Green Pieces: Green from the Pond Up
Drew Aquilina, Five Star, $19.99 paper (197p) ISBN 978-1-58985-191-7
The premise of Aquilina's comic strip, collected here, is the nature-minded hijinks of a turtle, a dragonfly, a raccoon, and a frog who live in a wetlands environment--a more explicitly eco-friendly version of Pogo.. Regrettably, it's nowhere near Pogo's class. Aquilina's not a strong enough artist to give his animal characters a convincing range of expression or establish much of a setting, and his sense of humor, as with the way he lays out his images, is a bone-pale imitation of early Bloom County. (Even the better jokes are clumsily paced, and a gag involving Iggy the turtle shining his shell with Turtle Wax is repeated until it's no longer even vaguely funny.) There are a few extended sequences, like one in which Iggy gets a crush on a squirrel, and another in which Cabby the frog retrieves a dinosaur egg from the Cretaceous period and hatches it--although baby Rex vanishes after its first few appearances. Strangest of all, 15 pages before the end, a story line ends on a cliffhanger, and the major Green Pieces characters are never seen again; the rest of the book is one-off gags about various plants and animals, unrelated to anything earlier. (Sept.)

Werewolves of Montpellier
Jason, Fantagraphics, $12.99 paper (48p) ISBN 978-1-60699-359-0
Deadpan dialogue, drawings that move from panel to panel with the strange and deliberate force of kung fu performance art, and a subtle interweaving of humor and angst come together to make this a brief knockout of a book. Jason's cast of sober-faced dogs, rabbits, and birds interact with self-deprecating style, and the slight, absurd story, in which Sven masquerades as a werewolf and thus invites the attention of actual werewolves, holds it all loosely together. Meanwhile, Sven spends time with his neighbor, Audrey, as their relationship shifts and changes. In one scene, Audrey comforts him for his romantic loneliness. "Do women come from another planet?" she asks, rubbing his shoulders. "Yes, women come from another planet," he answers. The call and response dialogue escalates in humor while perfectly expressing the familiar tenderness between the two. Norwegian-born Jason is author of The Left Bank Gang and I Killed Adolf Hitler. His drawings and page design are genius in their simplicity and hold the attention like a Zen koan. The surface simplicity of a Jason story obscures how much is really here. (July)

Dengeki Daisy, Vol. 1
Kyousuke Motomi, Viz, $9.99 paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-4215-3727-6
So much of shojo (girl's) manga falls under the sway of one single emotion: longing. This series ruthlessly cultivates and exploits this innocent desire. After the death of her older brother, high school student Teru Kurebayashi is the only surviving member of her family. But before dying, her brother gave her a cellphone with which she can contact "Daisy," a mysterious man who acts as a sort of cyber-guardian angel. While Teru and Daisy text each other messages--those from Daisy are filled with gentle, kind words of encouragement and support--the young, thuggish, school janitor, Kurosaki, suddenly recruits Teru to help pay off the repairs to a window that she broke. Kurosaki is a cranky, shiftless, character who spends most of his time smoking, playing mah-jongg, and belittling Teru. Despite their antagonistic relationship, he always seems to be around when Teru needs help. Motomi uses a deft hand at composing the narrative, arranged with soft expressions and swaying flowers, while turning typical tricks of the shojo-manga trade on its head (a scene of gently falling flowers turns out to be a scene where Kurosaki is trimming trees). As a character, Teru is sharp and courageous, and gives as good as she gets. (July)

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour
Bryan Lee O'Malley, Oni, $11.99 paper (248p) ISBN 973-1-934964-38-5
Can an irresponsible slacker find love and become a man along the way? That's been the six-volume question behind the witty and wise Scott Pilgrim series. In the fifth book, Scott's love, Ramona, walked out on him due to her own confessed weaknesses, while Scott wrestled with newfound contentment. O'Malley's final volume has some of his trademark humor, but it's a much darker and more serious look at the battle of love. Alone, Scott goes on a journey of atonement with his previous girlfriends and is shocked to learn that some of them have moved on without him. The final evil ex, Gideon Graves turns out to be a manipulative and shallow version of what Scott himself would become if his selfish nature were to take over. Their climactic battle is allowed to play out at length, with video game references galore. O'Malley's cartooning skills have advanced enough since the first volume to make this a bravura visual experience. Although fans of the series will find this a satisfying conclusion, the nature of the true relationship between Scott, Ramona, and Gideon is perhaps glossed over a bit--the only complaint in an otherwise triumphant finale. (July)

