Hellblazer: PandemoniumJamie Delano and Jock. Vertigo, $24.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-4012-2035-8

The charismatic rogue who's faced the worst magic and the supernatural can throw at him confronts the hells of a war zone in this stylish occult thriller. When John Constantine is blackmailed by the British government into taking a special assignment in Iraq, he's decidedly unhappy with the situation. Not helping is the fact that he's working with Aseera al-Aswari, the woman used as bait in the scheme that trapped him. Soon after the two arrive in the city of Tel-Ibrahim, their interrogation of an imprisoned djinn ends up being the first link in a chain leading to a wider conspiracy of Babylonian gods seeking to profit from the violence of the war. Writer Delano returns once more to the Vertigo title he helped launch and his comfort with the character is evident. Constantine revels in being unapologetically obscene and is all the more likable for it. And yet Delano doesn't let this detract from confronting the delicate issue of how those in power benefit from war, unconcerned by all the suffering their actions cause. The muted tones and heavy shadows employed by artist Jock are well-suited to Constantine's world, an unnerving place somewhere between our reality and myth. (Feb.)

Beanworld: Remember Here When You Are There!Larry Marder. Dark Horse, $19.95 (216p) ISBN 978-1-59582-355-7

After a 15-year hiatus, Marder returns to finish the springtime arc of his acclaimed Beanworld graphic novel series, a deceivingly simple fable—told in cartoony black-and-white drawings—of human culture acted out by a race of magical beans. Artist Beanish finds himself forced to explore the unfamiliar world of music when his muse Dreamish orders him to present her not with a love song but with “the” love song. At the same time, a determined and somewhat paranoid tribal hero, Mr. Spook, endeavors to feed and defend his fellow beans, despite the loss of his Trusty Fork; the Pod'l'pool Cuties and the Elusive Notworm quietly explore the mystery of the Float Factor; contrary Heyoka struggles to return home for the first time since she Broke Out; and Professor Garbanzo ponders what it all means. Where other fantasy authors are happy to mirror our present or past in their secondary worlds, embellishing their borrowed settings with a patina of imaginary magic and invented legend, Marder's Beanworld is its own highly original realm, with its own natural laws and mythology. Aside from a short glossary and simple map, Marder eschews explicit explanations, trusting his audience to unravel his intensely personal vision from context. (Dec.)

Binky Brown Meets The Holy Virgin MaryJustin Green. McSweeney's, $29 (64p) ISBN 978-1-934781-55-5

This Rosetta Stone of autobiographical comics—or perhaps more appropriately, in this case, “confessional” comics—receives the deluxe treatment it so richly deserves with this beautiful over-sized edition featuring art reproduced directly from the original pages (which had lain in a collector's garage since 1973). The narrative tracks the progress of young Binky Brown from childhood through adolescence, dragging readers into its protagonist's awkward and embarrassing Eisenhower-era world, an existence dominated by bizarre obsessive-compulsive behavior (before the condition was identified as such) flavored with the lad's deeply-indoctrinated, guilt-ridden Catholic fears. Binky's horror at the possibility of his “impure” thoughts contaminating religious sites and possibly offending and tainting the Holy Trinity and the Blessed Virgin herself (in an incredibly sacrilegious sequence that is downright gut-busting), starts small and slowly manifests into an almost unbearably frank and squirm-inducing waking nightmare. In its depiction of the all-too-familiar youthful confusion over faith and one's burgeoning sexuality, Green's work can be seen as a crisply illustrated, humorously therapeutic indictment of Catholicism that doubles as a session of auto-exorcism. Highly recommended. (Dec.)

Pandora Hearts: Volume 1Jun Mochizuki. Yen, $10.99 paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-316-07607-4

A sharp eye can find many literary references in this exciting fantasy manga. Oz, the main character, is turning 15 and is all set to be part of a ceremony, only to be dragged into a hellish place called the Abyss, for reasons he doesn't know. Previously, he was a rambunctious rich boy who didn't treat his servants well, but the Abyss is supposed to only take the worst of the worst. In this dark and disturbing world he meets a girl named Alice, whom he may or may not be able to trust, but who might be the only way out. The title clearly references Pandora from Greek mythology, while names, images, and characters play up their resemblances to the works of L. Frank Baum and Lewis Carroll (there are also allusions to Dante and Japanese mythology). Mochizuki's work, along with being creepy and hard to put down, slips in plenty of education along with his ornate, Goth art. With its mystery, symbolism and action-packed storyline, Oz's story will catch the attention of diverse readers. (Dec.)

Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy CartoonsGahan Wilson. Fantagraphics, $125 (942p) ISBN 978-1-60699-298-2

Few cartoonists ever had as lavish a tribute as a three-volume-slipcased collection, but few are as deserving as Wilson. Collecting 50 years worth of his monthly single page gag cartoons from Playboy, it's a definitive overview of a remarkable talent and viewpoint. Considering the timeframe, Wilson's fabled black humor and art style remain remarkably consistent—as time passes, the drawing renders into slightly blobbier shapes that retain all of their wit just the same—but the source and degree of the humor is a constant. Although best known for his slightly lugubrious subjects—monsters, witches, corpses, vampires and skeletons are frequent visitors to these pages—Wilson also targets consumerism, materialism, and other basic human foibles. As publisher Gary Groth writes in a biography in the third volume, “He has...constructed a world that is eerily family, unsettlingly recognizable and lethally consistent.” Beautifully designed and printed, the books contain cut-out pages, and the slipcase itself becomes a window for a trapped photo of Wilson. Text extras include Wilson's prose short stories and an appreciation by Neil Gaiman. If these three volumes are a bit much for one sitting, periodic dipping in will always satisfy. (Dec.)