y the Last Man) teams up with veteran illustrator Staples (North 40) in the epic, galaxy-spanning war story of a star-crossed couple protecting their infant daughter. The story opens with the narrator’s birth, in the middle of a machine shop on a war-torn planet. Her parents, Alana, a winged soldier from the planet Landfall, and Marko, a horned former prisoner of war from Landfall’s moon, have been on the run from both of their militaries. Betrayed, the family is almost murdered just as it forms; sheer luck gives Marko, Alana, and their daughter a chance to brave the wilds and make their way into the galaxy. Vaughan’s witty dialogue is laced with universal commonalities—the sharp fingernails of babies, burping techniques, love—that ground the alien nature of the characters and heighten the sense that the war between planet and moon and the hatred between enemies is tragically pointless. Staples’s character designs are fantastic—even the weirdest aliens reveal human emotion—and her two-page spreads, whether of battle or of tree-grown rocket ships, are glorious. This is a completely addictive, human story that will leave readers desperately awaiting the next volume. For mature readers. (Oct.)

Alpha and Omega: Cry Wolf: Vol. One

Patricia Briggs, David Lawrence, and Todd Herman. Berkley, $26.50 (128p) ISBN 978-0-441-01848-2

Briggs’s Mercy Thompson urban fantasy series has its fans, with her novel Cry Wolf hitting the New York Times bestseller list a few years back. But based on this poorly conceived graphic novel adaptation, it’s hard to see why. Set in a small Montana town that’s secretly run by a powerful clan of werewolves, the drama rotates around the arrival of Anna, a woman who was turned into a werewolf by the Chicago clan and who seems to be something called an “Omega.” Why her being an Omega is important is kept secret, but wouldn’t you know there’s an Alpha around to balance things out? There is some weakly flickering romance between Anna and her were soul mate Charles—son of the clan leader—and a light mystery involving some mysterious attacks on humans, but nothing that would keep readers coming back for volume two. The blocky artwork will help ensure that the only people much interested will be fans of the (assumedly more engaging) print novels. (Oct.)

I, Vampire, Vol. 1: Tainted Love

Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino. DC Comics, $14.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-4012-3687-8

Self-loathing vampire Andrew Bennett, created by J.M. DeMatteis in 1981, returns for a blood-soaked adventure in the New 52. Centuries ago the former Lord Bennett transformed his lover Mary into a monster like himself, but where Bennett rejected his nature, Mary embraces it, reveling in her role as Queen of Blood. Mary has gathered an army of undead and is wreaking havoc across the world, forcing Bennett to seek out allies among the DC universe’s appropriately themed characters, from surly Cockney magician John Constantine to the well-funded vigilante, Batman. At stake is the world itself. What could, in more talented hands, have been a derivative but lively rump is rather a tedious sequence of bloody fight scenes and gratuitous cameos from DC’s better known characters, a carnage-filled trudge toward a cliffhanger less tension-inducing than annoying. Although Sorrentino’s art has a suitable gothic sweep to it, nude scenes have anatomical details carefully elided while the artist feels free to illustrate brutal killings in savage detail. (Oct.)

The Voyeurs

Gabrielle Bell. Uncivilized Books (, $24.95 (156p) ISBN 978-0-9846814-0-2

Autobiographical cartoonist Bell combines comic charm, obsessive self-examination, and an oddly entertaining touch of self-pity (“I’ve pretty much spent my life trying to be a cartoonist, and what do I have to show for it? A wikipedia page and arrested development”) in a new series of full-color vignettes that document her life as part of a free-floating community of indie comics artists drifting between the neighborhood bars of Brooklyn and L.A. and an international and domestic circuit of comics conventions. Add to those attributes a vividly depicted sense of the surreal, evoked through a methodical six-panel-a-page grid and panels crowded with Bell’s whiny (but funny) self-critical text and detailed, stylishly schematic drawings of her life, lovers, friends and neurotic obsessions. While the collection has its share of humorous contradictions—the account of her relationship and breakup with filmmaker Michel Gondry manages to be both sweetly loopy and a little mean—it also depicts a darker, more demandingly neurotic and depressive Bell than her previous books, while also offering a thoughtful account of her meandering path to making art. So what if she’s a high maintenance girlfriend? Her thoughtful and revealing comics are eccentric, funny, and irresistibly readable. (Sept.)

