xxxHolic Vol. 16

192 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

What do you do when your comic book series is past its expiration date but you want it to move on anyway? That’s a dilemma that the manga collective CLAMP had to deal with when it came to xxxHolic, a series about a mysterious shop that granted wishes that was also designed to run parallel to their other title Tsubasa. With the end of Tsubasa (the last volume of which hit bookstores this month), that should have been the end of xxxHolic too. Except it hasn’t, perhaps because CLAMP had become too fond of it, or perhaps simply because they had too good an idea to let it go. And the end result? It’s one of the stranger volumes of the series to date.

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Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four Vol. 2

Written by Stan Lee
Penciled by Jack Kirby
Inked by Dick Ayers and Steve Ditko
304 pages, color
Published by Marvel Comics

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s 102-issue run on Fantastic Four is fairly legendary, and with so many options now available to read those original issues (hardcover and softcover full-color Marvel Masterworks reprints, plus black and white Essential Fantastic Four volumes) it seemed like a good a time as any to start catching up on my Marvel history. Like my recent dip into Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers, though, I found a fairly wide range of material here; some good, some extremely dated.

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Written by Andersen Gabrych
Art by Brad Rader
176 pages, black and white
Published by Vertigo Comics

After several initial disappointing releases from the Vertigo Crime line of books, I pinned a lot of hopes on Fogtown by Andersen Gabrych and Brad Rader. I’ve loved what little art of Rader’s I’ve seen in the past (most notably on an early Catwoman story written by Ed Brubaker), and his animation pedigree has shown him to be an expressive and inventive artist. And while I’d never read any of Gabrych’s stories for DC Comics, having two openly gay men working on a crime thriller in 1953 San Francisco certainly held a lot of potential. What I actually found with Fogtown, though, is a book where some parts of the greater whole fail, while others try and pick up the slack.

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By Emi Lenox
400 pages, two-color
Published by Image Comics

Jumping into print with a 400-page reprint of your online diary comic is a rather brave proposition. A year’s worth of comics from Emi Lenox, EmiTown is a fun comic, but one that I think ultimately shines in part because you watch her progress over the course of those twelve months. When EmiTown opens, you end up with thin lines and a slightly scattered overall entry. It felt to me like it was a piece of paper that Lenox was trying to fill up, and does so with random moments and scenes shoved in to avoid a large void of white space. Her art style at this point feels slightly nebulous, too, with thin lines and an almost flat look to her pages.

I mention all of this because of the huge jump that the book takes the further in you read. Working every day on her diary comic meant that she quickly grew adept in telling vignettes from her life, and what started as an unmemorable comic rapidly became a lot of fun. Even when a page isn’t about a single event, Lenox still manages to make the update feel like one moment flowed into the next. Part of that may have to do with stronger layouts, but I think she also grew more adept as a writer. Her art is much stronger, too; there’s a confident and weightier line being used in her art, and she’s developed a stronger style that lifts the individual moments into something that moves easily from one moment to the next. She’s gotten great with both motion and also in guiding the reader’s eye; by the time we get an entry about dancing along to a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode, she’s managed to draw a page that has no panel borders and still guides the reader easily from one moment to the next. EmiTown is a chance to watch the birth of a talented comic book creator unfold over the course of one year. Lenox is definitely a creator to watch out for.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

Dungeon Monstres Vol. 3: Heartbreaker

Written by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim
Art by Carlos Nine and Patrice Killoffer
96 pages, color
Published by NBM

Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s sprawling series Dungeon has always been all over the map, especially with all of its different sub-series (The Early Years exploring the past, Zenith the present, and Twilight the future, plus Parade set in the early days of Zenith), but the easiest one to jump into in many ways is probably Monstres. That’s because each story just focuses on a different monster or beast, telling their particular story whenever it might take place. This new collection of two of the Monstres volumes from France is all over the place, not only in setting but art style and writing to boot.

The first half, Heartbreaker, is set during The Early Years timeframe, taking supporting character Alexandra and showing us just how this beautiful assassin’s mind truly functions. It’s a slightly unpleasant story, with her continued captures and tortures not being a light or happy tale by any stretch of the imagination. It’s drawn by Carlos Nine, and I wish that he’d had the time to paint the interior like he did the book’s stunning cover. The interiors aren’t bad, but his loose lines and sketchy character designs just can’t compare to the cover and all of its beauty. Nine drawing Heartbreaker is an inspired choice, though; Alexandra spends much of the comic drugged by her enemies, and this slightly blurry, loose style is a great match. Readers of The Early Years definitely shouldn’t skip this volume, though; it ties closely into the main narrative, and Sfar and Trondheim provide a big surprise for readers of that series at Heartbreaker‘s conclusion.

