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I’ve written a few pieces, recently, about some of the great comic books that I’ve been reading lately.  (Click here for my thoughts on 100 Bullets, and here for my reviews of three recent graphic novels adapted from the short stories of Alan Moore.)  What else have I been reading lately that has tickled my fancy?  I’m glad you asked!

Filthy Rich, by Brian Azzarello and Victor Santos — After finishing 100 Bullets, I was eager to check out some more work by Brian Azzarello.  Luckily, this original graphic novel had just been published, so I snapped it up.  Richard “Junk” Junkin used to be a football star.  Now he sells cars.  Not very well.  When Junk’s boss asks him to work as the bodyguard for his spoiled, party-going daughter, Junk find himself swept up in the world of the young and the rich that he is at once envious of and disdainful of.  Not surprisingly, things don’t go well.  Mr. Santos’s black-and-white artwork has a bit of a cartoony, Bruce Tim bent which one might think incongruous with a gritty crime story, but I quickly found myself loving his detailed, quirky illustrations.  There are a lot of characters in this story, but under Mr. Santos’ sure hand I never found myself confused as to who-was-who.  This is a great, street-level gritty story (an Azzarello specialty), and if you’re looking for a break from comic book super-heroics, this is worth a shot.

Frankenstein’s Womb, by Warren Ellis and Marek Oleksicki — As noted above, last week I wrote about three Alan Moore graphic novels published by Avatar Press.  But that’s not all that Avatar has to offer.  Last month I had the pleasure of reading this recent graphic novel (or “graphic novella,” as it is labelled on its cover) written by the enormously talented Warren Ellis.  The year is 1816.  Mary Wollestonecraft Goodwin, her husband-to-be Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her stepsister Claire Clairmont are traveling across Europe.  In Germany, they come across a strange and deserted castle.  Castle Frankenstein.  This wonderfully weird and quite haunting tale of where Mary Shelley REALLY got the idea for her famous novel is one of my favorite things I’ve read this year.  Mr. Ellis’ clever (and quite grim!) script is perfectly supplemented by Mr. Oleksicki’s incredibly detailed, evocative black-and-white linework.  Absolutely wonderful.

Incognito, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips — Taking a break from their stellar crime series Criminal, Brubaker and Phillips bring us the story (told in six issues) of former super-hero Zack Overkill.  After his twin brother (and fellow super-villain) was killed, Zack served as a secret witness against the head of his criminal organization, the Black Death, and went into a super-villain version of the witness protection program.  Given a drug that eliminates his super-power, Zack is set up with a new name and a dead-end job (working as a file clerk) and instructions to blend in… to become part of society.  But making peace with his new life as a normal worker-bee proves to be extraordinarily difficult for Zack, who craves the excitement of the life he lost.  When he discovers that getting high counter-acts the powers-robbing drugs he’s been taking, he’s over-joyed — but quickly finds himself caught between his handlers (of whose strict rules of parole he’s in clear violation), and his former super-villain comrades (who aren’t so happy to discover that he’s still alive).  Spectacular art by Mr. Phillips (a man whose style I’ve come to admire more and more with each new project) and an extraordinarily compelling, human script by Mr. Brubaker make this gritty, noir take on super-villains a must-read, and a worthy reason for them to have temporarily put their masterpiece Criminal on hold!

Kick-Ass, by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. — Totally juvenile and also an outrageous amount of fun, Kick-Ass tells the story of a lonely, comic-book-loving kid named Dave Lizewski, who one day starts wondering how it is that nobody has ever tried to be a superhero before.  “Why do people want to be Paris Hilton, and nobody wants to be Spider-Man?” he asks.  So he sets out to become a superhero.  Telling you anything more about what happens to Dave would be ruining all the fun, but be prepared that Kick-Ass is extraordinarily violent (and not a little profane, to boot)!  John Romita Jr. is one of the very best comic-book artists working today, and it’s great to see him cut loose with this “hard-R” material.  His work has such life to it!  I can easily understand why this is being made into a movie (directed by Matthew Vaughn  — you can read more about the Kick-Ass film here).  My only criticism?  The book has seen some major, major delays.  (My understanding is that the first story-line is scheduled to run eight issues, but only seven have been published so far, and the wait has been very, very long between each of the last several issues.)

The Nightly News, by Jonathan Hickman — This six-issue limited series was published in 2006-07, but I’ve only recently gotten around to reading it in its entirety.  (After really enjoying the first two issues, I decided that this series would be best read all at once, so I decided to hold off on reading the rest of the individual issues until the entire series came out.  But once I’d stopped, it took me a while to get back to it.)  But I’m really glad that I have, because this series is truly a unique creation.  It’s an incredibly detailed, anarchic critique of multiple aspects of today’s modern American society, focusing on the mega-conglomerates that control our access to information and shape our consumerist society.  Hickman also find time along the way to question the way our schools are run, the way behavior-altering drugs are proscribed to children, the push-pull dance of influence between media and government, and much more.  I must also comment on the wonderfully intricate lay-out of the comic itself.  This isn’t a conventional “x number of panels per page” comic.  Mr. Hickman has woven his illustrations and text together with all sorts of tables, graphs, and other details into an information hodgepodge that is unlike anything I have ever seen in a comic book before.  This cutting-edge design works beautifully with his themes that deal with the ways our lives are shaped (and controlled) by the information we have access to.  Mr. Hickman has been getting a lot of work lately from Marvel Comics, but this is the project that brought him to their attention, and it is worth yours.

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