Stan Lee's Soldier Zero, Vol. 1
Paul Cornell and Javier Pina. Boom! (, $9.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-60886-047-0

Underwritten by the greatest name in comics and executed with relatively satisfying art and writing, Soldier Zero delivers a tightly wrapped package that falls short of being explosive. Capt. Stewart Trautmann, a marine-astronomer who fell victim to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan and is now a paraplegic, is facing some serious life challenges, among them, attempting to woo Lily, a pretty college professor. As they watch a meteor shower from a rooftop, a strange object hits the top of the building. Trapped beneath a rubble heap, Stewart finds himself transformed into a powerful space warrior who must confront grander challenges. Pina's art is nimble and compositionally flawless, but is also impersonal, lacking any imaginative twists or graphic extravagance. Worse, Soldier Zero's full-body armored costume is uninspired. The lack of fashion sense doesn't kill this comic, and Cornell's text is fluid and blithe, spinning out of this hoary comics origin without too much cheesiness. Understated, realistic dialogue and readability save the day. Readers may want to avert their eyes when the protagonist in lame space drag comes knocking. (June)

Photo Booth
Lewis Helfand and Sachin Nagar. Campfire, $9.99 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-93-80028-65-1

The arrival of a major drug shipment sends an Interpol agent on the hunt for the man responsible for killing his parents in this jumbled revenge tale. Agent Praveer Rajani, considered a valuable asset but a loose cannon by his boss, is on hand when Interpol and the FBI intercept a drug buy in New York at an abandoned fairground. During the raid, Praveer sees an old photo booth, identical to one that he visited as a child with his brother and sister. Much of the story is told in full-color flashback--the present-day action is in black-and-white, with only blood inked in red--recounting how Praveer's parents were killed in a hit-and-run, and he and his younger sister were raised by his older brother, Jayendra. Back in the present, Praveer is positive that a long-ago photo hides a clue to the ringleader of the drug gang as well as to the identity of the man who killed his parents. While Nagar's art is stunning, the story lacks either logic or a satisfying arc. (June)

Deborah Vankin and Rick Mays. Image, $16.99 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-60706-358-2

Three teens from diverse backgrounds tackle the treacherous L.A. party scene in this debut graphic novel from Los Angeles Times arts and culture writer Vankin and veteran artist Mays (Kabuki). Shy Jenna, who longs to be a photographer but can't afford a camera, lives with her gadabout mother. Desperate to pay the bills, Jenna gets a job as a "house guest for hire," where, for $20/hour, she mingles with famous people and helps pad their guest lists. At one of these swanky events, she meets Pouri Lin, a Taiwanese teen living alone in an Arcadia mansion furnished by her parents who are back home while Pouri is supposed to be going to school, but is actually partying every day. Also on hand is Eugene "Mac" MacQuarrie, who works as a busboy but whose real passion is urban youth slang. The three become unlikely friends, but Jenna and Mac worry when Pouri begins acting strangely, and they realize it's related to the scam she's pulling to stay enrolled in school without actually attending. Threats of kidnapping ensue, and the friends must decide how much they're willing to risk for each other. May's Japanese-inspired illustrations are solid but the style doesn't necessary gel with Vankin's content and the characters. (Apr.)

Pascal Girard, trans. from the French by Helge Dasher. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-770460-37-9

An invitation to a 10th-year high school reunion and the possibility of encountering former crush Lucie Cote sends youthful French-Canadian artist/author Girard on an enthusiastic but poorly thought-out program of self-improvement. Determined to prove himself a winner at the reunion, Pascal succeeds in shedding unwanted pounds, but he fails to address his crippling personal shortcomings. His behavior at times verging on the obsessively creepy, Pascal manages to sabotage himself at virtually every turn, his ambition doomed to failure by his flaws, not least his tendency to say exactly the wrong thing to his former schoolmates. A too-eager quest to win adulation and respect from those schoolmates is instead a meticulous demonstration of why Pascal never enjoyed either in his high school days. Brutally critical of his own behavior and willing to skewer his failings at length, Girard's semiautobiographical tale provides dark humor at his own expense, his unsteady art reflecting the character's own insecurities. Although painful to read at times, Girard's self-mocking tale is entrancing, a self-inflicted catastrophe of terrible but irresistible hilarity. (Apr.)

Yuichi Yokoyama. Picturebox (, $24.95 paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-9826327-1-0

When a group of friends decides to enter a garden through a break in an enclosing fence, they find themselves in a world never before imagined. Instead of wandering through a natural landscape, they are in the midst of a fusion of the natural and mechanical, including rivers of slowly moving balls, buildings of finely cut paper, and mountains made of seed bags. As the characters move from one part of the garden to the next, their dialogue is exclusively devoted either to describing matter-of-factly what they see or asking questions about it, questions that are often delightfully unanswered. If this seems bizarre it certainly is, but it is also strangely beautiful and illuminating. Yokoyama (Travel; New Engineering) creates a visual landscape that is so imaginative and so dynamic that it sometimes looks as if Picasso and Dalí are having an intellectual argument about the limits of manga as an art form. Ultimately, the narrative is a celebration of the natural world through the observation of its forces at work, rather than a critique of our fascination with technology, though some will no doubt read it this way. A stunning, mind-expanding achievement of graphic storytelling. (May)

Agonizing Love
Edited by Michael Barson. Harper Design, $29.99 paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-06-180734-6