The second half, The Depths, is drawn by Patrice Killoffer, whose precise and smooth ink line is a dramatic contrast to Nine’s work. And while the first half was grim in a hazy sort of way, there’s no escaping the sheer nastiness of this story when Killoffer draws its events. This is easily the most (deliberately) vile and horrible story in the Dungeon milieu to date, as the poor underwater creature Drowny goes through all sorts of nasty situations in order to survive when the Great Khan’s armies invade. There’s a huge amount of detail packed into every single panel, but be warned that you might not want to look too closely. This story is designed to repulse its reader, and at that it succeeds mightily. Dungeon Monstres Vol. 3: Heartbreaker seems to see just how low it can go, and while I applaud it for succeeding, it’s the one Dungeon book I can’t see myself wanting to ever re-read.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

Sixth Gun #6

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt
40 pages, color
Published by Oni Press

One of my absolute favorite new series this year is, easily, The Sixth Gun. Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt have, over the course of its first six issues, done exactly what I want in a new series: introduced the characters, provided a memorable setting, and thrown a lot of surprises at us. With The Sixth Gun #6, we’ve hit the conclusion of the first story, and if anything I love it more than ever. Part of the fun is its snappy concept, with six cursed revolvers each having a different power for whomever is unlucky enough to be its wielder. Enter poor Becky, whose father owned the deadly Sixth Gun, which gives its owners glimpses of the future, and which is being hunted down by the dangerous General Hume (despite being dead).

The Sixth Gun has a little bit of everything for the reader. We’ve got mystical creations, a dreaded seal threatening to be breached, some nasty surprises, and a whole lot of action. Even if you’ve correctly guessed that The Sixth Gun #6 won’t culminate in the end of the world (but just think about the wait for issue #7 would be like), there’s more than enough to keep you guessing from start to finish, and gruesome and inventive use for one of the cursed guns that everyone’s trying to get their hands on. Becky and Drake continue to be strong leads for the comic, and having Brian Hurtt’s always-stunning art tackling the visuals is an added bonus. With each new issue of The Sixth Gun, I fall a little more in love with the series. If you’re a fan of adventure, horror, westerns, or just good comics in general, trust me: you must buy this comic.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

X’ed Out

By Charles Burns
56 pages, color
Published by Pantheon Books

Charles Burns is a comic creator whose art is easy to recognize, but hard to categorize save that it appears to exist to try and make the reader uncomfortable. From my first experience with Burns’s work as a live-action adaptation of his story "Dog Boy" on Liquid Television, to his collections of short stories from Fantagraphics, and his most recent magnum opus Black Hole (which took years in the making but was utterly worth the wait), each piece has inspired a strange combination of wanting to see more and feeling the need to turn away from the view. With Burns’s new book, X’ed Out, he’s carefully stepped away from the "mutation as venereal disease" metaphor of Black Hole into a strange narrative that shifts back and forth between dream and reality.

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Super Crazy Cat Dance

By Aron Nels Steinke
40 pages, color
Published by Blue Apple Books

Around this time last year I got to read Aron Nels Steinke’s excellent graphic novel Neptune, an all-ages adventure involving a mysterious dog and a massive flood. I was pretty excited, needless to say, to receive a copy in the mail of his new children’s graphic novel The Super Crazy Cat Dance, part of Blue Apple Books’s new "Balloon Toons" line of comics for younger readers. Just like the Toon Books line, this is the kind of comic for kids that you’ll want to start buying your own children, nieces, nephews, and friends.

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Ax: Alternative Manga Vol. 1

Edited by Sean Michael Wilson
400 pages, black and white
Published by Top Shelf Productions

I’ve been looking forward to Top Shelf’s Ax: Alternative Manga anthology ever since they first announced it. Between reading Secret Comics Japan back in the day (which really needs to come back into print) and the more recent "gekiga" (essentially alternative manga) releases from Drawn & Quarterly (with books like The Push Man and Abandon the Old in Tokyo), it’s been fun seeing some of the different genres and styles of manga being produced in Japan. Ax in Japan was the successor to Garo, the gekiga anthology whose founding is detailed in A Drifting Life. So the idea of a cherry-picked collection of comics from Ax over the past decade? Yes, please.

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Ozma of Oz #1

Written by Eric Shanower
Based on the novel by L. Frank Baum
Art by Skottie Young
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel

Ozma of Oz was one of my favorite books when I was growing up. I’m not sure where our copy of the book came from, but I must have read it fifty or more times. The third Oz novel, it’s actually only the second one to feature Dorothy, who after a sea voyage comes awry ends up journeying to Oz’s neighboring country of Ev, as well as meeting her old friends again and embarking on a brand-new adventure. Quite frankly? I think it blows The Wonderful Wizard of Oz out of the water.

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