Reviews: Roundup of graphic novels

Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels. Tom Devlin (Editor). Drawn & Quarterly. 776 pages. $49.95. The accomplishment is astounding: a diverse publisher of alternative comics and graphic novels from Montreal survives and thrives well into its third decade. Its backlist is a who’s-who of mostly contemporary international graphic storytellers. In addition to excerpts and greatest hits, this incredible collection features funny, smart and mostly unsentimental reminiscences, as well as new stories and art by Kate Beaton, Chester Brown, Michael DeForge, Tom Gauld, Miriam Katin, Rutu Modan, James Sturm, Jillian Tamaki, Yoshihiro Tatsumi and rare strips from Guy Delisle, Debbie Drechsler, Julie Doucet, John Porcellino, Art Spiegelman and Adrian Tomine. Though a hefty volume, it’s still a super value and must-have.

Avengers: Rage of Ultron. Rick Remender, Jerome Opeña. Marvel Comics. 112 pages. $24.99. Marvel’s cinematic and graphic universes often diverge, and here’s a case in point. In this original graphic novel by writer Remender and artist Opeña, the malevolent artificial lifeform Ultron wreaks global havoc, but his creator — a different character than in the film — goes in another, surprising direction. Spinning a fresh-ish yarn in the well-trod fictional universe is tough, but this is a tight and entertaining tale — far better than you might expect — with intelligent foreshadowing, insightful inquiries into the nature of life and plenty of rock ’em-sock ’em superheroics.

Exquisite Corpse. Pènélope Bagieu. First Second. 128 pages. $19.99. Funny and subversive, this sexy tale of a pompous and reclusive author, his ex-lover and agent and the young woman who pierces this closed circle (and completes the triangle) is beautifully told by Bagieu, a major talent and bestselling author in her native France. The plot may be slightly predictable, but the uncomplicated and expressive art is an effective delight.

Empire: Mark Waid, Barry Kitson. IDW. 208 pages. $24.99. Empire: Uprising. Mark Waid, Barry Kitson. IDW. 32 pages (monthly). $3.99. Waid and Kitson’s original series has a convoluted publishing history, but the unfolding tale told here posits a world in which a super villain succeeded in his evil plans for global domination. The story is intriguing and plausible in a pulpy way — the principals’ colorful costumes are decidedly comic-booky — but Waid keeps the action interesting, and Kitson is always excellent. The new series rolls out online and then as a “normal” comic book, promising even more fun and intrigue, this time with alien adversaries and rebellious earthlings.

Black River. Fantagraphics. Josh Simmons. 122 pages. $18.99. Another dystopic post-apocalyptic tale that follows a cadre of female badasses and a token male through a charred and drug-addled landscape. Simmons is a grimly witty take-no-prisoners storyteller, and his smart and violent tale is well paced and startling.

The Black Hood: Bullet’s Kiss. Duane Swierczynski, Michael Gaydos. Dark Circle. 32 pages (monthly). $3.99. The Black Hood was an obscure, forgotten, periodically revived hero from 1940, but in this new version he’s a drug-addicted and scarred hero cop in gritty Philadelphia, playing several sides of the law. Swierczynski does a solid job creating characters and conflicts. Though the depiction of drug use is more fantasy than not, Gaydos’ dark, naturalistic art ably paves over plot holes. Noir fiction fans will surely dig this first sordid arc.

March Book Two. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell. Top Shelf. 192 pages. $19.95. In Congressman Lewis’ account of the Civil Rights Movement, the drama of history jumps off the page in a natural and relatable way. It’s an amazing inside view of one of the most turbulent times in America from a key participant (Lewis), who remained committed to nonviolence amid rampant racism and chaos. Aydin and Powell are superb collaborators, and as the action builds, anticipation for the next and final volume grows, too.

Batman: Earth One Vol. 2. Geoff Johns, Gary Frank. DC. 160 pages. $24.99. DC has rebooted and revised Batman’s origin ad nauseum. For many, the high point was Frank Miller’s Year One series, but Johns’ first Batman Earth One book, a free-standing, “out-of-continuity” tale, is even better. And this sequel tops that. It’s a clever remix of original creation-story elements and a rethink with modern touches. It’s also a timely reminder that Johns — DC’s chief creative officer — is one of the medium’s bravest and boldest scribes. He’s canny to have again collaborated with Frank, also among the field’s premiere creators.

Richard Pachter is a writer in Boca Raton.