The Wrenchies. Farel Dalrymple. First Second. 304 pages. $19.99.
Dalrymple’s writing may be even better than his amazing art in this crazy, wonderful story, with post-apocalyptic kids, dystopic demons and more. The beautifully detailed settings and expressive, naturalistic characters propel this brilliant tale light years beyond the usual horror-SF shtick. There’s a bunch of naughty words sprinkled throughout, but one suspects this book would be a huge hit among pre-teens and teens.
The Best American Comics 2014. Scott McCloud and Bill Kartalopoulos (editors); Charles Burns, Los Bros Hernandez, Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Tom Hart, Mark Siegel, Fiona Staples et al. (story/art). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 400 pages. $25.
No knock on previous iterations of the annual series, but this edition may be the best one yet. Every volume contains a terrific selection of non-superhero strips (no DC or Marvel; what’s up with that?). But McCloud, an educator and the author of Understanding Comics and other incisive books, constructs this collection in an interesting and thoughtful way that makes these excerpts of some of the year’s best comics fit together in a cohesive manner — no small feat given their diversity. There might not be a specific narrative spine through the material, but McCloud clearly has a story to tell. Comics fan are often asked what book they’d show non-comics readers to convince them of the genre’s value. For some, it’s Watchmen or Sandman, but this collection would be my first choice.
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Kill My Mother. Jules Feiffer. Liveright. 160 pages. $27.95.
The Oscar-winning writer and master cartoonist finally does a full-length graphic novel, and it’s a revelation — kinetic, energetic and cinematic. The funny, knowing, old-style detective story with femmes fatale, mistaken identities and a hard-boiled private eye is told in a thoroughly modern graphic style. If one didn’t already know the cartoonist’s résumé and pedigree, this book would be the discovery of the year.
Thanos: The Infinity Revelation. Jim Starlin and Andy Smith. Marvel. 112 pages. $24.99.
This new graphic novel from Marvel’s cosmic go-to guy is a nice workout for the vintage character and its leading chronicler. With an appearance by another resurrected Starlin mainstay, the enigmatic Adam Warlock, Thanos is a fun romp and much more than just a product tie-in to Marvel’s cinematic universe.
Letter 44, Volume One: Escape Velocity. Charles Soule and Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque. Oni Press. 144 pages. $19.99.
The premise could make a hell of a movie: Upon taking office, a U.S. president learns of a secret alien threat and an already-launched mission to confront the other-worlders deep inside our solar system. I’m not crazy about the art, but Soule’s script is taut, the characterization authentic and the action surprisingly plausible. A fine mix of fantasy and real-world politics.
Hip Hop Family Tree Book 2: 1981-1983. Ed Piskor. Fantagraphics. 112 pages. $27.99.
Serialized on boingboing.net, this second stunning volume of Piskor’s witty and thorough history of music, culture and commerce is a blast to read. His depiction of the birth of the movement, its musicians, visual artists, executives and other hustlers crackles with energy. On paper, the printing and production add an appropriately authentic ’80s appearance and vibe to it, enhancing the fun and flavor.
Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Power Couple. Charles Soule and Tony Daniel. DC Comics. 192 pages. $24.99.
DC avoided a romantic pairing of these two for decades. Even the characters seemed to understand: As they said during one ’80s team-up, a love affair would be “too obvious.” But all bets were off after DC’s “New 52” reboot in 2011. Lois Lane had a human boyfriend, so Superman can play the field, and he’s hooked up with the Amazonian warrior princess. What could go wrong? The resulting series is not a love story per se, and the pair smack and get smacked by requisite monsters and bad guys, but super-busy scribe Soule and evolving journeyman Daniels rise to the challenge and craft a tale that surpasses expectations.
Arkwright Integral. Bryan Talbot. Dark Horse. 560 pages. $59.99.
Before Gaiman, Ellis and Morrison, even before Alan Moore, there was writer/artist Bryan Talbot’s Luther Arkwright, a transdimensional adventurer who bore more than a passing resemblance to his creator. A phantasmagoric blend of religion, politics and culture that still holds up remarkably well, this huge book collects UK grandmaster Talbot’s two classic and revolutionary alternate-universe series, which unfolded into groundbreaking and pioneering graphic novels. Required reading.
Richard Pachter is a writer in Boca Raton.