Graphic novels

Superheroes and terrific tales

 

•  Batman Incorporated: Demon Star. Grant Morison and Chris Burnham. DC Comics. 176 pages. $24.99.

A lesser writer might’ve surrendered, but a total continuity reboot of an entire line of superheroes didn’t deter Morrison from finishing his epic Batman tale, abetted by the astounding Burnham. The story, which spanned multiple issues of the monthly Batman, Detective, Batman and Robin comics, several mini-series and an earlier volume of Batman Incorporated, will end this summer. But this first collection of the second volume stories centers on a deep, complicated and supremely entertaining tale drawing from all corners of Batman’s multimedia history. In Burnham, Morrison finally has a steady accomplice worthy of the task though the story ultimately is the writer’s. The audacious saga, eagerly annotated by online fans and scholars, is richly rewarding and pure fun, despite the often giddy violence and the inevitable death of the most recent Robin — this time, Bruce Wayne’s own son, Damian.

•  Marble Season. Gilbert Hernandez. Drawn and Quarterly. 128 pages. $21.95.

This lovely and evocative story is billed as semi-autobiographical. I’m sure it is. Most comic-collecting kids can still feel the lingering pain inflicted by a parent who casually tossed our prized collections. The accompanying sibling tensions and summer idylls add texture and nuance to the memories. Hernandez’s clean and artfully simple illustrations belie the depth of adolescent angst and yearning portrayed in this excellent and all-too-true reminiscence.

•  Punk Rock Jesus. Sean Murphy. Vetgo. 224 pages. $16.99.

Murphy’s energetic tale is an audacious romp through modern culture, religion and morality. He’s a terrific artist and a daring writer, packing much into the astounding story of a cloned Messiah thrust into a dystopic future. Normally, the black and white comic book-sized format might suffice, but I’d love to see Punk Rock Jesus enlarged and colored to get the full effect of Murphy’s densely populated pages.

•  The Initiates. Étienne Davodeau. NBM. 272 pages. $29.99.

A winemaker and a graphic novelist take turns handling each other’s job, which means that writer/artist Davodeau toils in the vineyard and hangs out with vintner Richard Leroy and Leroy visits Davodeau’s publisher, and they all go out for a lovely wine-soaked lunch. Sounds pretty mundane, but Davodeau crafts this situation into a compelling, entertaining and educational tale that takes full advantage of the graphic storytelling medium.

•  Relish: Life in the Kitchen. Lucy Knisley. First Second. 176 pages. $17.99.

This charming autobiographical story of Knisley’s childhood growing up in a food-centered house is replete with smartly illustrated recipes, tip-sheets and side-trips. It’s great fun for gourmands and graphic story fans alike.

•  The Simon & Kirby Library: Science Fiction. Titan Books. 320 pages. $49.95.

Filled with beautifully restored and reproduced stories from the prolific duo’s diverse and extensive oeuvre, this collection, drawn mostly from their Harvey Comics work, is excellent. Of particular merit are the stories penciled by Kirby and inked by Al Williamson, who added elegance and finesse to the King’s pulse-pounding pencils.

•  An Enchantment. Christian Durieux. NBM. 72 pages. $19.99.

This most recent addition to the series is, as the others, set within the Louvre, using its collection as the backdrop for this sad tale of a doomed, retired bureaucrat and his encounter with a beautiful young woman who may or may not be real. It’s a great premise, and Durieux weaves a wistful and artful story.

•  Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes. Matt Kindt. First Second. 272 pages. $26.99.

Kindt’s assemblage of odd stories evokes Raymond Carver and Chester Gould in this assemblage of miniature portraits and personal sketches tied together as a series of offbeat criminal cases solved by a master detective. Kindt’s protagonist is devoted to the letter of the law and not its spirit, solving cases that are largely victimless. His inevitable comeuppance is well constructed and haunting.

•  A Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium: Including: Jack the Ripper, The Beast of Chicago, Fatal Bullet. Rick Geary. NBM. 228 pages. $24.99.

Gathering six previously published Victorian Murder series stories into a single volume is an excellent idea. Geary’s well-researched and deftly told mysteries are a pleasure to read, and his meticulous, subtle and intelligent art make this a powerful and deeply rewarding collection.

•  The Complete Don Quixote. Miguel de Cervantes and Rob Davis. Self Made Hero. 296 pages. $27.50.

Cervantes’ Man of La Mancha receives the graphic treatment in this thoughtful and inventive adaptation by British artist Davis. It’s a smart and readable retelling, with witty and inventive use of color.

•  Superman: Action Comics, Vol. 2: Bulletproof. Grant Morrison and Rags Morales. DC Comics. 224 pages. $24.99.

Morrison’s All-Star Superman (with artist Frank Quitely) is one of the best comics stories ever, so handing him the reins of the new Action Comics series to reboot the Man of Steel for DC’s “New 52” was a no-brainer. Morales is as good as any superhero illustrator, but Morrison’s decidedly non-linear multidimensional tale failed to establish a new, improved and superior version of the venerable Superman within DC’s new firmament. Maybe Morrison had a grand plan here, but the unfolding story fares no better as a collection than it did as a series of monthly comics — quite unlike Batman Incorporated.

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