The Manhattan Projects

Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra. Image, $14.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-60706-608-8

This is not the Manhattan Project you read about in school. A secret plan to defend America with terrifying super weapons, a multi-personality psychotic Oppenheimer, a robotic-armed Wernher von Braun, and a galaxy full of hostile aliens are just a small part of the Hickman and Pitarra's alternate world. The story could easily veer into bland World War II fan fiction, but instead Hickman and Pitarra gleefully transform the historical figures behind the atom bomb into a collection of anti-heroes bent on using every dirty trick in the book to save America and the World from a myriad of evils. The plot jumps through this alternate timeline, shifting gears abruptly, but entertaining throughout. As the focus moves from battling Nazis to battling belligerent space empires—and with the Americans wielding stranger and more sinister powers—the line between good and evil gets vaguer, and who's on who's side becomes a more difficult question. The art's surreal combination of caricatures of famous dead men with unbelievable weapons battling incredible enemies is eye-catching and incredibly entertaining. The Manhattan Projects team's actions echo the coups and wars of the US in the immediate post-World War II world, and it's unclear at times whether they're making things better or worse. (Sept.)

The Making Of

Brecht Evens. Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-77046-073-7

The contrast between creating art and building a community, and passion and pretension, is at the center of this beautiful, ink-wash Flemish import. Set in the fictional village of Beerpoele, the story reveals how Peterson, a minorly successful artist from the big city, is brought into a strange, amateur artistic community. Hoping to make their village a cultural center, the artists of Beerpoele are creating an exhibit for a biennial celebration. Peterson, dismayed at the cavalier attitude of the artists, wrangles them into creating a single big project as a team. But Peterson's leadership style soon has the other artists disillusioned with the project (though never with Peterson, whom they adore) and the impermanent nature of art is revealed in all too spectacular a fashion. Evens's abstract art breathes life into the small, quirky community—as well as city night clubs and art classes—and his washes of color are brilliant. The lettering style, using different colors of ink for different characters, helps establish unique voices. The story, however, is crowded with characters who are difficult to like, and Peterson's anti-hero nature may frustrate readers searching for a likable protagonist. (Sept.).


Elaine Lee and Mike Kaluta. IDW, $34.99 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-1-61377-439-7

This brain-bending SF epic is the type of book that once devoured, demands to be passed on to another unsuspecting reader with a meaningful look and a wistful sigh. It is not however the type of read that lends itself well to actually being pinned down in a description any longer than, "you must have this". Originally published in Heavy Metal in the 80s and expanded over the years, Starstruck is a soap opera, a space adventuring epic, and an ambitiously multi-layered visual treat that might just bend your mind. There is Galatia 9, a space faring adventurer with killer bow skills, and her new companion Brucilla the Muscle, a fierce and fun loving pilot running from her disgrace. Mary Medea who masquerades as the glamorous Queen Glorianna, and Erotic Anne, a sex droid who is achieving awareness. Verloona Ti and Lurcrezia Bajar are scorned sisters, manipulating those around them. Say goodbye to stories with a beginning, middle and end; plunge instead into a story that wraps around itself, creates new worlds in every panel, has a plethora of strong and intriguing female leads. Lee's quirky dialogue is more than matched by Kaluta's belle époque techno-finery. (Sept.)

Glory, Volume One: The Once and Future Destroyer

Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell. Image, $9.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-60706-604-0

A young woman troubled by dreams of a missing superhero leaves home to search for her only to discover she's more involved in the worlds-shattering saga of a godlike warrior than she could have ever imagined. Keatinge and Campbell beautifully craft a compelling reintroduction to the character of Glory, seen through the eyes of Riley Barnes. When Riley finds Glory hiding and healing from injuries in Mont San Michel, France, she soon discovers that she may be destined not to save Glory, but to save the world from Glory. From the uncontrollable anger of a woman created to be a weapon to end a war by beings far more powerful than anything on Earth by destroying both sides. Campbell's art is stunning, creating a female hero who is physically intimidating in a way never seen in superhero comics and creating worlds both familiar and fantastically bizarre, and characters ranging from friendly old French bartenders to armies of individually distinct demon-like creatures from another world. . Keatinge's story gives instant depth to its complex characters and excels at slowly presenting a more and more complex narrative spanning thousands of years and several worlds and cultures. (Sept.)

