Look at this, they are actually letting me write another one!

If this is your first time joining me, the purpose of this column is to scour Diamond's Previews catalog and highlight upcoming releases which may not be on your radar, but which, for one reason or another, deserve a closer look.

Alternatively, I make fun of people/an ass of myself.

Like I said last month, letting your retailer know that you are interested in one of these titles will make him or her a lot more willing to take a risk on it, especially in these times of economic uncertainty, when most of them just go for the guaranteed sales and ignore everything else. Pre-ordering is even better. Not doing so, on the other hand, will ensure the failure of independent creators and small press publishers and all that is good in the world, you jerks.

Anyway, the cover for the September 2009 Previews announces Nekron, the Lord of the Undead, as the driving force behind all the shit going down in DC's Blackest Night crossover. Which I'm not reading, by the way, because I really dislike crossovers. More accurately, I dislike crossovers that require me to buy comics by creators whose work I generally don't enjoy in order to get the full story - though not as much as I dislike having ongoing series that I follow interrupted with editorially-mandated tie-in issues (which are designed to temporarily boost the sales of any given title, but are also a surefire way of getting me to drop the book completely. Sorry Peter David's X-Factor!).

That, and DC's recent string of Big Event comics has been pretty weak, too.

I don't mean to be a dick, but it's true. The denouement to the murder mystery central to Identity Crisis, which stumped the world's greatest detectives with access to highly advanced forensics tools, ended up being, um, SPOILER ALERT, that it was a crazy lady with a flamethrower. That just doesn't hold up to any scrutiny. Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis featured less rape and crying, but neither ever really managed to generate any momentum, and for all their ambition and scope, they both ended with a return to the status quo. Yawn. Both were also impenetrable to new readers (if they were people, they would be a couple of old farts chasing kids off their lawn with a garden hose), and when high-profile books like that only appeal to a niche audience, it makes one wonder how concerned DC really is about comics’ declining readership.

I might still pick it up in collected form, if I hear good things about it. After all, what I've read of Geoff Johns' Green Lantern has been pretty decent. You guys should check that out, if you haven't already. I'd tell you why, but summarizing Green Lantern plots always makes them sound more retarded than intended. You think I'm kidding? You try it.

The upside-down back cover is something out of a time capsule, a teaser for the upcoming Image crossover Image United, featuring the original Image founders (sans Jim Lee, obviously) collaborating on each page of the project, each of them drawing their own original Image creations as they get together to battle a yet unrevealed foe (my money is on Neil Gaiman). And the preview pages inside are as awful as you'd expect. These guys seem to bring out the worst in one another, as many of their illustrational tics are turned up to 12 here: there are no feet or background objects in sight, everyone is striking a pose with no regard for page layout or perspective or proportion (look, one of Witchblade's titties is bigger than Shaft's head, and she's standing BEHIND him, for fuck's sake), and so on.

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Oh, and it ships with seven (7) different covers.

BATMAN/DOC SAVAGE SPECIAL #1 (DC Comics, pg. 80, $4.99)

The last time Brian Azzarello was in charge of old and obscure DC properties, he made a pretty convincing argument for their inclusion in the modern DC Universe (and then he cold-heartedly wrote them out of it!). That was the highly underrated, joyfully metafictional Doctor 13: Architecture and Mortality. Now, he's teaming up the original, gun-toting version of Batman with old pulp magazine hero Doc Savage for an introduction to DCs new pulp universe, which is set to feature The Spirit and a slew of other non-powered vigilantes, and where he, as a writer, should feel even more at home.

THE MIGHTY VOL. 1 TP (DC Comics, pg. 93, $17.99)

I haven't read this, but the right people are talking it up. It's a non-DCU story of a world with a single super-hero, whose police liaison discovers that not everything about him is as good as it seems. The set-up sounds intriguing, but the art by Peter Snejbjerg of Starman fame is the biggest selling point for me.

THE AUTHORITY: THE LOST YEAR #3 (DC Comics, pg. 100, $2.99)

I should be intrigued to see where this goes, what with it being co-plotted by Grant Morrison as a continuation of his aborted Authority run with Gene Ha, but the preview pages make it look like every other Authority comic I have read, and I think I may finally be over The Authority as a concept. Then again, remember when Brian Azzarello and Steve Dillon were set to relaunch the series with a storyline that was supposed to have the team fighting Jesus?

I would still read that.

THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ #1 (Marvel, pg. Marvel 9, $3.99)

I understand that writing and illustrating the Age of Bronze is time-consuming and that a brother needs to make a living somehow, but what the fuck? I'd like to see it finished in my lifetime! On the other hand, the Skottie Young art on this looks great, and it wouldn't suprise me if Shanower has all the Oz stuff memorized, having played in that sandbox for a long part of his career, and can just whip up an adaptation in no time. Either way, give the guy some money, I need more Age of Bronze.

