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Short comics reviews

Age of Dinosaurs #3 (Dark Horse)

One of the most beautiful comics in print, this penultimate issue of Ricardo Delgado’s new paleontological epic continues to follow the mass migration of various dinosaur species. Fraught with the violence of nature and the fury of the journey, Delgado’s story unfolds in a total silence that keeps the narrative unfolding on the dinosaurs’ terms and not the readers’. Delgado was an animator on “Wall-E,” but the visuals here are more intimate, and any anthropomorphism comes off as a delicate touch.

Crogan’s March by Chris Schweizer (Oni Press)

In the previous volume creator Schweizer investigated political order versus chaos as  a human struggle in a pirate setting. In this new book he tops his previous effort  with a tense French Foreign Legion adventure that asks questions about war, borders, bravery, class, prejudice and the tentacles of history. Even with the heavy themes, it’s a lot of fun. With a whimsical but detailed European style of cartooning and an accessible scholarship, this series deserves a lot of attention outside the comics world.

First Wave #1 (DC Comics)

Superheroes with nothing but their fists and guile to help them defeat crime — oh, and a stylish 1940s period adventure to propel them — root around a mystery that will no doubt gather them together in the end. Doc Savage and The Spirit dominate this issue, but Rima, the Jungle Girl, does make an appearance, as do the Blackhawks and Batman — it’s all shaping up to be a fun romp. The beauty of this book is that it does recognize the absurdity of superheroes when placed in a real world setting, but doesn’t allow that inescapable fact to hijack it into silliness — and still the humor is there on the page.

Foiled by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallero (First Second Books)

Teen fantasy fiction legend Yolen picks up where Minx Books left off with this comedy romance that unfolds precisely before bursting into all out wonderment. Aliera is an up and coming fencer, as well as a high school student with no self-esteem for her social skills. Her game is thrown out of whack by a crush on her lab partner in science class, but as the story progresses, little chips in the walls of her safe world begin to appear — and like many other a teen trapped in a coming of age tale, she finds her place in the universe is far less mundane than she thought. A great one for teen girls with promise for future stories.

Hey Princess by Mats Jonsson (Top Shelf)

Covering a decade of his love life, Swedish cartoonist Jonsson employs a self-deprecating memoir style combined with visuals that resemble those of Gilbert Hernandez to create an engaging memoir. The book is a parade of girls who capture his attentions, but not often enough his heart — the best portion involves his tearing his own hair out at a sulky, goth girlfriend. If you were ever curious about Swedish youth culture, this is a great tour guide.

Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks (Drawn and Quarterly)

When a comic book journalist plagued by cryptic dreams investigates the background of a hot shot creator revitalizing old ideas into major new successes, he finds the creator’s hometown is harboring many secrets, some about the creator specifically and others about the nature of the town itself. Horrocks takes a tale of showbiz betrayal and transplants it into a fantasy New Zealand town of comic book historians, and also injects an effective amount of mysticism and the intellectual examination of artistic pursuit and devotion. There’s also a bit about selling your soul, which he explores outside of the story in a new and very revealing introduction as well as within. Collected from his series in the late ‘90s, the story is as compelling now as it was then.

iZombie#2 (Vertigo)

Coming from the same place as the BBC television series “Being Human,” iZombie follows two post-mortem gals — a zombie named Gwen who works as a gravedigger so she can procure brains in secret, and her groovy, ‘60s ghost pal Ellie. This issue moves forward with a murder mystery and introduces some new characters, including a bunch of vampire prostitutes, but Michael Allred’s art keeps it all down to earth, accenting the light dashes in Chris Roberson’s words.

Jam: Tales From the World of Roller Derby (Oni Press)

Is anyone really surprised to find out that roller derby and comics go well together? This big anthology — written by actual roller derby girls and drawn by the likes of Eric Powell and a host of others — takes the starting point of roller derby and uses it to jump start an edgy mix of autobiography and science fiction adventure. Thankfully, the first story lays down the basic roller derby rules so the rest of us can get acquainted with the finer points even as we learn about specific instances of female empowerment and bonding, as well as general toughness in the face of aliens.

Joe the Barbarian #1 (Vertigo)

Though this premiere issue is filled with set-up more than anything else, there’s lots of promise hell. Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy offer what seems like a variation on Narnia. Instead of old furniture, though, the protagonist is going to be sucked into his toys’ world — complete with Batman and Robin action figures, I notice — and the bullied will have a chance to prove his mettle. As Joe pronounces everything in the real world — including himself — a “stereotype,” a magical corner in a sprawling house promise things might be a bit more than that once his mind takes control. So far, this seems to be Vertigo title appropriate for kids — will this last?

