Comics of Note

Daniel Clowes' Ice Haven (Random House) bills itself as a "comic-strip novel," and its contents bear out the description. Using a variety of illustrative approaches torn from the Sunday funnies, Clowes offers a cross-section of the eponymous small town, a place where a young boy's disappearance prompts different responses—and sometimes no response at all—from his neighbors. In many respects, this is a summing-up work for Clowes: It's got disaffected young women, twists on genre fiction, and a pitiless portrait of a comic-book obsessive. But another element from Clowes' past comes to the surface by the end: A wicked sense of borderline misanthropic humor that keeps it from hitting the depths of Ghost World or The Death Ray, but makes for some dark laughs anyway...

Two of the most reliable alternative-comics creators of the past decade have new collections of essential work: Joe Sacco's War's End: Profiles From Bosnia 1995-96 (Drawn & Quarterly) collects the vivid character sketches "Christmas With Karadzic" and "Soba." The former follows a freewheeling, cynical war correspondent, while the latter presents a military hero turned soulful rocker. As for Roberta Gregory's Life's A Bitch: The Complete Bitchy Bitch Stories Vol. 1 (Fantagraphics), it cherry-picks stories from her long-running and recently completed Naughty Bits series, jumping between the troubled childhood, wild adolescence, and droning adult working life of one vulgar and perpetually disgruntled woman. It's a little too busy and on-the-nose at times, but the emotions are as raw and honest as they come...

Marvel kicks off its universe-spanning crossover series with the debut of the eight-issue House Of M. Written by the ultra-prolific Brian Michael Bendis and lushly drawn by Olivier Coipel, it spins out of the events of last year's "Avengers Disassembled" storyline, in which Scarlet Witch went nuts and killed half her friends. Will Bendis bring the emotional core of his best work, like Daredevil, Powers, and Ultimate Spider-Man to the project? Or will it devolve into quips and chaos, like his last big crossover project, Secret War? The first issue is all setup, making it too soon to tell, but it at least looks like a ride worth taking...

Marvel's habit of handing projects to writers outside the comics industry might lead to a talent shortage once Joss Whedon, Orson Scott Card, and the like go back to their day jobs. But meanwhile, it's resulted in some strong efforts like the new-to-trade-paperback miniseries Black Widow: Homecoming, in which novelist Richard K. Morgan and artists Bill Sienkiewicz and Goran Parlov take the one-time KGB super-spy through a story with the snap of a big-budget thriller, the cool wit of an episode of Alias (back when it was still worth watching), and a Buffy The Vampire Slayer-like feminist sensibility...

DC takes the opposite tack to Marvel's outsourcing with Batman: Dark Detective, an in-progress mini that digs back into comic book history to reunite writer Steve Englehart and artists Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin. Their brief late-'70s run on Detective Comics (previously collected under the title Strange Apparitions) has become the gold standard for many fans for its psychological intensity, clever stories, and gorgeous illustrative art. The team's approach remains decidedly old-school, but it's old-school in the most satisfying sense...

There's nothing old-school about James Kochalka's irreverent, cartoonishly aggressive take on superheroes in his almost-too-cute-to-be-offensive Super F*ckers (Top Shelf). The first issue of Kochalka's new series introduces a pack of dysfunctional, crabby, profane teenage superheroes, plus a horde of wannabes and a couple of grotesque, oozy fans, all drawn in Kochalka's usual colorful, simple style, and all preoccupied with occupations like playing video games and getting high. True to the title, they're mostly obnoxious and creepy, but in a lively and cheerful way...

Postmodern superhero cartoonist Mike Allred continues his thoroughly straight comics adaptation of The Book Of Mormon with The Golden Plates Volume Two: The Liahona And The Promised Land (AAA Pop), which retains the virtues and flaws of its source material. The story of one prophetic family's journey from Jerusalem to the Americas makes for a gripping adventure yarn, but once Allred gets past the harrowing ocean voyage at the center of the second volume, he's stuck with what comes next in The Book Of Mormon: lengthy quotations from the biblical book of Isaiah. It's not exactly the most comics-friendly text in history. Still, whatever the reader thinks of Allred's Mormon zealotry, it's hard not to be impressed by the passion bleeding through his vivid illustrations of pre-Christian civilization—and by The Golden Plates' hyper-defensive appendices, which are almost more compelling than the feature presentation...

Prolific Norwegian cartoonist Jason delivers another of his briskly paced existential thrillers with Why Are You Doing This? (Fantagraphics), which hinges on a classic Hitchcockian premise: a shiftless young man takes a house-sitting job and gets wrongly accused of murder. As with a lot of Jason's work, the translated dialogue reads too flat and the action moves too quick, but any pacing problems are covered up by an ending that stings hard...

Joe Pruett's Desperado Publishing was launched in December as the latest creator-owned-comics collective following in the footsteps of Image (which now distributes Desperado titles); this month, the company continues to roll out new titles by familiar faces, with the debut issues of Common Foe (written by Shannon Denton and Keith Giffen) and The Stardust Kid (written by J.M. Dematteis). Stardust Kid, a busy, psychedelic fantasy along the lines of Dematteis' classic Moonshadow, looks promising, though the intrusive narration is weirdly chatty and domineering. Common Foe, meanwhile, is sheer incoherence; there's something supernatural going on in this bloody World War II tale, but the first issue doesn't permit any insight into it—it's just 32 pages of gunfire, screams, and indistinguishable soldiers dying...

Remember Mr. T? Well, he's back, in comic-book form. Writer Chris Bunting and artist Neil Edwards resurrect T as an urban avenger in the new AP Comics series called—what else?—Mr. T. Will audiences want to see their beloved childhood icon resurrected as a gritty drug-dealer-smashing brawler when they could catch him rapping about his mother on the Internet? The answer remains to be seen.

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