Comics of Note 4145

The actual extra content in the massive, slipcased Watchmen: Absolute Edition (DC Comics) is disappointingly minimal, especially given the $75 price tag. Still, it's an impressively polished new look at Alan Moore's groundbreaking superhero classic, which also happens to be a brilliantly executed, fantastically characterized, multileveled story that holds up to the hype nearly 20 years after its initial publication. Dave Gibbons' art has improved a great deal since Watchmen, but it still looks terrific in this oversized, recolored, restored format. And true aficionados can at least enjoy some of his early character sketches, alongside early write-ups on the cast, short essays from both Gibbons and Moore, and the four dense pages of Moore's script for the first page. Charmingly, that script begins "Alright. I'm psyched up, I've got blood up to my elbows, veins in my teeth, and my helmets and kneepads securely fastened. Let's get out there and make trouble..."

Say this with a straight face: The most thoughtful, funny, and warmhearted mainstream comic out there right now is She-Hulk (Marvel). No, it doesn't sound right, but writer Dan Slott has made the sometime Avenger, lawyer, and superhero into a complex character struggling to figure out who she is when she isn't fighting the bad guys coughed up by the absurd, self-referential plots. Restarting November 16th with a new first issue following a 12-issue run and a brief hiatus, the series remains a fun, unexpectedly engaging read from one of the most promising new(ish) writers out there. Next up: Slott takes on The Thing...

Over the course of 18 issues, Gary Spencer Millidge's Strangehaven has introduced a remote, multi-ethnic British hamlet governed by a bumbling Masonic cabal. In the collected third volume, Strangehaven: Conspiracies (Abiogenesis), the "Knights Of The Golden Light" are implicated in the murder of one of their members, and the resultant investigation unearths more secrets about this shadowy paradise and its attraction to magical anomalies. Ten years into his magnum opus, Millidge is showing signs of impatience with his own deliberate pace, and a couple of this volume's six chapters feel a little rushed. But Strangehaven remains one of the most evocative and under-known alt-fantasy comics being published today, full of charming historical digressions, low-boil melodrama, and sudden, shocking violence...

"Showcase Presents" is DC Comics' answer to Marvel's "Essentials" series, in that both offer bulky black-and-white collections of classic comics. So far, "Showcase Presents" trumps its predecessor in price and reproduction quality (though would it kill these "big two" publishers to pony up for prefaces?), but as for the content, it's pretty much a toss-up. Marvel pads out its line with secondary titles like Werewolf By Night and Killraven, but DC has answered with its own cult oddity, Metamorpho: The Element Man. Then again, Showcase Presents: Metamorpho is actually surprisingly (though not consistently) entertaining, in part because of its cast of cartoony grotesques, rendered by Ramona Fradon, and in part because of Bob Haney's wacky, chemistry-filled stories, which have rough-and-ready hero Rex Mason converting his body into magnesium or "pure sodium" to fight international evildoers. Even crazier is Showcase Presents: Superman, which collects more than two dozen total issues of Action Comics and Superman from the late '50s, when the titles' writers apparently took a three-martini lunch every day and tried to think up new ways to put the big guy in contact with some kind of Kryptonite. Much of the modern Superman mythology originated in this era, from the Fortress Of Solitude to the bottle city of Kandor, though no one talks much these days about the bizarre issue where Superman gets turned into a lion and spends the whole story fighting on behalf of the lion community...

While Michael Allred continues to pour his soul into the increasingly impenetrable Book Of Mormon comics adaptation The Golden Plates, he took a break to play with some DC characters in the seventh issue of Solo, in what turns out to be the most consistent and well-conceived installment yet of DC's artist-focused quarterly. Allred—along with his wife Laura and his brother Lee—uses his 48 allotted pages to assert the supremacy of the Golden and Silver Ages, via playful stories that explore the leisure activities of the Teen Titans, the Doom Patrol, and Hourman. Following a centerpiece story that takes the TV version of Batman to logical and purposefully off-putting "grim and gritty" extremes, Allred washes off the muck with several wordless multi-page spreads of his favorite heroes, reaffirming that adventure comics should be inspiring and fun...

And maybe that will be the end result of DC's mammoth, years-in-the-making crossover series Infinite Crisis (DC), a sequel to the 1985 landmark Crisis On Infinite Earths. There, the purpose was obvious: Tidy up the continuity. Here, who knows? Written by Geoff Johns and beautifully drawn by Phil Jimenez, the series is, one issue in, a little confusing, but it seems likely to deliver on the promise these crossovers always boast: Everything will change...

The first issue of Brian Azzarello and Marcelo Frusin's gamy Western comic series Loveless (Vertigo) is too obviously indebted to Deadwood, with its emphasis on salty talk and knotty local politics, but Azzarello has a tremendous ear for pulp dialogue, and while Loveless' setting is familiar, the scorched-earth, post-Civil War atmosphere is impressively redolent...

The latest issues of Drawn & Quarterly Showcase (D&Q), Mome (Fantagraphics), and Blab (Fantagraphics) continue to help define the burgeoning art-comics movement, packing their pages with crude doodles, impenetrable design experiments, and the occasional readable story. In Drawn & Quarterly Showcase #3, Sammy Harkham's "Somersaulting" incisively documents the casual hedonism and unrealistic expectations of two small-town high-school girls, the summer before their senior year. Mome #2 contains multiple highlights, including Jonathan Bennett's relatably creepy stream-of-consciousness sketch "Needles And Pins," Martin Cendreda's dry, unnerving "The Magic Marker," and Kurt Wolfgang's scabrous white-trash interstitials, collectively titled "Toughskins '77." While in the whole lavishly designed 120 pages of Blab #16, only a two-page Peter Kuper strip—with an obvious but still effective point to make about American indifference to real global conflict—has any kind of lasting impact. So it goes with anthologies...

Dark Horse's release of Lady Snowblood Pt. 1 is a little late out of the gate when it comes to exploiting its big-name media tie: The Japanese series, written by Lone Wolf And Cub creator Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Kazuo Kamimura, inspired a stylish 1973 Japanese revenge film, which Quentin Tarantino openly imitated and referenced in Kill Bill. So it's no surprise that the black-and-white book is over the top with its episodic, sex-saturated, bloody stories of a vengeance-minded female assassin. Still, it's dry, formal, and traditionally Japanese: Imagine Lone Wolf And Cub or Koike's other Dark Horse-released series, Samurai Executioner, if its central character were a frequently nude woman whose targets are usually found in brothels, in flagrante, or both.