Smoke and Mirrors

Mike Costa, Jon Armstrong, and Ryan Browne. IDW, $19.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-61377-402-1

Terry Ward is a magician—of the talented but common sort—until he finds himself in an alternate universe where the word "magic" is taken for granted, and where new technology is developed via a form of sophisticated sorcery. Here, Terry is treated with the kind of suspicion 17th century Salemites reserved for certain women. When 12-year-old magic prodigy Ethan begins taking lessons in sleight-of-hand from Terry, he's fascinated to learn that "magic" can exist without incantation and ritual. Meanwhile, a Steve Jobs-like figure lurks in the background, hoping to usurp Terry's strange knowledge for use in his company's magic-driven gadgets. Scripter Costa keeps the plot in a state of perpetual development, aided by a detailed depiction of illusions contributed by real-deal magician Jon Armstrong. Browne's art reflects the influence of antique poster art; heavy outlines and careful composition immerse readers in the visuals of the parallel universe's "magic economy." An exciting, clever exploration of the prosaic and mythical varieties of magic in a post-Harry Potter world where everyone has magical powers and there are no Muggles. (Oct.)

DC Comics: The Sequential Art of Amanda Conner

Amanda Conner and various. DC, $29.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4012-3740-0

Conner is an excellent choice for an "art of" book, since her style, full of good humor and refusal to take anything too seriously, carries through regardless of the strength of the story it's supporting. The contents of this volume range from longer, relatively complete stories—three issues about Oracle and Black Canary from Birds of Prey and a four-part new Power Girl origin story—to short pieces including Black Canary and Green Arrow's wedding. A reason to get this kind of anthology collection is a few pages of illustrated fan mail from the Legion of Super-Heroes, the kind of light-hearted content that shows off Conner's facility with comedy. Fans should be aware that although the book was originally promoted as behind-the-scenes information, the only extras are some sketches and a mini cover gallery. While the stories that have concrete conclusions entertain, no further insight into Conner's work is provided. For that reason, it's unclear whether she tends to work on female heroes out of her own choice or that those are the works offered. Either way, the book is a wonderful reminder of how strong these characters can be when they're given a chance to shine under a talented artist's pen. (Nov.)

Heads or Tails

Lilli Carre. Fantagraphics, $22.99 (200p) ISBN 978-1-60699-597-6

Carre, author of The Lagoon, has a new collection out, a scrapbook of strange and beautiful stories. Dark and surreal moments fill most of these pages. A soap saleswoman is slowly forced out of her routine and her life by a mysterious doppelgänger. An opinionated professional flower arrangement judge survives a car accident only to lose his critical compass. And an entire city awakens to a sound that everyone interprets differently. Carre’s visual exploration and experimentation also work wonders for her stories, as she switches between styles and colors with each story. Her willingness to try anything is evident in one short comic that echoes the structure of Cloud Atlas’s stories within stories within stories, and showcases Carre’s ability to tell intricate and meaningful narratives in the course of a just a few pages. Her tales are also close studies of people brushing up and pushing past one another, struggling to connect. In the course of many of these, Carre investigates how we are lonely and the many futile ways we attempt to connect and hold on. Some are stronger than others, but each one is a weird, lovely gift. (Nov.)

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland

Bill Willingham, Jim Fern, and Craig Hamilton. DC/Vertigo, $22.99 (152p) ISBN 978-1-4012-2479-0

Bigby Wolf, the seventh son of the North Wind, is the original big bad werewolf, now reformed and somewhat civilized despite a mile-wide mean streak. While wandering through the Great Plains in search of a possible location for Fabletown, a new home for his fellow creatures of myth, he stumbles on Harp, an old friend and a fellow WWII special ops commando who is now running Story City, a small town inhabited exclusively by lycanthropes who worship Bigby as a god. Not surprisingly, things aren’t very kosher in Story City—and not just because werewolves rule the roost. Bigby’s former comrade-in-arms has married their old Nazi nemesis Dr. Sieglinde Von Abensberg, now Sigi Harp, and together they have spawned a brood of killers who are out for Bigby’s blood. Subtle allusions to the underlying nature of fascism and other sociopolitical overtones make this story more multidimensional than the otherwise straightforward narrative might initially suggest. An efficient, well-structured layout and the excellent pen and pencil work by the talented team of artists led by Jim Fern and Craig Hamilton seal the deal. The clean lines and the equally clean plot with flawless internal logic make this excellent Fables volume a real joy to read. (Nov.)

