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Dark Night: A True Batman Story

Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso. DC, $22.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-4012-4143-8

Dini made a mark on the DC Universe writing various Batman projects in print (Mad Love) and on screen (Batman: The Animated Series), but he’s distanced himself from a real-life incident in the 1990s that shaped the way he approached stories of good and evil. While working on the Batman animated series, Dini was brutally mugged and left with extreme skull damage and an emotional toll that threatened to take him down. In this account of that event, Dini presents his life as one of disappointment; he reached the heights he always dreamed of in the field he loved, but grasped at the emptiness of the experience. It’s an extremely personal work that still hedges even as it reveals, partly out of self-preservation. The narrative structure—psychological action that unfolds through conversations with Batman and various villains—creates a perhaps unavoidable emotional distance with occasional Band-Aids over the dark void being hinted at. Risso’s (100 Bullets) art often goes where the narrative hesitates, offering a simple firsthand fable of pushing back the darkness. (June)

Reviewed on 06/17/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Jekyll Island Chronicles: The Machine Age War

Steve Nedvidek, Ed Crowell, Jack Lowe, and Nestor Moses. Top Shelf, $19.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-60309-388-0

The first volume of this dieselpunk alternate history series by a group of debuting creators takes the real-life Jekyll Island Club, which boasted elite members and played a central role in the creation of the Federal Reserve, and stretches it to fantastic fictional lengths. Following WWI, the members of the club—including Woodrow Wilson, Andrew Carnegie, and Henry Ford—fret over an anarcho-terrorist planting bombs around Europe and enlist a group of talented young folk to form a Fantastic Four for the early 20th century. It’s a fun idea, but it gets bogged down with endless meetings of the club discussing its plan, and the four young heroes get less space than the comings and goings of Wilson and Carnegie do. The art is up to the task of evoking the era when the story allows for a bit of excitement. Hopefully in future volumes the pace will match the potential a little better. (June)

Reviewed on 06/17/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Highbone Theater

Joe Daly. Fantagraphics, $34.99 (570p) ISBN 978-1-60699-922-6

Halfway through Daly’s (Dungeon Quest) wonderfully enigmatic book, a married man named Billy Boy confesses to Highbone’s protagonist, an introverted 30-something named Palmer, that not only did he make up having a wife to avoid ridicule, but the “fart tube” that directs his flatulence out of his overalls was actually made by his mother. This type of interaction—surreal, scatological, yet grounded in its depiction of loneliness and longing—characterizes this work, first published as a webcomic in 2013. Alternating between bold black-and-white panels and brilliant full-color sequences, Daly deftly navigates between the mundane and the madcap, as Palmer struggles through noisy roommates, ineffectual romance, 9/11 conspiracies, and hallucinogenic adventures. Readers familiar with Daly’s earlier Dungeon Quest series will recognize his unique blend of K-Mart realism with the fantastic. In its more bizarre episodes, this is an exhilarating tale of high adventure. In its more meditative moments, it brims with humor and melancholy. (June)

Reviewed on 06/17/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Clean Room, Vol. 1: Immaculate Conception

Gail Simone and Jon Davis-Hunt. Vertigo, $14.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-4012-6275-4

The premise of this bracing series launch from Simone (Birds of Prey) sounds familiar: a secretive, powerful, and celebrity-filled organization promises wisdom to all who follow its teachings. But the cult-like Honest World Foundation turns the Scientology analogy on its ear: they really do know the truths of the universe and might be humankind’s only hope. Chloe Pierce is a reporter trying to figure why her fiancé, an Honest World acolyte, shot himself. Chloe’s introduction to the cult’s arrogant leader, Astrid Mueller, a piercing-eyed Valkyrie in sleek business wear, doesn’t give her much confidence in their aims. But the steady accumulation of supernatural occurrences forces Chloe to conclude that there are worse things out there than Honest World. Propulsively written by Simone and drawn by Davis-Hunt with a clarity that’s both gruesome and precise, this story will get under the reader’s skin. (June)

Reviewed on 06/17/2016 | Details & Permalink

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