The Judas Coin

Walter Simonson. DC Comics, $22.99 (104p) ISBN 978-1-4012-1541-5

With 40 years in the comic book business, Simonson has a long, celebrated career building epic comic book mythology, including acclaimed runs on superhero comics’ licensed pop culture franchises and his own creations and co-creations. This absorbing original graphic novel contains a rich tapestry of heroes—pirates, Vikings, western outlaws, space adventurers, and even Batman. This sweeping saga of DC’s history begins after Judas betrays Jesus. One of Judas’s 30 pieces of silver passes through the hands of DC characters—from the ancient Golden Gladiator and the Viking Prince to Batman and Two-Face in the present, and Simonson’s own futuristic co-creation (with Archie Goodwin), Manhunter 2070. The cursed coin tempts heroes and villains with avarice, envy, and a thirst for murder. Simonson is in top form: each historical chapter spotlights a different character in a visually distinct style. His collaborators deftly complement his art and story: colorist Lovern Kindzierski gives each chapter a different, rich color palette, and longtime Simonson collaborator John Workman’s lettering and speech balloons vary appropriately for each story. Especially intriguing is the black-and-white (and red) Batman/Two-Face tale, which resembles a newspaper comic strip. This is grand high adventure that will delight both fans familiar with the characters and those new to DC’s universe. (Sept.)

Valentine, Vol. 1: The Ice of Death

Alex de Campi and Christine Larsen. Image (Diamond, dist.), $24.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-60706-624-8

Valentine is a Hussar making the frozen and tortuous retreat out of Russia with Napoleon’s forces in 1812. While stumbling homeward through the snow and ice, he encounters a mysterious stranger who entrusts him with a mysterious sword. Soon, Valentine is being pursued by a band of sinister soldiers with glowing red eyes, who shoot and kill him. Valentine is revived soon after by a strange woman and wakes up in a hospital in France completely healed. This promising premise is soon revealed to be a typical magical good versus evil tale, with a man named Roland rescuing Valentine, and revealing the sword is the key to a portal between the human world and a magical one. The book makes for an entertaining adventure, one that indulges in werewolves and vampires, but keeps a steady and exciting pace. Valentine himself is not particularly memorable as a foolhardy soldier, but there are indications that he will grow into a more vivid character as the series continues. The art veers between serious action and a looser, less focused style, occasionally undermining the comic’s tone. Even with these moments of unsteadiness, this work shows promise. (Oct.)

The Graphic Canon, Vol. 2

Edited by Russ Kick. Seven Stories, $34.95 (512p) ISBN 978-1-60980-378-0

Comprising original graphic versions of classic literature, from Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” to Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, this is the second volume of a must-have anthology for those who wish to lose themselves utterly in visual narrative adaptations of the works of the Western canon. Featuring spectacular graphic adaptations of some of the 19th century’s most famous works, contributors include Maxon Crumb, John Porcellino, and Megan Kelso. Each selection is prefaced with a short introduction to provide context, and a rationale is included for the marriage of a particular writer with a particular artist. And editor Kick certainly gets it right. Porcellino’s simple drawings are perfect for Thoreau’s Walden. Eran Cantrell’s silhouetted illustrations for Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” are positively stunning. And what PMurphy does with Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” is marvelously original. Apart from containing insightful introductions and wonderful artwork, these selections have a not-to-be-underestimated pedagogical value that educators will no doubt find invaluable in bringing classic works of literature to a 21st-century audience immersed in visual culture. (Oct.)

Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology

Edited by Jeff Yang, Parry Shien, Keith Chow, and Jerry Ma. New Press, $21.95 trade paper (210p) ISBN 978-1-59558-824-1

This second anthology of comics by Asian-American creators focuses on genres from science fiction to fantasy, superhero to historical, slice-of-life and more—a few stories stand out, and a prologue and epilogue tie some of the individual stories together, but the overall quality is uneven. Contributors include such mainstream mainstays as Cliff Chiang, Larry Hama, Sonny Liew, and Sean Chen. The more polished pieces are often a five-to-10-page introduction to a setting and new characters rather than a complete story with an ending.The variety of styles of art is impressive, with some influenced by American comics from all eras of the 20th century, some more evocative of manga, and some more cartoonish. Overall, the impression is more of a collection of portfolio pieces than a tightly edited anthology despite the talent on display. (Nov.)

Spit and Passion

Cristy C. Road. Feminist, $15.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-55861-807-7

Veteran punk writer and illustrator Road weaves text and art together in a charming and angst-ridden coming-of-age story. Cuban-American and raised in a traditional Catholic family, the preteen Road has a number of identity issues: she does not fit into her cultural mold, she finds salvation in punk rock, and she has a conflicted gender identity. Embracing her tomboy nature, Road begins to come to terms with herself as a gay woman, building a closet for her secret that becomes her refuge. Road’s identification with her teenage self feels genuine, and her recollections of pop culture (both embraced and rejected) of the 1990s will strike nostalgic chords in readers of that generation. Road balances long sections of prose with pages dominated by art; her pencil and marker style, with images populated by strange and imperfect-looking characters, is well suited to her story, even if the ending doesn’t entirely solve her identity issues. Grotesque images of dangling eyeballs and gushing brains reflect the alternative scene the young Road has discovered. Readers who enjoyed Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home will probably empathize with Road’s story of sexual exploration and punk rock. (Nov.)

