March: Book Three. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. Top Shelf. 256 pages. $19.99. The third and final part of this series is the best. Like the first two volumes, “March” is a vivid and visceral recapitulation of recent American history, with unflinching depictions of the sainted and reviled personalities involved in this turbulent era. The award-winning autobiographical account by Congressman John Lewis, then a leader in the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), focuses on 1963-64, a pivotal time for the civil rights movement. It’s neatly threaded with the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African-American president, an excellent counterpoint to Lewis’ moving memoir.
Sheriff of Babylon Vol. 1: Bang. Bang. Bang. Tom King and Mitch Gerads. Vertigo. 160 pages. $14.99. Post-“Mission Accomplished” Iraq is unsurprisingly a perfect setting for a tense account of violence, romance and ambiguous loyalties. The sheriff in the title is an American contractor tasked with training that country’s new police force, then thrust into unraveling the mystery behind a series of connected killings. But revenge, tangled alliances and sectarian politics conspire against justice in this taut, suspenseful and brilliantly told tale. Next time I’m asked to recommend a graphic novel to the uninitiated, this will be my first choice.
Angel Catbird Volume 1. Margaret Atwood and Johnnie Christmas. Dark Horse. 112 pages. $14.99. The author of the classic “The Handmaid’s Tale” is in danger of becoming popular; that book is getting a new cinematic adaptation and a number of the venerable Canadian author’s other literary creations will soon reach the non-book-reading public, too. Here’s a fresh and original venture into a new (for her) medium that combines her knack for thoughtful storytelling with a passion for cats and birds. It’s a delightful superhero fantasy, beautifully realized by the wonderful Miami-raised artist Christmas.
Dark Night: A True Batman Story. Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso. Vertigo. 128 pages. $22.99. This is a harrowing blend of fantasy and hard reality. Dini, an award-winning animation writer, was mugged, beaten and traumatized, which accelerated the impact from the troubling emotional issues that drove him to succeed and impeded his emotional well-being. This brave recollection, with cameo appearances by many of the characters inhabiting the writer’s subconscious, was painstakingly illuminated by Argentinian master artist Eduardo Risso.
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Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth Uncensored. Pat Mills, John Wagner, Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland. Rebellion. 208 pages. $35. The venerable British creation, a judge, jury and executioner in post-Apocalyptic America, first ascended to stratospheric popularity during the initial run of this long out-of-print tale. Originally expurgated in fear of retaliation by the corporate entities parodied within, this sprawling compilation allows greater appreciation of the creators’ masterful storytelling, especially the contributions of artist Mike McMahon.
Cook Korean! A Comic Book with Recipes. Robin Ha. Ten Speed Press. 176 pages. $19.99. Nifty idea: Talented (and hungry) graphic artist rediscovering her culinary roots creates a comic-cook book. Yes, it’s been sort of done before by Lucy Knisley and others, but Ha’s wonderful evocation of her discovery of the craft of Korean cookery (and her heritage) is fun to read, vividly illustrated — and tempting!
Jughead Vol. 1. Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson. Archie Comics. 168 pages. $19.99. The reinvention of the mythical pantheon of Riverdale continues with this chuckle-laden and relentlessly smart-alecky update to the archetypical American town’s prototypical hamburger-loving uber-slacker. Zdarsky and Henderson construct a modern all-ages setting for the eternal teen with the triangle-ridged whoopee cap. He may be a mere supporting character in the shadow of the mighty Archie, but Juggy was post-modern before his time, and this new collection is cheerfully contemporaneous.
Nicolas. Pascal Girard. Drawn & Quarterly. 112 pages. $14.95. The loss of a child is shattering to parents, but what of the damage to a surviving sibling? Guilt. Absence. Sadness. Anger. It’s an exceptional sort of devastation. For many years, writer/artist Pascal Girard avoided facing the sudden death of his younger brother, but it profoundly affected almost every subsequent relationship and interaction. This graphic stream of consciousness about his life — before and after — is a powerful testament to brotherly love and healing.
Marie Antoinette, Phantom Queen. Rodolphe and Annie Goetzinger. NBM. 68 pages. $17.99. This charming little confection features the melancholy ghost of the guillotined queen and a modern-day artist who’s also a rich widow pursued by a swarthy and avaricious stepson (of course). The monarch’s restless spirit seeks its final resting place and enlists the artist, who also craves peace and closure. It’s a sprightly tale told with lavish scenes and witty dialogue.
Geeks & Greeks. Steve Altes and Andy Fish. Relentless Goat Productions. 184 pages. $19.95. Here’s a logline for a potential movie: “Animal House at MIT with brainy jocks and nerds.” It’s autobiographical, too, with a funny, human story of struggle and redemption with believable characters in outrageous but plausible situations. Fish does a nice job with the visuals, too.