Grandville Bête Noire

Bryan Talbot. Dark Horse, $19.99 (104p) ISBN 978-1-59582-890-3

Talbot (Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes) returns to anthropomorphic intrigue in his third tale of steampunk murders and the British badger who solves them. The nefarious toad Krapaud, a rich industrialist threatened by the socialist government of the former French Empire, is scheming with other members of the wealthy elite to take over Paris through the use of violent automatons. Luckily for Paris, Detective Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard has been asked to consult on a related murder case. With his uncouth manners and his tendency to solve problems with violence, LeBrock is an unsophisticated but dependable hero who surrounds himself with an equally capable love interest. Subplots involving a human rights campaign seem like a tongue-in-cheek way to keep the anthropomorphic animal heroes from being taken too seriously, and Talbot’s stylized illustrations feature lampoons on familiar children’s book characters (the villain is a post–Hell Mr. Toad). While the element of humor is woven throughout, the characters have deep concerns, particularly LeBrock, whose soul-searching about how he can protect the people he cares about gives a soft side to an otherwise rough-and-tumble sort of hero. (Dec.)

The Cursed Pirate Girl

Jeremy A. Bastian. Archaia (dist. by Diamond), $24.95 (152p) ISBN 978-1-93639-360-2

With a dash of Pippi Longstocking in her biography, this scrappy young heroine takes to the high seas to find her father, a pirate king, and encounters scores of decrepit pirates, as well as a pair of swordfish in full armor among dangers galore. This swashbuckling fantasy reveals Bastian has his old-fashioned chops down, not only in art style but with the language of the story and the structure of the escapade. In addition the book itself is a gorgeously detailed evocation of old books, from the scalloped paper to the lovely endpapers. The dialogue is appropriately archaic, even stilted in a purposeful way, and the journey is episodic in the tradition of children’s adventure, like Alice in Wonderland, wherein every character encountered by the heroine amounts to a personality type that confounds her and each persona invites verbal sparring before she is able to move along. Bastian’s art captures 19th-century humorous illustration and cartoon styles with deliberate grotesques and complex visual clutter—think Thomas Nast meets Albrecht Dürer—and while what results can sometimes obstruct the flow of the adventure , the result is both a beautiful object and an evocative adventure. (Dec)

Superman: Earth One: Vol. Two

J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis. DC, $22.99 (136p) ISBN 978-1-4012-3196-5

This sequel to the bestselling first volume is intended as a sort of “Superman 101,” a graphic novel meant for someone who hasn’t extensively read comics before. Too bad, then, that it’s not likely to inspire a need to read further. In volume two, Clark Kent starts his double career as reporter at the Daily Planet and as Superman. The plot is straightforward and updated (Jimmy Olsen writes a blog), but there’s nothing extraordinary enough to make this anything beyond a capable Superman tale. Additions to the established mythos swerve into cliché: a hooker with a heart of gold is Clark’s new neighbor; Superman defeats a dictator by inspiring oppressed citizens to rise up. Davis’s art is crisp and energetic, especially in extended fight sequences, and an epilogue sets up the next volume with a clever and unexplored twist on Lex Luthor. This is an enjoyable Superman story, even if uninspiring for new readers. (Nov.)