Love and Rockets: New Stories #5

Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez. Fantagraphics, $14.99 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-60699-586-0

In the 30 years they’ve been writing and drawing Love and Rockets, Los Bros Hernandez have created wonderfully complex story lines and characters. In this volume, Gilbert concentrates on episodes in Palomar, a Latin American village whose inhabitants are deliberately cartoony in appearance and oddly bemused in attitude, especially during a visit by the spectacularly buxom granddaughter of series mainstay Luba. Using a more fluid, lively style, Jaime presents glimpses of Chicano/Chicana life in a North American city, as beautiful but hotheaded Vivian (aka Frogmouth) and her plain, chunky half-sister Tonta hang out with smalltime gangsters. Wherever they live, people can’t avoid the threat of violence—or of disquieting, tantalizing revelations about who they really are. While Gilbert’s work weaves in and out of the 30-year history he’s crafted for Palomar, Jaime’s longer story is more accessible to newcomers, with vain, destructive Vivian and slow, clumsy Tonta more extreme versions of Hopey and Maggie. This web of superior magical-realistic storytelling involves readers in the perplexed yearnings of a huge cast of unforgettable characters unaware of their own capacity for general self-delusion and occasional self-discovery. (Sept.)


Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, and Farel Dalrymple. Image (Diamond, dist.), $9.99 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-60706-611-8

John Prophet, a super soldier who awakes in the future’s future after being kept in cryo-sleep beneath the Earth’s surface, is ready for his mission. Prophet makes his way through an Earth that has been overrun by squabbling alien tribes living among the rusted debris of Earth’s past. Artist Roy savors Prophet’s journey, piling on intricate details of a world that is only vaguely familiar to either Prophet or the reader. Prophet’s mission is to restart the Earth Empire, a goal that remains mysterious. This approach is intriguing initially, with Graham’s sparse and clear writing giving the story a sharp and menacing feel as the details unfold. This same level of vagueness and obscurity in subsequent adventures grows tiresome, relying too much on gorgeous art to carry the story. But the comic shows promise of stronger narrative development and even more visual experimentation. Each artist in this first volume of stories brings his own take on the faded and ruined universe that John Prophet has returned to, making this not just a unusual science fiction comic, but also a satisfying visual collaboration among very talented artists. (Sept.)

Teen Titans, Vol. 1: It’s Our Right to Fight

Scott Lobdell, Brett Booth, and Norm Rapmund. DC, $14.99 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-4012-3698-4

It is always a challenge to start a series featuring a group of superheroes who didn’t start out together, what with reintroducing the heroes, reacquainting the readers with backstory, and bringing the characters together piecemeal in order to confront their first bad guy. However, Lobdell (Superboy) and Booth (JLA) have produced a really engaging first act in this reboot of the Teen Titans franchise. This outing focuses on Tim Drake (aka Red Robin) and his efforts to gather a crack team of teenage meta-humans before the mysterious Project N.O.W.H.E.R.E. kills, incapacitates, or indoctrinates them. Whether it’s Wonder Girl (don’t call her Wonder Girl, by the way), Kid Flash, or even new characters like Bunker and Skitter, Lobdell and Booth combine to make their personalities compelling, their powers impressive, and their weaknesses and foibles interesting—all while treating the reader to some spectacularly energetic artwork, with eyeball-sizzling coloring by Andrew Dalhouse. Even if teenage angst mixed with superheroism isn’t exactly your cup of tea, Lobdell and Booth have a way of moving the story forward both narratively and visually, and choosing some very cool “sets” for the principal action (the train, Red Robin’s “perch,” and the N.O.W.H.E.R.E. facility) making for a dynamic, engaging story. (Sept.)


Jeff Parker and Erika Moen. Dark Horse, $19.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-59582-973-3

Like a slacker Hitchcock hero, Rich awakens in the wrong place at the wrong time, a hookup’s apartment after a drunken night, and rushes ill-prepared to a job interview. It’s all downhill from there, a spiral involving murder, rampaging subcultures, and a mad dash to a wacky finale. Artist Moen’s work is lively, capturing the action of the script perfectly and bringing the characters to energetic life. The story is a clever, careening juggernaut that becomes cluttered by the end. If you’re not familiar with maker culture or Juggalos, or Portland, Ore. in-jokes, you might get lost as the hipster social satire piles on. The story was originally a Web comic, and like many Web comics that go into print, this book includes the author notes on each page—but here they seem more self-conscious micromanagement than revelation, and make the creators seem like they’re trying to steal the limelight from their own cartoon characters, who are strong enough to stand on their own. If readers ignore the notes, the lively, brainy story more than stands on its own. (Oct.)

