• Global Frequency. Warren Ellis. DC Comics. 288 pages. $19.99.
Even before his current bestselling police-procedural-on steroids novel Gun Machine, the prolific Ellis, who redefined super-hero teams with compression and widescreen storytelling in Stormwatch and The Authority, also scattered an amazing array of scientific extrapolations across the fictional landscape, mainly in monthly comics and miniseries. The best is Planetary, in which his extraordinary league of archaeologists whose mission is keeping the world strange uncovers hidden connections beneath the underbelly of pop culture. The 12 stories in this collection, each by a different artist, brilliantly reveal even more of his ferocious imagination, with ultra-condensed characterization and elevated dramatics.
• Legion of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Nemo: Heart of Ice. Alan Moore and Kevin ONeill. Top Shelf. 56 pages. $14.95.
What started out as a fairly simple pastiche of vintage boys adventure-hero pulp fiction evolved into a heavy-meta series requiring extensive annotation to completely appreciate. ONeills wildly inventive art is as thick with Easter eggs as Moores script, which tells the tale of Captain Nemos daughters ill-fated Arctic dustup with Citizen Kanes hired electric gun, Tom Swift. But this rollicking side-trip from the unfolding LOEG text is still great fun on the surface and even better when you dive deeper.
• Hand Drying in America. Ben Katchor. Patheon. 16 pages. $29.95.
Surreal architecture, obsessive compulsions and the minutiae of city life fuel Katchors deadpan ironies and imaginative renderings. For those familiar with his work in The Village Voice and other periodicals, the expansive format of this collection and its gorgeous coloring is mind-blowing.
• Susceptible. Geneviève Castrée. Drawn & Quarterly. 80 pages. $19.95.
Squinting at her tiny cursive lettering, I savored Castrées sad, presumably autobiographical confessional of her early life with her clueless young lookalike French Canadian mother and passive-aggressive stoner stepfather. A figuratively and literally distant Anglophone father makes a few brief appearances, but Castrées angry and claustrophobic upbringing is viscerally conveyed in this taut minor masterpiece.
• When David Lost His Voice. Judith Vanistendael. Self-Made Hero. 280 pages. $24.95
Originally published in French as David les femmes et la mort, this naturalistic narrative tells a simple but profound and moving tale of a struggle for life and death. Vanistendaels fine art is dazzling, breathtaking and a visual tour de force, one of the best things Ive seen in a graphic novel. Thoughtfully colored, with each page exploring and reflecting the shifting mood, Vanistendael shows how David suffers and succumbs to cancer while his wife, daughter and granddaughter try to live and fathom depths of the unthinkable.
• Babble. Bryan Coyle and Lee Robson. ComX. 128 pages. $16.99.
With a fascinating concept and clever characterization, Robsons story uses the Tower of Babel legend as a springboard and metaphor for human misunderstanding and lost connections. Coyles pen and pencils are competent, though the narrative could be a bit more clear and consistent. But the bigger issue is why the medium of graphic storytelling was chosen for this yarn. The talky, exposition-laden tale may have been better conveyed in prose rather than with pictures.