INCOGNITO TPB (Marvel, pg. Marvel 77, $18.99)

For my money, this was the best super-hero comic put out by Marvel this year. Except it's about a super-villain, one whose shady past catches up to him and  shakes up his dreary, dead-end existence in the Witness Protection Program to the core. It lacks the enveloping sense of desperation and doom that made Brubaker's and Phillips' previous superhero noir series Sleeper such a compelling read, but it's enjoyably pulpy and twisted in its own right.

POWERS #1 (Marvel, pg. Marvel 78, $3.95)

Like The Authority, I think I may have lost interest in this for good, especially since it became obvious that it wasn't very high on the list of Bendis' priorities anymore, but I'll give this new number one a look based on the strength of previous storylines (two of the best ones being collected in POWERS: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION VOL.3 HC, solicited two pages later for a bargain of $29.99, which also scores you the infamous monkey sex issue).

However, at the first sighting of open mic night interludes, I am totally bailing again.

POPE HATS #1 (AdHouse Books, pg. 186, $4.00)

The comic book debut by the Canadian cartoonist Ethan Rilly and the winner of last year's Xeric Foundation grant, this is a story of a young woman and her escape from both figurative and literal demons, which has been described by fellow Canadian Seth as "the most impressive debut comic I've seen in years." And if there's one good thing Canada has been able to produce, it's good indie cartoonists. If you don't trust Seth, trust the freaking statistics.

THE MORE THAN COMPLETE ACTION PHILOSOPHERS! TP (Evil Twin Comics, pg. 257, $24.99)

I guess the fact that I will now be buying most of the material contained herein for the third fucking time speaks for its strength (or my weakness). Presented here in chronological order are the biographies and philosophies of some of the greatest thinkers in history (and one Ayn Rand), filtered through the language of genre comics. Educational and highly entertaining, this is something that both philosophy novices and professors can enjoy. Free previews here!

THE UNCLOTHED MAN IN THE 35TH CENTURY A.D. (Fantagraphics, pg. 258, $19.99)

Dash Shaw is one of the most exciting new voices in comics today, and his Bottomless Belly Button graphic novel was one of my favorite books of last year, a tragicomic tale of the dissolution of an American family in the style of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. This collects a lot of his early short work, including his brilliant contributions to the MOME anthology, some rarities, and a brand new story.

GANGES #3 (Fantagraphics, pg. 259, $7.95)

Kevin Huizenga, on the other hand, is without a doubt the most promising cartoonist of his generation, and the Ganges books have so far been his best work. Part of Fantagraphics' Ignatz line of oversized single issues, the stories of everyman Glenn Ganges have managed to be incredibly inventive and playful without losing out on emotional impact, and while each issue stands alone, you would be doing yourself a favor by picking up all of them.

FOOTNOTES IN GAZA (Metropolitan Books, pg. 278, $25.00)

After several excursions to Bosnia and Iraq, comic book journalist extraordinaire Joe Sacco returns to the Gaza strip, in what is billed as his most ambitious work yet. The focus this time is the town of Rafah, a notorious flashpoint in this most bitter of conflicts going back to 1956, in which a bloody incident left 111 Palestinian refugees dead at the hands of Israeli soldiers. As usual, Sacco immerses himself in the daily life of this town, and through the stories of its citizens uncovers the history of bloodshed spanning the last five decades.

Any book by Joe Sacco is automatically bound to be one of the most important releases of the year, and this is definitely the one book on this list I look forward to the most (after all, his Safe Area Gorazde is probably my favorite graphic novel of all time). And if the idea of comics as war reportage sounds dry to you, his work is nothing like you imagine: rather than providing casualty reports from the safety of a heavily-guarded hotel suite, Sacco is in the thick of it, crashing on people's couches, hanging out with them, and often risking his life just to record their stories.

Deeply humanist, remarkably observant, and without any overt political agenda, Sacco is a national treasure you don't even know you have, and you owe it to yourself to check out his work.

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OOKU: THE INNER CHAMBERS VOL. 2 (Viz, pg. 305, $12.99)

In an alternate-history Edo Period Japan, a new disease has wiped out seventy-five percent of its male population, and women are running the country, while most of the men have become a bunch of pampered pansies who are protected and prostituted. This is, along with the Sig Ikki line from Viz (dig Children of the Sea), one of the more intriguing new manga releases of this year, and while the translation, which uses Shakespearean Early Modern English to mirror 17th century Japanese, takes some getting used to, the book's reversed take on political intrigue and sexual politics is never less than fascinating. From the author of the more light-hearted cult favorite Antique Bakery.


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