The Book of Five Rings

Miyamoto Musashi, adapted by Sean Michael Wilson and Chie Kutsuwada. Shambhala, $14.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-61180-012-8

This graphic adaptation of Musashi’s 17th-centurytreatise on the martial arts makes careful, effective use of imagery to emphasize both the narrative and instructional aspects of the original text. Musashi’s work is divided into five books, which address each aspect of battle: “Earth,” “Fire,” “Water,” “Wind,” and “Emptiness.” That structure is retained here, with scripter Wilson and artist Kutsuwada finding terrific visual and dramatic hooks as background for Musashi’s alternately anecdotal and didactic text. Musashi takes a rational, pragmatic approach to his subject. In discussing his two-sword fighting style, he advocates practice, not mere reading. As a practical guide, the book has limited usefulness today, but Musashi’s lessons, in their focus on preparation and mindfulness, can easily be applied to most areas of life. The final chapter, “Emptiness,” is particularly intriguing, with its Zen-like call for awareness of what we do not know as a way to avoid detrimental confusion. Kutsuwada’s art is delicate and clean, balancing the physiological dynamics of swordplay with a clear-eyed appreciation of Musashi’s natural environment. An engaging, thoughtful update of what could be esoteric. (Nov.)

The Book of Revelation

Fr. Mark Abey, Fr. Philemon Sevastiades, Matt Dorff, and Chris Koelle. Zondervan, $19.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-310-42140-5

Working from a new translation from the ancient Greek text—translated by Frs. Arey and Sevastiades, and adapted by Dorff—artist Koelle crafts a visual tour de force that renders the still somewhat obscure content of the Bible’s final book accessible to those who don’t have the benefit of years of biblical scholarship. The Apostle John’s account of the prophesied final conflict between the absolutes of good and evil is given vivid depiction that strikes the perfect, tasteful tone for the material’s extremes of wonder and apocalyptic horror, as assorted angels, monsters, and cosmic happenstance enjoy a color palette of subdued borderline psychedelia. While casual readers might bypass what is essentially a straight biblical translation to the graphic novel medium, they would be missing out on a page-turner whose marriage of sacred text and spectacular art as still an riveting narrative. (Nov.)


Chris Wright. Fantagraphics, $24.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-60699-587-7

In Wright’s grim tale, Isaac, a proud and arrogant schoolteacher of the indeterminate past, manages to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and is shanghaied along with Mose, a career criminal whose skills at wanton brutality are quite impressive. Trapped in a society of questionably sane and unquestionably violent pirates, Isaac is forced to turn to Mose, and later to his captain, for protection against the monsters surrounding Isaac; survival is all he can hope for, as degradation, mutilation, and corruption are inescapable in this new world. Wright’s art, black and white, crude and yet vivid and purposeful, suits the stark, raw world it depicts. The relationship between the intellectual and the pirate is reminiscent of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf; the teacher is a man of ideas trapped in a world where his lofty pretensions have little relevance and where his skills are of little use save to record his inevitable fall. Although a worthy tale, the level of violence may be off-putting to some. (Nov.)


Sergio Toppi. Archaia Entertainment (, $29.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-93639-348-0

The late Toppi has been a longtime star of the European comics scene, yet English translations of his highly regarded works have been hard to come by for years. Sharaz-De, published in lavish hardcover, shows his exquisite illustrations at their best. The tale is familiar: faced with execution in the morning, Sharaz-De spins tale after tale for her barbaric king, with each story delaying her impending doom. Two chapters are given over to vibrant watercolors, adding a psychedelic undertone to the tightly woven ink work elsewhere, as jinn, devils, and selfish men do battle upon the pages. Toppi does not use conventional comic panels, but allows his illustrations to sprawl behind and around them, with a singular illustration depicting multiple aspects of the story depending on where your eye first lands. A foreword from Walter Simonson pays tribute to the artist, who died in August, 2012. The Tales from the Arabian Nights may be well enough known, but Toppi’s unparalleled skill at twisting fine art, design, and comic book structure together render this a real treat. (Dec.)

Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Book 1

Denise Mina, Andrea Mutti, and Leonardo Manco. DC/Vertigo, $19.99 (152p) ISBN 978-1-4012-3557-4

The late Stieg Larsson’s slick potboiler is wildly popular in both movie and novel form; its tale—disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his unorthodox ally hacker/investigator, Lisbeth Salander, struggle to discover the truth behind the disappearance of Harriet Vanger decades before—is familiar to people around the world. Now it has been transformed into a graphic novel, this installment covering the events of the first half of the novel. As with the movies, translation to graphic form requires streamlining the novel, discarding details not absolutely essential to the plot. Despite a tight adaptation by crime novelist Mina, this version preserves many of the flaws of the original, the visual fetishization of Salander emphasizing Larsson’s clueless background misogyny. In addition, the photorealistic art style and attempt at dynamic storytelling, while striking in and of itself, works against the procedural grind of reading documents and computer hacking which provided the action in the novel. The resulting hybrid is not so much a reinterpretation of the original as a slightly edited storyboard. While it won’t necessarily make new fans on its own, completists should enjoy the new visual interpretation. (Nov.)

Jack Jackson’s American History: Los Tejanos and Lost Cause

Jack Jackson. Fantagraphics, $35 (320p) ISBN 978-1-60699-504-4

Comics’ current vogue for nonfiction was pioneered in these two works from the late underground comix founding father Jackson, who died in 2006. Jackson brought an R. Crumb–style crosshatching and love of facial grotesquery to these two densely researched historical graphic novels. Lost Cause (1998) is a tangled and bloody history of mob violence and vendetta that uses the Taylor-Sutton feud in post–Civil War southern Texas (featuring that highly homicidal teenager, John Wesley Hardin) as a fascinating prism through which to view many white Texans’ reactions to Reconstruction. Jackson’s conscious decision to use his protagonists’ point of view results in many wincingly racist moments that some readers may find hard to swallow. Even better is Los Tejanos (1981), which follows the tragic history of Juan Seguin, a heroic tejano who fought brilliantly for Texas’s independence. Anglo racism forced him into exile, where he was forced to fight with his former enemies in the Mexican Army. Disavowed by both sides, this heroic equal to Jim Bowie and Sam Houston was later written out of the history books. Jackson writes, “sooner or later, the truth finds us all.” In these epic, scrupulous, and compulsively readable histories, Jackson does his best to find the truth for us. (Dec.)

Fear Agent Library, Vol. One

Rick Remender, Tony Moore, and Jerome Opeña. Dark Horse, $16.99 (112p) ISBN 978-1-59307-764-8

Fear Agent’s violent, alcoholic protagonist, Heath Huston, careens from one crisis to another, driven by greed, self-loathing, and a self-destructive lack of insight second only to his capacity to stumble into the center of world-shattering events. A shattered man seeking oblivion in his work, the unshaven, careless Heath, haunted by memories of the war that devastated Earth and the crimes he committed in that war, stumbles into a new plot endangering his home world; easily manipulated, he soon manages to transform a simple alien invasion into a potentially universe-endangering crisis. Clearly emulating the science fiction of the 1940s, with art reminiscent of Eisner and more often of Mark Shultz, Fear Agent rejoices in its retro-pulp sensibilities. While it is true the accidental genocidaire lead is sometimes bothered by the cascading avalanche of unintended consequences to which his decisions lead, the focus remains on breakneck action, alien grotesques, and pin-up girl–style femme fatales. (Dec.)

Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories

Ben Katchor. Pantheon, $29.95 (160p) ISBN 978-0-307-90690-8

In one of the more sublimely caustic stories in Katchor’s brilliant, darkly magical new collection, a suburban house attracts the attention of an architecture critic who loves how the roof reforms itself to match the shape of the master bed. He is all set to publish a laudatory article on it when the housekeeper makes the bed, and the critic loses interest. There are more than 150 pieces like that in this oversized edition, most of them taking up just one page. Nearly all involve some surreal tweak on modern obsessions with form, design, status, and particularly architecture and the pretentious folly of its acolytes. Like a grungier Chris Ware, Katchor uses slashing lines and bleak-faced people to populate strictly delineated worlds that hum with surrealism for all their exacting detail: the building so high-tech it allows no wood (“all your possessions must be uploaded as digital files”); the mixed-use complex with one blank wall so off-putting that “two tourists die of boredom”; a move toward using vitreous china for fast-food packaging and automobile bodies. Katchor’s universe might be at a 45-degree angle to reality, but it’s close enough for his barbs about the modern world’s hatred of the past to keep their humorous sting. (Feb.)