Graphic novel reviews

Battling Boy: The Rise of Aurora West. Paul Pope, JT Petty, David Rubín. First Second. 160 pages. $9.99. Pope’s rambunctious and exhilarating 2013 hit Battling Boy left readers wanting more — and more is coming — but this prequel fills the gap brilliantly. Pope didn’t draw this one, but Spanish film director, animator and artist David Rubin was a terrific choice to illustrate. This chapter features a remarkable young girl seeking the monster — literally a monster — who killed her mother but may have also been her “imaginary friend.” The resonant archetypes never get in the way of the excitement as Aurora West fights alongside her father, the sole protector of Arcopolis, a city overrun by an infestation of strange creatures and spirits, kicks ass, takes names and becomes a ferocious hero.

Museum of Mistakes: The Fart Party Collection. Julia Wertz. Atomic Book Company. 400 pages. $24. A bonanza! The great Julia Wertz’s first two collections are reprinted here, plus the third, unpublished volume is also included, along with sketches and plenty of bonus material. Wertz’s personal accounts of angst, alcoholism and urban adventures are simply drawn, usually crude and seasoned with sloth and self-loathing. But her fierce intelligence, endless charm and relentless humor — she’s screamingly funny — make this a genuine delight.

Grandville Noël. Bryan Talbot. Dark Horse. 104 pages. $19.99. Despite its title, this latest chapter of the pioneering Talbot’s saga is hardly light and cheery Christmas fare. The steampunk-ish alternative world, in which the French defeated Britain in the Napoleonic Wars, is anything but funny, despite the proliferance of sundry anthropomorphic species, plus a few humans, whose predominance in the world was thwarted and the historical authenticity of which is now doubted. Talbot’s usual heady blend of suspense, politics, religion and culture make this a worthy addition to this brilliant ongoing tale.

Batman ’66: The Lost Episode. Harlan Ellison. Len Wein, Joe Prado, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. DC Comics. 80 pages. $9.99. When the Batman TV show came out in the 1960s, the kid version of me was appalled it was a comedy. The comic book was certainly nothing I’d ever laugh at. But years later, the kitschy Caped Crusader depicted by the hammy Adam West is cherished by almost everyone. DC’s recent comics evoking the TV show and its campy cast has attracted some top creative talent. This one-shot, based on an unaired story by the inestimable Ellison, brings veteran scribe Wein and legendary artist Garcia-Lopez together, and the result is far better than just about anything originally broadcast. Bonus features include Garcia-Lopez’s superb pencil art and excerpts from Ellison’s original script treatment.

The Complete Little Nemo 1905-1927. Winsor McCay. Taschen America. 708 pages. $200. The dreamy, imaginative bedtime adventures of a sleeping little boy, recounted in a series of full-page Sunday strips originally published in New York’s Herald Tribune early last century, were not only contemporaneous favorites but also eternally influential to artists and writers who mine their own sleepy fantasies for inspiration. There have been several previous volumes reprinting McKay’s audacious and gorgeous series, but this most recent one is the best yet and an excellent introduction or keepsake.

Foolbert Funnies: Histories and Other Fictions. Frank Stack. Fantagraphics Books. 224 pages. $24.99. Most may be aware of underground comics pioneer Robert Crumb, but not many know Stack, a creator Crumb admires immensely, and that’s a pity. Under the name Foolbert Sturgeon, he’s had an amazing run as a prolific cartoonist while maintaining a parallel career as a college professor of art. He also created the first-ever underground comic book, The New Adventures of Jesus and has frequently collaborated with the late, great Harvey Pekar. This lifetime collection includes ribald biographical sketches of Shakespeare, time-traveling tales of Frank Crankcase and others (including God), representing a 50-year-deep treasure trove of amazing material from one of the best writers and draftsmen in the field.

Tonaharu Part One. Lars Martinson. Pliant Press/Top Shelf. 128 pages. $14.95. The foreign fish out of water trope can be a boring cliché, but this Lost In Translation-ish tale is still pretty compelling. Martinson’s assistant English teacher’s alienation from the Japanese population and his students is sad. But the art he employs to tell the story in a four-panels-per-page grid is rich, simple and achingly evocative.

Teen Titans: Earth One. Jeff Lemire, Rachael Dodson, Terry Dodson. DC Comics. 144 pages. $22.99. Reimaging the once-popular team of sidekicks, retreads and junior aliens might’ve seemed a swell idea, but the usually reliable LeMire’s one-dimensional YA iteration is a huge letdown, compounded by the discovery (spoiler!) that this story will be continued in a future volume. Yikes! The Dodsons’ art efforts aren’t bad despite being saddled with such a weak story to illustrate.

Richard Pachter is a writer in Boca Raton.