This beautifully produced anthology offers prime examples of romance comics from the genre’s golden age, the years between 1947 and 1957. Barson has carefully selected from his personal collection, offering full stories, covers, and “peripheral materials” that often appeared in the comics, such as advice columns and quizzes. The book is divided into five chapters, each exploring a different aspect of the genre, such as “Despair,” “Marriage Hell,” and “Class Struggles.” The full-color pages reproduced from the comics are striking; the oversize format allows them to appear at their original size. The lack of a detailed table of contents or index makes it difficult to navigate, however. Barson’s introduction provides a breezy overview of the history of romance comics. While witty, it would have been stronger with a more thoughtful analysis of the historical context that gave rise to the genre, and if Barson had refrained from lumping all women from the decade into one category. (May)

Eye of the Majestic Creature
Leslie Stein. Fantagraphics, $18.99 paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-60699-413-9

Underground-influenced comics fall into certain patterns—idiosyncratic art, rambling tales of daily life, copious use of mood-altering substances—but Stein makes hers fresh with the addition of a talking guitar. Larrybear, living in the country, is visited by an old friend, builds a coffee cart to meet neighbors, shops at antique junk stores, visits her family, and eventually moves back to the city to get a job. It’s Marshmallow, the talking, walking instrument, that gives her someone to open up to. Stein’s style is very readable, with sparse linework and a lead character that resembles a more tripped-out Little Orphan Annie, with huge blank buttons for eyes. Stein’s settings and other characters show more detail, especially in the complex stippling, demonstrating her outward focus. We learn more about her father, for example, in a few short scenes than we do of Larry's motivations in the whole book. We’re told Larrybear likes being alone, a statement belied by the number of times we see her with friends or other acquaintances. Her world is full, even if it’s one that’s a bit off-kilter—especially with the number of times she gets drunk or drugged. (May)

Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura, Vol. 1
Arina Tanemura. Viz, $9.99 paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-4215-3882-2

Any fan of Tanemura (Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne; The Gentleman’s Alliance +) knows to expect hugely starry-eyed young heroines granted unexpected magical powers and told of their unusual and important secret fates while falling in love. Fourteen-year-old Princess Sakura is about to enter into an arranged marriage when she discovers she’s the heir of the demon-fighting Moon Princess Kaguya. Her duty is now to battle evil spirits while navigating her new role as betrothed to a prince, accompanied by a miniature spirit, an old wise woman, a clumsy ninja girl, and a talking frog. Set during the Heian period (ninth–12th centuries), the story provides lots of flowing robes until Sakura changes into her period-inappropriate demon fighter costume. It strongly resembles a schoolgirl uniform, just like the outfit of the obvious influence, Sailor Moon. The characters have only three expressions: happy, determined, or clueless/surprised. Tanemura's works are almost perfect examples of generic shojo, and the thing that sets this stew of fable, royal intrigue, and battle by mystic sword apart from many other magical girl manga is the resolve of the princess and the hypnotically ornate artwork. (Apr.)

Panda Man vs. Chiwanda Sho Makura and Haruni Kato. Viz/Vizkids, $7.99 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-4215-3522-7

Hard-luck hero Panda Man, forced by hunger to abandon his training, finds himself drafted into an effort to catch the audacious masked jewel thief Chiwanda. Promised a fine meal in exchange for his services by jewelry store magnate Madame Stone, Panda Man foils Chiwanda's next attempted theft, but the diminutive thief manages to escape; the costumed adventurer pursues his adversary, using his cunning and skills. With simple, iconic art, this manga for younger readers portrays broad, sometimes crude, humor but also encourages kids to try their own hand at solving the puzzles Panda Man is confronted with. The creators demonstrate considerable sympathy for his wealthy antagonist, and Panda Man's crippling poverty is as much a source of humor as his comic pratfalls and absurd martial arts. The result is a strange combination of bathroom humor and intellectual challenges in a world where virtue brings few rewards but crime can pay. Ages 6–9. (May)


Dan Santat. Scholastic/Levine, $24.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-439-29811-7; $12.99 trade paper ISBN 978-0-439-29819-3

Santat brings the world of superhero pets to life in this charming story. Captain Amazing is an aging human super-hero who announces to the world that he needs a new sidekick. His animal companions agree--and each thinks he is the right creature for the job. Fluffy, a hamster; Shifty, a chameleon; Manny, a cat; and Rosco, a dog, compete, with all sort of interspecies rivalries emerging. When Captain Amazing's life is on the line, however, they find a way to come together. Santat's lively, colorful illustrations convey the action and humor that infuse the tale. The book functions both as a parable of sibling rivalry and overworked parents stretched too thin, and as a rollicking adventure tale. Ages 8–12. (July)

Bad Island

Doug TenNapel. Scholastic/Graphix, $24.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-545-31479-4; $10.99 trade paper ISBN 978-0-545-31480-0

Two very different dysfunctional families try to reconnect in an exciting alien adventure by TenNapel, graphic novelist and creator of Earthworm Jim. Long ago, in a distant part of the galaxy, a race of giant, machinelike people battle their enemies to keep the small inhabitants from being condemned to slavery, and a young prince is determined to prove his worth in battle. On modern Earth, teen football player Reese wants little to do with his family, and nothing to do with the family vacation. When a storm hits the family boat trip, Reese, his annoying younger sister, and his parents wash up on an island filled with bizarre, dangerous creatures. A mysterious consciousness on the island helps defend them--and as the family struggles to survive, they have the chance to heal not only their own broken relationships but also a family torn apart in that long-ago war. The stylized art suits the weirdness of the alien creatures, and the human faces are so expressive that TenNapel shows arcs of emotional journey without the characters having to say a word. Though geared toward young readers, the adventure features sympathetic adult characters as heroic as the children, and parents should enjoy the tale as well. Ages 10–13. (Aug.)