Prince of Cats

Ron Wimberly. DC/Vertigo, $16.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-4012-2068-6

There is a long and rich tradition of re-imagining Shakespeare examples include the Tempest-inspired SF movie Forbidden Planet, the fascist Britain that never was of director Richard Loncraine’s Richard III, and West Side Story’s modern-day Romeo and Juliet. Now former cartoonist Wimberly adds to that body of work with this new version of Romeo and Juliet, set in a Japanese-flavored futuristic New York and focusing on Tybalt, the eponymous Prince of Cats. Proud and as easily affronted as any Renaissance-era Verona aristocrat, Tybalt seeks love and a place in the world, but finds only violence and needless death. The stylized graffiti-inspired art doesn’t shy away from the violence of the story, reflecting the brutal world the protagonist sometimes finds himself in, but the impact is somewhat dulled by overly dark coloring. The setting and recasting of the characters as African-Americans invites a comparison with West Side Story and its racial conflicts, and serves as a similarly worthy recasting of the timeless waste of feuding factions. (Sept.)

Criminal Macabre: The Iron Spirit

Steve Niles and Scott Morse. Dark Horse, $19.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-59582-975-7

Newly undead after years as a paranormal investigator, Niles’ long running character Cal McDonald is visited by a retired Air Force captain in dire need of his special skills. Years ago, Captain Clayton supervised tests of secret military equipment that caused the deaths of four young recruits. Haunted for decades, Clayton is now determined to reclaim their souls and put them to rest. This self-contained, brief one-shot is built upon Niles’s stylistic dexterity and economy, which effortlessly balances noir and horror elements. In fact, this is essentially an illustrated short story, with text that could easily stand on its own. That’s not to downplay Morse’s contribution. A combination of sketchy pencils and layered blocks of watercolor, Morse’s misty, spectral artwork breathes new life into this long-running series. As a visual experience, the story manifests out of the ether, emerging from the dimension in which McDonald has now taken up residence. Although the ongoing Cal McDonald series has benefited in unique ways from each of its contributing artists, the seamless pairing of Niles and Morse calls for more than just a 32-page one-shot. (Sept.)

The Nao of Brown

Glyn Dillon. Abrams/Self Made Hero, $24.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-906838-42-3

A surprising and challenging piece, this quite literate graphic novel serves up a richly nuanced look at the daily life of Nao Brown, a 20-something hafu (half English, half Japanese) woman who works as a designer at a specialty toy store in contemporary London. Nao finds herself stuck in the nebulous area of biracial biculturalism and weathers the trials of the dating arena while also contending with common misperceptions about her Asian side. Further complicating her existence is a case of debilitating OCD, coupled with the frequent desire to inflict violent harm on people she encounters, twin demons that at times necessitate her retreat from the world. This is a dense work that gets into the often-disturbing realms found in Nao’s mind and the more we get to know of her, the more wrenching her situation becomes. Dillon turns in a narrative tour de force, featuring a script that works in perfect concert with almost cinematic art reminiscent of Milo Manara, but with far more expressive characters A triumph of comics for grownups, this is a must-read. (Oct.)


Thien Pham. Roaring Brook/First Second, $21.95 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-59643-581-0

The dual shattered dreams of a career in the NFL and marriage to his longtime girlfriend spur burly Scott to pack up and leave behind the life he knew, opting instead for total cultural transformation as a professional sumo wrestler in training. After dying his hair black and embarking on the tradition-bound sport’s rigorous physical and mental training, Scott ponders his life and the decisions he’s made, all the while struggling to figure out whether he has what it takes to succeed on his new path. Bolstered by the encouragement of his no-nonsense coach and the friendship of the coach’s English-speaking daughter, Scott nonetheless wrestles with self-doubt and regret, and his journey is as thoughtful and compelling as his newly chosen sport is intense and concussive. Surprisingly quiet and introspective, this effort is a pleasant surprise that moves briskly, propelled by simple, practically minimalist art that utterly charms. The ambiguous/symbolic ending may baffle some, but it’s the perfect coda for a piece that so effectively fuses two quite disparate cultures, with its protagonist serving as the for that melding of East and West. (Dec.)