BB Wolf and the 3 LPs
J.D. Arnold and Rich Koslowski, Top Shelf, $12.95 paper (96p) ISBN 9781603090292
BB has enough troubles to make any wolf sing the blues. A poor Mississippi Delta farmer in the mean old ‘20s, BB has to scrape by to support his wife and cubs, a job made no easier by the pigs (meant literally) who keep harassing the beaten-down wolves, and threatening to take his property. So he drinks, and belts out the blues at night in a honkytonk. Just when it looks like things might get better, tragedy intervenes, and BB is forced to leg it out of town--but not before taking revenge on just one of the Three Little Pigs who brought his family to ruin. Arnold’s debut young-adult graphic novel pushes the envelope for that audience in terms of slashing, bloody violence, but also tries to pair it with thoughtful commentary. Aiming for a Jim Crow-era take on Maus, in which blacks are wolves and whites are pigs, Arnold’s fast-paced story (with energetic artwork by Koslowski (The King) doesn’t quite do the subject justice, but fills it with enough action and gutbucket blues to keep readers interested. (May)

Codename Knockout Vol. 1: The Devil You Say
Robert Rodi, Louis Small, Jr., Mark Farmer, and Amanda Conner, Vertigo, $19.99 paper (164p) ISBN 9781401227982
When this daffy, cheesecake/beefcake-heavy spy parody (essentially James Bond via ”Modesty Blaise“ via ”Austin Powers“) was serialized in 2001, it didn’t attract much notice. So why reprint it in 2010? Perhaps because one chapter features early artwork by Conner--the only one of the four pencillers here who manages to make the series’ artwork look as whimsical as Rodi’s story. (Co-creator Small, in fact, draws it like a totally straightforward adventure story.) Both Angela Devlin, the lusty secret agent who’s the book’s title character, and her outrageously gay sidekick, Go-Go Fiasco, lose their clothes as often as the plot can arrange it. Well, ”plot,” that’s one way of putting it: Angela discovers that her parents are respectively the leaders of the secret agencies G.O.O.D. and E.V.I.L., and both want her on their side. There are ninjas; there is gunplay; there’s a flashback to how Angela’s parents met cute; there’s information extracted via a ”highly volatile tantric technique.” What there isn’t a lot of is consistency, and the book rarely lives up to the potential wittiness of its premise. (May)

The Search for Smilin’ Ed!
Kim Deitch, Fantagraphics, $16.99 paper (162p) ISBN 9781606993248
Originally serialized in the late ‘90s, this cartwheeling shaggy-dog story begins, like a lot of metafiction, with the semblance of reality: Deitch narrates the beginning as the tale of what happened when he looked into the fate of the host of one of his favorite TV shows from his youth, “Smilin’ Ed’s Gang.” But by the time a frog demon reanimates a 19th-century French peasant whose brains it has eaten, it’s fairly clear that Deitch is making stuff up. The fun of the book is the way it constantly darts back and forth across the line between genuine show-business lore (a favorite Deitch theme) and delirious whole-cloth invention. There are stories within stories, unreliable explainers, secret passageways that lead from one part of the tale to another. Deitch’s artwork often seems stiff and busy--there’s scarcely a patch of blank space or foursquare page layout in the entire book--but it’s also utterly confident, building on the stylistic gestures of both the underground-comics scene that launched his career and the classic animation that inspired his talking-animal characters. For this edition, Deitch has added some new material, including an epilogue that throws a few more loops into his Byzantine personal mythology. (June)

Viking: The Long Cold Fire
Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein, Image, $29.99 (168p) ISBN 9781607061700
Brandon and Klein’s bracingly rendered but shallowly plotted miniseries presents Finn and Egil, brothers who figure that the best way to attain riches and power is to steal them from others. At the chaotic, bloodily rendered start, the brothers massacre a Viking band and steal their loot. This brings them afoul not just of their disapproving grandfather (“a boy takes what he wants, a man makes it”) but also King Bram, whose Amazon-like red-haired daughter, Annikki, soon becomes a target of interest for the marauding brothers. They eventually team up with a massive, seemingly unkillable beast-man known as Orm. There is some palace intrigue here and even the inevitable flickers of a romance with Annikki and one of the brothers, but that’s not what Brandon and Klein are particularly interested in. The coin of the realm here is lavishly depicted scenes of brutal, close-in combat, all spurting blood and bulging eyeballs. The densely imagined and richly colored artwork is never less than impressive, but even over its relatively short length, the story becomes repetitive fast. (May)