Graphic novels

Graphic novels, from Batman to Button Man

Battling Boy. Paul Pope. First Second. 208 pages. $15.99.
Battling Boy. Paul Pope. First Second. 208 pages. $15.99.

Battling Boy. Paul Pope. First Second. 208 pages. $15.99.

Pope’s ferocious all-ages outing is a boisterous mash-up of many of comics’ greatest hits. It’s an appealing tale of a heroic lad who fights monsters to save a corrupt city. You may think you’ve seen this before — and maybe you have — but Pope imbues his enduring adventure with high energy and archetypical foreboding, making this wild tale feel fresh and unique.

Rebel Woman: The Margaret Sanger Story. Peter Bagge. Drawn and Quarterly. 72 pages. $21.95.

Seems odd for angsty hipster cartoonist Bagge to tackle the life story of the pioneering feminist and birth control activist, yet this almost perfect evocation of a graphic biography, with cogent annotations, is intensely intelligent, accessible and enlightening.

Batman Incorporated Vol. 2: Gotham’s Most Wanted. Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham. DC. 240 pages. $24.99.

Morrison ends his epic and amazing Batman run, recognizing that despite all the changes he’d put the Dark Knight through, the character transcends the machinations of any one writer. In addition to the birth and death of yet another Robin — this one Bruce Wayne’s son — the series’ other significance was the celebrated emergence of prodigious artist Chris Burnham, whose mad skills, brutal wit and pithy intelligence elevated this already-superior series to an unmatched level of intensity.

Murderville. Carol Lay. 28 pages. $10.

This Kickstar-funded comic by veteran cartoonist Lay is a delight. Rife with atmosphere, attitude and anarchic humor, the droll tale of love and crime is ribald fun. Available from

Fran: Continuing and Preceding Congress of the Animals. Jim Woodring. Fantagraphics. 120 pages. $19.99.

This sequel — also a prequel to Woodring’s silent psychedelic fable featuring Fran, the female counterpart to Frank, his anthropomorphic protagonist — is as dreamy, allegorical and evocative as one would expect from the fearless visionary scribe.

Age of Ultron. Brian Michael Bendis, Bryan Hitch, Brandon Peterson et al. Marvel. 504 pages. $75.

The forthcoming Avengers film borrows this sprawling story’s title and possibly more. Similar to DC’s earlier Flashpoint series, a time-traveling attempt to fix a current calamitous situation goes awry, with far-ranging repercussions. Bendis’ story is gripping despite multiple players and various tangled threads, but Hitch’s departure after the first six chapters was a blow to the finished product despite the game efforts of his successors.

Love and Rockets: New Stories No. 6. Gilbert Hernadez, Jaime Hernandez. Fantagraphics. 100 pages. $14.99.

If you’re a fan of this legendary series, rejoice! Jaime and Beto’s individual casts return for further exploits, joined by new and related cast members. Even if you’re not already a devotee, these Southern California and Northern Mexico-based human adventures are crisply delineated and endlessly entertaining.

Bad Houses. Sara Ryan, Carla Speed McNeil. Dark Horse. 160 pages. $19.99.

With complex, realistic and resonant characters, powerful back stories, credible conflict and more, Ryan’s sharp, sensitive script and McNeil’s knowing and naturalistic art elevates what could have been a soapy story into a powerful and fully realized novel — graphic or otherwise.

Smoke/Ashes. Alex de Campi. Dark Horse. 426 pages. $29.99.

Though much-touted, this twisting tale of espionage and political corruption and its sequel seem rather routine and overwrought with the usual array of tropes and cliché’s peculiar to the genre.

Superman: The Silver Age Dailies 1959-1961. IDW, Jerry Siegel, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan. IDW. 258 pages. $49.99.

Dozens of rarely seen newspaper strips popped up on an obscure collector’s blog a few years back, and they’ve been beautifully restored and collected here. Classic Superman tales that first appeared in the monthly DC comics were later adapted by Siegel, the Man of Steel’s co-creator, and illustrated by a different, albeit legendary, artist than the original, resulting in this mind-blowing collection of alternate iterations of some of the character’s most beloved adventures.

Sacrifice. Sam Humphries, Dalton Rose. Dark Horse. 168 pages. $19.99.

Aztecs, epilepsy, other lives and bloody sacrifice are all depicted with gusto by Rose, from Humphries’ witty and wildly imaginative script that posits an alternate history — and future — for Mexico’s indigenous population.

Button Man: Get Harry Ex. John Wagner, Arthur Ranson. 2000 AD. 304 pages. $29.99.

Wagner’s terse, tense stories featuring a grizzled assassin’s attempts to leave a new killing game he’s fallen into would be far less than extraordinary in the hands of a lesser illustrator than Ranson. But the veteran British artist’s rich, detailed graphics turn this rather prosaic tale into a far more compelling saga.

Avengers: Endless Wartime. Warren Ellis, Mike McKone. Marvel. 120 pages. $24.99.

Marvel’s first original graphic novel in ages is a good one. Ellis and McKone weave a taut tale that deftly captures each character’s distinct persona and voice in a story with more depth and drama than most of the monthly comic books. McKone’s canny versatility is called upon frequently, and his ability to switch up styles, as needed, strengthens the book mightily.

DC One Million Omnibus. Grant Morrison. DC. 1,080 pages. $99.99.

This massive compilation collects Morrison’s audacious company-wide crossover from 1998. It’s an ambitious story and unsurprisingly, not all of the ’90s art holds up well, though some of it fortunately transcends the awkward, un-anatomical style that was especially popular in those Image Comics-conscious days. The series’ conceit is that every story is (or will be) featured in its one-millionth (or so) issue published in the 853rd of current characters interacting with their counterparts. It’s a flimsy foundation, but Morrison succeeded, though not all of the other writers did. As a bonus, the story also foreshadows Morrison’s terrific All-Star Superman series almost a decade later. One big quibble: for a hundred bucks, shouldn’t there have been a table of contents, index or another explanatory roadmap to this interminable jaunt through space and time?

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