Spain Rodriguez, Spain, . . Fantagraphics, $14.95 (136pp) ISBN 978-1-56097-511-3

Stanton Carlisle runs toward a light at the end of a corridor of outstretched arms. In underground cartoonist Rodriguez's skilled hands, such imagery gains an inexorable visual and narrative logic. Like the original 1946 novel by Gresham, and the subsequent Tyrone Power film, this Nightmare Alley is a portrait of greed seen through the rise and fall of a carny con man. Carlisle starts off as a small-time magician in a travelling show. The show's kindhearted mentalist teaches him the art of fortune telling, but Carlisle soon makes a bid for more elaborate cons. He ascends to high society parlors and becomes addicted to the idea of tricking the wealthy. How he ends up selling his act to a skeptical, high-powered industrialist is a study in both psychological savvy and moral deterioration. Cons always rely as much on intuition as on sleight-of-hand, so it's no surprise that Carlisle's downfall comes from his own lack of self-understanding. After manipulating so many people for so long, he ends up as the stooge for the one person who could outthink him: his therapist lover. Rodriguez, who spent seven years on this adaptation, makes no such miscalculation. His extreme angles and high-contrast imagery help him remain faithful to the story's cynicism, while his deft handling of carny jargon give readers a inside look at everything from how cons are played to the origins of the word "geek." The alley of Stanton Carlisle's nightmare might be his own arid soul, but it's revealed through the pitiless precision of Rodriguez's art. (Feb.)