Jonah Hex: No Way Back By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Tony DeZuniga (DC)

In the wake of the upcoming film, we’re reminded that comics are the medium that created the decades-long mystique behind this dark western saga that may riff on early Clint Eastwood, but in many ways takes him one better, as well as most certainly providing inspiration for Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. In this, when he’s not busy drinkin’, shootin’, and whorin’, Hex finds himself wrapped up in the middle of an unhappy family reunion. Not the best communicator, Hex has not only deal with that scenario, but, as usual, save a bunch of people he could take or leave.

Possessions Vol. 1: Unclean Getaway (Oni Press)

Gurgazon the Unclean is a defiant demon in the body of a cute little girl and captured for a paranormal collector’s menagerie. Along with several other creatures — including a poltergeist — “Possessions” unfolds like a supernatural version of “Big Brother” — and a funny one.

Prime Baby by Gene Luen Yang (First Second Books)

Convinced that his new baby sister is babbling out a code containing prime numbers, Thaddeus K. Fong acts out his jealousy of the attention she gets by trying to frame her as an alien. Branded a wacko by his friends and heading straight for boarding school with his parents, Thaddeus has a bit of luck when he realizes that he may not be such a nut after all. Yang offers a hilarious story that kids and adults will like, starting from a simple absurdity that anyone can identify with and moving onto a far more complicated one as the premise, like the actual story, spirals out of control.

Solomon’s Thieves By Jordan Mechner, LeUyen Pham, and Alex Puvilland (First Second)

The “Prince of Persia” writer, along with the art team from the graphic novel version, do their claim to fame one better in this historical adventure centering around the dissolution of the Knights of the Templar in 14th Century France. Injecting one part Three Musketeers and mixing in some Robin Hood archetypes, it’s a solid adventure, the first part of a trilogy, that does the astonishing — it honors the material it pulls from rather than trying too hard to reinvent it, and still comes up with something fresh. Is it the kiss of death to call this good, old-fashioned adventure?

Stumptown #2 (Oni Press)

This amiable bit of noir — it has an amusing glibness that never postures in the wrong way — has girl detective Dexedrine Parios on a missing persons case in Portland, Oregon. Of course,  she is thrust into something deeper as she ping pongs between a grim casino owning grandma and a Salvadoran crime boss. Writer Greg Rucka stocks the story with good female characters and artist Matthew Southworth provides stylish and personable visuals to bring things to life.

Super Spy Lost Dossier by Matt Kindt (Top Shelf)

Matt Kindt’s artwork walks a strange path of retro and avant garde, it’s lines drawing from the past but firm in the present. It’s a perfect match for his themes of espionage mirroring personal stories and the psychologies wrapped up in them. This follow-up to his Super Spy graphic novel collects shorter and sometimes more experimental pieces that still view human emotions as puzzles to be gathered and solved much like the drips of information spies obtain and decode. Kindt is a strong cartoonist, but his work moves into the realm of illustration with its power and design — and he even takes the opportunity to show off a talent for prose. Kindt is a major talent on the rise.

Sweet Tooth Vol. 1 (Vertigo)

Jeff Lemire’s brooding science fiction weirdness finds its first five issues collected here, and if you’re looking for action and grim violence, then you’ve come to the wrong place. What you’ll get instead is mystery, as Lemire’s antlered boy … goes out into the apparently post apocalyptic world in search of someone somewhere who will accept an animal/human hybrid. Not that Lemire’s world is a flowery one — it’s just a slow and brooding one that focuses on the pyschologies of the characters presented more than the action, and reveals the extent to which a devastated world can be reflected by the inner life of the survivors and what they must do to stay alive.

Troll King by Kolbeinn Karlsson (Top Shelf)

Taking these creatures of European of mythology and giving them back their Pagan authenticly, Swedish cartoonist Karlsson presents a beautifully colorful and mostly silent tale that presents trolls — and the other weird creatures of the forest — as aliens within their own tradition rather than grotesque reactions to the norms of humans. Cryptic in the jolliest possible sense of the word.

Zig and Wiki in Something At My Homework By Nadja Spiegelman and Trade Loeffler (Toon Books)

It’s a fun little biology lesson for elementary school readers as an alien and his robot go hunting on Earth, only to descend into a wacky adventure that not only reveals lessons in the food chain, but offers facts about various animals amidst the tomfoolery. This is a charming hybrid of comic gags and simple science — and artist Loeffler, who helms the wonderful web comic Zip and Li’l Bit, scores high in his children’s book debut.