Graphic novel reviews

03/28/2014 12:00 AM

03/30/2014 9:00 AM

Afterlife With Archie. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Francesco Francavilla. Archie Comics. 32 pages (monthly). $2.99.

The eternal redhead of Riverdale and his crew are durable and surprisingly versatile. A recent infusion of relevance induced by new management resulted in more diversity among the cast, including a popular gay character, and modern personality nuances among the legacy ones (Moose is dyslexic, not dumb, for example). The latest innovation involves placing the gang in a post-apocalyptic zombie setting. It's extremely well executed and surprisingly fresh. Sure, Jughead is among the ambulatory deceased, and Archie's doggie has a bloody new craving, but Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's script is authentically moving and Francesco Francavilla's art is wonderfully atmospheric.

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin. Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill. Top Shelf. 56 pages. $14.95.

There's not much of a plot, considering Nemo came from one of comics’ most canny writers. But it's a testimony to Moore's imagination and collaborator O'Neill's masterfully melodramatic art that this cryptically titled expository vehicle moves the overarching saga of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen further down the road in grand style.

Green Arrow Vol. 4: The Kill Machine. Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentineo. DC Comics. 208 pages. $16.99.

After a ho-hum revival within DC's “New 52” reboot, anchored by a succession of journeymen, stuff got real when the Arrow TV show took flight. Lemire’s arrival signaled the end of business as usual, but Sorrentino, an ace Italian illustrator, transformed the series into a brilliant pictorial treat. Kinetic, visceral and naturalistic, the moody, off-kilter world depicted herein is the ideal setting for the mind-bending adventures of born-yet-again Oliver Queen and crew.

Law Of The Desert Born. Louis L'Amour. Charles Santino. Beau L'Amour. Katherine Nolan. Thomas Yeates. Bantam. 153 pages. $25.

L’Amour’s prose original was an odd story, with no clear protagonist and lots of motivational ambiguity, but Nolan’s script does its best to illuminate the unfolding tale of tangled loyalties, stubborn honor and residual greed. Yeates is always stellar, and his work here is as good or better than anything he has ever done. Western adventures may not be in style, but this timeless tale transcends the genre ghetto.

The Simon & Kirby Library: Horror! Titan Books. 320 pages. $49.95.

Lovingly restored, these 4-color reprints of terror tales written and supervised by the superstar S&K studio 60 years ago bear the unmistakable mark of Kirby — even though he didn’t actually draw every one. In fact, the legendary Mort Meskin's delineation here is almost as much of a treat.

Snowpiercer Vol. 1 The Escape, Vol. 2 The Explorers. Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, Jean-Marc Rochette. Titan Comics. 110 pages, $19.99; 140 pages, $24.99.

These two volumes “inspired” the movie of the same name, a huge hit in Asia and other territories, and coming stateside soon. The original bandes dessinée (French comics series) from the 1980s and ’90s has been translated and collected here. Its dystopian metaphor of a runaway train full of survivors of various classes, castes and beliefs is handled well despite a few logical anomalies in the plot, and generally rises above the clichés and stock characters. Rochette's art varies between the volumes. In the first, it evokes Wally Wood and Rand Holmes. In the second, it's leaner and Eisnerian; if you didn't know, you'd think there were two different artists, not two different writers. One hopes the film it inspired reflects its pulp roots.

The Fox. Dean Haspiel, Mark Waid, J.M. DeMatteis. Red Circle Comics. 32 pages. Five issues. $2.99 each.

Haspiel made his name illustrating Harvey Pekar's American Splendor and picked up an Emmy for his work on HBO’s Bored to Death. He has written and drawn his own character, Billy Dogma, and this, his first regular superhero series, is a jaunty, rollicking, semi-psychedelic triumph. Respectful of the genre’s tropes and traditions, it blazes its own path into the comics cosmos and beyond. Great fun and highly recommended.

The Best of Comix Book: When Marvel Went Underground. Denis Kitchen et al. Dark Horse. 184 pages. $35.

In 1974, Stan (The Man) Lee enlisted underground comics mogul Kitchen to produce a decidedly left-of-center series for Marvel. Kitchen in turn recruited as many simpatico cartoonists as he could muster. Art Spiegelman weighed in with an early chapter of what later became the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus, along with other head shop heavies, including Kim Deitch, Justin Green, Harvey Pekar, Trina Robbins, Sharon Rudhal, Skip Williamson and S. Clay Wilson. After three issues, Marvel pulled the plug, so Kitchen published the last two on his own. It’s a terrific collection, and the accompanying text presents fine insights into the prevailing creative and commercial processes.

Richard Pachter is a writer in Boca Raton.

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